Authors: H. G. Wells

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

Author

September 21, 1866

Bromley, Kent, England

August 13, 1946

London, England

Biography

Herbert George Wells, whose parents ran a china shop, was one of England’s most prolific and best-known writers. Although he had to work for a living early in life, he was determined to get an education and rise in the world. After a period as a draper’s apprentice and a chemist’s assistant, he attended Midhurst Middleschool, where he was a teacher and a student. In 1884 he won a scholarship at the Royal College of Science, studying under the biologist and advocate of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, Thomas Henry Huxley, an experience that made a lasting impression on him. Two years later he founded the Science School Journal, combining his interests in teaching and science writing. In 1890 he earned a bachelor of science degree from London University. He began tutoring until tuberculosis forced him to give up teaching. While convalescing, he began to write essays and stories, and in 1891 he published an essay in the Fortnightly Review, marking the beginning of his long and active career. In the same year, Wells married Isabel Mary Wells, a cousin. In 1893 he completed the two-volume work Text-Book of Biology. During this period, he taught in a correspondence school and did various kinds of writing. In 1895 he divorced his wife, after a two-year separation, and married Amy Catherine “Jane” Robbins, a former student, with whom he had two sons.

In 1895 Wells published The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents, a collection of short stories; later that year, he published The Time Machine, the first of his “scientific romances,” his term for what became science fiction. An immediate success, this novel was frequently compared to the work of Jules Verne, but Wells protested that he wrote for political ends, while he thought Verne did not. Wells continued his scientific speculations in such books as The Wonderful Visit, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds. Like many of his works, these novels combined biological and historical projection with Darwinian theory. They also included social satire as well as warnings about the potentials of science, and they earned him the reputation of a visionary. The power and excitement inherent in his fiction were amply demonstrated in 1938, when a radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds created a few hours of panic throughout the United States, with many listeners believing that an invasion from space was actually occurring.

H. G. Wells

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(Library of Congress)

In The Wheels of Chance, Wells wrote the first of his novels dealing with the attempts of the lower middle class to rise in the world; this series includes Kipps, Love and Mr. Lewisham, and The History of Mr. Polly. Like Charles Dickens, Wells described the lives of ordinary people with generosity and sympathy. Around the turn of the twentieth century, he developed friendships with such writers as Joseph Conrad, Arnold Bennett, Henry James, George Bernard Shaw, and Stephen Crane.

From about 1905 to the period of World War I, Wells wrote realistic novels, what he called “social fables,” using social as well as political ideas. He created some highly individualized characters. Examples of his work from this period include Ann Veronica, Mr. Britling Sees It Through, and This Misery of Boots. New Worlds for Old was an explanation of Wells’s own version of socialism. For a time, he belonged to the Fabian Society, a socialist group, but his political utopia came to be more like Plato’s republic than a socialist or communist state. He later renounced socialism as tyranny.

In Tono-Bungay, Wells began a group of novels based on contemporary historical themes and Darwinian theory, including The New Machiavelli, The Passionate Friends, and The Research Magnificent. After World War I, Wells achieved international fame with The Outline of History, a chronological survey of civilization. This book sold more than two million copies. Wells followed it with A Short History of the World. These books, along with his many books of scientific and social speculation, made Wells one of the most influential writers of his time.

In his writings and other activities after World War I, Wells made a bid for political recognition. To this period belongs Russia in the Shadows. In 1922 Wells the man entered politics as a candidate for Parliament on the Labour Party ticket. Defeated, he made a second unsuccessful attempt in 1923. After the death of his second wife in 1927, he lived mostly in London.

From 1929 to 1930, Wells published The Science of Life, a learned and monumental work written in collaboration with his son George and Julian Huxley, the son of Thomas. During the 1930s, Wells showed much interest in the New Deal experiments in the United States; his writing during the decade reflected current economic and political problems. Three years before his death, Wells completed a thesis on personality and was awarded the doctor of science degree from London University. He lived to see the end of World War II, having predicted, and then lamented, the use of the atomic bomb.

H. G. Wells is perhaps best known for his scientific romances, which profoundly influenced the development the science fiction genre. His literary achievements, however, were vast and diverse. Through his eagerness to instruct and to entertain his readers, he produced many kinds of works on politics, history, society, and science. He was an undaunted, independent, iconoclastic, and sometimes impatient idealist. He thought that it was his duty to alert readers to future implications of scientific progress and that he could reconcile his hope for a better world with Darwinian ideas. His works reflect the struggles of his personal life and the intellectual and moral dilemmas of his times.

