The War of
A Critical Text of the 1898
London First Edition, with an
H. G. Wells
Leon Stover, Editor
(McFarland)Harper's Magazine recently did a run down of the great science fiction writers of all times. They concluded that Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Robert Heinlein were the best of the best. We aren't too sure about the other guys, but we would certainly put Wells at the top of the heap not only for science fiction but as an involving novelist.We first ran across his Seven Famous Novels --- which included "The War of the Worlds," "The Invisible Man," and "The Time Machine" --- back in 1946. What were you doing in 1946? And after rereading the McFarland edition, we can announce that his style is as gripping now as it was back then. How did he do it?Something that might help is to see Wells as a script-writer for movies long before the world even had scripted movies. His dramatic sense --- the story line --- is impeccable. His choice of detail is elegant. His descriptions are perfect --- his camera eye moving here and there, coming in for close-ups, drawing back for long shots, panning across the whole for background.This is our narrator, trapped in a ruined house, looking through a peep-hole at the Martians as they are preparing to, unh, have lunch:
Suddenly I heard a yell, and saw a long tentacle reaching over the shoulder of the machine, to the little cage that hunched upon its back. Then something --- something struggling violently --- was lifted high against the sky, a black vague enigma against the starlight, and as this black object came down again, I saw by the green brightness that it was a man. For an instant he was clearly visible. He was a stout, ruddy, middle-aged man, well dressed; three days before he must have been walking the world, a man of considerable consequence. I could see his staring eyes and gleams of light on his studs and watch-chain. He vanished behind the mound, and for a moment there was silence. And then began a shrieking and a sustained and cheerful hooting from the Martians...
Note the highlights: "the enigma against the starlight," "the staring eyes and gleams of light on his studs and the watch-chain..." --- and then Wells' soundtrack...silence, shrieking and then "cheerful hooting."
Wells knew when to stop, too. Chowing down on the ruddy gentleman is not shown; the narrator didn't see it, nor do we. Further down in the same chapter, though, he does have a dinner-time vision --- and the narrative is neatly aborted:
It was on the third day, if my memory serves me right, that I saw the lad killed. It was the only occasion on which I actually saw the Martians feed. After that experience, I avoided the hole in the wall for the better part of a day.
The careful "if my memory serves me right." The vague "I saw the lad killed," contrasted to the powerful details elsewhere in his tale. And the reaction, "I avoided the hole in the wall for the better part of a day."
Or: here is Wells' movie of the mobs running from the Martians. Mind you, this was written not too many years before the end of the 19th Century. It was a time when movies scarcely existed --- certainly not epic movies --- but also long before the terrorizing of civilians was brought to high art by the likes of the Wermacht in Eastern Europe, the Japanese in China, or Russian armies sweeping through Germany:
The figures poured out past the corner, and receded with their backs to the group in the lane. Along the margin came those who were on foot, threatened by the wheels, stumbling in the ditches, blundering into one another.
The carts and carriages crowded close upon one another, making little way for those swifter and more impatient vehicles that darted forever every now and then when an opportunity showed itself of doing so, sending the people scattering against the fences and gates of the villas.
"Push on!" was the cry. "Push on! they are coming!..."
Some of the people who crowded in the carts whipped stupidly at their horses and quarreled with other drivers; some sat motionless, staring at nothing with miserable eyes; some gnawed their hands with thirst or lay prostrate in the bottoms of their conveyances. The horses' bits were covered with foam, their eyes bloodshot.
There were cabs, carriages, shop-carts, waggons, beyond counting; a mail cart, a road-cleaner's cart marked "Vestry of St. Pancras," a huge timber waggon crowded with roughs. A brewer's dray rumbled by with its two near wheels splashed with recent blood.
"Clear the way!" cried the voices. "Clear the way!"
"Eternity! eternity!" came echoing up the road.
There were sad, haggard women tramping by, well dressed, with children that cried and stumbled, their dainty clothes smothered in dust, their weary faces smeared with tears. With many of these came men, sometimes helpful, sometimes lowering and savage. Fighting side by side with them pushed some weary street outcast in faded black rags, wide-eyed, loud-voiced, and foul-mouthed...
This is documentary film-work at its best, with all the necessary details: "Vestry of St. Pancras" "two near wheels splashed with recent blood" "some gnawed their hands with thirst" --- and the sound track: "Push on!" "Eternity!" "Clear the way!"
The War of the Worlds is overflowing with details that could fascinate the fifteen year old me, so long ago; and still --- child that I am --- it remains gripping, awash with delights and horrors. There's the subtle revelation of the narrator, an upper-class scientifico filled with curiosity, and finesse; there's the counterpoint, the mad-making babbling curate --- a pitiful representative of the Church of England. There are all the wonderful neo-scientific do-dads sprinkled here and there: the Red Weed, a seed that hitched a ride with the Martians --- rapidly taking over the English countryside, filling the rivers. There's the "Heat-Ray," a concentrated beam of light not unlike lasers that came into being seventy-five years after the writing of The War of the Worlds. There's the Black Smoke, a poison gas, dispatched twenty years before its appearance in the trenches of WWI. There's the detail of the Martians' manufacture of aluminum ingots long before such was commonplace in the industrialized world. There are the exquisitely working, exquisitely described Handling Machines --- envisioned by Wells long before robots had even been thought of.
