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||H(erbert) G(eorge) Wells (1866-1946)|
English novelist, journalist, sociologist, and historian, whose science fiction stories have been filmed many times. H.G. Wells's best known works are The Time Machine (1895), one of the first modern science fiction stories, The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898). Wells wrote over a hundred of books, about fifty of them novels.
"No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their affairs they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water." (from War of the Worlds)
Along with George Orwell's Nineteen-Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, which was a pessimistic answer to scientific optimism, Wells's novels are among the classics of science-fiction. Later Wells's romantic and enthusiastic conception of technology turned more doubtful. His bitter side is seen early in the novel Boon (1915), which was a parody of Henry James.
Herbert George Wells was born in Bromley, Kent. His father, Joe, was a shopkeeper and a professional cricketer until he broke his thigh - the accident happened while he was helping a girlfriend climb over a wall while his wife was at church. It has been said, that Wells inherited infidelity from his father.
early childhood, Wells developed love for literature. His mother served
from time to time as a housekeeper at the nearby estate of Uppark, and
young Wells studied books in the library secretly. When his father's
business failed, Wells was apprenticed like his brothers to a draper.
Wells spent the years between 1880 and 1883 in Windsor and Southsea, and later recorded them in Kipps (1905). In the story Arthur Kipps is raised by his aunt and uncle. Kipps is also apprenticed to a draper. After learning that he has been left a fortune, Kipps enters the upper-class society, which Wells describes with sharp social criticism.
In 1883 Wells became a teacher/pupil at Midhurst Grammar School. He obtained a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in London and studied there biology under T.H. Huxley. However, his interest faltered and in 1887 he left without a degree. He taught in private schools for four years. In Kilburn his star pupil was A.A. Milne, who did not consider Wells a great teacher: "He was too clever and too impatient." Wells did not do his B.S. degree until 1890. Next year he settled in London, married his cousin Isabel Mary Wells and continued his career as a teacher in a correspondence college. By 1894 the marriage was over. Wells left Isabel for one of his brightest students, Amy Catherine Robbins, whom he married in 1895. Their first son, George Philip, was born in 1901.
From 1893 Wells devoted himself entirely to writing. Lung problems and a prognosis that he would die, added an extra urgency to a tremendous four-year burst of creativity, during which he produced his famous "scientific romances" As a novelist Wells made his debut with The Time Machine, a parody of English class division. The narrator is Hillyer, who discusses with his friends about theories of time travel. A week later their host has an incredible story to tell the in a late Victorian smoking-room - he has returned from the year 802701. The Time Traveler had found two people: the Eloi, weak and little, who live above ground in a seemingly Edenic paradise, and the Morlocks, bestial creatures that live below ground, who eat the Eloi. The Traveler's beautiful friend Weena is killed, he flees into the far future, where he encounters "crab-like creatures" and things "like a huge white butterfly," that have taken over the planet. In the year 30,000,000 he finds lichens, blood-red sea and a creature with tentacles. He returns horrified back to the present. Much of the realistic atmosphere of the story was achieved by carefully studied technical details. The basic principles of the machine contained materials regarding time as the fourth dimension - years later Albert Einstein published his theory of the four dimensional continuum of space-time.
The Time Machine was followed by The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), in which a mad scientist transforms animals into human creatures. The story is told in flashback by a man named Edward Prendick, who ends up on a remote island controlled by Dr. Moreau, a notorious vivisectionist. Moreau experiments with animals in his laboratory, and has created Beast People. At the end, Moreau is killed by Puma-Woman and Prendick escapes from the island, and returns to London. He concludes the tale: "Even then it seemed that I, too, was not a reasonable creature, but only an animal tormented with some strange disorder in its brain, that sent it to wander alone, like as sheep stricken with the gid." Wells, who was a Darwinist, did not reject the evolutionary theory but attacked optimists and warned that human progress is not inevitable. Moreover, the novel offered a cautionary view on the rise of laboratory science. In film versions the character of Dr. Moreau has inspired such actors as Charles Laughton, Burt Lancaster, and Marlon Brando.
The Invisible Man was a Faustian story of a scientist who has tampered with nature in pursuit of superhuman powers, and The War of the Worlds, a novel of an invasion of Martians. The story appeared at a time when Giovanni Schiaparelli's discovery of Martian "canals" and Percival Lowell's book Mars (1895) stirred speculations that there could be life on the Red Planet. The narrator is an unnamed "philosophical writer" who tells about events that happened six years earlier. Martian cylinders land on earth outside London and the invaders, who have a "roundish bulk with tentacles" start to vaporize humans. The Martians build walking tripods which ruin towns. Panic spreads, London is evacuated. Martians release poisonous black smoke. However, Martians are slain "by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put on this earth." Cecil B. DeMille bought the rights of the novel in 1925. In 1930 Paramount offered the story to the Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein, but he never attempted an adaptation. Its later Hollywood version from 1952, in which terrifying aliesn invade Earth via the American midwest, reflected Cold War attitudes. The spectacular special effects cost $1,400,000. A great deal of money and effort was put in the final attack on Los Angeles.
