[In Our Time] The Time Machine

The Time Machine

17/10/2019 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: https://podplayer.net/?id=84196169
Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/6/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p07r8bqr.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas explored in HG Wells’ novella, published in 1895, in which the Time Traveller moves forward to 802,701 AD. There he finds humanity has evolved into the Eloi and Morlocks, where the Eloi are small but leisured fruitarians and the Morlocks live below ground, carry out the work and have a different diet. Escaping the Morlocks, he travels millions of years into the future, where the environment no longer supports humanity.

The image above is from a painting by Anton Brzezinski of a scene from The Time Machine, with the Time Traveller meeting the Eloi


Simon Schaffer
Professor of History of Science at Cambridge University

Amanda Rees
Historian of science at the University of York


Simon James
Professor in the Department of English Studies at Durham University

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen Date: 2020-01-23


  • I didn’t know before listening to this that the Morlocks used to eat the Eloi.
  • Also TIL: that HG Wells flunked out of college thanks to a combination of boring physics teachers, and spending more time on politics and journalism.
  • Also TIL, and was delighted because of it: that HG Wells was thrilled by the bicycling culture around him, and the social changes it was bringing about, so the Time Machine is very bicycle influenced in that it has handlebars.
  • Makes the point that this is the first time travel fiction which involves a machine, rather than someone going to sleep and waking up elsewhere. On that note, I’m surprised that A Connecticut Yankee wasn’t mentioned.
  • Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, which I think I first heard about on Flash Forward, was discussed again. William Morris, who had his own In Our Time episode about the arts and crafts movement, apparently also wrote a time travel book. And moreover, HG Wells was so annoyed at how much Morris’s utopia was a rural idyll, that he wrote The Time Machine pointedly contradicting that.
  • Looking Backward, for all that it seemed to have been so influential back then, seems forgotten today. I should check it out.
  • There’s also a discussion which gets a little too much into speculative literary criticism (not that there’s anything wrong with that, it just seems over the top for In Our Time) about The Time Machine‘s Morlock-Eloi conflict being not just about technology vs ruralism; or proletariat vs aristocracy; but about art-for-art’s-sake Oscar Wilde types against art-for-social-change types like Wells.
  • Also learned: that Wells’s first year biology teacher was TH Huxley, so The Time Machine is massively influenced by theories of Darwinism and social Darwinism.


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