Science Fiction Studies

#46 = Volume 15, Part 3 = November 1988


  • David Lake. Undefinitive Wells (H.G. Wells. The Definitive Time Machine: A Critical Edition of H.G. Wells's Scientific Romance with Introduction and Notes by Harry M. Geduld)
  • David N. Samuelson. Spiking the Canons (Thomas Clareson. Frederik Pohl; Leon Stover. Robert A. Heinlein)


David Lake

Undefinitive Wells

H.G. Wells. The Definitive Time Machine: A Critical Edition of H.G. Wells's Scientific Romance with Introduction and Notes by Harry M. Geduld. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1987. xii + 218pp. $27.50 (cloth), $10.95 (paper).

Harry M. Geduld offers his edition of Wells's The Time Machine as "the definitive" one. Useful it is, definitive it is not; for Geduld has not done enough textual research, so that his copy-text is good but not quite Wells's last word. Moreover, his notes perpetrate (and may perpetuate) a grave error about the name of the Time Traveler; and he has padded the back of his book with some rather silly Appendixes (VIII-XII) which do not belong in a work of this nature. Still, Geduld is to be commended for including in one volume all the early versions of Wells's Time Machine story, and for putting into print for the first time one chapter of the 1894 manuscript which Wells omitted from the published texts.

In a venture of this kind, the question of copy-text must come first; yet Geduld has no section of his Introduction which adequately scrutinizes the textual problem. He merely assumes that the Atlantic Edition (1924) is Wells's final version, and he adopts this as copy-text. For his remarks on previous editors of The Time Machine we have to look at his Select Bibliography. And there he says of the previous critical editor, Frank D. McConnell (1977), "The text he uses is unreliable" (p. 124). Since McConnell in effect used the same copy-text, (a slightly corrupted version of) the Atlantic Edition, I find this strange. In fact, McConnell used a bad copy-text for The War of the Worlds; but for The Time Machine Geduld's text is basically no better than McConnell's. Where Geduld is better is in his notes, which usually (but not always) improve on McConnell.

I discuss the textual problems of The Time Machine in an article in this year's The Wellsian; here, therefore, I will merely summarize my findings. There are a few readings where Well's last word is not the Atlantic Edition but The Scientific Romances (London: Gollancz, 1933). In one of these readings, the Atlantic Edition is clearly faulty, and Geduld of course reproduces the fault: at the end of Chapter 5, the Time Traveler, faced with Weena's tears, wants to banish "these signs of human inheritance" (Geduld, p. 63). Wells's final reading, which a future critical editor should adopt, is: "these signs of the human inheritance." Again, in Chapter 6, p. 66, Geduld reads "I tried to call to them, but the language they had used was apparently different from that of the Over-world people"--but Wells in Scientific Romances corrected "Over-world" to "Upper-world," as in several other instances.

Geduld reprints, in Appendixes I-III, the early versions of the Time Machine story (1888-94), which we have hitherto had to find in more than one volume, notably Bernard Bergonzi's The Early H.G. Wells (1961) and Philmus and Hughes's H. G. Wells: Early Writings (1975). Unfortunately he presents Appendixes II and III without the useful annotations of the Bergonzi and Philmus-Hughes editions; and this may be seriously misleading as to Wells's "Third Version," briefly recollected by A. Morley Davies. For this, in Appendix II, Geduld cuts out all the words of comment by Davies, including the essential remark: "of which fragments only were read to me." Ignoring this excision, in the Introduction (p. 6) Geduld claims that these Versions were "read" by Professor Davies--a blatant inaccuracy at least as regards Version Three.

Appendix VII, "The Time Traveler Visits the Past," prints for the first time Chapter 14 of the late-1894 manuscript of The Time Machine. Here, on the way home from the End-of-the- World, the Time Traveller overshoots into the past, and meets a Pliocene hippopotamus and some 17th-century Puritans. Wells was quite right to cut this chapter, as it makes a grievous anticlimax and does nothing for the themes of his great story. Still, it is useful to have it available; and to that end, I made a transcript of it myself in 1978. Geduld's text tallies exactly with my transcript, except for one reading where I think he must be in error: on p. 186 he reads: "Far away through the drifting mist some huge great creatures followed one another..." Now "huge great creatures" is an absurd tautology, and my transcript reads "huge grey creatures"-- which is surely right.