The First Men on the Moon (1901) was prophetic description of the methodology of space flight, and The War in the Air (1908) foresaw the importance of air forces in combat. Although Wells's novels were highly entertaining, he also tried to arise debate about the future of the mankind. His novel, In the Days of the Comet (1906), was about a giant comet, that nearly hits Earth, but its tail gases cause changes in human behaviour. One of Wells's earlier stories, 'The Star' (1897), tells of a planet, that almost demolishes the world before hitting the sun. However, in The Shape of Things to Come (1933), Wells failed to anticipate the importance of atomic energy, although in The World Set Free (1914) a physicist manages to split the atom.
After settling in Sandgate on the Kent coast, Wells slowly gained his physical health, and acquired a lifelong passion for cycling. "Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race," he said. Dissatisfied with his literary work, Wells moved into the novel genre with Love and Mr. Lewisham (1900). Kipps strengthened his reputation as a serous writer. Wells also published critical pamphlets attacking the Victorian social order, among them Anticipations (1901), Mankind in the Making (1903), and A Modern Utopia (1905). In The History of Mr. Polly (1909) Wells returned to vanished England.
Passionate concern for society led Wells to join in 1903 the socialist Fabian Society, that advocated a fairer society by planning for a gradual system of reforms. Wells did not believe in Marx's proletarian socialism, and wrote a messianic dystopia about socialist revolution, When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), in which the organiser of the revolution, Ostrog, says: "All power is for those who can handle wealth. . . . You must accept facts, and these are facts. The world for the Crowd! The Crowd as Ruler! Even in your days that creed had been tried and condemned. To-day it has only one believer--a multiplex, silly one--the mall in the Crowd."
Wells soon quarreled with the society's leaders, among them George Bernard Shaw. This experience was basis for his novel The New Machiavelli (1911), which portrayed the noted Fabians. At the outbreak of war in 1914, Wells left his lover, Elizabeth Von Arnim, and began a love affair with a young journalist, Rebecca West, 26 years his junior. West and Wells called themselves "panther" and "jaguar". Their son Anthony West later wrote about their difficult relationship in Aspects of a Life (1984).
In his novels Wells used his two wives, Amber Reeves, Rebecca West,
Odette Keun and all the passing mistresses as models for his
characters. Odette was satirized in Apropos of Dolores (1938), where she appeared as 'Dolores Wilbeck.' ''I was never a great amorist,'' Wells wrote in Experiment in Autobiography
(1934) ''though I have loved several people very deeply.'' On the other
hand, he also liked to call himself "the Don Juan of the
intelligentsia." Rebecca West
became a famous author and married a wealthy banker, Henry Andrews, who
had business interests in Germany. Elizabeth von Arnim dismissed Wells,
and the Russian baroness Moura Budberg (1892-1974), Maxim Gorky's former mistress, refused
to marry him
or even be faithful. When quizzed by Somerset Maugham on what she saw
in "the paunchy, played-out writer," who had a squeaky voice, she
replied: "He smells of honey." Moura was known as the "Mata Hari of
Russia." Her lovers included the British spy Sir R.H. Bruce Lockhart.
In 1951 she tipped off MI6 that Sir Anthony Blunt was a communist.
"Nothing could have been more obvious to the people of the early twentieth century than the rapidity with which war was becoming impossible. And as certainly they did not see it. They did not see it until the atomic bombs burst in their fumbling hands." (from The World Set Free, 1914)
At the call of Charles Masterman, a member of H.H. Asquith's
Cabined, Wells joined a group of editors from the British press and
senior writers – among them G.K. Chesterton, Arthur Conan Doyle, John
Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy, Gilbert Murray, George Trevelyan and Israel
Zangwill – whose task was to represent the British viewpoint and
counterbalance German propaganda in Allied and neutral nations. From
May to July 1918 Wells served as the director of propaganda literature
against the Germans at "Crewe House" at the residence of the Marquess
of Crewe in Curzon Steet, London. Wells urged "a clear and full
statement of the war aims of the Allies," which he chrystallized in the
phrase "The League of Free Nations" and in the dream of perpetual
After WW I Wells published several non-fiction works, among them Outline of History (1920), The Open Conspiracy (1928), and The Science of Life (1929-39), written in collaboration with Sir Julian Huxley and George Philip Wells. At this time Wells had gained the status as a popular celebrity, and he continued to write prolifically. In 1917 he was a member of Research Committee for the League of Nations and published several books about the world organization. Rising militarism disgusted Wells. "The professional military mind is by necessity an inferior and unimaginative mind," he said, "no man of high intellectual quality would willingly imprison his gifts in such calling." (from The Outline of History, 1920)
In the early 1920s Wells was a labour candidate for Parliament. Although Wells had many reservations about the Soviet system, he understood the broad aims of the Russian Revolution, and had in 1920 a fairly amiable meeting with Lenin, though temperamentally he was hostile to Marxism. Lenin, behind his back, called him "a dreadful bourgeois and a little philistine." Wells introduced in The Open Conspiracy they idea of a new world order, in which "suitably equipped groups of the most interested, intelligent, and devoted people" would form a world directorate to run humanity's public affairs.
