Text Comparison

Victorian authors often edited and expanded their serialized novels while preparing them for publication as single-volume versions. When The War of the Worlds was first published as a volume, H. G. Wells took advantage of this opportunity (and direction from his editors and publishers) to heavily revise the novel. In addition to making numerous sentence-level edits to change words and phrases, Wells added, removed, and rearranged passages throughout. He also added a new chapter and heavily reworked the novel’s Epilogue. Annotations regarding specific edits are found on each of the Pearson’s installments on this site.

As the below histogram indicates, the differences between the base text (the nine Pearson’s installments) and the volume text (from Project Gutenberg) are far from insignificant. The major spikes in variance in the second half of the novel are expected; they reflect the volume’s additional chapter and heavily revised Epilogue. However, the other major deviations, especially in the first half of the novel, are somewhat surprising given the fact that critical editions do not acknowledge that major changes were made in these portions of the novel.

Histogram of the entire text of The War of the Worlds indicating frequency of variance between the serialized version and the volume across the text.

The first iteration of this project (through the summer of 2020) included text comparisons between the Pearson’s 1897 version of The War of the Worlds using the now-defunct online tool Juxta Commons. Unfortunately, no similar tool has yet been developed to create new text comparisons and histograms of the text files. As an alternative, you can download an MS Word document with Track Changes used to indicate differences between the 1897 version and the current Project Gutenberg text. The file is available here.

The differences in the text within and across the installments offer insights into the kinds of extensive revisions that occurred during the process of collecting serialized novels into volumes during the Victorian period. They also draw attention to the fact that seemingly “small” changes can affect meaning in ways that have just as much significance as “big” changes and additions. For example, many of the seemingly nitpicky changes to smaller scenes contribute to a much different view of the narrator’s personal responses to the novel’s events, as well as Wells’s portrayal of religious fanaticism as presented by the curate.

If and when a similar tool to Juxta Commons becomes available, this site will be updated with links to text comparisons for each installment and the entire novel.

With sincerest thanks to Juxta Commons for providing initial text comparisons and histograms, to Project Gutenberg for the volume text transcription, and to HathiTrust for hosting digital facsimiles of Pearson’s Magazine from Indiana University. The Pearson’s text of the novel was transcribed by Madeline B. Gangnes from the facsimiles for scholarly use.