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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

Sunday 10 July 2016

11.15 Kemp Room

Simon J. James (Durham University)
“H.G. Wells: Textual Revision Travelling in Time”

The Time Machine has a long and complex textual history, from its origins in the Science Schools Journal, published when Wells was an undergraduate, through two separate and different serialisations, to the publication in 1895 of variant first UK and US editions. In each of these versions and revisions, Wells’s conception of what time actually is evolves, as Wells develops what this paper will argue is The Time Machine’s central conceit: the extension of geological time, as adumbrated by Lyell and others earlier in the century, from the past into the future. This paper will draw on each version of The Time Machine, including the recently digitised holograph manuscript of The Time Machine, which includes material previously undiscussed by Wells scholars (such as Wells’s quotation of a full stanza of In Memoriam). It will close with some reflections on the possibilities for textual editing of the digital curation of primary material, and on the implications of Wells finally coming out of copyright in 2017.

J. Jesse Ramírez (University of St. Gallen, Switzerland)
“From Woking to New York; or, American Wars: A Short Cultural History of War of the Worlds in North American Translation”

It can be argued without too much exaggeration that Wells’s War of the Worlds is an American text — if not by birth, then by naturalization. The initial form of this “naturalization” was piracy. Not long after Wells’s narrative was serialized in Pearson’s and Cosmopolitan, a pirated copy appeared in The Boston Evening Post under the dubious heading “Fighters from Mars: The War of the Worlds in and Near Boston.” But for all its flagrance, this plagiarism reveals a peculiar desire among Americans to make War of the Worlds their own. For over a century, Americans have Americanized not only the novel’s setting, but more importantly, its political critique. In this talk, I sketch a cultural history of four American versions of War of the Worlds: Garrett P. Serviss’s novel Edison’s Conquest of Mars (1898), an unauthorized sequel to the original; Orson Welles’s and the Mercury Theater’s infamous radio “hoax” of 1938; George Pal’s and Byron Haskin’s Cold War film of 1953; and Steven Spielberg’s post-9/11 adaptation. In each case, the anti-imperial critique of Wells’s narrative – what John Rieder calls the theme of “The Mighty Humbled” – is omitted, dodged, inverted, reconfigured, and appropriated to meet the ideological needs of a particular historical moment. If Wells radically reversed the roles of colonizer and colonized, Serviss’s Edison’s Conquest of Mars reflects the eagerness of a minor imperial power to prove itself on the world and interplanetary stage. While the imperial theme remains a subtext in the Halloween broadcast, Welles and the Mercury Theater’s version is more of an object lesson in the ambivalence of emergent media. I will not repeat the popular story of mass panic here; rather, the latest research suggests that this story is itself a “hoax,” generated by newspapers in their attempt to delegitimize what was then a new and disruptive mass medium, radio. The two filmed versions of War of the Worlds that appear after World War II showcase great uncertainty about the new status of the United States as a superpower. While Pal’s and Haskin’s film represents the Martian invasion as an allegorical World War III, which the United States can “win” only through religious humility, Spielberg’s post-9/11 film uses the invasion as a “motivation of the device” or formal excuse to repair the broken American family. Thus, I aim to show that War of the Worlds has provided American culture with a remarkably versatile lens with which to interrogate the crises of American history, but also with which to refract and escape from recognition of American imperial legacies.

 

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