Science Fiction Studies

#61 = Volume 20, Part 3 = November 1993

R.D. Mullen

The Definitive War of the Worlds

David Y. Hughes and Harry M. Geduld, eds. A Critical Edition of The War of the Worlds: H.G. Wells's Scientific Romance. Visions [3]. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993. xi+320. $35.00.

Definitiveness is in the eye of the beholder. Scholars may believe their own work definitive, but it is not theirs to say so. The title of Nancy Steffen-Fluhr's review in this issue is "The Definitive Moreau." I agree with her judgment on the text of The Island of Dr. Moreau produced by Robert M. Philmus and here make the same judgment on the text of The War of the Worlds produced by David Y. Hughes and Harry M. Geduld. This is not to say that there can be no disagreement on this point or that, or that evidence will not be found for emending the text in minor ways, but it is to say that it is highly unlikely that any scholar in the days to come will see any need for, or any intellectual profit from, undertaking the enormous labors of collating the various versions of the text as found in manuscripts, proofs, and published editions, so that future research on the texts of Moreau and WW will most probably serve only to supply footnotes to the work done by Philmus and by Hughes and Geduld.

The same can be said of the second volume of the Geduld's Visions series,1but not, alas!, of the first, his own edition of The Time Machine, which he (or someone at Indiana UP) was presumptuous enough to entitle The Definitive Time Machine. Since that book is valuable for its supplementary contents, it is to be hoped that Indiana UP will issue a new edition with the text improved2 and with a more modest title.3

The volume under review is also valuable for its supplementary contents, which I will list here in the order in which I find them of greatest interest.

1. "Gestation" (the first section of the Introduction): David Hughes' account of the writing and publishing of WW.

2. Appendix I, "Transcript and Collation of MS (University of Illinois)." 28 holograph pages representing, for portions of Book 2, the earliest stages of composition. A deleted passage, printed here for the first time, occupies eight pages. In the other 20 pages, taken with the annotations, we can observe the development of the story through eleven stages of composition.

3. "The War of the Worlds in the Yellow Press." An article by Hughes, first published in 1966, on the serialization of the story in the New York Journal and the Boston Post. Among other things, we learn that 2.7, the much discussed artilleryman chapter, was written for the Journal.

4. "Background and Themes," and "Critical Reaction": the remainder of the Introduction.

5. "Glossary of Places Mentioned in the Text," together with the maps.

6-9. Three essays by Wells (though they are familiar to most Wellsians, their presence here is convenient) and a piece from an 1892 issue of Nature, "A Strange Light on Mars," exemplifying both the widespread interest in the planet during the latter part of the 19th century and the readiness to believe it inhabited.

10. "Radio and Film Adaptations." Also familiar material, but perhaps necessary for the record.

An irony in textual scholarship is that enormous labors may produce only slight results. Philmus, because of the nature of his sources, found it necessary to produce a variorum text displaying 909 instances (my count) of one or more variants from his synthesis, of which "about a third...are verbal" (vii). Hughes and Geduld, on the other hand, find only 51 occasions for recording variants, and most of these are in accidentals or are verbal only with respect to the arrangement of words in a sentence; e.g., for what appears in their text as "the dawning interest in his eyes," the variant recorded is "the interest dawning in his eyes" (104). This is not to belittle the work done by Hughes and Geduld: the fact that the text established by their labors differs only slightly from several hitherto available texts does not detract from the value of their work, for we need to be certain about what could be discovered only by the collation of manuscripts, proofs, and published texts. Without such certainty scholars can make such errors as have vitiated the work of Frank McConnell, who in his The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds: A Critical Edition(1977) reproduced a bowdlerized school-book edition of WW4 and in his The Science Fiction of H.G. Wells (1981) based much of his interpretation of When the Sleeper Wakes on a scene that appears only in the version of that novel published serially in The Graphic.5

Hughes and Geduld collated nine texts: the 28 surviving pages of manuscript, the serializations in Cosmopolitan and Pearson's Magazine, the Pearson's Magazine pasteup ("PR"; the material used by a typist in preparing the now-lost typescripts for the London and New York editions; i.e., sheets from and proofs for Pearson's, corrected and supplemented in various ways), the London edition of 1898, the New York edition of 1898 (the copy-text for the Atlantic edition), the corrected galley proofs for the Atlantic edition, the text appearing in Volume 3 of The Works of H.G. Wells, Atlantic Edition (their copy text), and the Essex edition of 19276 (for which the copy-text was the galleys just mentioned, which were corrected after as well as before the printing of the Atlantic edition).

For their synthesis, Hughes and Geduld made only 12 departures from their copy-text. Two of the emendations involve only punctuation (180, 183). One involves simply a preference for "the Common" over "the common" (177). Four, supplemented by a map (236), get the geography straight with respect to the towns Street Cobham and Street Chobham (85, 92, 119) and the towns Fulham and Lambeth (180).7 Four words are replaced: "brown" by "broad" (166), "water" by "waters" (166), "back" by "black" (174),8 and "waves" by "wash" (185). The Atlantic's "Within the five-mile circle even the great majority of people were inert" is replaced by "Even within the five-mile circle the great majority of people were inert" (74).

Finally, one emendation is curious in that there is an oversight in its annotation and is of special interest for raising the question of the attentiveness of authors, proofreaders, copy editors, and readers in general. On page 111 we find "ten.* / *ten is penciled in PR's margin with a question mark but it was never printed. Ten accords with 'Sunday-night promenaders' and bed just after midnight." The annotation, though faultless in its reasoning, is curious in that, unlike all the others, it fails to specify the word replaced. The context is the account in 1.14, "In London," of the movements of the narrator's brother:

About five o'clock ....

The church bells were ringing for evensong ....

About eight o'clock ....

He walked from Westminster to his apartments...about two....

Sunday-night promenaders ....

He went to bed a little after midnight. (Seven Famous Novels 314-179)

How could that two survive through two serializations and (as far as is known) all previous editions?

Geduld's The Definitive Time Machine was faulted by David Lake (SFS 15:369-73, #46, Nov 1988) and by Patrick Parrinder (SFS 17:121, #50, March 1980) on the theory that a definitive text should reflect the author's final judgment, no matter how much time had passed between the writing of the book and the making of the final revision, so that in their view Geduld should have recorded all variants from his copy-text found in such later texts as that of the 1931 Random House edition (Parrinder), or that in the 1933 Scientific Romances (Lake). Philmus, expressly rejecting this theory (xxxii), took an 1896 edition as copy-text and ended his collations with the Atlantic edition. Hughes and Geduld, on the other hand, cite every variant from the Atlantic edition found in the 1927 Essex edition, which they declare to be the last edition for which Wells made corrections (43).

That it was the last such edition may well be true, but in order to determine the reliability of The Scientific Romances and Seven Famous Novels, I have checked each of Hughes and Geduld's 51 annotations (all of which cite the Essex edition) against the texts of WW found in those volumes. With four exceptions, both of these texts follow the Essex edition. The four exceptions correct the Essex edition with exactly the same words and points as are found in the Hughes-Geduld text: "Cobham" rather than the "Chobham" of both Atlantic and Essex (85, 92; SR 343, 350; SFN 294, 300); the comma (absent in Essex) of "Half-way through, the lieutenant" (94; SR 351; SFN 301); and the "And" (absent in Essex) of "'Great God!' cried I. 'But you are a man, indeed!' And suddenly I gripped his hand" (173; SR 433; SFN 370).10It seems evident that the Essex WW served as copy-text for SR, that SFN faithfully follows SR, and that someone (Wells or a copy-editor) had eyes open for possible errors in Essex.

There may be other "corrections" in SR, but let that go. I agree with Philmus that such late variants, whether or not made by the author, have little authority, and so believe that Hughes and Geduld were justified in ignoring editions later than Essex. I would have made the 1898 New York edition the copy-text and collated only through the Atlantic edition.


1. The second volume in the Visions series is Norman Etherington's The Annotated She: A Critical Edition of H. Rider Haggard's Victorian Romance, reviewed in SFS #55, Nov 1991, 18:451-53.

2. In his review of The Definitive Time Machine (SFS 15:369-73, Nov 1988), David Lake, as well as finding Geduld's work faulty on theoretical grounds (a matter of opinion) lists a considerable number of typographical errors that obviously need correction.

3. As for decent modesty, although I love Foundation, I have never forgiven its publishers for changing its subtitle from A Review of Science Fiction (first issue) to The Review of Science Fiction (all subsequent issues).

4. See David Hughes' review, SFS 4:196-97, #12, July 1977.

5. See my review, SFS 6:209-15, #18, July 1979.

6. Volume 13 of The Essex Thin-Paper Edition of the Works of H.G. Wells (London: Benn, 1926-27). This series also includes The Time Machine and other Stories, which provided the text for the first section of The Short Stories of H.G. Wells (Benn, 1927). It would be interesting to know whether the copy-text for its text of The Time Machine was also the corrected galleys of the Atlantic Edition.

7. Given the acclamation Wells has always received for his use of actual geography in WW, it is surprising that he overlooked these confusions when preparing the Atlantic edition.

8. The Pearson's Magazine paste-up is the only authority for changing "back" to "black." The context is the artilleryman's contempt for the fears and behavior of ordinary Londoners before the coming of the Martians. The sentence in question reads as follows in all editions I have examined:

They just used to skedaddle off to work--I've seen hundreds of 'em, bit of breakfast in hand, running wild and shining to catch their little season-ticket train, for fear they'd get dismissed if they didn't; working at businesses they were afraid to to take the trouble to understand; skedaddling back for fear they wouldn't be in time for dinner; keeping indoors after dinner for fear of the back streets, and sleeping with the wives they married, not because they wanted them, but because they had a bit of money that would make for safety in their one little miserable skedaddle through the world. (2.7)

"Black streets" might perhaps appear here in the sense of "dark streets," but I can't recall having ever seen the phrase used in that way. Given the connotations of "back streets," I feel that it makes better sense in this context.

9. Seven Famous Novels by H.G. Wells (NY: Knopf, 1934).

10. Here I must acknowledged that my source for The Scientific Romances of H.G. Wells (London: Gollancz, 1933) is Seven Famous Novels of H.G. Wells (NY: Dover, no date), a photographic reprint of the Gollancz edition (minus the preface and the eighth novel), which I assume to have the same pagination. Notice that its title differs in one word from that of the 1934 Knopf edition).

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