Geduld's Introduction contains a few errors--one, indeed, in the second sentence. Here we are told that The Time Machine was published in 1895 "when Wells was thirty." But a reference back two pages to "A Brief Chronology" shows clearly that Wells was 28 years and about 8 months old in May 1895, so "thirty" is inaccurate. A trifle, indeed; but inaccuracy so early on does not inspire confidence. Then again, Geduld's chronology (pp. 10-11) of the Traveler's adventures in the Eloi world is wrong by one day. Geduld actually goes wrong twice. In the first instance, he says the Time Machine is lost on Day Two, whereas the Wells text makes it quite clear that the machine is lost soon after sunset on the day of the Traveler's arrival--or is Geduld counting days from sunset? The main mistake is that Geduld goes wrong after Day Three, and thereafter has consistently one day too few, so that he has the Traveler leave the Eloi world on Day Eight, whereas it should be Day Nine. This can be demonstrated quite simply. The Time Traveler says he has spent eight days in the future (Chapter 2); well, if one calls the day of arrival Day One, that implies that the day of departure will be Day Nine. Moreover, the Traveler rescues Weena on Day Three (as Geduld agrees), and thereafter she slept for five nights with her head on the Traveler's arm "including the last night of all" (Chapter 5; Geduld p. 59). These must be the nights of Days 3 through 7, and the last night of all, the night of Day Seven, was the night spent on the hillside before the visit to the Palace of Green Porcelain. The next night, of Day Eight, Weena is killed in the fire, and the next day, Day Nine, the Traveler returns to the Time Machine. Geduld has gone wrong by misinterpreting the time-reference for the Traveler's first meeting with a Morlock: this is in Chapter 5 (Geduld p. 60), "one very hot morning--my fourth." Geduld takes this to mean the morning of Day Four. But the Traveler arrived in the middle of Day One, and the first meal he has with the Eloi is called "dinner," so it is fairly clear that his first morning in the future would be the morning of Day Two, and the fourth morning that of Day Five. In my time-scheme, but not in Geduld's, all of Wells's time-references are consistent.

It is in the Notes that Geduld makes his worst mistakes, and one of them is a mistake he could have avoided either by scrutinizing the manuscripts of The Time Machine a little more carefully or by referring to my article "The Drafts of The Time Machine, 1894," in The Wellsian (n.s. 3 [1980]:6-13). The major error is the claim in Note 1 (p. 91) that Wells named the Time Traveler "Bayliss" in a late rejected draft--on p. 184 the draft is specified as MSS pp. D27 and D28. I have a transcript of these pages, and indeed I deal with the whole matter in detail in my 1980 article. The fact is that "Bayliss" was never a name for the Time Traveler--it was a middle-stage name for the character who began as "the red-haired man" and at last became "Filby." The proof of this can be found on MS page B1, a title page, where Wells writes a note to his typist: "General note/Wherever red haired man occurs after the first page write Bayliss/ He only comes in the Introduction & at the end." Indeed, in my article I show that the name "Bayliss" is a vital clue for dating the various drafts in the MSS, which move from "red haired man" to "Bayliss" to "Filby." D27 and D28 are of middle date. In that draft the Traveler is already dead--in his bed, from the effects of traveling outside his lifetime--when Bayliss (Filby) loses the Time Machine. In an earlier draft of this episode, "the red haired man" vanished completely with the Machine--a disposal of the vehicle similar to the loss of the Cavorite sphere by a meddling boy in The First Men in the Moon.

A minor error comes on p. 99, in Note 13. This is the explanation of the Editor's remark on the disheveled Traveler: "Does our friend eke out his modest income with a crossing?" Nettle, the 1966 editor, was right here: the joke is a suggestion that the Traveler has been moonlighting as a crossing-sweeper. Crossing sweepers swept roadways in Victorian England, when the roads were encumbered with horse-dung, and the phrase "crossing-sweeper" was still very much part of my mother's ideolect in the 1940s. But Geduld will have it that "crossing" here means a "swindle." This cannot be right: a swindler to inspire confidence should be well-dressed, whereas dishevelment is to be expected in the dirty work of a crossing-sweeper. When I first read The Time Machine in the 1940s I was in no doubt as to what the Editor meant by "a crossing," and I am in no doubt now. But at least Geduld's idea is slightly better than McConnell's, which was that the Traveler had been acting as a "highwayman"!

