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:
21 thoughts on ““Girls of the better sort, and by a few rare and gifted women …””
Very Freudian….we have to remember this.
Yes I wonder what a (stereotype couch) Freud would have made of Wells and his Toy soldier books …
Interesting stuff , I see there is a new biography of Wells coming out this month https://www.amazon.co.uk/Young-H-G-Wells-Changing-World/dp/0241239974 , wonder if it will enlighten us more to the great man ?
That looks like one for the reading list. Usually Floor Games and Little Wars end up as embarrassed footnotes …
Reblogged this on Woehammer and commented:
About stunning article by the manoftin! Why not give him a follow on WordPress?
Thanks for the reblog.
I Man of TIN with my love of the simplest rules will have to sit out the discussion when Mr. H G Wells mixes in good company with your recent posts on famous gamers and rule writers Rick Priestley and the Perry etc.
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Mark…..Very deep !!!!!! I think Wells had his tongue in his cheek a lot of the time, a very dry sense of humour perhaps. However book sales mean money so perhaps he used some of these expressions to catch the eye of prospective buyers ?????? or is that more a thing of today???? What ever, it is very entertaining reading and we are lucky he was here. Regards.
Wells’ Toy soldier work is well written and entertaining (as Donald Featherstone’s work was too).
I agree that he was a tongue in cheek writer on much of this and not to look at it too deeply, but his work and he was a product of their times.
As a social critic, I wonder if he foresaw a time when girls’ interests were allowed to widen beyond the Victorian Edwardian idea of what is considered suitably feminine.
Yes I think he very much saw a time when females would have a more equal role in society . You only have to look at his other work to understand he was almost visionary so it stands to reason he knew that men could only demean the other half of the human race for so long.
He should do – he knew enough intelligent liberated freethinking women on the edge of the socialist Fabian circle. Not sure he liked them all. (Can’t remember / not sure where he stood on women’s suffrage.)
Bang – there goes another illusion: I just checked that date on that article!
My introduction to the wider world of wargaming came around 1970 when as part of the Edinburgh Festival arts impresario Richard Demarco had enabled a spectacular “floodlit” Napoleonic wargame involving, I think, Charles Dick (I think best known for naval wargaming) and another Italo-Scot, the late Mario Boni – scion of an East of Scotland ice cream dynasty! At the same event I met George W Jeffrey (then a serving soldier in the Royal Scots) for the first time – a livewire Napoleonics fanatic who wrote a wargaming book (published by Almark) on the sly while manning a recruitment office. Half a century later I’m still at it ….
Half a century of hobby … if I count crawling around on the floor as a very young child, I’m not that far off this. what an engrossing and flexible hobby we enjoy our different variations of.
Interesting that it was growing so fast as a hobby in the Late 60s that it merited an appearance at the (Fringe) Edinburgh Arts festival. Add in the appearance on Callan etc at the time – early high points in an enduring hobby. I wonder if there are photos of this floodlit battle …
I like the idea of sly writing of a Napoleonic Wargames book in quiet periods in the recruiting office.
George W Jeffrey turns up in a number of other blogs not always favourably or uncritically such as
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Great post. Excellent research.
Thanks – always a pleasure to return to the source, Floor Games and Little Wars.
It reminds me once again of the wargames I played on the floor more than 60 years ago, using plastic soldiers from the likes of Cherilea and Herald along with diecast model howitzers which we used to fire nails at the troops – my dad, who sadly died when I was very young, had (I realised much later) devised a spin-off of Little Wars. Then in my early teens I discovered Donald Featjerstone, Miniature Wargames magazine and much else.
I read somewhere (I think on a vintage figures site) that Wells’ playing companions included such luminaries as JRR Tolikien, CS Lewis, JFC Fuller and Brigadier Peter Young …and that they spent a lot of time in a medieval imagi-nation of their devising.
I think we are all even a little bit trying to recover some of the simplicity and heroism of those childhood Floor Games.
Interesting the link between your Floor game, your fathers game version of a Little Wars, then Featherstone etc.
Donald Featherstone was very influenced by Little Wars and allegedly went to war in 1939/40 with it in his knapsack, allegedly he claims he was probably the only British soldier to do so.
Wells JFC Fuller etc. Was it this blog post? https://vintagewargaming.blogspot.com/2010/04/secret-war-gaming-history-of-literary.html
The Wells / Tolkien / Peter Young thing had me fooled too – check the date of the original.
I was so disappointed when it turned out not to be true!
Peter Young did of course play wargames with Donald Featherstone (using Spencer Smith 18th century figures), so that’s worth half a point!
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You, me … and probably every fantasy and historical Wargamer and RPG enthusiast that read it without noticing the date. It will probably become quoted or cited as ‘true’ one day because we want it to be so,
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Mark….I understand Wells did support votes for women but thought the Suffragette movement was the wrong way to achieve it. As usual he was ahead of his time and thought votes should be part of a wider package including financial independence for women. It is often not realised that women had no legal or financial status in those days, they were totally subordinated to fathers or husbands. Regards.
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Yes, I learned in working on my suffragettes on roller skates game scenarios https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2020/07/20/suffragettes-on-roller-skates-in-edwardian-london-scenario-wip/
that this is the difference between NUWSS suffrage, WSPU suffragettes and the WNASL anti-suffrage leagues of women (as well as men).
Married Women’s Property Act – very important bit of legislation, along with the later post-WW1 Representation of the People Act 1918/28.
In some parts of the world, sadly not that much change has happened.
This legal financial and aspiration restrictions point and is well made in the recent Miss Potter film with Renee Zwellweger.
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