“The Idea of a Planned World”: H.G. Wells’s “The First Men in the Moon”

Professor Simon J. James is editing a new Oxford World’s Classics edition of H.G. Wells’s novel, The First Men in the Moon. In this lecture accompanying the exhibition Life on the Moon: Literary and Scientific Reflections at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois he explores the context of Wells’s wider work, and some of the unpublished material in the book’s manuscript which is held in the library’s H. G. Wells Collection

Note that the sound cuts out briefly from 17:21-20:01.

H. G. Wells is now best known for the scientific romances that he wrote towards the end of the nineteenth century: The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds. Some critics have proposed that The First Men in the Moon (1901) deserves to be added to this list. However, Simon James argues that The First Men in the Moon should be seen as a new departure in Wells’s career, as a text which marks the shift from the Victorian to Edwardian period. This transitional fiction is conscious of belonging to a time “after something great, when the next great thing has not come along yet.”

In his own time, Wells was more famous for his utopian and political writing. His later Edwardian scientific romances combine the fantastic with social thought. The First Men in the Moon gives extended consideration to the imagined life in the moon of the “Selenite Society,” both a utopian image of Wells’s own dreams for the Earth, and a dystopian nightmare of an entirely planned world.

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