Among the unnecessary Appendixes, VIII-XII, Geduld prints a piece of his own, "Beowulf and The Time Machine" (Appendix XI). I am not sure whether this is meant to be a joke, a satire on silly parallel-hunting. As Geduld notes in his first paragraph, there is no evidence whatever that Wells had read Beowulf. But of course, parallels can be found, and Geduld duly finds them. For example: "None of the Morlocks loses an arm, but later in Wells's narrative, an 'iron arm,' a lever, is used by the Time Traveler to batter many of them to death" (p. 212). I love the way negative evidence, in this sentence, becomes positive evidence. But parallel-hunting is frequently like this. At least Geduld's piece is funnier than some of the others he reprints in these Appendixes.

A final point: there is one omission in Geduld's list (pp. 128-29) of fictions related to The Time Machine which is probably not the editor's fault: my own double-novella The Man Who Loved Morlocks (Melbourne: Hyland House, 1981). This is both a sequel to Wells's story and a re-writing of it from the Morlocks' point of view, and it has had some success in Australia, even winning the local Ditmar Award in 1982. Up to now the book has not been distributed in America, but I believe this situation is about to change. I hope it may figure in the bibliography of the next and more definitive critical edition of The Time Machine. Till then we must Geduld haben.

P.S. Since writing the above, I have come to notice that Geduld's edition is seriously disfigured by textual errors. Indeed, there are so many that in my listing below I will give only the errors in substantive readings in the texts of Wells himself. Numbers give page and line in Geduld. All these have been found to be wrong by comparison with the copy texts; I give the true reading in parentheses.


1. The Time Machine, main text. 41.21: so that thing (so that the thing); 41.22: was ten (was at ten); 43.11 & 12: (no new ); 43.14: obstacles that (obstacle that); 44.7: and recede (and to recede); 47.9: it so (it was so); 52.32: across my face (across the face); 60.18: the plants must (the planets must); 61.23: and my theory (and of my theory); 62.21: of the splitting (of this splitting); 62.37: worker lie in (worker live in); 72.4: at the time (at that time); 72.22: Bettersea (Battersea); 75.9 & 10: with the keenest force the (with keenest force was the); 82.25: long refreshing (long and refreshing); 83.7: the abominable kind (that abominable kind); 83.13: Once, indeed (One, indeed); 83.39: The bank of light (The band of light); 84.18: by horizon (by the horizon); 87.10: now every motion (now her every motion).

With 20 mistakes in substantives, this is a worse text of The Time Machine than the Penguin paperback (1958), where I counted only 10 substantive variants from its copy-text.

2. Select Bibliography. There is one bad typo here: Stephen Keen should be Stephen Kern.

3. Appendix I: The Chronic Argonauts. 137.26: won overbelievers (won over believers); 138.4: projectile gate (projectile gait); 138.16: partricides (patricides); 139.22: agains (against); 141.37: to that effect that (to the effect that); 143.4 outburse (outburst).

4. Appendix III: The National Observer Time Machine. 159.1: A gentlemen in a easy (A gentleman in an easy); 162.14: sandals of buskins (sandals or buskins); 162.36: was slender (was a slender); 167.27: medicine man (medical man); 169.3: THE UNDERWORLD (IN THE UNDERWORLD).

5. Appendix IV: The New Review Time Machine. 180.3: find colossus (find the colossus).

At least one of Geduld's Notes to the main Time Machine text (p. 113, note 18) is seriously faulty. For "a Carlyle-like scorn" Geduld refers to "Aristocracy of the Moneybag" in "The French Revolution, Book VII, chapter viii." Carlyle's French Revolution has three Parts, two of which have a Book VII, chapter viii: I have not been able to locate this reference in either. On the other hand, David Y. Hughes, in his review of McConnell (SFS 4 [1977]:197), has a perfectly adequate citation from Carlyle: "The silliest hunted deer dies not so"--this is from The French Revolution, Part Two, Book VI, Chapter vii.

I think, in the light of all the above, Hughes's summary judgment on McConnell applies to Geduld also: he botched it. And like McConnell, his texts of Wells are unreliable.

[Nota bene: Geduld's response, and Lake's reply, appear in SFS 49 (November 1989).]

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