Evolution in H.G. Wells’s “The Time Machine”

Term Paper, 2009

22 Pages, Grade: 1,0



Table of contents

1 Introduction

2 From Evolution to Social Darwinism in the Fin de siècle

3 An analysis of “The Time Machine” in the context of Evolution and Social Darwinism
3.1 The perception of the future world
3.1.1 The Time Traveller’s hypothesises about the descent of man
3.1.2 The Time Traveller’s attitude towards Eloi and Morlocks
3.1.3 The arrival at the terminal beach
3.2 An analysis of selected symbols and images
3.2.1 Technology and the time machine
3.2.2 The Sphinx and the rhododendron bushes
3.2.3 The Palace of Green Porcelain
3.2.4 The image of eating

4 Conclusion


1 Introduction

“Now, let us be quite clear here; speaking with precision, Natural Selection we

say is not a theory but a fact.”

(HUXLEY, WELLS, G.P. and WELLS, H.G., 1931: 263)

H.G. Wells had been intrigued by speculations about the future progress of humanity towards a more equal society since his youth. (RUDDICK, 2007: 198) Studying at the Normal School of Science he came into contact with the mind­set of Thomas Henry Huxley who militated against the Social Darwinist thoughts which used evolutionary theories and were present in the late-Victorian society at the end of the 19th century. Huxley became an adored men­tor and friend for Wells who transferred and enhanced his ideas in his literature. (JANSING, 1977: 54)

The scientific romance1 The Time Machine, which was Wells’s first novel (GLENDENING, 2007: 7), explores the adventures of a respectable late-Victorian scientist within this evolutionary and Social Darwinist context. The scientist travels with his own created time machine into the year 802,701 where he finds the world of Eloi and Morlocks. These two species represent a degen­erated form of man whose retrogression results from socio-economic condi­tions. An additional journey 30 million years forward in time adds to the image of degeneration in the evolutionary process.

This research paper concentrates on the evolutionary and Social Darwinist theme of The Time Machine. First, an introduction to Social Darwinist thoughts in the end of the 19th century is given in order to set the context for this scien­tific romance. Secondly, the cognition process of the Time Traveller is analysed as this will make clear Wells’s examination with the social theories of his time. Studying selected symbols and images finally shows a detailed insight into the evolutionary subject of The Time Machine.

2 From Evolution to Social Darwinism in the Fin de siècle

The late 19th century, also known as “Fin de siècle”, refers to a period of change and crisis. “For many of those who lived through it, whether they were cultural pessimists (...), or the avant-gardists and prophets of a new world order (...), the fin de siècle was a time of great cultural ferment” (PYKETT, 1996: 1f). This period was characterised by the growth of mass society, the spread of ur­banism and the rending of social, moral and aesthetic traditions. (PYKETT, 1996: 2) Mainly, the upper class felt threatened by the rise of the working classes.

In this time, especially the work of the natural scientist Charles Darwin had a major impact on natural sciences but also on the social ideas of the late 19th century and its Victorian society.

During his travels around the world in the 1830s Darwin developed his evolu­tionary ideas and finally published “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natu­ral Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”2 in 1859. (SCHNACKERTZ, 1991: 26) The main points of Darwin’s evolutionary theory were the following: All organisms, including humans, are influenced by biological laws. All living beings fight for survival within the scope of limited re­sources. (DICKENS, 2000: 1) This struggle happens either between organisms of the same species, or with organisms of other species, or with the physical conditions of life. (HAWKINS, 1997: 26) Moreover, each individual is different from the other due to variations of physical and mental qualities which occur randomly. These variations lead to either advantages or disadvantages in the struggle for survival. Consequently, the advantageous qualities become fully emerged and are passed on to future generations through progeny. (DICKENS, 2000: 1ff) “Change in species was central to Darwin’s theory”. (DICKENS, 2000: 8)

