In the Days of the Comet
by H. G. Wells
'In the Days of the Comet ' Summary
An unnamed narrator is the author of a prologue ("The Man Who Wrote in the Tower") and an epilogue ("The Window of the Tower"). In these short texts is depicted an encounter with a "happy, active-looking" old man: the protagonist and author of the first-person narrative, writing the story of his life immediately before and after "the Change".
This narrative is divided into three "books": Book I: The Comet; Book II: The Green Vapours; and Book III: The New World.
Book I, recounts that William ("Willie") Leadford, "third in the office staff of Rawdon's pot-bank [a place where pottery is made] in Clayton," quits his job just as an economic recession caused by American dumping hits industrial Britain, and is unable to find another position. He returns to being a student and his emotional life is dominated by his attachment to Nettie Stuart, "the daughter of the head gardener of the rich Mr. Verrall's widow", of a village called Checkshill Towers. Converted to socialism by his friend 'Parload', Leadford blames class-based injustice for the squalid living conditions in which he and his mother live. The date of the action is unspecified.
When Nettie jilts Leadford for the son and heir of the Verrall family, Leadford buys a revolver, intending to kill them both and himself. As this plot matures, a comet with an "unprecedented band in the green" in its spectroscopy looms gradually larger in the sky, eventually becoming brighter than the Moon. Just as Leadford is about to kill his rivals, the green comet enters the Earth's atmosphere and disintegrates, causing a soporific green fog.
Book II opens with Leadford's awakening, in which he is acutely aware of the beauty in the world and his attitude toward others is one of generous fellow-feeling. The same effects occur in every human being, who accordingly re-organize human society. By chance, Leadford falls in with a Cabinet minister and briefly becomes his secretary.
Book III begins with an intense discussion by Verrall, Leadford, and Nettie, about their future. Although Nettie wants to establish a ménage à trois, Leadford and Verrall reject the idea, and Leadford devotes himself to his mother until her death. Leadford marries Anna, who has been helping care for his mother, and they have a son; but soon thereafter Nettie contacts Leadford.
In the epilogue, the 72-year-old Leadford reveals that he, Nettie, Verrall, and Anna were from then on "very close, you understand, we were friends, helpers, personal lovers in a world of lovers". The author is troubled "by my uneasy sense of profound moral differences."
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