While touring in the Soviet Union in 1920, Wells stayed in Maxim Gorky's apartment in Petrograd and had an affair with Gorky's secretary Moura Budberg. "I believed she loved me and I believed every word she said to me. No other woman has ever had that much effectiveness for me," Wells recalled later. They met again nine years later and Moura became part of his life in the 1930s in London. On the French Riviera he had a liaison with Constance Coolidge and a few months after with the American journalist and writer Martha Gellhorn in Washington. Between the years 1924 and 1933 Wells lived mainly in France. His close friends included Christabel McLaren, who prized his friendship but made it clear from the beginning that she never intended to sleep with him.
Wells had discussions in 1934
with both Roosevelt, whose world-saving plans did not appeal
to him, and Stalin, who left him disillusioned. Speaking of human
nature, Stalin said: "You, Mr Wells, evidently start out with the
assumption that all men are good. I, however, do not forget that there
are many wicked men. I do not believe in the goodness of the
bourgeoisie." (from Stalin - Wells Talk: The Verbatim Record, published in the New Statesman)
Wells was convinced that Western socialists cannot compromise with
Communism. In The Holy Terror (1939) Wells
studied the psychological development of a modern dictator exemplified
in the careers of Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler.
According to MI5 files, Moura Budberg was suspected of being for years a Soviet agent. It is unclear, whether Wells knew anything about this. From 1935 she was his principal companion. A fictional portrait of her can be found in Brynhild (1937), where she is named 'Brynhild Palace'. Moura was mentioned several times in his last will and testament. She turned down repeatedly Wells's offers of marriage, who said of her, "I have rarely seen her in any room with other women in which she was not plainly - not merely in my eyes but to many others - the most attractive and interesting presence." (A Very Dangerous Woman: The Lives, Loves and Lies of Russia’s Most Seductive Spy by Deborah McDonald and Jeremy Dronfield, 2015, p. xi)
Orson Welles' Mercury Theater radio broadcast, based on The War of the Worlds, caused a panic in the Eastern United States on October 30, 1938. In Newark, New Jersey, all the occupants of a block of flats left their homes with wet towels round their heads and in Harlem a congregation fell to its knees. Welles, who first considered the show silly, was shaken by the panic he had unleashed and promised that he would never do anything like it again. Later Welles attempted to claim authorship for the script, but it was written by Howard Koch, whose inside story of the whole episode, The Panic Broadcast; Portrait of an Event, came out in 1970. Wells himself was not amused with the radio play. He met the young director in 1940 at a San Antonio radio station, but was at that time mellowed and advertised Welles next film, Citizen Kane.
"Those who have not read The War of the Worlds may be surprised to find that, like much of Wells's writing, it is full of poetry and contains passages that catch the throat. Wells tried to pretend that he was not an artist and stated that "there will come a time for every work of art when it will have served its purpose and be bereft of its last rag of significance." This has not yet happened for the best of Wells's science fiction, though it has done so for all but a few of his realistic and political novels." (Arthur C. Clarke in Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!, 1999)
From 1934 to 1946 Wells served as the International president of PEN. He lived through World War II in his house on Regent's Park, refusing to let the blitz drive him out of London. Even at the age of seventy-four, he still enjoyed the company of prostitutes. His last book, Mind at the End of Its Tether (1945), was about mankind's future prospects, which he had always viewed with pessimism. "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe," he wrote already in The Outline of History. Wells died in London on August 13, 1946.
For further reading: Wells meets Deleuze: the Scientific Romances Reconsidered by Michael Starr (2017); A Very Dangerous Woman: The Lives, Loves and Lies of Russia’s Most Seductive Spy by Deborah McDonald and Jeremy Dronfield (2015); H. G. Wells: Another Kind of Life by Michael Sherborne and Christopher Priest (2012); Shadow Lovers: The Last Affairs of H. G. Wells by Andrea Lynn (2001); The Invisible Man: The Life and Liberties of H.G. Wells by Michael Coren (1993); A Critical Edition of The War of the Worlds, ed. by David Y. Hughes and Harry M. Geduld (1993); H.G. Wells: Six Scientific Romances Adapted for Film by Thomas C. Renzi (1992); H.G. Wells by Brian Murray (1990); H.G. Wells under Revision, ed. by Patrick Parrinder and Christopher Rolfe (1990); H.G. Wells by Brian Murray (1990); H.G. Wells: A Comprehensive Bibliography, published by the H.G. Wells Society (1986); The Time Traveller: Life of H.G. Wells by Norman and Jean Mackenzie (1973); H.G. Wells: The Critical Heritage, ed. by P. Parrinder (1972); H.G. Wells by L. Dickson (1969); The Early H.G. Wells by Bernard Bergonzi (1961); A Companion to Mr. Wells's "Outline of History," by Hilaire Belloc (1926); The World of H.G. Wells by Van Wyck Brooks (1915) - See also: Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs