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Anticipations: H. G. Wells, Science Fiction and Radical Visions
A Conference at Woking, 8-10 July 2016
Abstracts * Accommodation * Programme * Registration * Venue and Directions

Saturday 9 July 2016

15.30 Kemp Room

Maxim Shadurski (Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities)
“An Archaeology of Utopia in H.G. Wells’s The Dream: Between England and the World State”

Wells’s anxiety that the World State will forfeit every connection with England receives a fictional rendering in The Dream (1924). Unlike Men Like Gods (1923) – its immediate predecessor, this novel explores not the Earthlings’ perceptions of Utopia, but the Utopians’ ability to remember and identify with England. Whereas Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (1888) and William Morris’s News from Nowhere (1891) comprise two narratives: the frame narrative of the writer’s contemporary moment and the embedded narrative of the dream, Wells’s novel reverses this order. Thus, the frame narrative is set some 2000 years into the future, and the embedded narrative of the dream centres on the writer’s contemporary moment and immediate past. The novel’s protagonist Sarnac dreams not about Utopia, but about early twentieth-century England. The narrative of his dream unveils itself against the backdrop of alpine mountains, recollecting the English landscape of parks, gardens, and hilltops. Sarnac narrates his dream in the form of a social novel, wherein he increasingly identifies himself with an Englishman Henry Mortimer Smith. Sarnac’s narrative is sustained by realist mode, which carries ideological implications for the Wellsian utopia. If England can be so fully remembered and vividly dreamed about in the World State, there must be a strong underlying continuity between them. This paper examines said continuity as reflected in the landscape of the World State and the English landscape, Sarnac’s identification with Smith, and his narrative of the dream. I thus seek to establish whether the redemptive, rather than emancipatory, character of Sarnac’s dream reduces the Wellsian utopia to an ideological construction. Another question this paper sets out to discuss has been inspired by Ruth Levitas’s recent conceptualisation of utopia as a series of methodological modes, one of which being archaeological. When Sarnac dreams about England from the height of his fulfilled position, he can be seen to engage in the archaeology of the good society. His excavations lay bare the causes and outcomes of bad dreaming.

 

Matthew Wraith (Imperial College)
“Class and Classification – H.G. Wells and Science Fiction’s Elites”

From Kipling’s Aerial Board of Control, to Asimov’s Encyclopaedists, through to George Lucas’ Jedi – science fiction has, from its very beginnings, been finding ever new ways of reinventing the notion of an aristocracy. Knowledge of science and mastery of technology are never evenly distributed through any society and this fact continually conjures fantasies of an elite class, caste or sect of experts who can use this superior mastery to lead and administrate society as a whole, a class of natural-philosopher kings.

This elite group was not only something that science fiction has sought to evoke, but to convoke: science fiction has often fantasised about its own potential to call together such an elite amongst its readership. The peculiarly clubby and cliquey nature of science fiction’s readerships has brought with it countless never-quite-successful attempts to replicate these groups in the real world.

H.G. Wells was, as ever, at the forefront of these ideas. Growing up in a space so rigidly determined by social class as Uppark, he was far less interested in doing away with the class system as he was with reinventing and recasting it, moving new human material into the spaces it left behind.

New forms of technologically and scientifically inspired quasi-aristocracies constantly appear in his fiction and also in his political writings: the Eloi, the New Republicans, The Samurai, the Airmen of Things to Come. I propose to examine some of these groups, the principles that lend them their distinction and their relation to the real world class-system of early twentieth century Britain. But the enthusiasm with which Wells envisages these new elites is matched in his writings by an equal and opposite scepticism. For Wells’s empirical outlook led him not simply to a mistrust of the concept of class but of classification as a whole.

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