Historical and Cultural Context of The War of the Worlds
At the time the novel was written (1898) the British Empire was by far the most dominant colonial power on earth. So vast was the British Empire that at the end of the 19th century the sun literally never set on it. London was (as it still is) the political capital of the United Kingdom and was the most populous city on earth throughout the last half of the 19th century, becoming the first city to have more than 5 million inhabitants by the 1880’s. It is therefore natural that London was chosen as the starting point for an imagined alien invasion.
Towards the end of the 19th century there was a very real fear that it was the ‘end of an age’ and that an apocalypse could begin. In Britain this was partly due to this period coinciding with the ageing of Queen Victoria who was almost 80 when the novel was published. The Victorian era had seen the country become the first in the World to industrialise and build the largest Empire the world had ever seen. Queen Victoria died in January 1901.
Others fears included the fear of mass immigration from other parts of the British Empire as all citizens of British colonies were also British citizens. HG Wells used his own experiences in the novel and explored fear of the unknown, paranoia and the possibility of the world ending. He also used the novel to explore his own reservations about imperialism and explore the fragility of civilisation, showing how it can break down when faced with a seemingly unbeatable adversary.
Other works by HG Wells The Time Machine – through time travel Wells explores growing class divisions and human greed. The Invisible Man – Wells explores actions and consequences, centred around one man’s descent into brutality, exposing the power of science to corrupt. The Island of Doctor Moreau – Wells explores the dangers associated with scientific progress, when Man begins to act as god.