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H. G. Wells's Re-Vision of Poe: The Undying Fire and Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island By Catherine Rainwater St. Edward's University Post-modern writers such as Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, and Milan Kundera are often fond of self-consciously examining the relationship of thenown works to those of their literary precursors. A variety of contemporary critics, most notably Harold Bloom and J. Hillis Miller, likewise reveal a continuing interest in how texts become incorporated into one another. Such writers and critics are not concerned with old-fashioned questions about "sources," but with how the "encapsulated" or subsumed material and the text within which it appears together comprise an intertextual event.1 Some years before the advent of these post-modernist approaches to fiction and criticism, H. G. Wells began experimenting with the conventions of the novel, and he developed ideas and strategies which anticipate a variety of contemporary concerns.2 Aware of his debt to his own literary precursors, Wells early and late in his career overtly declared an ongoing fascination with the fiction of Edgar Allan Poe. In "Popularising Science" (1894), for example, Wells states that "the fundamental principles of construction that underlie such stories as Poe's 'Murders in the Rue Morgue,' or Conan Doyle's 'Sherlock Holmes' series, are precisely those that should guide the scientific writer."3 In a previous article I showed how Poe's art informs some of the early works of Wells, especially "The Red Room" (1895), The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), The First Men in the Moon (1901), and Tono-Bungay (1908).4 Wells's preoccupation with Poe's work, however, does not diminish later in his career. Indeed, such works as When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), The Undying Fire (1919), Men Like Gods (1923), Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island (1928), The Croquet Player (1936), and All Aboard for Ararat (1940), written over a period of more than forty years, continue to bear definitive evidence of Wells's interest in Poe's art. However, the novels from Wells's middle and late periods suggest a major transformation of the Poe material, shaped by Freudian psychology, by Darwinian concepts of evolution and, most importantly, by Wells's perpetually revisionary cast of mind that constantly modified even Wells's own ideas.5 The early works demonstrate Wells's debt to Poe for a variety of "principles of construction" and narrative techniques. Perhaps after the fashion of Harold Bloom's rather exaggeratedly combative notion of influence,6 the early works suggest Poe's dominance over Wells's vision. The middle and later works, though, demonstrate Wells's re-vision far more than his emulation of his American predecessor's art. 423 Rainwater: Wells's Re-Vision of Poe Despite the similarities, a revelatory difference between Poe's fiction and Wells's early, Poe-influenced works is that Wells's are not grounded within any coherent, articulated cosmological system such as almost invariably informs Poe's works. Indeed, Poe's fiction and probably some of his poetry cannot be adequately interpreted without reference to this cosmology, most literally stated in his treatise, Eureka (1848). Although from the beginning of Wells's career, Darwinian evolutionary theory underlies his notions about the development of the universe, his early works reveal a reluctance explicitly to posit any system. Perhaps this reluctance explains why, among all Poe's works, Wells apparently attends most to The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), a narrative in which Poe's cosmology is least overtly and coherently evident.7 Wells does eventually formulate his own cosmology, quite different from Poe's yet everywhere suggesting itself as a revision of Poe's. Poe's characters, for example, attempt to reach an already extant ideal realm which lies beyond the earthly and which they can "remember" because the soul issues from it; but the human being shares no part in the creation of this realm. For Wells's characters , however, such as George Ponderevo in Tono-Bungay (who repeats the word "something" over and over again), vague intimations of "something" to be known or attained lead them to imagine an ideal earthly realm, yet to be constructed...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 423-436
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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