Too, there's the description of the Martians, brown and wet and googly, sixteen tentacles --- not six, not twelve, not twenty --- around their wet little triangular mouths; there are their huge worm-like bodies that are oppressed by the terrific gravity of the earth --- monsters that come off as thoroughly disgusting when compared to their elegant, shiny, new machinery. Finally, there are the philosophic and scientific undertones --- echoes of Kant, Metchnikoff, Darwin, Percival Lowell, among others.
In this volume, the editors' comments are extremely helpful in showing us how the author, using his great 19th Century learning (and his great 20th century imagination) was able to come up with such a stirring adventure. Unfortunately, Mr. Stover is less helpful when he gets carried away with the sound of his own footnoted voice, which can, at times, be more than irritating . As the narrator escapes from his prison in the ruined house, he finds that the pit that had kept him as involuntary prisoner is now deserted:
All the machinery had gone. Save for the big mount of grayish-blue powder in one corner, certain bars of aluminum in another, the black birds and the skeletons of the killed, the place was merely an empty circular pit in the sand.
The huge pile of blue dust, plus a few uncollected aluminum ingots, is all that remains of the industrial activity at note 147. Now crows pick over the carrion of skeleton-reduced bodies drained by the Martians for their blood. Such is the cost to common humanity for the march of progress, represented by the metal of the future and with it the statist organization of the future. The Modern State Octopus, after all, is a sucker-out of the lifeblood of local communities into the veins of a higher organism...
I guess this is supposed to be an insight into the workings of Wells' radical way of thinking. But there's a word for this: over-reaching. No --- worse --- it's taking scholarship to the ultimate, rhetorical limit. A "sucker-out of the lifeblood...into the veins of a higher organism" indeed! Where the hell did this guy come from? Mars?--- R. W. RenfrewSummer in
Roger and Angela Keys,
(New Directions)Back when I was in my salad years, Dostoyevsky was required reading for our "Humanities" classes. We dreaded these assignments, because it would mean a week of plowing our way through Constance Garnet's translations of Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov or The Idiot. No weekend partying when Dostoyevsky was on the agenda.At the same time, there was a fascination with the low-lifes and angels he was portraying. One would find one swept up not only in a dynamite murder mystery, but in the wonder that one writer could pull out of his head the wildly divergent characters like lusty Karamazov père, the intellectual madman Ivan, the peasant-like Dmitri, the sinister Smerdyakov, the angelic Alyosha.Tsypkin has chosen to follow in the footsteps of Dostoyevsky during the summers he spent in Baden-Baden. Not only was he gambling away every last sou on roulette, he would go into his occasional fits (he was subject to gran mal seizures), and be subject to the usual paranoic lunacies of a top-drawer writer. Tsypkin calls Summer in Baden-Baden fiction --- but from everything we've gleaned about Dostoyevsky over the years (plus the fact of suffering through his novels and vicious short stories like Notes from the Underground), the book appears to us to be a fine representation of a genuine nut case, especially when he got to the gambling table:
Nothing was visible except the piles of coins before him and the tiny ball, rolling round and finishing in the sector he had divined --- and he was betting over and over again, raking in with his hands the coins he had won and adding them to the pile which shone with a reddish-gold gleam --- and the peak of the mountain had suddenly emerged from the clouds, which remained somewhere below --- he was not so high he could not even see the earth --- all was covered with white cloud, and he strode across the cloud and, strangely , it supported him and even lifted him up towards the reddish-gold, unconquered peak which until quite recently had seemed unattainable.
Or there is the fine conceit of Fyodor and Anna when they are "swimming" in bed together,
He came to kiss her goodnight and they swam so far that the coast disappeared from view as though it had never existed --- on they swam, breathing rhythmically, plunging into the water, now thrusting themselves slightly out again to gulp air into their lungs --- and when it seemed that the swimming would never end and that they would break free at any moment, no longer swimming but soaring lightly and easily over the water like seagulls...
Both of these are excellent examples of Tsypkin's breathless, sweeping style, and it takes the reader into the peaks until Dostoyevsky starts losing it, then we descend into the putrescent underground, falling in despair with him, and then out into the street, we start pushing against people, thinking, no, knowing that everyone is pointing at him, laughing at him, and he begins to contemplate suicide and when he gets to the rental apartment to find Anna (they are always late on the rent --- they have to creep past the door of the landlady) he begins to yell at her or kiss the hem of her dress or beat on the wall or abase himself on her worn shoes or fall into a fit.
