Science Fiction Studies

# 64 = Volume 21, Part 3 = November 1994


 

REVIEW-ESSAYS

BOOKS IN REVIEW


Patrick Parrinder

Questionable Guides

H.G.Wells. New editions as listed below. The Everyman Library. London: J.M.Dent, and Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle, 1993.

The Time Machine. Ed. Michael Moorcock. xli+98. 3.50, $3.95.

The Island of Doctor Moreau. Ed. Brian Aldiss. xxxvi+137. 4.99, $6.95.

The War of the Worlds. Introduced by Arthur C. Clarke. xxxiv+189. 4.99, $3.95.

The First Men in the Moon. Introduced by Arthur C. Clarke. xxxiv+203. 4.99, $3.95.

The Shape of Things to Come. Ed. John Hammond. xxxix+435, 5.99.

Wells died on August 13, 1946, half a century after the publication of his earliest scientific romances. Under UK law as it still stands at the time of writing this review, his works retain copyright protection until December 31, 1996. By July 1995, however, Britain and the other members of the European Union are expected to have amended their copyright laws in accordance with a recent European Commission directive. Among other changes, the term of posthumous protection will be extended from 50 to 70 years.

It may seem churlish to extend anything less than a warm welcome to a paperback publisher willing to produce new editions of nearly all Wells's major fiction (Ann Veronica, The History of Mr. Polly, and Kipp have already appeared in addition to the sf titles listed above). However, the timing of the Everyman series can only be explained in the context of the forthcoming change in the copyright law. The Everyman Library1has not only bought up the expiring copyright licences for world rights in H.G. Wells (Wells is currently in copyright in every country except the US), but has secured an option on exclusive rights for the expected 20-year extension of European copyright. This means that the books under review will be, in all probability, the only Wells editions that can be legally sold in Britain or any European country until the year 2017. In judging them we have to judge whether or not they deserve their present and future monopoly position in much of the world market. At this point I should declare an interest, since the forthcoming World's Classics editions of Wells, of which I am general editor, have been refused copyright permission by the Wells estate and are, therefore, only publishable in the US.

I shall come later to the texts of the Everyman volumes--perhaps their most disappointing feature--but we ought to remember that for much of his life Wells's anxiety was to reach the greatest possible number of readers with inexpensive editions. Sadly, this aim is being thwarted by the extension of copyright law. The War of the Worlds and The First Men in the Moon, for example, retail in the UK at 4.99, in the US at $3.95, and in Canada at CAN $9.95--a remarkable example of differential pricing, reflecting the fact that only in the US does Everyman have to compete with other Wells editions in the market-place. In Britain, the publication of out-of-copyright fictional classics has recently been revolutionized by the appearance of cheap, basic series priced at 1.00 or thereabouts. The cost of copyright extension for British sf fans is thus that Wells's books are going to be five times more expensive in paperback than they might otherwise have been.

In fact, the Everyman series gives out conflicting signals as to whether Wells's books should still be regarded as sf. On the one hand, there is the choice of Brian Aldiss, Arthur C. Clarke, and Michael Moorcock to write introductions to the more popular titles. On the other hand, the dominant visual feature of each of these books is the "period" feeling given by the handsome full-color reproduction of a late 19th- or early 20th-century painting on the front cover. These (often quite inappropriate) paintings are a sort of heritage decor, a conscious assertion of historical "classic" status superseding the sensational cover illustrations previously used for Wells in paperback. Wells's novels aren't contemporary sf, these covers seem to say--they are academic works of art.

