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H. G. Wells, Sigmund Freud, Edgar Rice Burroughs
And The Development Of Contemporary Sexual Attitudes
by R.E. Prindle
Edgar Rice Burroughs and His Tiger
To put our three protagonists into perspective: Sigmund Freud The eldest of the three was born in 1856, Wells in 1866 and Burroughs, the youngest in 1875. All three were heavily influenced by Charles Darwin and the various theories of Evolution. While today Darwin is touted as the sole source of evolution he was in fact one of many voices as the theory of evolution developed. Thus all three spent their formative years in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Freud was 44 as the century turned in 1900, Wells 34 and Burroughs 25 each neatly spaced 10 years from his predecessor.
Wells was the first to make the leap into prominence followed by Freud and then Burroughs. All three men were desperate to find fame and fortune. Freud even advtertised he'd sell his soul to do it.
Wells came from close to the bottom of the social ladder. His parents eked out a living as shopkeepers without commercial abilities on the edge of London. Wells' father was an able cricket player who gained his self-esteem from that sport. The parents split up. His mother went into domestic service. She placed young Wells as a Draper's assistant - a clerk in a dry goods shop. As one might well believe Wells rebelled at this dead end destiny in life. Possessing a good brain Wells began a series of educational maneuvers that led to his being a student of T.H. Huxley, an apostle of Evolution. A science career seemed to be opening for Wells but he was led away by his sexual needs. He married a cousin with whom he was a boarder in her mother’s house only to discover her Victorian notions of male-female sexual relations differed widely from his. He divorced her taking up with a fellow student. She was an able financial manager so he put her in charge and began chasing skirts. It didn’t seem to bother his wife Catharine who he renamed Jane. After a series of hairy but educational employments Wells began to find success in journalism and writing. With his story The Time Machine he broke into the bigtime giving Jane some real work to do. Quickly following The Time Machine up with his succession of sci-fi novels by 1900 he was assured of a lifetime income.
It was well because his work after 1906 while prolific was unlucrative except for 1922?s Outline Of History. There was a winner. The Outline was his second great break setting him up for the rest of his life along with the science fiction. Ah, those Seven Science Fiction Novels. And, of course, his close to amazing collection of short stories. There was another gold mine. Jane raked in the cash and Bertie, for that was how he wished to be called, spent it.
He associated himself with the socialist Fabian Society of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century with their ‘advanced’ sexual notions. Why the old Hetaerist notion of promiscuity is considered ‘advanced’ is beyond me. At the same time Bertie claimed to be a Feminist. The women’s Matriarchal movement was very active from mid-century on. His Feminism, however, was concerned only with eliminating chastity thereby allowing any man access to any woman at any time, anywhere. Purely Hetaeric, although Wells wouldn’t have understood his ancient roots in that manner.
It was when Wells turned to his sex novels that he put his reputation in jeopardy. After his intial spate of sci-fi his reputation slid, the only bright spot being The Outline Of History. While his later novels, tend toward the tedious and require a certain determination to read through they are almost always redeemed by the social context. I like Wells and don’t mind the stuff too much but I can’t recommend it very strongly. It’s a matter of taste, either you like Wells or you don’t.
Wells major themes are outlined in the last of the Seven Sci-Fi Novels - In The Days Of The Comet - when he shades into the sex novel. In my estimation this is a very fine book as utopian novels go. After Tono-Bungay and When the Sleeper Wakes it may be my favorite. The turn of the century was a hey day of the utopian novel with the dystopian novel being introduced. If you like the genre many fine ones were written: News From Nowhere by William Morris. I came to Morris late in life but if you like the mystical utopian or quasi-utopian novel Morris has a lot to recommend himself including several utopian forays. I’m sure he influenced both Wells and Burroughs; Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward is another fine example of the period. They’re all bushwa but fun to read. Utopian novels are usually a projection of the author’s own needs and desires into which all humanity is to conform. Usually by some miracle all humanity becomes reconciled to living in universal harmony with no unseemly disturbances of the temper. Museums and lecture halls flourish while dance halls and crime atrophy. Culture is much more elevated. To the most casual observor such an utopia is impossible without an alteration of the human brain. Only one utopianist I have read has addressed that problem and that one is H.G., our Bertie.