It is hard not to get swept away by all this, the delight and despair that pulls the writer every which-away, such that --- for this reader --- makes one have to lay aside Summer in Baden-Baden for awhile because of the overly-involving nature of racing up and down, going from such highs and lows with the writer --- no, with both writers.
Obviously, Tsypkin has done his homework; but, more ominously, during the course of writing this, he seems to have become Dostoyevsky. One does that with the novels: who of us haven't felt a kinship, too much of a kinship, with Raskolnikov or Dmitri or Ivan? We would imagine it's a scary process for Tsypkin. It certainly is for the reader.--- Ignacio Schwartz
And the Culture of
U. S. Imperialism
--- 1915 - 1940
Mary A. Renda
In the land of sloth and vice
Where they never heard of ice
Where the donkeys and the women work all day
Where the land is full of ants
And the men don't wear their pants
It is here the soldier sings his evening lay.--- Marine song about service in HaitiThe U. S. Marines occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. It all began under the ægis of Woodrow Wilson, when the President of Haiti --- Vibrun Guillaume Sam --- was assassinated. The marines disembarked on 28 July 1915, and what was to be a temporary effort to "stabilize" the country turned into a long-term operation. Our presence continued --- indeed, was obscured by --- the war in Europe, and then, went on and on, despite Congressional hearings, international opprobrium, and opposition from the American press. It was only finally terminated with the coming of Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor" policy.According to Professor Renda , it is not the purpose of Taking Haiti to present us with a study of the political events that brought us into that country. Rather, she is interested in the cultural artifacts. She concerns herself with the plays and novels that treated with the real or imagined Haitian culture (The Emperor Jones of Eugene O'Neill being the prime example). She spends a goodly amount of time on what she refers to as "interventionist paternalism:" America as a white, imperial power, moving in to care for those we saw as inferior "children." She is also concerned with the effect of the occupation on the American military --- who they were, what their self-image was, what years of violence and fear created, and how the "imperialist state" spread in subsequent decades over into other Caribbean and Latin American states.She quotes extensively from correspondence of members of the U. S. military, along with writings that reflected what transpired in the hearts and minds of the Haitians who had to deal with our continuing presence.
§ § §
It's a rather limited and peculiar focus --- but it's an interesting one. Despite Woodrow Wilson's post WWI rhetoric about respecting national sovereignty, he was the one who sent in the Marines. And despite growing criticism --- mostly in The Nation magazine, and the black press of the day --- he refused to call off the dogs. There was, she points out, a lack of regard for the citizens and traditions of that country --- despite the fact that "Haiti was the second independent nation of the Western Hemisphere, founded only twenty-nine years after the United States." One of the high Marine officials --- Col. Littleton W. T. Waller --- wrote, "I know the nigger and how to handle him." His superior, Smedley Butler --- yes, Smedley Butler --- wrote to his wife Bunny (he called himself "Daddie Piddie"),
For the past two weeks I have been working along hard with my little black Army and am beginning to like the little fellows.
He also referred to the Haitian men as his "little chocolate soldiers."
Anyone familiar with American history would expect such language. The cruel side of it is that many of our military actions against the "cacos," the insurgents, became what we would later call "police riots:" violence, random murders, beatings, and attempts to disrupt a whole culture (Vodou ceremonies --- the heart of Haitian religion --- were specifically banned.)
Renda also spends a fair amount of space to describing the world of a Marine from eighty years ago:
That a marine headed for Haiti should have fancied himself an Indian fighter or a latter-
day colonial soldier- adventurer was, then, no mere coincidence. Indeed, young white men arrived at Marine Corps recruit depots and naval bases in the 1910s and 1920s with their heads full of images gathered from the culture of rough boyhood and imperial masculinity.
With paternal insouciance, the Marines not only lorded over the country for almost two decades, but, with their prostitutes --- and in some cases, Haitian mistresses (referred to as "sleeping dictionaries") --- the American military became part of an exotic culture, one that was, in gringo eyes, for sale:
Americans viewed Haitian servants and prostitutes as commodities insofar as the latter could be bought and sold and insofar as they could confer upon the buyer a sense of status and identity linked to class, race, gender, and sexuality.
The very banning of Vodou meant that the Marines could involve themselves in the ownership of exotic artifacts. The anthropologist Alfred Métraux suggested that
the ban on Vodou was largely observed in the breach, and that the main enforcement activity was, indeed, the confiscation of drums. In this way, military power facilitated the production of Haitian cultural objects as exotic commodities for circulation and exchange in the United States.
Despite occasional lapses into trendy neo-revolutionary language ("By explicitly linking race and gender hierarchies in fiction, film, travel narratives and the like, imperialist discourses surrounding the occupation intervened in domestic cultural and political struggles...") Professor Renda has produced a workmanlike study of a time in American history, where --- by invoking the usual rhetoric of the need to protect the peoples against themselves --- we subsumed a whole culture, a culture that inadvertently may have contributed to the radical changes we saw in the United States forty years down the line.--- Françoise Beaupont