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In the Days of the Comet  
DaysoftheComet.jpg
Cover of 1924 US Edition
Author H.G. Wells
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction novel
Publisher C. Arthur Pearson
Publication date 1906
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 205 pp
ISBN NA

In the Days of the Comet is a 1906 science fiction novel by H.G. Wells in which the vapors of a comet are used as a device which brings about a profound and lasting transformation in the attitudes and perspectives of humankind.

Contents

Plot Summary

The story revolves around William Leadford, an unemployed student living in the industrial town of Clayton in Britain. He is strongly Socialist and strives for a change in power from upper-class, caused by the squalid living conditions caused by industrial development in the town and country. Although dates are never specified, the era is supposed to be shortly preceding World War I, or a war to that effect where about half-way through the book (in the Chapter titled "WAR") Britain declares war on Germany. For the most part of the first half of the book, it is a retrospective description by William in first-person describing the grit and vile impudence that the lower class resides in, and develops the love story between Willie and a middle-class girl named Nettie, living in another town named Checkshill. Nettie is discovered one day to have eloped with an Upper-class man by the name of Verral. William resolves to buy a revolver and kill them both to resolve both his disarray of mind in the chaos of his lower-class existence, and the betrayal of Nettie's love. All through, there is a recurrent description of the nocturnal presence of a large comet in the sky, which emits a bright green glow, brighter than the moon so much so that people begin to neglect to light street lamps.

After making thorough plans to find and kill the two lovers, he follows them to another village along the coast. Finding them bathing in the sea at night under the comet's green light, he begins his final contemplations on the acts he is going to commit; two murders and thereafter his own suicide. Before he can come up with this commitment to his own thoughts, two battleships appear just on the horizon of the sea and begin shelling the coastal town. Amongst the chaos of the shelling and panicked people fleeing, William almost loses Nettie and Verral as he decides to try and shoot them amongst the distressed crowd. The Comet begins to melt as it enters the atmosphere, releasing a mysterious green gaseous fog that quickly envelops most everywhere. At this point the fleeing people are not running from the shelling but now fleeing from the foreboding fog. William is swallowed by the fog and subsequently falls asleep.

He awakes with a great clarity of mind and feeling rejuvenated in almost every way, and curiously remarks on the short-sighted and ill-conceived notion that he tried purposelessly to kill his only love. Finding other people who are waking themselves, it is realized that the green gas changed the air somehow, and brought simplicity and understanding to humankind. It is noted that among this Great Change that while all people on Earth from the fog slept for 3 hours, many were killed due to drivers, engineers and captains falling asleep and their respective vehicles driving until being stopped by whatever obstacles, be they trees, people, buildings, beaches or parked locomotives. It is also noted that there must have been an inexplicable change for the crew of a submarine which was submerged at the time of the green fog, and when it arose, the crew was immediately changed by the air, not having awaken to it but noticing the change awake and fully alert.

William describes in the final chapters how mankind embarks on a greater understanding of itself and each other and does away with "petty titles" such as ranks, ownership, borders and military forces. Immediately the War between Germany and Britain is absolved, and the gritty vile industries polluting the town of Four-Corners are shut down. After much level-headed and rational debate, Verrall, William and Nettie realize that William cannot abide with Verral, and that Nettie, although loving them both equally, must go off with Verrall. At this the retrospective ends, describing that William is now 72 years of age and one of the last people who can describe the 'Old World' first hand, and leaves it at the fact of the matter of the revolutionized Utopian world.

Characters

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William 'Willie' Leadford

William is the protagonist. He is never adequately physically described other than he is a 19 year old British citizen and a strong believer in Socialism. During his earlier years he had a friend named Parload, a student Astronomy and man of Science who discovered the Comet and that it was made of an undiscovered (and through the book undisclosed) element. For a great deal of the first chapter, Parload and William are described frequently talking to each other about the world situation and solutions thereto. Part way into chapter 2 Parload is seldom mentioned thereafter.

Nettie Stuart

Nettie is the daughter of the Gardener of Mr. Verrall's Widow. Since she and William were children, they were inseparable and destined themselves as to be married. When William turned 16 he went off to a College and changed significantly, which lead to Nettie breaking up with William, and going after 'Young Verrall'. (His first name is never stated).

Edward Verrall

The Verralls are an upper-class family of unspecified wealth or stature. It is stated that the Wife is a widow, and that the Wife and Young Verrall are the only members of the family. Young Verrall is quite polite and of average stature and clean appearance and once William left The Four Towns and stopped seeing Nettie, he began taking interest in her. Three and a half years later, unannounced, William returns to Nettie's home and the two subsequently break up, after which she and Young Verrall elope to Shaphambury where they spend a few days at a local hotel. It is during this time that the Great Change takes place, thereafter Young Verrall and William decide their love for Nettie cannot coincide in the same location. After the couple and William go their separate ways, he is not mentioned again.