In The Days Of The Comet was published in 1906 at the time that Halley’s Comet was due to make its scheduled seventy-five year fly-by in 1910. It was projected to pass very close to the earth which it did unlike its 1985 appearance when you had to know where to look for it. Indeed, the comet came with trails of glory so bright you could read newsprint by it at night.
Thus Wells uses the comet as his agent to change the physical structure of the human brain. Wells fails to mention any change to the brains of the lesser animals and insects. Perhaps the lion really did lie down with the lamb. Before the comet, or the Big Change as the passing was referred to, people’s brains were as ours are now; after the Change they all resembled that of H.G. I am in sympathy with Wells; I fancy that one morning I will sally forth, flick my finger tips a couple times, say abracadabra and the people of the world will be tranformed into clones of myself. What’s holding me back is that I don’t know which will be the Big Morning and I don’t wish to be seen as an eccentric or worse who failed to take his medicine by repeatedly trying and failing. You know, out there flicking my finger tips into the empty air.
But, Wells had it worked out. The comet came trailing this tail of green gas. As the comet passed the gas enveloped the earth much like a magnetar, I suppose, knocking people out for several hours while the gas did its work. When England came to the world was changed and everyone thought like Wells. Sort of the same thing that was thought would happen when Obama was elected. The Magic Negro would save us all.
Actually the Comet reflected a change in Wells own circumstances. In 1898 when Wells published The War Of The Worlds he was balanced between hope and despair. He was close to financial independence but not quite there. Thus in WOW the tone is between hope and despair. The world is invaded by Martians who destroy everything in their path, themselves being destroyed by a virus taken in through their beastly habit of drinking human blood. One neglected detail is that the projectiles they arrived in trailed some green clouds. The last projectile had a larger one so that perhaps Wells was going to develop the notion but then couldn’t work it in. He did have the Martians project a black gas that killed people though.
By 1906 his success was assured, he was shooting his pistol off around London having several sexual affairs so his outlook was brighter and, hence, that of the planet, so the novel describes the transition from the evil old world to the brave new one In other words, Wells had passed from poverty to affluence.
Sex is the issue here.
Before the Comet Willie, the hero, was courting his childhood sweetheart Nettie from whom he expected to be her sole sexual companion. In the weird old world sex was exclusive. They had committed themselves to each other as children which remained a claim in Willie’s mind.
However Willie is a poor boy with no prospects. Nettie is courted by the rich guy’s son, Verrall with whom she runs off. Willie treks 16 miles to see her only to find she has abandoned her parents’ home in company with Verrall. Well, Willie’s not going to endure such treatment from Nettie or take that from Verrall so he steals some money, buys a revolver and a train ticket to track them down and shoot them dead. You see, in the days before The Big Change that was the way things were done.
In the meantime the Comet is getting closer, C-hour is near, and war breaks out between England and Germany, this is eight years before 1914 so Bertie exhibits his prescience. The details are well handled so we have the increasing color of the green cloud and the flash and boom of the big navel guns as the climax takes place by the seashore. This was really nicely handled.
Willie tracks the couple down to a Bohemian enclave on the East Anglian coast. Nettie and Verrall had gotten married so it seems rather odd that they searched out a Bohemian enclave. So, as the battle rages and the green cloud descends on the earth Willie is chasing the couple down the beach firing his pistol wildly. This is the moment of the Big Change. Everybody gets gassed for a few hours then arise, born again, in a new heaven and a new earth. Utopia!
The same device is used a few decades later in the great movie The Village Of The Damned. A good device. It won’t go stale.
In the new world, new rules and reasonings apply. Nettie no longer has to choose between Willie and Verrall. She can have both…and more.
As Willie comes to he hears groaning. The groaning is coming from a prominent politician who was out bicycling at two in the morning when the green fog descended and fell off his bike as he conked breaking his ankle. Thus Willie makes a connection changing the direction of his life allowing him to become prominent in the establishment of this brave new world. Thus he later meets Nettie and Verrall on equal terms.
