A Folio Society limited edition
This first ever full-sized facsimile is based on one of the extremely rare signed first printings and matches the original binding and production, including deckled edges and tipped-in photographs.
Herbert George Wells (1866–1946) was already the undisputed master of the science fiction novel – only his predecessor Jules Verne enjoyed a comparable reputation in the fledgling genre – when The Door in the Wall and Other Stories (1911) highlighted his remarkable talent for the short story. The Time Machine, The Island of Dr Moreau, The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds had established his name with their unprecedented combination of terrifying prophecy and serious treatment of contemporary concerns – evolutionary theory, the ethics of experimentation, the rise of technology, invasion and imperialism. These novels of the 1890s were followed by the analyses of society in Kipps and The History of Mr Polly, inviting comparisons with Dickens, before the collection in The Door in the Wall marked a return to the unsettling otherworlds of Wells’s earlier work, demonstrating a mastery of the shorter form to rank alongside Edgar Allan Poe and Guy de Maupassant.
The tales contained in The Door in the Wall are at once distinct and thematically interwoven. The title story explores the tension between the rational, scientific universe and the realm of aesthetics and imagination through its protagonist, the respected politician Lionel Wallace, whose obsession with the childhood memory of crossing a mysterious threshold into a reassuring, dream-like world ultimately proves disastrous. The end of our planet is contemplated in both ‘The Star’ – in which, as in The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells stares out into the solar system and examines the impact on Earth’s population of a threat from space – and ‘A Dream of Armageddon’, whose terrifying apocalyptic vision is revealed to its narrator in the course of a conversation on a train. Irrational human instincts and the industrial world collide in both ‘The Cone’, a tale of jealousy which pits an artist against the manager of a blast furnace company, and ‘The Lord of the Dynamos’, in which a man from the ‘mysterious East’ worships as a god the machinery in the engine shed where he works. ‘A Moonlight Fable’ takes up the title story’s focus on escape from the constraints of everyday life, again with grim consequences, while ‘The Diamond Maker’ returns to the claustrophobic setting of a disturbing dialogue. The final story in the collection, ‘The Country of the Blind’, is a short novel in which an explorer stumbles on a hitherto undiscovered society of blind people, a distorting mirror image of humankind which attracts and then repels him.
‘Was there, after all, ever any green door in the wall at all?’
The collection offers an absorbing, and frequently disquieting, exploration of the subjects to which H. G. Wells returned throughout his career, and a dazzling display of its author’s range, from the intense brevity of ‘A Moonlight Fable’ (only 1,750 words long) to the expansive canvas of the novella ‘The Country of the Blind’. The impact of H. G. Wells on science fiction novelists is well documented – Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert, Ursula K. Le Guin and many others have all acknowledged their debt to him – but, with his flair for the uncanny and unsettling within the confines of the short story, Wells is also a vital link in a chain of influence stretching from Poe’s Tales of Mystery & Imagination to Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected and beyond.
‘Wells is the English writer whom I should most like to raise from the dead’
Wells discussed the illustration of his collection of stories with the innovative London-based American photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, a key figure in the pictorialist movement, in 1908. Two years later Coburn contacted the New York editor, publisher and gallery owner Mitchell Kennerley, and a limited edition of 600 copies was planned, with a new typeface by Frederic W. Goudy, set by his wife Bertha – the first major collaboration of author, photo-illustrator and typesetter in publishing history. Sixty copies, signed by Wells and Coburn, were distributed in London by Grant Richards, and it is from one of these extremely rare books that the Folio Society facsimile has been created. Coburn himself was subsequently adopted and championed by Wyndham Lewis and the Vorticists and went on to produce some of the first abstract photographs. His photogravures of London scenes in The Door in the Wall are especially evocative – a hauntingly beautiful counterpart to Wells’s text which subtly evoke the settings and subjects of these extraordinary stories.
'These records of atmosphere and effect will gleam, extremely welcome jewels, amidst the dust-heaps of carelessly accumulated fact with which the historian will struggle'
‘The greatest photographer in the world.’
An accomplished photographer by the age of eight, Coburn’s work was selected to be part of a show of the best American photographers at the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) when he was just 17. His second show at the RPS was accompanied by a catalogue written by George Bernard Shaw.
In the summer of 1930, Coburn destroyed over 15,000 of his glass and film negatives. He also donated his extensive collection of photographs to the RPS and committed himself to studying the Universal Order, mysticism and freemasonry. He died in Harlech, Wales, in 1961.
In 1911 Frederic Goudy, in his own words, ‘stopped being an amateur and took up type designing as a profession’ with the creation of Kennerley Old Style. The type was designed specifically for The Door in the Wall and Other Stories and named for its publisher Mitchell Kennerley. Through Kennerley Old Style Goudy became associated internationally with great type design. The type and decorations designed for The Door in the Wall by Goudy were set by his wife Bertha S Goudy at the Village Press.
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The facsimile is accompanied by a booklet containing essays by two very different experts on H. G. Wells. George Hendrick, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Illinois and co-curator of the university’s 1997 exhibition ‘Alvin Langdon Coburn and H. G. Wells: The Photographer and the Novelist’, provides an authoritative account of the work of Wells and Coburn. It is followed by a lively treatment of Wells by former academic, now best-selling novelist, David Lodge, whose 2011 novel A Man of Parts is an intimate portrait of the author. Also included are transcripts of letters from Coburn to Wells written during the development of the book.
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Review by rbalkris on 6th May 2016
"Another superb Folio limited edition with tipped in photogravures. Very affordably priced given the tremendous work that has gone into producing this exquisite facsimile. Grab a copy before they are g..." [read more]