Wells was tapping into deep Victorian fears of social disorder, of behaviour that ran counter to an all encompassing ideology of ordered social progress. Time and again Wells tells of individual selfishness to survive overriding ideals of social responsibility - tramplings, stabbings, the police "breaking the heads of the people they were called out to protect", trains that "ploughed through shrieking people." And as the war continues, the artillery-man tells of people "starving in heaps, bolting, treading on each other." In an era when Colonialism was reaching across the world to 'civilise' 'savage' cultures, Wells paints a picture of that very savagery running beneath the surface of complacent bourgeois life. In fact his point is as much that this 'savagery' is something that comes quite naturally to the human race. With regard to his brother Frank, to whom he admits owing a debt of the original idea for the novel, Wells writes of "A practical philosopher with a disbelief even profounder than that of the writer in the present ability of our race to meet a great crisis either bravely or intelligently... Our present civilisation, it seems, is quite capable of falling to pieces without any aid from the Martians."

It is also no coincidence that Wells selects South Kensington for "feats of peculiar atrocity". South Kensington, with its rows of museums and well-to-do residents was the educational heart of London, the symbol of Wells' own education and values of his teachers and fellow-socialists. It was not that Wells disapproved of such things, or even undervalued them - for him human history became "more and more a race between education and catastrophe" (Outline of History, 1920) - but that he perceived how fragile these values were in the face of the threats that the universe had to offer. Wells had used a similar device in The Time Machine where a Palace of Green Porcelain is rendered as a metaphorical South Kensington museum, but time and the decline of humanity has rendered it empty and meaningless to future-man; progress abandoned in crumbling books and decaying exhibits. However, in The War of the Worlds, Wells cannot quite bring himself to destroy the cradle of his own learning in vain - it is in South Kensington that he first hears the howling that heralds the defeat of the Martians - "It was as if the mighty desert of houses had found a voice for its fear and solitude" - and he has "half a mind to break into the Natural History Museum and find my way up to the summit of the towers, in order to see across the park." Places such as the Natural History Museum provided educational views into the past and provided chances to anticipate what the future held. Naturally, after the war a Martian specimin is placed on display in the museum.

Even the artillery-man that the Narrator encounters attaches a pre-eminence to knowledge, in particular science: "saving the race is nothing in itself... it's saving our knowledge and adding to it is the thing... Especially we must keep up our science - learn more." However, the model proposed by the soldier for the future survival of mankind owes a great deal less to the liberal gentlemen-scientists with whom Wells associated. Whilst, according to him, "it's the man that keeps on thinking [that] comes through," everyone else, it seems will have to go to the wall, and with them all the trappings of bourgeois life: "we've got to fix ourselves up according to the new state of affairs... It isn't quite according to what a man wants for his species, but it's about what the facts point to... Cities, nations, civilisation, progress - it's all over. That game's up... There won't be any more blessed concerts for a million years or so; there won't be any Royal Academy of Arts, and no nice little feeds at restaurants. If it's amusements you're after, I reckon the game is up. If you've got any drawing-room manners or a dislike to eating peas with a knife or dropping aitches, you'd better chuck 'em away. They ain't for further use... men like me are going on living - for the sake of the breed..." More and more comfortable, sophisticated Victoriana goes up in smoke. Essentially the artillery-man espouses a philosophy of a controlled survival of the fittest, army of men for the post-apocalypse: "And we form a band - able bodied, clean-minded men. We're not going to pick up any rubbish that drifts in. Weaklings go out again... Able-bodied, clean-minded women we want also - mother and teachers. No lackadaisical ladies - no blasted rolling eyes. We can't have any weak or silly. Life is real again, and the useless and cumbersome and mischievous have to die. They ought to die. They ought to be willing to die. It's a sort of disloyalty, after all, to live and taint the race."

Extreme though these views may seem, they were not a million miles away from the sentiments expressed in the growing field of Eugenics - the selective breeding of humans - championed by the likes of Francis Galton (1822 - 1911), Darwin's cousin and the archetype of the Victorian gentleman-scientist. Like some other social reformers of a range of political persuasions, Wells did toy with the idea of a limited form of Eugenics, but was ultimately critical of it. Eugenics is often confused with Social Darwinism, another

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.