Nettie informs Verrall that she wants a menage a trois with Willie to which, in this best of all impossible worlds, Verrall compliantly agrees. Later Willie marries making the arrangment a menage a quatre. Neato! Was this all? No…
In the frame for the story it turns out that the story teller is Willie. In the Frame Wells comes upon this white haired old dude, Willie, writing this memoir. He has pages clipped in fascicles of fifty that Willie allows the editor, H.G., to read.
Finishing the last fascicle the author asks if Nettie had sexual relations with others. The white haired dude replies somethng like this: ‘Oh, heavens, yes. Hundreds. You don’t think a beautiful girl like Nettie wouldn’t attract numerous suitors do you?’
So there you have it. In the brave new world the woman of Wells’ dreams is a mere sex object who spends her life being pawed by, shall we say, all comers. A Hetaerist’s dream. This is Wells’ sexual program. At this point he began to lose readers. Too avant garde; you don’t want to get too far out in front of the pack. In addition to the sexual proselytizing of his novels he carried his didacticism to extremes advancing educational theories for instance. For over a hundred years we’ve been told our educational system is faulty. New systems have succeeded new systems. After over a century of tinkering are people better schooled? No. They’re worse. There’s only one way to learn and that’s the drudgery of study. Not every mind is prepared to do that, somebody’s going to be left behind. Wells’ notions as everyone else’s is what they think they would have liked. No study. Lots of play.
At any rate carrying all these utopian notions Wells passed through the horrific war years to have all his expectations disappointed. Not surprisingly his mind broke and he went into a deep depression. First he tried the God trip and when that failed he embraced the Communist Revolution in Russia. He essentially became an agent of Moscow. As a very prominent writer he was a desirable acquistion for the Revolution. As a major theorist and propagandist he had an entree first to Lenin and then after 1924 when Lenin died, Stalin.
In 1921 he interviewed Lenin and received his instructions. the Soviets had a system of State prostitution. These women were assigned as agents to service writers while spying on them for Moscow. In 1921 he met Moura Budberg for whom he fell. At that time she had been assigned to manage a consular agent, Bruce Lockhart, who along with the agency was in process of being expelled. Wells became intensely jealous of Lockhart because of this connection badmouthing him from then on. In any case Moura Budberg was assigned to Maxim Gorky then living in exile in Italy with whom she stayed until Gorky was enticed back to the USSR at which time she was reassigned to shepherd Wells.
Now Wells became a Soviet literary hatchet man. It was his job to interfere and discredit writers who refused to propagate the Party line. Among these was Edgar Rice Burroughs who had proclaimed his anti-Communism with a tract or study titled Under The Red Flag of 1919. Publishers refused the piece. Wells anti-Burroughs campaign was so discreet that my discovery of it three or four years ago was the first mention of it. I repeat the story here for those who have not read my earlier essays.
In the first place all these writers read each other. Kipling and Haggard for instance read each other as well as writers like Wells and Burroughs and vice versa. They could pass disguised messages in their novels. As Burroughs was the last of these writers to begin writing and that in US pulp magazines in 1912 that may never have reached Europe while his book titles only reached print in 1914 after the Great War began and were only the Tarzan titles until the end of the decade Wells may not have read Burroughs until 1918 or slightly after. Nevertheless Burroughs influence shows in Wells' 1923 effort Men Like Gods. This book also ridicules Burroughs.
Men Like Gods takes place in a parallel universe. There is some resemblance to the Eloi of The Time Machine. For the first time Wells’ characters are nearly nude. This was the only time he ever did this so he was probably under the influence of Burroughs whose characters never wore clothes or only minimally.
Burroughs apparently picked up the references or had them pointed out to him. In any event in 1926 he wrote The Moon Maid in answer to Wells, The First Men In The Moon. Wells’ book was pretty clumsycompared to that of Burroughs who demonstrated his imaginative superiority by running circles around Wells. The second part of the story was a rewrite of Under The Red Flag that was a direct challenge to the Soviets. By 1926 of course Stalin was directing the USSR.
Wells then countered with an undisguised attack that portrayed Burroughs as insane. This was Mr. Blettsworthy On Rampole Island. Here Wells parodied a pulp magazine story not yet in book form, The Lad And The Lion, and the last third of The Land That Time Forgot. Burroughs returned the fire with Tarzan At The Earth's Core and Tarzan The Invincible that featured Stalin himself as a character.