Author Works Long Fiction The Time Machine: An Invention, 1895 The Wonderful Visit, 1895 The Island of Dr. Moreau, 1896 The Wheels of Chance: A Holiday Adventure, 1896 The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance, 1897 The War of the Worlds, 1898 When the Sleeper Wakes: A Story of the Years to Come, 1899 Love and Mr. Lewisham, 1900 The First Men in the Moon, 1901 The Sea Lady, 1902 The Food of the Gods, and How It Came to Earth, 1904 Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul, 1905 In the Days of the Comet, 1906 The War in the Air, and Particularly How Mr. Bert Smallways Fared While It Lasted, 1908 Tono-Bungay, 1908 Ann Veronica: A Modern Love Story, 1909 The History of Mr. Polly, 1910 The New Machiavelli, 1910 Marriage, 1912 The Passionate Friends, 1913 The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman, 1914 The World Set Free: A Story of Mankind, 1914 Bealby: A Holiday, 1915 The Research Magnificent, 1915 Mr. Britling Sees It Through, 1916 The Soul of a Bishop: A Novel—with Just a Little Love in It—About Conscience and Religion and the Real Troubles of Life, 1917 Joan and Peter: The Story of an Education, 1918 The Undying Fire: A Contemporary Novel, 1919 The Secret Places of the Heart, 1922 Men Like Gods, 1923 The Dream, 1924 Christina Alberta’s Father, 1925 The World of William Clissold: A Novel at a New Age, 1926 (3 volumes) Meanwhile: The Picture of a Lady, 1927 Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island, 1928 The King Who Was a King: The Book of a Film, 1929 The Autocracy of Mr. Parham: His Remarkable Adventure in This Changing World, 1930 The Buplington of Blup, 1933 The Shape of Things to Come: The Ultimate Resolution, 1933 The Croquet Player, 1936 Byrnhild, 1937 The Camford Visitation, 1937 Star Begotten: A Biological Fantasia, 1937 Apropos of Dolores, 1938 The Brothers, 1938 The Holy Terror, 1939 Babes in the Darkling Wood, 1940 All Aboard for Ararat, 1940 You Can’t Be Too Careful: A Sample of Life, 1901-1951, 1941 Short Fiction The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents, 1895 The Plattner Story, and Others, 1897 Thirty Strange Stories, 1897 Tales of Space and Time, 1899 The Vacant Country, 1899 Twelve Stories and a Dream, 1903 The Country of the Blind, and Other Stories, 1911 A Door in the Wall, and Other Stories, 1911 The Short Stories of H. G. Wells, 1927 (also pb. as The Complete Stories of H. G. Wells, 1966) The Favorite Short Stories of H. G. Wells, 1937 (also pb. as The Famous Short Stories of H. G. Wells, 1938) Nonfiction Text-Book of Biology, 1893 (2 volumes) Honours Physiography, 1893 (with Sir Richard A. Gregory) Certain Personal Matters, 1897 A Text-Book of Zoology, 1898 (with A. M. Davis) Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought, 1902 (also known as Anticipations) The Discovery of the Future, 1902 Mankind in the Making, 1903 A Modern Utopia, 1905 Socialism and the Family, 1906 The Future in America: A Search After Realities, 1906 This Misery of Boots, 1907 New Worlds for Old, 1908 First and Last Things: A Confession of Faith and Rule of Life, 1908 The Great State: Essays in Construction, 1912 (also known as Socialism and the Great State) The War That Will End War, 1914 An Englishman Looks at the World: Being a Series of Unrestrained Remarks upon Contemporary Matters, 1914 (also known as Social Forces in England and America) God, the Invisible King, 1917 The Outline of History: Being a Plain History of Life and Mankind, 1920 Russia in the Shadows, 1920 The Salvaging of Civilization, 1921 A Short History of the World, 1922 Socialism and the Scientific Motive, 1923 The Open Conspiracy: Blue Prints for a World Revolution, 1928 Imperialism and the Open Conspiracy, 1929 The Science of Life: A Summary of Contemporary Knowledge About Life and Its Possibilities, 1929-1930 (with Julian S. Huxley and G. P.Wells) The Way to World Peace, 1930 What Are We to Do with Our Lives?, 1931 (revised edition of The Open Conspiracy) The Work, Wealth, and Happiness of Mankind, 1931 (2 volumes) After Democracy: Addresses and Papers on the Present World Situation, 1932 Evolution: Fact and Theory, 1932 (with Huxley and G. P. Wells) Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain Since 1866, 1934 (2 volumes) The New America: The New World, 1935 The Anatomy of Frustration: A Modern