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Against the EventThe Everyday and Evolution of Modernist Narrative$
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Michael Sayeau

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199681259

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199681259.001.0001

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The “Odd Consequence” of Progress: H. G. Wells's The Time Machine and the fin de siècle Everyday

The “Odd Consequence” of Progress: H. G. Wells's The Time Machine and the fin de siècle Everyday

Chapter:
(p.108) (p.109) 3 The “Odd Consequence” of Progress: H. G. Wells's The Time Machine and the fin de siècle Everyday
Source:
Against the Event
Author(s):

Michael Sayeau

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199681259.003.0003

This chapter argues that, during the 1890s, many of the problems facing Britain were temporal disorders, characterized by the collision of everyday repetition with progress or with catastrophe. The signs were everywhere: the economy was mired in a depression popularly attributed to overproduction; the expansion of the electorate provoked a fear of political vulgarization; and the empire threatened to collapse under the weight of its own acquisitions. H. G. Wells's The Time Machine conveys its anxieties about the everyday via reservations about the socialist utopia that, as a political essayist, Wells was otherwise urging into existence. In the utopian everyday, the leisure society of the mindless Eloi signals the end of fiction itself: not only have the Eloi lost the ability to create art, but even the Time Traveller's story repeatedly verges on evaporation while in their company at the “end” of history. For this crisis of anomie, Wells evokes William Thomson's troping of the Second Law of Thermodynamics to imagine the “heat death” of the universe, a modern apocalypse wrought not by any catastrophe but merely by a cessation of events. It is not just an egalitarian distribution of wealth but also the exhaustion of fiction, or at least a dominant model of narrative organization, that signals the enervated end of mankind, thought, and time.

Keywords:   H. G. Wells, the time machine, everyday, event, utopia, science fiction, thermodynamics

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