These words struck me whilst rereading Little Wars as being a lesser noticed quote than the oft quoted title and subtitle:
Little Wars (A Game for Boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books) by H.G. Wells.
How had I not noticed these words?
“LITTLE WARS” is the game of kings—for players in an inferior social position. It can be played by boys of every age from twelve to one hundred and fifty—and even later if the limbs remain sufficiently supple — by girls of the better sort, and by a few rare and gifted women.”
“And in all ages a certain barbaric warfare has been waged with soldiers of tin and lead and wood, with the weapons of the wild, with the catapult, the elastic circular garter, the peashooter, the rubber ball, and such-like appliances—a mere setting up and knocking down of men. Tin murder. The advance of civilisation has swept such rude contests altogether from the playroom. We know them no more….”
Chapter 1 of Little Wars by H.G. Wells
There in a few jovial lines by Wells you have glimpses of the inequalities of the Late Victorian, Edwardian or pre-WW1 Class system, unenfranchised labour and gender of those of ‘an inferior social position’ to Kings, Empire and ‘Civilisation’.
I have yet to find any historical evidence of who these “rare and gifted women” who played Little Wars may have been, if in fact they really existed.
Maybe they were Wells’ hopeful prediction for the future, that there would be female gamers one day in the future?
Wells was intelligent and interested enough in the lives of women (no snickering at the back!) to have understood maybe a little more than most men of the time the frustrations and restrictions of Victorian and Edwardian women’s lives and aspirations, ones that would be briefly brought to light by women’s work in the First World War.
But which ‘sort’ of girl? I am reminded of the ‘girls of the better sort‘ of early pioneering Edwardian Girl Scouts that spontaneously and enthusiastically set up their own scout patrols in response to Baden Powell’s Scouting for Boys publications, before they were reorganised into the slightly more passive and socially acceptable Girl Guides. but that’s another story …
I have researched or uncovered a little of the hidden biography or family history behind Wells’ servants in my blog post: https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2021/03/07/the-dread-broom-and-the-swish-of-skirts-jessie-allen-brooks-part-of-the-h-g-wells-household-floor-games-and-little-wars/
The lives of his wives and female friends are much better known: https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2021/01/21/the-invisible-men-and-women-behind-h-g-wells-little-wars-and-floor-games/
That was the turn of this year’s blog posts back in December January and FEMbruary.
Why go back to this? I was taken back afresh to the Little Wars text source by a recent link to one of my blog posts on my New Machiavelli H.G. Wells post.
The link to my blogpost was from an interesting article by Cynthia Chung on the Rising Tide Foundation website, exploring Wells, science, sci-fi apocalypse fictions and game theory:
Women and Class in H.G. Wells’ The New Machiavelli 1911 – more swish of skirts!
I find Wells’ playful tones sometimes difficult to pin down. Here you have Wells writing as a boy character and father at a play room view level:
Important to remember that this is not autobiography, this is not H.G. Wells speaking as himself, it is the words of the fictional main narrator Dick recalling childhood.
Note: I have put notable or interesting servant, class and gender words in bold:
“I find this empire of the floor much more vivid and detailed in my memory now than many of the owners of the skirts and legs and boots that went gingerly across its territories.
Occasionally, alas! they stooped to scrub, abolishing in one universal destruction the slow growth of whole days of civilised development. I still remember the hatred and disgust of these catastrophes.
Like Noah I was given warnings. Did I disregard them, coarse red hands would descend, plucking garrisons from fortresses and sailors from ships, jumbling them up in their wrong boxes, clumsily so that their rifles and swords were broken, sweeping the splendid curves of the Imperial Road into heaps of ruins, casting the jungle growth of Zululand into the fire.
“Well, Master Dick,” the voice of this cosmic calamity would say, “you ought to have put them away last night. No! I can’t wait until you’ve sailed them all away in ships. I got my work to do, and do it I will.”
And in no time all my continents and lands were swirling water and swiping strokes of house-flannel.
That was the worst of my giant visitants, but my mother too, dear lady, was something of a terror to this microcosm. She wore spring-sided boots, a kind of boot now vanished, I believe, from the world, with dull bodies and shiny toes, and a silk dress with flounces that were very destructive to the more hazardous viaducts of the Imperial Road.
She was always, I seem to remember, fetching me; fetching me for a meal, fetching me for a walk or, detestable absurdity! fetching me for a wash and brush up, and she never seemed to understand anything whatever of the political Systems across which she came to me.
Also she forbade all toys on Sundays except the bricks for church-building and the soldiers for church parade, or a Scriptural use of the remains of the Noah’s Ark mixed up with a wooden Swiss dairy farm …
My mother did not understand my games, but my father did …”
Quoted from H.G. Wells, The New Machiavelli, 1911
Again this is Wells’ main narrator character Dick speaking, not Wells directly himself.
Apocalyptic destruction happens not just in sci-fi War of the Worlds but also in the playroom.
Little Wars and Floor Games have a more autobiographical feel, mixed with Wells’ multiple personas as the eternal boy, Good Uncle, understanding parent (or father), comic writer and social satirist. There is an echo of giants and tiny men from Gulliver’s Travels. There is the social scientist or science teacher Wells with his “Microcosm”.
Both books are such a rich and interesting read.
Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, 30/31 October 2021
B.P.S. Blog Post Script
Interesting to compare Wellsian Floor Games with those of his acquaintance and contemporary author Edith Nesbit or E. Nesbit who I was posting about last Janaury: