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
Faced with the challenge of selecting a dozen or so favourite short stories to share with you I have chosen just one. This is not simply because my choice happens to be the best short story ever written, but also because writing about it gives me (and you, my reader) the opportunity to collaborate in a modest literary experiment. This will take you about half an hour to complete, which will be half an hour well spent. Trust me. And thank you, in advance, for your time.
It’s just after 9pm on Friday January 12th 2018 (which we can, for a short period, think of as ‘last Friday’) and I’m sitting at my desk in front of my laptop, the screen of which is blank, apart from the sentence I am typing. Have just typed.
What time or day or month it is where you are I don’t know. But if you’re reading this then it must be for you as you read this, as it is for me as I type this, now. A reader and writer share a now, but it’s seldom the same now.
Earlier this evening I re-read ‘The New Accelerator’, a short story by H. G. Wells and it made me think, as it always makes me think, about time, and about literary time and how that works (when it works). Now I’m going to write – am writing – about that story and I want to do something both whimsical and serious that aligns with the spirit of the story. I want this to be an experiment in time with you, my reader. Are you ready?
First of all, whether or not you’ve read ‘The New Accelerator’ please skip what follows – apart from this paragraph of course, which I (and you) have almost completed – and click on the link I’ve just given you. Then read or re-read the story, because otherwise much of what I’m about to write will amount to an extended spoiler. In any case I need you to be gainfully occupied elsewhere while I set about writing something for you to read when you rejoin me in – well, it’s a shade over 5,000 words in length, so shall we say . . . about twenty minutes?
I glance at my watch. It’s ten past nine. You’re still reading this.
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