In this sad, strange and ambiguous story, Wallace, a career politician climbing to the upper heights of Disraeli’s ‘greasy pole’, is haunted by something he experienced at the age of five. As a lonely and unsettled infant, he opens a green door in a white wall in West Kensington, and wanders into a place of wonder, security and happiness. He joins the games of kindly playmates and mingles happily with panthers and capuchin monkeys. The schoolboy Wallace fails to relocate the door and suffers the derision of his classmates. As a successful adult he swerves several opportunities to re-open it, perhaps because he has urgent demands on his time, or because he is a respected public figure who no longer needs the comforts and distractions of the garden. Or maybe he fears the garden never really existed. As a Cabinet Minister, his longing for the garden becomes stronger and he is torn between the competing demands of escape and duty. His fate, telegraphed from the start, is sealed by his inability to reconcile and the spiritual and material. That’s how I read the story as a schoolkid in the 1970s. I’m now less certain I fully understand it, but I still think it’s perfect.
First published in The Daily Chronicle on 14 July 1906 and collected in The Complete Short Stories of HG Wells, Phoenix Giant, 1998. Available online here