Moura Budberg - Young
Moura Budberg - Old
At about this time Moura Budberg was assigned to Wells as a concubine as Gorky had returned to the USSR. This was to cause a falling out between Wells and Stalin while perhaps leading to Stalin’s assassination in 1953.
Burroughs’ entire series of novels from Tarzan At The Earth's Core to Tarzan And The Lion Man deals with Wells and the Reds. The Communists attacked unrelentingly on several fronts probably robbing Burroughs blind in royalties while trying to squeeze off his sales. His British publishers did just that. Although it appears that they refused or were reluctant to keep his titles in print Alan Hodge and Robert Graves in their history of the twenties and thirties, The Long Weekend, twice refer to Burroughs’ great popularity, once in the twenties and once in the thirties.
In Germany the Communists attacked ERB for his anti-German comments in books written during the war
years thereby destroying that lucrative market. The Soviets never paid royalties anyway so there was no monetary effect from that market. In the US Burroughs had troubles with his publishers McClurg’s and Grossett & Dunlap who seem quite hostile to in the correspondence in the archives at ULouisville. ERB left McClurg in the late twenties going through two more publishers before winning the battle by publishing under his own imprint. Thus by 1930's Tarzan The Invincible, note the title, he seemed to have won the battle if not the war.
However sound had come to the movies in 1927-28 which rearranged the playing field. Rather than just being ‘flickers’ they were now more on a par with literature while being even more influential. With sound the movie version of a story took pecedence over the book, heck, it took precedence over history. Thus the movie version took precedence as the canon over the book, the latter became an adjunct that few read in comparison to those who saw and heard the movie. As the movies paid in one lump sum what it might take years to dribble in as royalties authors were willing to give the devil a cut to have their novels produced. Books could be issued in their thousands of titles a year but there were only a couple hundred movies released in a year. The number of producers had been consolidated from many to a few after the shakeout of the twenties, hence combines like Metro, Goldwyn and Mayer, Radio-Keith-Orpheum - RKO- and the combine of Twentieth Century Pictures and William Fox.
MGM was of course top dog by far. There was no vacuum there but the Commies moved in anyway soon taking over de facto control. When Burroughs published his own books, quite profitably, he had slipped the noose but only temporarily. As a strategist he did poorly. In 1931, because Burroughs didn’t ever bother to dread his contracts, MGM finessed his meal ticket, Tarzan, from him thereby making him financially dependent on them. Even though they might have exploited the Tarzan character by making two or three movies a year and zillions of dollars they chose to make only six movies between 1931 and 1940 thereby keeping Burroughs on a short financial lease while depriving him of hundreds of thousands of dollars in income. Remember that at the same time Roosevelt after 1933 drove the income tax rate as high as 90% so there was some difficulty forcing a grin in those trying times.
This is a good story and I covered it in some detail in my ten part review of Tarzan And The Lion Man, expecially parts 6-10 to which I refer you if you’re interested. Wells and Burroughs bickered back and forth although it appears that Burroughs lost heart after Tarzan And The Lion Man. By that time he knew he had been had. He did concede defeat in the issuance of a book version of The Lad And The Lion in 1935; a notice to both Wells and Stalin. The story was a short one so while leaving the old story as a notice to Wells who had mocked him and the story in his Blettsworthy novel, Burroughs interpolated chapters with a story mocking the Communist Revolution in Russia. Then he retired from the field.
However he gives Wells a grand slam in the story of ’God’ in the middle of Lion Man. That is a great story within the story however I wasn’t clear on its relation to Wells at the time so I will give a modified version here.
Now, Burroughs had a remarkable mind. He was able to carry the story lines of hundreds of books he had read in his head retrieving details whenever they suited his needs. He was always conscious of what he was doing but he wrote pastiches anyway.
The story of Tarzan and God mocks Wells' The Island Of Dr. Moreau. Burroughs had already used Moreau in his 1913 novel The Monster Men plus he wrote around the theme repeatedly. Moreau itself plays around with the Frankenstein theme which also figures prominently in Burroughs' literary antecedents.