Utopia & Dystopia

In the book, the world is often described as absolutely corrupt, spoiled and horrible to the point of no solution with Politicians doing nothing for the people living in squalid conditions of poverty, hardship, mismanagement and abuse, which is all then immediately changed by the Comet's green gasses, which "Changed the air somehow". Everyone all of a sudden began seeing the world honestly, rationally and with the evaluation of beauty far more than before.

Hate, distrust and angst between all people was absolved in the Great Change, subsequently rendering many things useless and devoid of practicality; Ownership titles, land and sea borders, many industries, armies, navies and many weapons. After the Great Change, the book goes on about how large buildings were begun to be used as collective dining halls, and large mansions used as an Old Person's home, and a makeshift engineer's school made for people to come and learn so that demolition of the grotesque industries and reconstruction of new residencies could begin.

How this radical change occurred is ignored beyond the Green gas of the Comet. Awesome!


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

I have set myself to write the story of the Great Change, so far as it has affected my own life and the lives of one or two people closely connected with me, primarily to please myself.

In the Days of the Comet (1906) is a science fiction novel by H. G. Wells in which the vapors of a comet are used as a device which brings about a profound and lasting transformation in the attitudes and perspectives of humankind.

Contents

Prologue : The Man Who Wrote in the Tower

  • I saw a grey-haired man, a figure of hale age, sitting at a desk and writing.
    He seemed to be in a room in a tower, very high, so that through the tall window on his left one perceived only distances, a remote horizon of sea, a headland, and that vague haze and glitter in the sunset that many miles away marks a city. All the appointments of this room were orderly and beautiful, and in some subtle quality, in this small difference and that, new to me and strange. They were in no fashion I could name, and the simple costume the man wore suggested neither period nor country. It might, I thought, be the Happy Future, or Utopia; an errant mote of memory, Henry James's phrase and story of "The Great Good Place" twinkled across my mind, and passed and left no light.
  • He put down his pen and sighed the half-resentful sigh — "ah! you work, you! how you gratify and tire me!" — of a man who has been writing to his satisfaction.
  • This is the story that happy, active-looking old man in the pleasant place had written.