The example of The Island of Doctor Moreau is particularly instructive. The old Penguin Modern Classics edition--to take a deliberately restrained example--showed a melodramatically shadowed apelike head, half swathed in bandages. The back cover of the Everyman tells us in bold type that "Biological experiments turn to nightmare in the Victorian Pacific." The front cover reproduces a tasteful Victorian painting from the walls of an art gallery in Hobart, Tasmania. "Dead Island, Port Arthur" by Haughton Forrest shows a small wooded island in a tranquil river estuary at sunset, with two rowing boats and several people in the foreground. What on earth has this to do with the lonely horrors of Moreau's island, where Prendick survives as a castaway for months before he even sees a ship on the horizon? (True, the 1896 Heinemann edition of Moreau has a black island silhouette on the front cover, but there are no figures in the landscape, let alone a river estuary.) Even stranger is the Everyman Shape of Things to Come, where the cover design is a cheerful 1930s watercolour, carelessly printed in reverse, of hatwearing office-workers on the London Underground--an illustration not of the future, nor even of the future as it once seemed, but of the literal shape of things in the year the book was first published. Wells's futuristic imagination can scarcely be illuminated by run-of-the-mill pictures by the second-rate figurative painters of his time. The only one of these designs that in any way comes off is the cover for The Time Machine--a painting by Augustin of three frock-coated savants peering at the apparatus in a chemical (not physical) laboratory. This piece of self-conscious Victoriana at least responds to a genuine aspect of the story.

The standard format for each volume is as follows. At the front there is a perfunctory "Note on the Text" (of which more later), an 18-page chronology of Wells's life and times, and an introduction of varying length. After the main text there is a brief bibliography and "Text Summary" and, usually, an unsigned brief essay on "H.G.Wells and His Critics." John Hammond's edition of The Shape of Things to Come also has a helpful and well-informed set of explanatory notes; the others have no annotations of any sort. The sections on Wells and his critics are individually researched and quote, sometimes at great length, from a handful of contemporary reviews and more recent critical studies of each book. The best of these sections are appended to The War of the Worlds and The Shape of Things to Come. There is a string of very brief critical quotes at the back of the Moreau volume, and nothing at all in The Time Machine.

The introductions to the different volumes vary considerably, as one might expect. Michael Moorcock gives a lively, ebullient, not always reliable account of the fin-de-sicle literary scene and Wells's early struggles as a writer. His introduction, like the text of The Time Machine that follows it, is marred by misprints: the protagonist of "The Chronic Argonauts," for example, appears as "Dr. Nebogufek." Brian Aldiss examines Moreau as a tale of "knowledge misused," and stresses its author's indebtedness to Defoe as well as to Swift. Arthur C. Clarke's introductions to The War of the Worlds and The First Men in the Moon are a characteristic mixture of pithy observations, anecdotes, and professions of faith in Wellsian perspectives. However, his two brief essays are identical for some of their length. John Hammond has the more difficult task of introducing a novel which has never been a popular favorite. He convincingly presents The Shape of Things to Come as a culmination of the Wellsian mode of prophetic realism reflecting its author's obsession with time. The only disappointment in Hammond's introduction is his refusal to consider the links between the novel and Things to Come, the screenplay which Wells wrote shortly afterwards. According to Hammond, the book and the film are "entirely separate" even though they have become "hopelessly confused in the public mind" (xxxvii).

Hammond's copy-text for The Shape of Things to Come is the 1933 Hutchinson edition, and he states--correctly, I would think--that "Though Wells was a compulsive reviser of his own work, he did not alter the text of this book after publication" (xi). SFS readers will wish to know how far the Everyman volumes reflect the current state of Wellsian editorial scholarship. They were produced to a very tight schedule so as to maximise the return on the expiring copyright licenses--the Wells estate drives a hard bargain--and the editions of The Time Machine and Moreau were effectively complete before the publishers woke up to the fact that they were entering a field of textual controversy. The War of the Worlds and The First Men in the Moon were then amended after some hurried consultations with Wells scholars (of whom I was one). Each volume makes a gesture to scholarship with a "Note on the Text," but these are at best perfunctory and at worst misleading.

