The peculiar narrative structure of The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells, is perhaps a tool meant to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the time traveler’s story. The majority of the story recounts the experiences of the time traveller as he travels to 802, 701 A.D., but it is filtered through the perception of one of the men listening. This technique allows readers to follow the character of the time traveler closely without receiving an account of the events as they actually happen. As readers, we get a look into his consciousness just for the duration of his journey into the future, but we never know the workings of his mind before or after this trip. Once he returns to the present time, we are driven out of his perspective into the suspicious atmosphere of his audience. Perhaps this removal from his point of view is meant to question his character and story. The narrator even notes, before we start the journey, that he “was one of those men who are too clever to be believed” (12). Readers forget this warning once the time traveler begins his narrative, for we are distracted both by the content of what happens as well as the suspense of his account. In fact, the editor, after the time traveler finishes his tale, remarks that it is a shame that the time traveler doesn’t write stories for a living. If we, as readers, weren’t meant to doubt the authenticity of his tale, then we would have experienced his travels from his own perspective as he himself experienced them. Instead, though, the story ends with us closed off from the time traveler and inhabiting the mind of someone who is not sure how to understand the time traveler’s claims.
H.G. Wells frames the majority of The Time Machine through an interesting perspective; rather than narrating the adventures of the Time Traveler through third person perspective, he allows the Time Traveler to tell his own story through his own words. This limited first-person perspective prevents the reader from experiencing the tale from a more objective point of view, forcing us to understand the Time Traveler’s journey as he and Wells wanted us to.
Several times, upon his arrival in the future, the Time Traveler remarks on aspects of this foreign society in reference to his own of the 1890s. He discusses them as an extension of his own current conditions, implying that his society will inevitably reach this future point if it continues on the same path. For example, he says, “Where population is balanced and abundant, much child-bearing becomes an evil rather than a blessing to the State; where violence comes but rarely and offspring are secure, there is less necessity… for an efficient family, and the specialization of the sexes with reference to their children’s needs disappears. We see some beginnings of this even in our own time, and in this future age it was complete” (Wells 30). Many people of 1890s British society worried about the blurring of the gendered spheres, so it makes sense that Wells addresses this concern in his story. He does not let us draw our own conclusions, however. Rather, he presents the view he wishes us to hold through the Time Traveler, the only character whose opinions of the future we are able to learn and comprehend. By restricting the reader to this individual perspective, he effectively communicates his ideas about the present and predictions for the future without leaving room for interpretation.
Above is a picture of one of the many minuscule books and poems created by the Brontë siblings. At the exhibit they had magnifying glasses available so that you could read the text written in miniature handwriting on the little pieces of paper. This need for a magnifying tool in order to understand the work in a museum is incredibly unique and an experience that showed the uncommon nature of much of the Brontë’s early works. I found the information about how the Brontë’s wrote during their childhoods especially fascinating because there was clearly a lot of thought and reasoning behind all of their decisions. In one of the pieces of the exhibit the role that toys and games had in the Bronte’s lives was described. After their father brought home a set of toy soldiers, Charlotte, Branwell, Anne and Emily, created entire imaginary worlds and lives for their new toys. Charlotte and Branwell imagined the kingdom of Angria, and Emily and Anne created the realm of Gondal. Both of these new worlds were written about in many stories and poems, all in the unique small books and handwritings the Brontë’s are known for. These small stories fit perfectly into the world inhabited by the toys, remaining proportional to the size of the toys and separate from the reality of the world belonging to the Brontë’s. I found this incredible scope for imagination and creation an especially interesting part of the exhibit because it shows that the nature of all of the Brontës, not just Charlotte, was to build new and exciting worlds and stories. The fact that Charlotte started imagining things like these when she was twelve is a clear precursor to the many different settings and worlds she creates throughout the story of Jane Eyre.
Above is a picture of one of Charlotte Bronte’s early works that she created with her siblings when they were young. There were a couple of these early works, which are so much smaller than you would guess – about the size of a matchbook! These tiny books were my favorite part of the entire Bronte exhibit, largely because I used to write books and create mini magazines with my three siblings when we were younger – although our books survive only on the hard-drive of my parents’ old computer and likely will never be displayed in a museum. Beyond my personal fascination with Bronte and her siblings, it was incredible to see the real pages that Charlotte and her siblings crammed full of minuscule print as they created their intricate fantasy worlds and stories. Though we have read some of the Bronte siblings’ writings for class, that experience pales in comparison to the experience of seeing the actual books in person. The tiny handwriting alone made me appreciate the sheer magnitude of the task of copying the books so that they could be reprinted for us to read in class, which is something I do not think I would have appreciated, had I not seen the books in person. Overall, I was continually struck by the creative genius of the Bronte siblings and their dedication to creating and to literature, even when they were children.
