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By Peter Childs

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It leant towards the disjointed, disintegrating and discordant in opposition to Victorian harmony. Modernism also advocated that an object exists in terms of its function; a house is therefore seen as a machine for living in (Le Corbusier) INTRODUCTION 19 and a poem ‘a machine made for words’ (William Carlos Williams). It was frequently and unashamedly elitist, in that, for example, Modernist art stressed complexity and difficulty, and also emphasised that culture had changed in response to the machine age.

In the forty years before World War I, humanity increasingly found itself in a world which seemed hostile towards its species and a universe which, because rather than in spite of the advances of science, was steadily decreasing in its comprehensibility (see Lester 1968). People had lost many of their beliefs in external authorities and found themselves increasingly unsure not only of the universe but of themselves; they were now seen as Godless primates sharing ancestors with other ‘savage’ animals.

It let loose the judgment I had suspended upon their clothes, their frail light limbs, and fragile features. (p. 25) So, the Eloi, Wells’s fey, Grecian aesthetes, are children both mentally and physically. Wells uses the idea of degeneracy literally and argues that the human race might return to a ‘child-like’ state: to the innocence and ignorance symbolised by Adam and Eve in Eden. As the Traveller says at one point: ‘The too-perfect security of the Upper-worlders had led them to a slow movement of degeneration, to a general dwindling in size, strength, and intelligence’ (50).

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