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“Human Spiders”: Intellectual Observers, Degeneration and Darwinism in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine


  • Maja Loberg

Summary, in Swedish

H.G. Wells’ novella The Time Machine (1895) tells the story of The Time Traveller who travels to the year 802,701. There, he encounters two evolutionary progressions of humanity. One, Morlocks, have been read as representations of Victorian workers and poor, and the other, the Elois, as representations of the aristocracy. The Time Traveller represents the middle class. The novella is often seen as an allegory for Victorian social discourses, of which class divide, degeneration theory, and Darwinism are discussed in this paper. In The Time Machine, Wells presents his vision of the future as it may turn out, based on said discourses. This analysis builds on the combined findings of previous research, while contributing by connecting Victorian discourses about class, degeneration, and Darwinism into a single analysis – an element that previous research lacks. This thesis also introduces a new concept called the “Intellectual Observer”, which describes Victorian middle-class men who were active in popularising degeneration and Darwinist discourses. This thesis argues that the Victorian middle class played a central role in establishing degeneration theory as an instrument of “othering” the upper and lower classes. It also shows how Morlocks and Elois exhibit both physical and moral symptoms of degeneration – though, as will be established, degeneration theory was never grounded in science. Finally, this thesis illustrate how Morlocks exemplify a nightmarishly savage and animalistic outcome of human evolution. These findings are not only relevant for future readings of The Time Machine, but also serve to illustrate how topical discourses influenced the literature of the Victorian period.

Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Bachelor's degree


  • Languages and Literatures


  • Degeneration
  • Fin de Siècle
  • Literature
  • Darwinism
  • H.G. Wells
  • The Time Machine
  • Intellectual Observer
  • Victorian literature


  • Cecilia Wadsö-Lecaros (PhD)
  • John Öwre