Remember that Burroughs is able to combine numerous details of other books into one composite figure so that Wells is only one source for the character of ‘God’ in Lion Man. For our purposes one may assume that when Tarzan talks to God (smirk) it is equivalent to Burroughs talking to Wells. Gone is the transcendant confidence of Tarzan The Invincible and Tarzan Triumphant. However the coup of the capture of Tarzan in 1931 when Burroughs signed away his rights to the movie representation of Tarzan to MGM had stripped Burroughs of all defences and he himself was now trapped in a cage at the mercy of MGM, Wells and Stalin. During Tarzan's movie history dating back to the late teens Burroughs had always complained, making a nuisance of himself because the studios weren’t following his stories closely. Now, he had given MGM the right to create their own stories. ERB was dissatisfied with the representation of Tarzan but the character was so good that even though MGM tried they couldn’t destroy it.
Nevertheless they were in a position to substitute the movie Tarzan for the literary Tarzan in the public mind and they did. For me and many others the discovery that there was a literary Tarzan came long after we had been viewing Tarzan movies. We invariably found the literary Tarzan superior. For now Tarzan/ERB was imprisoned in a cell. The best ERB can do is to come up with a better Moreau story than Wells.
So, ERB creates a mock London, England in the wilds of Africa with a replica of the court of Henry VIII peopled by mutated gorillas. By 1930 when this story was written ERB was probably as well informed about evolution as anyone. He had kept up his reading becoming as knowledgeable concerning genetics as any but researchers. Thus while thirty years earlier Moreau had been clumsily experimenting with vivisection ‘God’ had used the lastest genetic techniques that ERB can devize to convert gorillas into a cross between apes and human beings. The apes of God are human in all but appearance. There are many jokes concealed in this episode, apes of God perhaps being one. Wyndham Lewis used the term apes of God as a synonym for writers so he may be calling Wells as God and writer an ape. ‘God’ himself who has exchanged ape genes with himself is now half ape. See, a joke. Whether Wells recognized his portrait isn’t known.
Tarzan sets about to escape but as there is no escape from his real life situation ERB merely burns God’s castle down disrupting one supposes the USSR. Perhaps gratifying to the imagination but futile for changing his situation. No longer in control of his creation Burroughs creative powers begin to atrophy.
Uncle Joe As FDR Would Say
Thus Stalin triumphed over his literary adversary. Perhaps Stalin despised writers for he set out to humiliate Wells after the defeat of Burroughs. As noted the State prostitute Moura Budberg had formerly serviced Maxim Gorky while after his return Budberg was assigned to Wells. H.G. had fallen hard for Budberg apparently seriously in love with her. Stalin called Wells to Moscow in 1936 when Gorky was on his last legs, about to die. Budberg was also in Moscow but when Wells asked to see her she told him she was called out of town. In a rather malicious ploy Stalin arranged for Wells to see Gorky and Budberg together as, of course, she wasn’t out of town.
Wells was completely destroyed unable to penetrate Stalin’s duplicity, or at least believe it, at the time. However when it finally sank in he had no more means to retaliate than Burroughs so he wrote a book too - The Holy Terror. In that book, the ruffian leader of the revolution, or Stalin in real life, has lost the ability to lead the revolution and has to be discreetly removed. A conspiracy is set afoot. A doctor’s plot in which the leader is artfully removed by medical means. I am unaware of how much influence Wells may have had to incite others to achieve his result. At any rate the War intervened making it inexpedient to dispatch Stalin while Wells died in 1946 before he could reactivate the plan.
It may be coincidence but Stalin discovered a doctor’s plot in the early fifties that he was able to foil. However Khruschev and Beria and others poisoned Stalin at a dinner in 1953 thus removing this singularly successful but troublesome dictator.
The turmoil of the thirties may have derailed Wells sexual program somewhat but sexual matters were still moving in his desired direction. Sexual matters had been loosened a great deal but there were still miles to go.
Sex And The Psyche
In Part III I will deal with the key mover in sexual matters, Sigmund Freud who was the second of the three to reach prominence. Thus Burroughs the third to arrive on the scene and the last to leave will be saved for the last part.
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