Narrativizing Climate Change: The Devolution of Humanity in H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, Samantha Nystrom
From Brittany Shimanski
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Despite the fact that the “whole earth had become a garden” in the year 802,701, gardening has disappeared. Drawing upon Allen MacDuffie, Jesse Oak Taylor, and other scholars who consider literary representations of the atmosphere in Victorian literature, in this paper I consider H.G. Wells’ depiction of the devolution of the human species in The Time Machine to argue that Wells presents a world that has been enclosed by a gigantic glasshouse—an umbrella term for enclosed gardens like greenhouses and hothouses that regulate their atmosphere to control growth through light management. Connecting The Time Machine to Victorian gardeners’ plans to improve the urban environment and protect English citizens from the harmful climatal effects of industrialization and overpopulation with gigantic glasshouses, I interrogate how Wells critiques such glasshouse schemes while calling for reform to the very environmental conditions that engendered such proposed solutions. In Wells’ novella, not only are plants under the management of this glass technology, but now humankind is akin to the plants cultivated within glasshouses. Humans are grown and cultivated like prized plants. Correspondingly, humans also fall prey to the effects of horticultural improvement schemes that bred plants in artificial climates; such schemes resulted in sterility, miscegenation, and the like for plants and in the docile, inept Eloi and cannibalistic Morlocks for humankind. By doing this work, I show how literature enables readers to consider the long-standing trauma of climate change.