Characteristically, the textual note on The First Men consists of a single sentence: "The text used for this edition is that of the first edition published by George Newnes in London in 1901" (ix). Buried away at the back of the book is the publishers' acknowledgment of help from David Lake on textual matters. Following Lake's advice, the text contains a number of significant divergences from Newnes, though not quite as many as are to be found in his forthcoming World's Classics edition. In this instance Everyman seem to have produced a good text, though not quite the one it claims to be. Their War of the Worlds is, we are told, a reprint "of the authoritative 1924 Atlantic edition, with a number of small textual emendations made silently in the light of recent textual scholarship" (ix). (This is the only mention of the Atlantic edition in any of these volumes.) I have discovered three emendations, all of which follow David Lake's published suggestions.2 Two of them are to place-names: "Street Cobham" for "Street Chobham" at various points in the text, and "Fulham" for "Lambeth" in Book II Chapter 8. The recent Hughes-Geduld Critical Edition of The War of the Worlds contains further emendations which do not appear in the Everyman. However, both editions omit Wells's original dedication "To my brother Frank Wells, this rendering of his idea."

The texts of the Everyman Time Machine and Moreau are seriously defective. The so-called "Note on the Text" prefacing The Time Machine does not even specify which copy-text was used. However, it is based on the 1935 Everyman's Library edition which in turn derives from the 1924 Atlantic edition. David Lake has written approvingly of the 1935 Everyman, in which he could find "only one substantive misprint."3 Would that that were still true. In the new edition I have identified 34 unauthorized variants, an average of one for every three pages of text. Of these, 11 are substantive, and a further 4 are bad but obvious misprints which should have been picked up by any competent proofreader. Among the variants are "that the machine" for "that that machine" (10), "I said" for "said I" (29), "at last" for "at the last" (60), "in flight from amid" for "in flight amid" (74), and "At this I understood" for "At that I understood" (91). In addition, the text also perpetuates earlier errors, such as "patent readjustments" for "patient readjustments" (67), which can be traced back to the 1927 Complete Short Stories. "Over-world" (54 and 79 in the Everyman) appears in the Atlantic edition but was later amended to "Upper-world" for the sake of consistency.

The Everyman Moreau purports to be a straight reprint of the 1896 Heinemann edition. However, it contains at least 41 unauthorised variants, of which 4 are missing portions of text. The typesetter has omitted two whole sentences, "That set me thinking of my plan of action" (Chapter 11) and "The staghound yelped to the left" (Chapter 12), as well as the phrase "had been felling wood and heard him calling" (Chapter 17). In addition, the 100-word editorial note appended to the Heinemann edition is missing. Other significant variants include "menacing tone" for "menacing voice" (11), "such a pain" for "such pain" (36), "cane break" for "cane brake" (51), "The man" for "the men" (81), and "glanced" for "glance" (129). Readers in some places are forced to struggle to make out the elementary sense of corrupted passages like these.

The back cover of the Everyman Moreau boasts that it is "the only paperback edition available," and outside the US the publishers and the Wells estate intend to keep it that way. The repackaging of Wells's early sf as literary classics surrounded with the trappings (if not always the substance) of scholarship in itself places an obligation on the publishers to produce accurate and readable texts. The obligation is redoubled when the editions are authorised by the Wells estate, which grants them a monopoly. The publishers ought to be made to recall and correct the texts of The Time Machine and Moreau as a matter of urgency. Neither edition is worthy of J.M. Dent's famous motto: "Everyman, I will go with thee, and be thy guide."

NOTES

1. The Everyman Library should not be confused with the present-day Everyman's Library, which (following some financial wheeling and dealing) is a hardback series produced by a different publisher. Both series claim to be the true descendants of the original Everyman's Library, and carry the familiar motto from the medieval play of Everyman. Apart from this, they appear to be deadly rivals.

2. See David Lake, "The Current Texts of Wells's Early SF Novels: Situation Unsatisfactory," Wellsian 11:8-11, Summer 1988.

3. Lake, 6.


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