The Sleeper Awakes/Preface

The Sleeper Awakes by Herbert George Wells


This book, The Sleeper Awakes, was written in that remote and comparatively happy year, 1898. It is the first of a series of books which I have written at intervals since that time; The World Set Free is the latest; they are all "fantasias of possibility"; each one takes some great creative tendency, or group of tendencies, and develops its possible consequences in the future. The War in the Air did that for example with aviation, and is perhaps, as a forecast, the most successful of them all. The present volume takes up certain ideas already very much discussed in the concluding years of the last century, the idea of the growth of the towns and the depopulation of the country-side and the degradation of labour through the higher organisation of industrial production. "Suppose these forces to go on," that is the fundamental hypothesis of the story.

The "Sleeper" is of course the average man, who owns everything—did he but choose to take hold of his possessions—and who neglects everything. He wakes up to find himself the puppet of a conspiracy of highly intellectual men in a world which is a practical realisation of Mr. Belloc's nightmare of the Servile State. And the book resolves itself into as vigorous an imagination as the writer's quality permitted of this world of base servitude in hypertrophied cities.

Will such a world ever exist?

I will confess I doubt it. At the time when I wrote this story I had a considerable belief in its possibility, but later on, in Anticipations (1900), I made a very careful analysis of the causes of town aggregation and showed that a period of town dispersal was already beginning. And the thesis of a gradual systematic enslavement of organised labour, presupposes an intelligence, a power of combination, and a wickedness in the class of rich financiers and industrial organisers, such as this class certainly does not possess, and probably cannot possess. A body of men who had the character and the largeness of imagination necessary to combine and overcome the natural insubordination of the worker would have a character and largeness of imagination too fine and great for any such plot against humanity. I was young in those days, I was thirty-two, I had met few big business men, and I still thought of them as wicked, able men. It was only later that I realised that on the contrary they were, for the most part, rather foolish plungers, fortunate and energetic rather than capable, vulgar rather than wicked, and quite incapable of worldwide constructive plans or generous combined action. "Ostrog" in The Sleeper Awakes, gave way to reality when I drew Uncle Ponderevo in Tono-Bungay. The great city of this story is no more then than a nightmare of Capitalism triumphant, a nightmare that was dreamt nearly a quarter of a century ago. It is a fantastic possibility no longer possible. Much evil may be in store for mankind, but to this immense, grim organisation of servitude, our race will never come.

H. G. Wells.

Easton Glebe, Dunmow, 1921.