There had been several natural scientists and social scientists who studied on the idea of evolution and on theories that can be labelled as Darwinism before Charles Darwin published his theory: Charles Bonnet, George-Louis Leclerc de Buffon, Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck, Charles Lyell, Alfred Russel Wallace and Thomas Malthus with his “Essay on the Principle of Population”, to name only a few. (KOCH, 1973: 23ff, 50f) Herbert Spencer created the term “survival of the fittest” some ten years before the publication of “The Origins of Species” which was only added by Darwin into the fifth edition of his treatise. (DICKENS, 2000: 4) Hawkins calls Spencer a “Darwinian before Darwin”. (HAWKINS, 1997: 19) Nevertheless, his theory lacked the idea of randomly produced variations in organisms which was later pointed out by Darwin. (DICKENS, 2000: 21f)

Charles Darwin was a product of his time and therefore he adopted directly and indirectly ideas of other scientists. However, he added his concept of natural selection to the evolutionary theory which had the most important effect on his time. (KOCH, 1973: 53) The progress in other sciences and the formation of new politic structures in Middle and Western Europe as well as a growing edu­cational level of the wide masses and the publication in popular press lead to a spread of Darwin’s theory. (KOCH, 1973: 62)

One important effect of Darwin’s ideas of an evolution driven by natural selec­tion could be observed in the field of Christian religion. While Galilei and New­ton shocked Christian ideas, Darwin’s opponents now feared the complete col­lapse of the Christian world view because Darwin equalised men with animals. (KOCH, 1973: 67)

However, the transformation of Darwinist ideas into a Social Darwinism had been important as well which still has an effect in our present days. Especially Darwin’s idea of natural selection was widely used and adopted.

Social scientists used parts of Darwin’s theory which they valued as acceptable and missed other parts out. Evolution as a determined and purposeful process was particularly pointed out. Darwinism had not been any more only part of natural sciences but a central theory of social life. (DICKENS, 2000: 26)

In the context of democratisation and the rise of the working classes at the end of the 19th century liberalists used Darwin’s ideas as a scientific evidence for their world view which was addressed against the lower classes of society. (JANSING, 1977: 39ff) The evolutionary theory described evolution as a mechanism of progress in flora and fauna. Social Darwinists transferred this idea into social and political life and emphasised the progress of society. The belief in progress had been essential to the thoughts of the end of the 19th cen­tury. (KOCH, 1973: 19f)

The liberalists claimed that the selection process in society cannot develop due to governmental support of the lower classes. The lower classes would still re­produce and would outnumber the more gifted members of society. Conse­quently, the human race would step into degeneration instead of developing to a higher level. (JANSING, 1977: 47) As a result, the Social Darwinism had be­come an instrument to fight against other classes. (KOCH, 1973: 64f)

One can state that Darwin himself never had been completely neutral to the idea of evolution and that he also represented some kind of Social Darwinist thoughts. He operated with categories such as superior and inferior in the con­text of natural selection. This reflected the belief of reaching the status of per­fection within the evolution. Although Darwin was ambivalent towards the sev­eral social theories using and abusing his evolutionary theory, he had never militated determinedly against what had been transformed out of his ideas. (KOCH, 1973: 13, 22, 62) “(...) his arguments and values (especially those im­plying some kind of progress, directly and even an underlying purpose to evolu­tion) were necessarily a product of his time”. (DICKENS, 2000: 18)


1 The term “scientific romance” refers to literature from the 19th century which applied a fanciful and improbably story with scientific elements. (ANONYMOUS: Science Fiction Dictionary: Scientific romance)

2 Henceforward the short form „The Origin of Species“ is used in this research paper.

Excerpt out of 22 pages


Evolution in H.G. Wells’s “The Time Machine”
University of Erfurt
Dystopia: Wells and Huxley
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Anglistik, Literatur, scientific romance, H.G. Wells, The Time Machine
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2009, Evolution in H.G. Wells’s “The Time Machine”, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/138490


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