The Wonder – JD Beresford (1911)
‘Nothing will ever mystify or challenge the Wonder. He masters entire libraries and language with little effort. No equation, no problem is too difficult to solve.
His casual conversations with ministers and philosophers decimate their vaunted beliefs and crush their cherished intellectual ambitions. the Wonder compels obedience and silence with a glance. His mother idolizes him as a god. yet no one is more hated and alone than the Wonder.
This is the chilling tale of Victor Stott, an English boy born thousands of years ahead of his time. Raised in the village of Hampdenshire, the strangely proportioned young Victor possesses mental abilities vastly superior to those of his fellow villagers. The incomprehensible intellect and powers of the Wonder inspire awe, provoke horror, and eventually threat to rip art Hampdenshire.
Long recognised as a classic of speculative fiction but never before widely available, The Wonder is one of the first novels about a ‘superman’. JD Beresford’s subtle and intriguing story of a boy with superhuman abilities paved the way for such noted works as Philip Wylie’s ‘Gladiator’ and AE van Vogt’s ‘Slan’’
Blurb from the 1999 Bison Books paperback edition
Presaging an entire century of novels featuring the ‘superman’ or ‘Homo Superior’ is JD Beresford’s ‘the Wonder’. Beresford is possibly the first writer to explore the concept in a full length novel, although I am almost certainly wrong on that point as someone will no doubt point out to me in due course.
‘The Wonder’ of the title is a child, Victor Stott, the son of Ginger Stott, a celebrated cricketer.
Ginger’s life story is told in rather too much detail in the initial section of the novel, and there seems to be interminable pages devoted to cricket, but once past this rather self-indulgent scene-setting, the novel comes into its own, painting not only a sinister portrait of a boy whose aura of intelligence intimidates all around him, but also of the society of the time.
The local squire, a dedicated anthropologist, is the first to recognise at least a portion of the truth regarding Victor’s intellect and invites the boy to use his library where Victor digests books at a prodigious rate.
Beresford cleverly paints Victor as a creature who, although able to assimilate philosophical and scientific principles seems uninterested in the primitive social rules of the people among whom he is living. Thus his demeanour seems brusque, even rude and arrogant, and he soon makes an enemy of the local vicar since the boy treats religious scripture with the same disdain he holds for some of the other books in the library.
Finding no one whom he considers an equal, the boy is reluctant to speak to many people. His father considers him to be a freak and soon leaves him in the care of his mother who, conversely, veritably worships him.
Occasionally, however, he confides in his benefactor and these rare sections have a beauty of writing which is deeply moving. Victor sees Humanity objectively, and himself as a tragic victim, a creature of the future born perhaps hundreds of thousands of years before his time, doomed to live alone amongst these slow-thinking savages, savages who think him a freak who should have died at birth.
Although Victor has the power to intimidate almost anyone with the force of his stare, he is powerless against one person, an idiot boy who seems to see something of kinship in Victor’s diminutive frame and over-large cranium. The gabbling ‘idiot’ often hangs around Victor’s house and has to be chased away.
One day, Victor goes missing somewhere between the Squire’s library and his home, and is later found drowned in a local pond.
The mystery of Victor’s death is never solved, although it is determined that the boy must have been held underwater until he drowned. Was it ‘The Idiot’ who killed Victor as part of some game, or could it have been the vicar, long offended by the existence of the genius abomination who refused accept Christian teachings?
For its time, ‘The Wonder’ is undoubtedly a groundbreaking piece of work and, one suspects, a controversial one. Rather like ‘The Elephant Man’, Victor is portrayed as more human, despite his failings, than many of the people in his community. He seems, although it is only implied in the novel, to conform to a theory of Evolution, albeit not exactly a Darwinian one, and he is, to all intents and purposes, Godless.
Unlike many works of the time, it has not dated that badly and is an unjustifiably neglected and important piece of literature.