Amid apocalyptic invasions and time travel, one common machine continually appears in H. G. Wells’s works: the bicycle. From his scientific romances and social comedies, to utopias, futurological speculations, and letters, Wells’s texts abound with bicycles. In The War of the Wheels, Withers examines this mode of transportation as both something that played a significant role in Wells’s personal life and as a literary device for creating elaborate characters and complex themes.
Withers traces Wells’s ambivalent relationship with the bicycle throughout his writing. While he celebrated it as a singular and astonishing piece of technology, and continued to do so long after his contemporaries abandoned their enthusiasm for the bicycle, he was not an unwavering promoter of this machine. Wells acknowledged the complex nature of cycling, its contribution to a growing dependence on and fetishization of technology, and its role in humanity’s increasing sense of superiority. Moving into the twenty-first century, Withers reflects on how the works of H. G. Wells can serve as a valuable locus for thinking through many of our current issues and problems related to transportation, mobility, and sustainability.
Jeremy Withers and Daniel P. Shea
Bicycles have more cultural identities than many realize, functioning not only as literal vehicles in a text but also as “vehicles” for that text’s themes, ideas, and critiques. In the late nineteenth century the bicycle was seen as a way for the wealthy urban elite to reconnect with nature and for women to gain a measure of personal freedom, while during World War II it became a utilitarian tool of the French Resistance and in 1970s China stood for wealth and modernization. Lately it has functioned variously as the favored ideological steed of environmentalists, a means of community bonding and aesthetic self-expression in hip hop, and the ride of choice for bike messenger–idolizing urban hipsters. Culture on Two Wheels analyzes the shifting cultural significance of the bicycle by examining its appearances in literary, musical, and cinematic works spanning three continents and more than 125 years of history. Bringing together essays by a variety of cyclists and scholars with myriad angles of approach, this collection highlights the bicycle’s flexibility as a signifier and analyzes the appearance of bicycles in canonical and well-known texts such as Samuel Beckett’s modernist novel Molloy, the Oscar-winning film Breaking Away, and various Stephen King novels and stories, as well as in lesser-known but equally significant texts, such as the celebrated Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Sacrifice and Elizabeth Robins Pennell’s nineteenth-century travelogue A Canterbury Pilgrimage, the latter of which traces the route of Chaucer’s pilgrims via bicycle.