Journal Article

Witnessing the End of the World: H.G. Wells’ Educational Apocalypses

Simon J. James

in Literature and Theology

Volume 26, issue 4, pages 459-473
Published in print December 2012 | ISSN: 0269-1205
Published online November 2012 | e-ISSN: 1477-4623 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/litthe/frs052
Witnessing the End of the World: H.G. Wells’ Educational Apocalypses

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H.G. Wells professed himself to be antipathetic to religion in general and to the extremes of Protestantism and Catholicism he experienced during his upbringing in particular. In The Outline of History (1920) and Experiment in Autobiography (1934), both written later in his career, Wells professes his non-belief, and laments what he sees as the Church’s negative influence on the intellectual and social development of humankind. Nonetheless, his fantastic writing frequently makes use of Judaeo-Christian tropes of the end of the world. Performing as a secular kind of hellfire preacher, Wells’ didactic portrayals of the end of the world function as an apocalyptic revelation, in the hope that his audience might be shocked into grasping the ‘truths’ of his political programme of universal education and a utopian World State. The War of the Worlds (1898) in particular draws on biblical language and eschatological imagery and even contains a theological debate between the text’s narrator and a curate whose belief is wavering. Surprisingly, given Wells’ later account of his own beliefs, the narrator himself is a Christian, and his faith endures the Martian invasion—he even thanks God for the world’s deliverance from the Martians and speculates whether the Martians themselves too believe in Him. Wells’ visions of eschatology in his scientific romances give him both a mode for addressing his readership and a way of dramatising his own personal convictions.

Journal Article.  6915 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Religion and Art, Literature, and Music

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