Book I: The Comet

Dust in the Shadows

  • I have set myself to write the story of the Great Change, so far as it has affected my own life and the lives of one or two people closely connected with me, primarily to please myself.
  • The old life seems so cut off from the new, so alien and so unreasonable, that at times I find it bordering upon the incredible. The data have gone, the buildings and places. I stopped dead the other afternoon in my walk across the moor, where once the dismal outskirts of Swathinglea straggled towards Leet, and asked, "Was it here indeed that I crouched among the weeds and refuse and broken crockery and loaded my revolver ready for murder? Did ever such a thing happen in my life? Was such a mood and thought and intention ever possible to me? Rather, has not some queer nightmare spirit out of dreamland slipped a pseudo-memory into the records of my vanished life? There must be many alive still who have the same perplexities. And I think too that those who are now growing up to take our places in the great enterprise of mankind, will need many such narratives as mine for even the most partial conception of the old world shadows that came before our day. It chances too that my case is fairly typical of the Change; I was caught midway in a gust of passion; and a curious accident put me for a time in the very nucleus of the new order. . . .
  • Already we begin to forget how modern an invention is personal cleanliness. It is a fact that Parload had never stripped for a swim in his life; never had a simultaneous bath all over his body since his childhood. No one in fifty of us did in the days of which I am telling you.
  • I took all this grimy unpleasantness as if it were the most natural and proper setting for existence imaginable. It was the world as I knew it. My mind was entirely occupied then by graver and intenser matters, and it is only now in the distant retrospect that I see these details of environment as being remarkable, as significant, as indeed obviously the outward visible manifestations of the old world disorder in our hearts.
  • You must understand — and every year it becomes increasingly difficult to understand — how entirely different the world was then from what it is now. It was a dark world; it was full of preventable disorder, preventable diseases, and preventable pain of harshness and stupid unpremeditated cruelties; but yet, it may be even by virtue of the general darkness, there were moments of a rare and evanescent beauty that seems no longer possible in my experience. The Great Change has come for ever more, happiness and beauty are our atmosphere, there is peace on earth and good will to all men. None would dare to dream of returning to the sorrows of the former time, and yet that misery was pierced, ever and again its grey curtain was stabbed through and through by joys of an intensity, by perceptions of a keenness that it seems to me are now altogether gone out of life.
  • The reality of beauty yields itself to no words.
  • Now you must understand that the world of thought of those days was in the strangest condition, it was choked with obsolete inadequate formulæ, it was tortuous to a maze-like degree with secondary contrivances and adaptations, suppressions, conventions, and subterfuges. Base immediacies fouled the truth on every man's lips.
  • The adolescent years of any fairly intelligent youth lie open, and will always lie healthily open, to the contagion of philosophical doubts, or scorns and new ideas, and I will confess I had the fever of that phase badly. Doubt, I say, but it was not so much doubt — which is a complex thing — as startled emphatic denial. "Have I believed this!"
  • We live now in these days, when the Great Change has been in most things accomplished, in a time when everyone is being educated to a sort of intellectual gentleness, a gentleness that abates nothing from our vigour, and it is hard to understand the stifled and struggling manner to which my generation of common young men did its thinking. To think at all about certain questions was an act of rebellion that set one oscillating between the furtive and the defiant. People begin to find Shelley — for all his melody — noisy and ill-conditioned now because his Anarchs have vanished, yet there was a time when novel thought had to go to that tune of breaking glass.
  • One thing that I said I can remember. "I wish at times," said I, with a gesture at the heavens, "that comet of yours or some such thing would indeed strike this world — and wipe us all away, strikes, wars, tumults, loves, jealousies, and all the wretchedness of life!"
  • We saw everything simple, as young men will. We had our angry, confident solutions, and whosoever would criticise them was a friend of the robbers. It was a clear case of robbery, we held, visibly so; there in those great houses lurked the Landlord and the Capitalist, with his scoundrel the Lawyer, with his cheat the Priest, and we others were all the victims of their deliberate villainies. No doubt they winked and chuckled over their rare wines, amidst their dazzling, wickedly-dressed women, and plotted further grinding for the faces of the poor. And amidst all the squalor on the other hand, amidst brutalities, ignorance, and drunkenness, suffered multitudinously their blameless victim, the Working Man. And we, almost at the first glance, had found all this out, it had merely to be asserted now with sufficient rhetoric and vehemence to change the face of the whole world. The Working Man would arise — in the form of a Labour Party, and with young men like Parload and myself to represent them — and come to his own, and then — ?
    Then the robbers would get it hot, and everything would be extremely satisfactory.
    Unless my memory plays me strange tricks, that does no injustice to the creed of through and action that Parload and I held as the final result of human wisdom. We believed it with heat, and rejected with heat the most obvious qualifications of its harshness. At times in our great talks we were full of heady hopes for the near triumph of our doctrine, more often our mood was hot resentment at the wickedness and stupidity that delayed so plain and simple a reconstruction of the order of the world. Then we grew malignant, and thought of barricades and significant violence.
  • You will consider those notions of my youth poor silly violent stuff; particularly if you are of the younger generation born since the Change you will be of that opinion. Nowadays the whole world thinks clearly, thinks with deliberation, pellucid certainties; you find it impossible to imagine how any other thinking could have been possible. Let me tell you then how you can bring yourself to something like the condition of our former state. In the first place you must get yourself out of health by unwise drinking and eating, and out of condition by neglecting your exercise; then you must contrive to be worried very much and made very anxious and uncomfortable, and then you must work very hard for four or five days and for long hours every day at something too petty to be interesting, too complex to be mechanical, and without any personal significance to you whatever. This done, get straightway into a room that is not ventilated at all, and that is already full of foul air, and there set yourself to think out some very complicated problem. In a little while you will find yourself in a state of intellectual muddle, annoyed, impatient, snatching at the obvious, presently choosing and rejecting conclusions haphazard. Try to play chess under such conditions and you will play stupidly and lose your temper. Try to do anything that taxes the brain or temper and you will fail.
    Now the whole world before the Change was as sick and feverish as that; it was worried and over-worked and perplexed by problems that would not get stated simply, that changed and evaded solution, it was in an atmosphere that had corrupted and thickened past breathing; there was no thorough cool thinking in the world at all. There was nothing in the mind of the world anywhere but half-truths, hasty assumptions, hallucinations, and emotions. Nothing...
  • I know it seems incredible, that already some of the younger men are beginning to doubt the greatness of the Change our world has undergone, but read — read the newspapers of that time. Every age becomes mitigated and a little ennobled in our minds as it recedes into the past. It is the part of those who like myself have stories of that time as well, to supply, by a scrupulous spiritual realism, some antidote to that glamour.

External links

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Full text online at Project Gutenberg


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