- The War of the Worlds in the Boston Post and the Rise of American Imperialism: “Let Mars Fire”
On 19 January 1898, Albert Seaton Berry, representative from the state of Kentucky, stood before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and pleaded the cause of Cuba. Over 300,000 Cubans had died in their struggle for independence from Spain, he said, and yet America had done nothing. “I do not fear war,” Berry told the committee. “I think a little blood letting would be good for us. Let Spain fire on the American flag just once and the flame will be kindled that will free Cuba.” Another representative, Rowland Mahany of New York, objected: “But what will happen to us?” Berry had a ready answer: “Oh, we can take care of ourselves.”1 On the same day that this congressional exchange appeared in the Boston Post, another of the United States’ enemies had already opened fire. Martian tripods were laying waste to Boston. One month before the USS Maine sank in Havana Harbor starting the Spanish-American War, the USS Katahdin sank in Boston Harbor, continuing the “war of the worlds.” And just as the United States would go on to retaliate against Spain, the United States did not let the assault by the Martians go unanswered. The Martian invasion force had scarcely been defeated by bacteria and disease before humans launched a counterstrike that eventually subdued the Martian hordes and conquered their entire planet. In the Boston Post, the real and the fictional had come to occupy the same space. The facts of the Spanish-American War fulfilled the same function as the serialization of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds.
The War of the Worlds first appeared in Pearson’s Magazine in England from April to December 1897 and simultaneously in Cosmopolitan in New York, but these had been authorized serializations with Wells’s text intact. On 15 December 1897, the novel started appearing in the [End Page 387] New York Evening Journal under the title Fighters from Mars, or The War of the Worlds, the text heavily altered by the editors of that paper. Shortly afterward, a further altered version ran in the Boston Post (9 January to 3 February 1898) bearing the unwieldy title Fighters from Mars, or The War of the Worlds in and Near Boston. Both newspaper serializations were not fully authorized by Wells—he had cabled his agreement to serializations, but under the terms that there be no revision. These versions of the novel were followed by the serialization of Edison’s Conquest of Mars, an unauthorized sequel by science writer Garrett P. Serviss. Specially written for the New York Evening Journal and Boston Post, Edison’s Conquest of Mars depicted a victorious counterstrike against the Martians led by Thomas Edison himself (replete with a fleet of electrical spaceships). Taken together, a reading of Fighters from Mars and Edison’s Conquest of Mars in their context as they appeared in the Boston Post provides insight into the nationalist and imperialist mentalities of the United States in early 1898, prefiguring the transfer of imperialist power from the United Kingdom to the United States that would come with the Spanish-American War.2
The War of the Worlds is a work that has been adapted repeatedly since its original publication: four films, the famous Orson Welles broadcast, a television show, several comic books, and numerous prose sequels or reworkings.3 Fighters from Mars reveals that the novel was providing a fruitful ground for adaptation from the time it was published. The editors of the yellow journals immediately recognized the aspects of Wells’s novel that encourage adaptation. The only previous critical study of the serialization of The War of the Worlds in the American yellow journals was done by David Y. Hughes in his 1966 article “The War of the Worlds in the Yellow Press.” By Hughes’s admission, his article did little critical or analytical work; since the serialization had been largely unchronicled, he primarily established the circumstances of the serializations and highlighted some of the key textual differences.4 Unfortunately, despite Hughes’s groundwork, there is no further critical work...