H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds was published in 1897. Wells narrative incorporated his attitudes on various components of English society during this half of the century; including new discoveries in evolution, progress of scientific exploration, British imperialism, anxieties of reverse colonization, and the moral ideology that governed Victorian England. In the late 19th c, Britain was at the height of imperial forces. The novel was preceded by the Berlin conference of 1884. The Berlin Conference was used to calculate the distribution of European power in Africa. This conference marked the height of Britain’s imperial power as the nations of Africa were stripped of their identity, rights, and autonomy.
The rationalization of this impersonal treatment of Africa and it’s people was based on a pseudo-scientific theory that all European peoples originated from one white race. This led to a color-coded classification of race that placed whites on top of the food chain and justified the dismantling of Africa with no regard for its people or its pre-existing cultures. The British empire’s callous treatment of the people of Africa, on this basis of racial preeminence, bears a striking resemblance to the manner in which the technologically superior Martians invade and enslave mankind. The reflection of European imperialism through the Martians also alludes to the concept of Social Darwinism.
War of the Worlds also makes references to the burgeoning progress of science in the Victorian era. Wells was mentored by T.H. Huxley, a supporter of the theory of “natural selection”. The conflict between mankind and the Martians marks a struggling paradigm shift between races that embodies Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest. In the novel, we see a more advanced force of nature (the Martians) exercise their developmental superiority as a race by conquering and enslaving mankind. Wells, however, ends his novel with an ironic twist on this theory as the Martians are eventually defeated by germs and bacteria. This turn of events, in a way, parodies connotations set by Darwin’s selection theory. Another element of Victorian era science in the novel is the fascination with the examination of Mars.
War of the Worlds also incorporates themes reflecting the moralism of Victorian society. Religion played a very important role in the governing of Victorian England. The end of the 19’th century marked a period known as, “fin de siécle”. As the 20th century neared, there resonated a terror in Victorian society about an apocalypse.This is shown in Wells’ character of the Curate, who believes that the Martian invasion an armageddon willed by God.
Worth, Aaron. “Imperial Transmissions: H. G. Wells, 1897–1901.” Victorian Studies 53.1 (2010): 65-89.
Ferguson, Christine. “Language, Science and Popular Fiction in the Victorian Fin-de-Siécle: The Brutal Tongue.” (2006).
David, Saul, Dr. “Slavery and the ‘Scramble for Africa'” BBC News. BBC, 17 Feb. 2011. Web. 02 Dec. 2014. .