S02E44 The Door In The Wall by H. G. Wells

H G Wells

Herbert George Wells was born in 1866 in Bromley, Kent just outside London. He Died aged 79 at his grand house in Regent’s Park in London.

He was a scientist by training having got his degree at Imperial College London (the Royal College of Science).  He was a biologist with a strong interest in Darwin and Natural Selection.  His early adult life was one of financial insecurity and job after job teaching and he earned his Bachelor of Science in 1890 through the University of London’s external teaching scheme.  In 1893 while teaching A A Milne (author of Winnie the Pooh) at a school in London, he published a biology text book.

By 1895 he was contributing stories and articles to different periodicals. 

Politically, he was a Socialist. His mother was a domestic servant and his father had been a servant gardener though later became a professional cricketer for the Kent county team and who had a sports shop which didn’t do very well.   Because his family struggled financially, they put him out as an apprentice as a draper. He worked a thirteen hour day and slept in a dormitory and his later novels Kipps and The History of Mr Polly describe this lower middle class or tradesmen’s life.

He suffered from Diabetes and founded the Diabetic Association in 1934.

He was a progressive futurist who foresaw many modern developments such as tanks, space travel, nuclear weapons and satellite TV. His books deal with time travel (The Time Machine) and alien invasion (The War of the Worlds).

The Door in The Wall by H G Wells

The Door in the Wall was first published in The Daily Chronicle in 1906, when he was forty, and reprinted in Wells’s collection The Door In The Wall And Other Stories published in 1911. It is one of Wells’s most well-known stories, and he wrote at least a hundred short stories, mostly in the early part of his career.

The story is told to Redmond, and this device of having a story introduced to an otherwise blank hearer, who then learns of the ending of the story and makes his own conclusion, is well known. In fact more Victorian and Edwardian supernatural stories than not begin in this style (e.g. The Turn of The Screw, many stories of M R James) and it was copied by Ray Russell in the 1960s in his Sardonicus series when he wanted to write as if the story were Victorian.

The way Wallace recounts the story to Redmond is set out from the beginning as questioning whether Redmond should believe him. He says early on that he does, and at the end confirms this again. On balance, as fabulous as the story is, he chooses to believe Wallace.

The hero of the story, is Lionel Wallace a successful politician. And it is this success that is the central theme to the story, which to me is about putting off spiritual contentment in favour of worldly obligations time after time, until in the end, he makes the right, and final choice.

Every time he passes by the door and chooses a worldly goal rather that trying the door he is sure in his heart the door is unlocked and only waiting for him to step inside. 

The first time he goes in, he is a child. The second time he is a busy schoolboy intent on not being late for school. The third time he is on his way to his Oxford entry exam, the fourth time he is on his way to an important appointment, which seemed to be to be with a lover. There is a long gap and he is finally a successful politician, overworked with a tarnish beginning to spread on this world and he becomes more receptive to the message. He sees the door three times just when he is finding this world burdensome. He is determined that he would go in through the door.  Wallace at this time is around forty years old, which was Wells’s age at the time he wrote the story.  He passes the door on an urgent vote in the House  of Commons which he can’t miss. The next time he was rushing to say goodbye to his father who was dying. The third time was only a week before Wallace gives this account to Redmond. 

This last time is when Wallace is about to be offered a position in the new Government. 

The ending is open, so we can choose to believe that Wallace merely fell to his death in a tawdry accident, confused and englamoured by a puerile hallucination–puerile in that it first happened when he was a small boy.

Or, we can choose, and we are led by the narrator Redmond in this, to see Wallace rather entering paradise, at last choosing the road to contentment, he had been offered, and spurned, many times in his life.

I think that it is interesting that the grave faced woman with the moon eyes resists Wallace’s request to turn the pages of the book of his life. When she finally give in and we see the image of an empty street, she bends and kisses him as if she knows that he will never return to the garden when he lives and that his life will take him far away to successes to be sure, but never back to paradise.  

The imagery of the story, the panther, the playmates and the lost game, the girl, the older,  kind woman who has a book in which his future is set out.

There is one potential error. At the end of the account Wallace gives to Redmond of his foray into the garden as a little boy he says that this was his ‘first’ glimpse of the garden. In fact it was his only one at the time he told Redmond and we don’t know whether he returned to the garden at all when he fell into the excavation works.

Wells was famous for his fantastic fiction so we may sense a man whose eyes were not content with the everyday world he lived in. He wrote this story when he was about forty. A decade later he wrote a book called God The Invisible King which set out an individual and unorthodox view of Christianity. He later repudiated this and by his death said he was an atheist. Still, at this time he was exploring spiritual ideas.

Politically wells was a Socialist and a member of the Fabian Society (a left-wing grouping within the British Labour Party). 

I think that it is interesting that the grave faced woman with the moon eyes resists Wallace’s request to turn the pages of the book of his life. When she finally give in and we see the image of an empty street, she bends and kisses him as if she knows that he will never return to the garden when he lives and that his life will take him far away to successes to be sure, but never back to paradise.  

I chose to narrate in an accent close to my natural one, with my Northern flat vowels, though Wells and his characters would never have spoken like that.

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