Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Consecutive dreams and Mr H.G.Wells

I re-read H.G. Wells’ tremendous and terrifying short story, “A Dream of Armageddon”. A white faced stranger on a train – a solicitor from Liverpool – strikes up a conversation with the narrator when he notices that he has a book about dreams. Does he know about “consecutive dreams”? The narrator allows he may have read something about this phenomenon involving mental cases. The stranger says that the dream experts don’t know what they are talking about. He has lived and died many years into the future, and he knows this because of consecutive dreams more real than his current life.
    He begins his story with a scene of looking at the shoulder of a beautiful woman, and over her shoulder, at a beautiful view of Capri from a loggia. The white-faced man has never been to Capri in his current life, but his interlocutor has, and is amazed by the accuracy and vividness of its landscapes, of Mount Solano, of Faraglioni….
    Scene by scene, we follow the life drama of a powerful man who left government in the “north” to live with his lover on Capri. He is now being urged to go back, because a dangerous demagogue has replaced him and could start a world war. To return, he would have to give up his mistress and he refuses to do this even when she begs him to follow duty and save the wold from war. We see the first warplanes (not yet flying in Wells’ time) over the pleasure island. Eventually we see the couple flee Capri and seek safety on the peninsula. They die at the ruined temples at Paestum (and again the narrator confirms the description of a man who hasn’t been there in his present life).
    The story, written before Kitty Hawk and World War I, has been admired for its vision of coming technology and man-made catastrophe. It’s also an extraordinary depiction of how in dreams we may inhabit a second life – in this case an unwanted one, in a different body in a different time, in the future rather than the past.

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