The Novel

The War of the Worlds is a Victorian scientific romance (Wells’s term for what we generally now call science fiction) novel about the invasion of Earth by beings from Mars. It was the first English-language novel written about intelligent life on Mars; a German novel called Auf zwei Planeten (Two Planets) by Kurt Lasswitz was also published in 1897. The story follows an unnamed narrator living in Woking, Surrey in England (now part of London) during the early years of the twentieth century as he struggles to survive and reunite with his family during the violent invasion. It is held up as one of the earliest and most important invasion narratives and works of science fiction in Western literature. It has inspired countless adaptations and visualizations across a vast array of media, including other prose texts, visual art, comics, radio, music, stage, and film. Its book covers alone constitute a substantial body of visual art and design work.

The novel was first published as a serial in the Victorian general-interest illustrated monthly periodical Pearson’s Magazine from April through December of 1897 (nine installments). It was simultaneously published in Cosmopolitan Magazine in the United States, but with changes to the divisions of installments and the placement and order of images; the same artists (Warwick Goble and Cosmo Rowe) were featured in both publications, but text was shifted around the images in different ways, so that the page layouts noticeably differ from Pearson’s. This site focuses on the British publication history of the novel, but facsimiles of the Cosmopolitan version can be found here (April 1897), here (May-Oct 1897) and here (Nov-Dec 1897).

After its serialization was complete, Wells heavily revised and expanded the text so it could be published as a volume: the 1898 London First Edition. These revisions range from sentence-level edits (changing a word here and there) to removing and adding full sections of the text. The 1898 edition splits the novel into two “books” and cuts, rearranges, and expands the novel’s epilogue. The resources on this site underscore the fact that these changes are significant to meaning-making in the text (narrative, characterization, and ideological underpinnings) and give indications of Wells’s responses to Warwick Goble’s illustrations.

One of the key purposes of this site is to highlight the differences in content, material properties, and visuals between the serialized version of the text and the 1898 volume, and in so doing make a case for the importance of reading the serialized version. To that end, annotated transcriptions of the serialized installments, with facsimiles included, are available here, and detailed text comparisons tracking edits between the versions are linked here. The transcriptions are text-to-speech compatible and include descriptions of illustrations and page layouts with links to facsimiles of the Pearson’s issues in which each installment was published. The full magazine facsimiles give a valuable view of the historical, material, and cultural context in which the novel was first published.