Often the story behind a first edition is untold – how a novel ever reaches publication can be a story in itself! The Time Machine has an interesting start in life. The author’s, H. G. Wells, childhood was spent reading extensively yet he was only able to pursue his literary career in young adulthood. He had been thinking and writing about time travel long before The Time Machine was ever published. His plot about an English scientist, who develops a time travel machine, explores social and scientific topics, from class conflict to evolution. When he was 22 years old he serialised his ideas of time travel in his own college newspaper, “The Science Schools Journal” as “The Chronic Argonauts” in 1888. Two further drafts were postulated from Wells’s writings and memoirs and from external sources. Apparently these texts were lost but six years later, in 1894, a fourth text caught the eye of William Ernest Henley from The National Observer. He published the story in a series of seven editions under the title of “The Time Traveler’s Story”. It was a simple version, undramatic and rather flat. The final conclusion was never published as Henley moved positions to become the editor of The New Review before it was released. In his new position at the New Review Henley asked Wells to adapt and enlarge the story for a five part serial. He renamed this improved draft as “The Time Machine” and published it in 1895 paying H. G. Wells £100 ( a considerable sum in today’s terms!) for the story.
Serial publication was a well-established format for novels to be launched at the time. In addition, the climate for stories of time travel and science was ripe and the stories were well received. A good background for launching a novel about time travel. Wells was keen for a book publication of the story and approached an American publisher, Henry Holt who printed the novel in May 1895, the same year as the New Review publications. (By the way, if you have the first edition of this book the author is stated as H.S Wells – an error that was amended in the second printing!). Wells was also pursuing the London publisher, Heinemann to publish his story who finally released the first UK copy in May 1895. Heinemann produced 6,000 soft bound and 1,500 hard backed editions of “The Time Machine, An Invention”.
The Holt and Heinemann editions of the Time Machine were published within three weeks of each other and yet are noticeably different. Wells edited and took pieces from his earlier stories in the National Observer and The New Review serials for each publisher. The Holt edition is shorter having only twelve chapters against Heinemann’s sixteen chapters plus an epilogue. These two editions are commonly referred to as the “Holt text” and “Heinemann text”. Nearly all modern reprints reproduce the Heinemann text.
Books of the time were often in a large format with illustrations so Well’s short, 40,000 word story and half inch thick novella looked small on the shelf making initial sales a little slower than expected. To improve the size and look of the book Heinemann and Holt added a catalogue at the end of the book of later publications. Apparently some of the first edition books that were not selling were printed but not bound. When the stock levels were low these first editions were bound with catalogues of books from 1899 included at the end of the novel. This meant that the actual publication date of these books was later than the 1895 date printed on their pages.
The Time Machine proved to be a successful story touching upon the emerging scientific and sociological topics of the time. The novella became popular and was published with further amendments in 1924 along with “The Wonderful Visit” and other Stories by H.G. Wells in a 28 set volume titled “The Atlantic Edition of the Works of H. G. Wells”. The Time Machine has been since published in many formats with several film and comic productions. It remains a cornerstone of science fiction novels and Wells is traditionally known as the “Father of Science Fiction”.
Knowing the historical journey of a first edition of “The Time Machine” makes the possession of such an antique book quite unique.
To view the first Heinemann edition (rare without a catalogue) go to The Time Machine