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They fail even to vibrate the air, on an exhausted planet where “the sounds of man, the bleating of sheep, the cries of birds, the hum of insects, the stir that makes the background of our lives—all that was over.”As it happens, “The Time Machine” belongs to an era of formidable competition for writers of supernatural fiction: the so-called golden age of the English ghost story, that pre-Great War era which included Henry James and M. In his despairing moments, Wells sometimes envisioned the human race as doomed, but between his periodic bouts of melancholy he was an irrepressible optimist, for whom any show of life was a show of hope.
But he did something nobody had ever done before: he painted a mural for all succeeding novelists, a sort of backdrop on which the saga of Homo sapiens was drawn.
Perfection suggests stasis, and there is no stasis in the medium of time, whose essence is mutation.
Readers who have the good fortune to come upon the book first in childhood will likely find its most compelling vision in the divided world of Eloi and Morlock.
Keats’s poem was written in 1818, when he was twenty-two, and finds him presciently contemplating his early death: Both figures are—one metaphorically, the other literally—at the ends of the earth. Both may be contemplating the eternal, but Wells’s is a bigger eternal, encompassing Lyell and Darwin and deep time.
Earlier on his journeying, in the land of the Eloi and Morlocks, the Time Traveller chanced upon a long-abandoned museum of natural history, whose dinosaur fossils redirect his thinking to the Jurassic—even further back than his upcoming forward voyage to the world’s end. In the interval between Keats’s contemplation of the shore and the Time Traveller’s, infinity itself was growing restless—or restlessly growing.