A critical review - exegesis


The status quo What I'm writing My fiction

An essay I did for uni. This is an exegesis for the story posted here.


My story is a pastiche of two separate previously published works, the novella The Time Machine by the English author H. G. Wells (Wells 1895) and The Outsider, a short story by the American author H. P. Lovecraft (Lovecraft 1926). The text I used for The Time Machine is the British Heinemann edition which differs textually from the American Holt edition (Bergonzi 1960).

The story is a pastiche in the sense that it imitates the style and form of these two stories, as well as the themes inherent in them (Greene et al. 2012). As such, it is also a work of writing back, a form of intertextuality. The moods I wished to convey in the story were alienation from society at large, sundered romance, and the deep oppressive landscapes that were common in Gothic horror fiction. With the 4000 word draft, I explored differing viewpoints, first and third person, and with Wells’ character of Weena I used both techniques, where for the Outsider, I remained in first person for his entire narrative.

One experiment I used was to convey Weena’s first person narrative in italics, but with advice from the assessor, I deemed this approach to be unsuccessful. Likewise, shifting tenses from past to present with Weena’s different viewpoints also did not work effectively in the story. I struggle with tenses in the course of my writing in any case, and this extra piece of literary flair added a level of unneeded complexity. So, in the final draft, I shifted all the tenses to past and removed the italics.

In creating the pastiche, I needed to look at what the strengths were of both stories. The Time Machine can be read as a socio-political discourse on the differences between the working class and the privileged who live off the former’s labour. The Outsider is a story that posits the existence of a lonely being, what English author William Hope Hodgson termed the “abhuman”, used first in Hodgson’s novel The Night Land to describe those who live in complete separation from normal human society (Hodgson 1912). This is to say the Outsider ordinarily dwells beyond all human contact and companionship, and indeed in Lovecraft’s story, when he encounters other people, they react in fright and flee from him as if he is something grotesque.

My Outsider was written with similar intent. He is a nameless entity who exists as an abhuman, separated from any lasting or meaningful contact. I stress meaningful here as his meeting with Weena is more enigmatic for him than any other emotional aspect in the end. He questions what and who she is, but eventually accepts she is something transient traversing his world. One of the keystone characteristics of Lovecraft’s writing was that he purposefully left many things unexplained, frequently using words such as “unmentionable”, “inexplicable” or “indescribable” (Smith 2011). Therefore the Outsider, what he is and what he may represent is mostly up to reader interpretation through allusion and mood, something I believe I have achieved with my story.

The character of Weena is not so nebulous. Wells describes her and her core nature solidly in The Time Machine and speculates on the evolutionary history of her race, the Eloi (Wells 1895). He depicts her and the Eloi as simple-minded hedonists however Wells goes beyond this modest type analysis with Weena once the Time Traveller rescues her. He states earlier in the novella that the Eloi have a distinct lack of interest in him after initial curiosity (Wells 1895, pp. 41-42) yet Weena remains a faithful companion until the end, sleeping in the crook of his arm.

This possibly indicates that the latent humanity in the Eloi has been awakened, and the desire for on-going love and attention goes outside of any hedonistic need. In several places through the novella, the Time Traveller puts Weena before more urgent concerns. In fact, one scholar suggests that Weena almost derails the novella (Sayeau 2005) by distracting the Time Traveller from his quest to restore his machine and leave her time.

Perhaps then Wells was inhibited by mores and self-censorship to want to go beyond the child-like clinging nature he imbued her with. I have gone some way to redress this lack of adult feminine character by giving Weena a voice. She is in love with the Time Traveller, whom she names the “Tall Man”. It is a new and wondrous experience to her and when the Time Traveller apparently abandons her in the forest fire, she feels heartbreak and rage at his supposed betrayal. She further laments that she and the Time Traveller never connected at a romantic level due to them misinterpreting each other.

Her character at this point ties in with that of the Outsider as they are both people who are figuratively and emotionally lost. One of the key points the assessor made with the draft was the two stories needed to be tied in together more effectively and with my edits for the final draft, I emphasised the abject loneliness each of the two characters felt trapped in dark worlds they did not understand. I stressed this characteristic as it is one of the hallmarks of Gothic fiction (Gamer 2006). Where the Outsider’s loneliness was something he knew he was fated to have, there was a momentary need for companionship when he saw Weena.

Her loneliness derived from being outside of her comfort zone, away from the river and the huge decrepit building she called home. In the Outsider’s world she had an opportunity to go somewhere else, a choice not possible to the Outsider. He understands then, or at least theorises, that his world and hers are polar opposites. Unlike the Time Traveller, the Outsider perceives Weena to be an adult and thinks of her as a woman by the story’s end. Accordingly, he believes his own world to be an invention of his psyche and Weena’s presence to be symbolic of things denied to him.

In summary, this story was difficult to write and revise as my sympathies lay with the character of Weena. There was no emotional detachment in her nature like the Outsider possesses. She is deeply emotional and empathetic, and readily hurt and confused by the new feelings the Time Traveller placed upon her. In the end they were not that dissimilar, as there was nothing else like them either in her world or his. They were both outsiders.

References

Bergonzi, B 1960, The publication of The Time Machine 1894-5, The Review of English Studies, vol. 11(41), pp. 42-51

Gamer, M 2006, Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception and Canon Formation, Cambridge University Press, UK

Greene, R, Cushman, S, Cavanagh, C, Ramazani, J, Rouzer, P, Feinsod, H, Marno, D & Slessarev, A (eds) 2012, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Princeton University Press, New Jersey

Hodgson, W 1912, The Night Land, Eveleigh Nash & Grayson, London

Lovecraft, H 1926, The Outsider, Weird Tales, April

Sayeau, M 2005, H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and the “odd consequence” of progress, Contemporary Justice Review, vol. 8(4), pp. 431-445

Smith, P 2011, Re-visioning Romantic-era Gothicism: An introduction to key works and themes in the study of H.P. Lovecraft, Literature Compass, vol. 8(11), pp. 830-839

Wells, H 1895, The Time Machine, William Heinemann, London

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