‘The Time Machine’ was written by Herbert George Wells at the turn of the century. This book was one of the ‘fin de siecle’ novels, which meant that it was written as a horror novel because people were frightened as to what the new century might bring. Other writers who produced such novels in the ‘fin de siecle’ genre were Bram stoker, who wrote ‘Dracula’ and Robert Louis Stephenson, who wrote ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’. In the period that this novel was written, the class system was very much apparent in Great Britain.
In stately homes around the country, cooks, footmen and butlers lived in underground kitchens, while the masters and mistresses of the house lived above ground in the lap of luxury. Their every need was provided by their servants while their wealth was maintained by employing cheap labour and running sweatshops and factories. Wells was born in Bromley, Kent in 1866. He was apprenticed to a draper at the age of 14 when his fathers business failed. His mother went as a housekeeper at a stately home called Uppark, which was where Wells’ love of books came from.
He sometimes came and visited his mother at Uppark and when he saw that the family had gone out for the evening or the whole day, and then he would creep upstairs and explore the library. The young Herbert would stay in the underground quarters of the maids and butlers, which he described as a ‘subterranean kitchen’. This experience of the underground will later be translated to the sinister, dark, airless, claustrophobic habitat of the Morlocks. Wells, despite difficulties, struggled on in his love of science. He won a scholarship to study Biology at the Normal School of Science in London.
He studied under T. H. Huxley but left the school without a degree in 1887. Later, Wells obtained his degree in 1890 after years of teaching in private schools. He, unfortunately, suffered a near fatal haemorrhage in 1893, but this illness encouraged him to become a full time novelist producing works including: The Time Machine (1895) The Invisible Man (1897) The War of the Worlds (1898) At the time of Wells’ writing, Einstein and Darwin were both working on their theories and these were brought to public attention; Darwin’s theory of Evolution and Einstein’s theory of relativity.
The Theory of evolution is summed up as predicting the ‘survival of the fittest’ which meant that only the best adapted beings would survive throughout time. This obviously intrigued Wells and it was used as the basis of his Novel ‘The Time Machine’. Also, Einstein’s theory of Relativity is in the novel because it raised the possibility of a 4th dimension which is heavily featured in the book. The Time Machine is mainly written as a flashback. It begins with the narration coming from a guest at a party that the time traveller is having.
The guests are discussing the prospect of the 4th dimension and how the human race will have evolved to a race with titanic mental capabilities. The TT believes that the world would have become utopia throughout the course of history, but when he reaches the far future he can see that his vision is far from the truth. He can see that Darwin’s theory of evolution is almost the complete opposite of what has happened, and the two factions, into which the human race has been divided, are both of minimal intelligence.
The two species in the book are Eloi and Morlock. The Eloi live above ground, eat fruit, make love and generally live in the lap of luxury. The Morlocks on the other hand, live underground and work the machines that keep the Eloi fed and clothed. This comparison of Eloi and Morlock is a metaphor for the upper class and the working class. Wells’ mother severed the upper class at Uppark. Wells obviously felt resentment towards them for this because they kept the servants underground. The name ‘Eloi’ sounds very much like the word ‘Elite’ meaning best of the best.
The Eloi are described as being ‘small, with bright red, rather thin lips’ and ‘indescribably frail’. The T. T. says that ‘his flushed face reminded me of the more beautiful kind of consumptive. ‘ (Consumptive being a person with the disease Tuberculosis, a disease that affects the lungs). They are portrayed as behaving in a childish manner which eventually starts to annoy the T. T. Compared to the Morlocks, the Eloi are the upper class of the two factions. The Morlocks represent the working class of the 19th century, working the machines deep under ground.
Wells does not give much description of the Morlocks on their first encounter, but every time he sees one, the description becomes more vivid. He describes them as different types of animals on different occasions. He first describes them being like a deer, then a worm, then a lemur and finally a white fish of the Kentucky caves. These similes are used to describe the different qualities that the Morlock posses. Their description conjures up images of horrible creatures. They are described as being ‘nauseatingly inhuman’ and ‘pale’.
The relationship shared between the Eloi and Morlock is an unhappy one. The Eloi live off the Morlocks strength and ability to provide for them, where as the Morlocks live off the Eloi quite literally. They eat the Eloi. This reflects the British class system perfectly. The masters and mistresses require the services of the maids permanently, but if the butlers and housekeepers decide not to carry on working, then the masters of the house will not be able to survive independently. In this novel, Wells is warning us of the potential hazards of the class system.
If upper and lower class people carry on as they are, then the human race will evolve into a race of dependant inbreeds, and race of subterranean dwelling savages. This could be prevented by equality; if everybody is equal then there is no danger of this happening. I believe Wells to be a pessimist. I say this because he wrote a book with a moral; if things carry on as they are, then this is what we will turn out as. This book is a timeless classic. It gives us an insight of what we could be if things don’t change for the better.