The name of the Charlotte Brontë exhibit at the Morgan Library was “An Independent Will,” which I think succinctly sums up the life of Charlotte Brontë and her character Jane Eyre. CB marched to the beat of her own drum. I did not know that she was also an accomplished artist, and was impressed at the paintings and drawings (mostly copies of other works, but some originals) that were displayed in the exhibit. But, the tiny copies of her childhood writings of the land of Angria that she and Branwell created were so awesome. The exhibit mentioned that they tried to make their writing so that it looked like print, and their stories were wild and imaginative, a different world in which they could escape from the mundanity in their everyday life. I think that some of the early creativity permeates her writing, especially in Jane Eyre; it is sad to think of such brilliant life cut so short. CB’s independence and fierce will were what allowed her to get Jane Eyre published in the first place; it is hard to think of an author that so clearly resembles her main character. My favorite part of the exhibit was the written manuscript of Jane Eyre that was opened to the page where Jane exerts her will against Rochester, maintaining her independence-unfortunately no pictures were allowed of it (I did try but got caught). One of my favorite scenes in Jane Eyre, and one in which I could imagine Jane as Charlotte Brontë herself!
This is a photo of Charlotte’s marriage license with Arthur Bell Nicholls that was on display at the exhibit. It was issued on June 16, 1854, just a year before Charlotte’s death. Charlotte died in 1855 in the early stages of pregnancy, cutting her life short at the age of just 38. There is a certain irony in looking at this photo. The accompanying plaque explained that the certificate authorized Arthur and Charlotte to “enter into the ‘solemnization of true, pure, and lawful matrimony.'” Charlotte had found her Rochester. Nicholls had been in love with her for a long time and had had his proposal initially turned down because of concerns over his poor financial status. Like Jane, Charlotte made the decision to return to Nicholls to get married. Her life was tragically cut short with the promise of a child on the way. Reality can oftentimes be stranger than fiction, and in this case, reality proved to be far more cruel than the story Charlotte wove about Jane.
In The Time Machine, H.G. Wells not only explores the possibility of time travel, but also relates back to more contemporary issues of the 19th century like the laws of society versus the laws of nature–especially in the context of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
When the Time Traveller describes his fantastical story, he proposes a reciprocity between the natures and social positions of the Morlocks and the Eloi. He says, “…You must have the Haves [Eloi], pursuing pleasure and comfort and beauty, and below ground the Have-Nots [Morlocks], the Workers getting continually adapted to the conditions of their labour” (48). The Time Traveller mistakenly assumes that the classes are stratified in a way that mimics the stratifications of the Earth; the Undergrounders at the bottom and the Upperworlders at the top. Although the rest of his story diminishes this perceived social order, the connection between nature and social position remains uncontested throughout The Time Machine. The Morlocks, because of their natural advantage of night vision, are able to exert social dominance over the Eloi. Additionally, the Eloi, because of their fear and frailty, are significantly lower in the social strata–low enough to eat.
Hence, Wells’ story actively pursues the idea that natural evolution is mirrored in society. The Time Machine suggests that the laws of nature are sovereign over the laws of society, as evolution ensures that the social order of the future is in total opposition to the values of 19th century society.
On her way to a new farm in search of work, Tess is spotted and confronted by the man from Trantridge who Angel had punched in the face. Tess “suddenly” flees into a “plantation” where, desperate for shelter she “scrape[s] together . . . dead leaves” to form a “sort of nest.” The surrounding “holly bushes” and “deciduous trees” are described as “dense enough to keep off draughts” (277) I couldn’t help but compare this scene to a chicken’s egg secured in its ‘nest,’ or a caterpillar protected in its cocoon. Both of these images imply a foundational change that occurs when the embryo develops and hatches into a chick or when the caterpillar breaks out of its cocoon and becomes a butterfly. A stark change in Tess is symbolized by her “tender” killing of the birds and manifest in her verbal reaction: “I am not mangled, and I am not bleeding, and I have two hands to feed and clothe me” (279). This is a huge step forward from the self-loathing expressed through her suicidal thoughts and general indifference towards life around Angel (233, 247). This newly found independence and agency is later embodied in her defiance against Alec, who has reverted to his old ways in pursuing Tess (332). It is hard to tell at this point, however, whether Tess went through this change because she missed Angel, or because she could feel more at peace without him.
One thing that stood out to me in the reading was the lack of agency Tess had, even in her own (potential) death. After Tess told Angel of her story, she immediately began to contemplate how she no longer longed to live. While this didn’t ever happen, the two ways in which her death did almost happen should be noted, as they are indicative of the common theme of the lack of agency she had over her life.
In the beginning, Tess contemplates suicide, but says that she could not do it herself. In a morbid way, suicide would be one of the few acts Tess can make in which she has complete control over her fate. But, like everything else in the book for her, this is not to be.
However, chapter 37 lays out in great details Tess’s desire to die at the hands of Angel. When she is carried out of the house by Angel, she says things like “He might drown her if he would…” (248). This sentence is telling. The use of the passive voice demonstrates how little control Tess wants over her own death. If she were to die, it would be Angel, not her, who is the one in the active.
This theme is obviously quite apparent in the book; Tess is very rarely granted the ability to take action in her own life. Chapter 37 continues this theme, since the most important thing to her, her own life, (has the potential to be) wrenched from her hands, this time semi- willingly.