Synthesis, 1936 World Brain, 1938 The Fate of Homo Sapiens: An Unemotional Statement of the Things That Are Happening to Him Now and of the Immediate Possibilities Confronting Him, 1939 The New World Order: Whether It Is Obtainable, How It Can Be Attained, and What Sort of World a World at Peace Will Have to Be, 1940 The Common Sense of War and Peace: World Revolution or War Unending?, 1940 The Conquest of Time, 1942 Phoenix: A Summary of the Inescapable Conditions of World Reorganization, 1942 Science and the World Mind, 1942 Crux Ansata: An Indictment of the Roman Catholic Church, 1943 ’42 to ’44: A Contemporary Memoir upon Human Behaviour During the Crisis of the World Revolution, 1944 Mind at the End of Its Tether, 1945 Children’s/Young Adult Literature The Adventures of Tommy, 1929 Bibliography Batchelor, John. H. G. Wells. Cambridge UP, 1985. An important examination of Wells’s work. Includes an index and a bibliography. Bates, H. E. The Modern Short Story. Boston: The Writer, Inc., 1941. Himself one of England’s finest short-story writers, Bates accords high rank to Wells in the genre and rebuts charges that Wells’s style lacks beauty. Calls Wells a “literary [Thomas] Edison.” Bergonzi, Bernard. The Early H. G. Wells: A Study of the Scientific Romances. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961. Still the most knowledgeable account of the remarkable affinity of Wells’s early fantasies, including his short stories, with the search for new worlds and behavior that characterized the turn of the century. Bergonzi, in a long third chapter, “The Short Stories,” links “The Country of the Blind” and “The Door in the Wall” to Freudian-Jungian tendencies in Wells. Coren, Michael. The Invisible Man: The Life and Liberties of H. G. Wells. London: Bloomsbury, 1992. Costa, Richard Hauer. H. G. Wells. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1985. A sympathetic survey of Wells’s career and influence, with an emphasis on the major novels in the context of literary traditions before and after Wells. Includes a chronology, a review of contemporary trends in Wells criticism, notes, an annotated bibliography, and an index. Costa, Richard Hauer. “Wells and the Cosmic Despair.” The Nation (September, 12, 1966): First essay on “The Country of the Blind” to compare the original version (1904), written in his thirties, with a revision done in his seventies. Wells changes the ending to permit the hero Nunez and his blind lover Medina to escape together to the sighted—the civilized—world, only to find that the woman, her life saved by Nunez’s vision, prefers the simplicity of the valley of the blind to the fearfully complicated Nunez world “that may be beautiful but terrible to see.” Wells’s cosmic pessimism may thus be symbolized. Foot, Michael. H. G.: The History of Mr. Wells. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1995. A wonderfully written, though impressionistic, biography. Foot, a socialist politician himself, is particularly interested in Wells as a founder of British socialism. Hammond, J. R. An H. G. Wells Chronology. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. A guide to Wells’s life and work. Includes bibliographical references and an index. Hammond, J. R. An H. G. Wells Companion. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1979. Part 1 describes Wells’s background and his literary reputation. Part 2 is an alphabetical listing and annotation of every title Wells published. Part 3 provides succinct discussions of his short stories; part 4 contains a brief discussion of book-length romances, and part 5 addresses individual novels. Part 6 is a key to characters and locations. Includes an appendix on film versions of Wells’s fiction and a bibliography. An indispensable tool for the Wells scholar. Hammond, John. A Preface to H. G. Wells. New York: Longman, 2001. A sound and concise introduction to Wells, with biographical information and critical analysis. Haynes, Roslynn D. H. G. Wells: Discoverer of the Future. London: Macmillan, 1980. This is a thorough study of the influence of science on Wells’s fiction and sociological tracts. It shows how science helped Wells to achieve an analytical perspective on the problems of his time, from art to philosophy. Includes bibliography and index. Huntington, John, ed. Critical Essays on H. G. Wells. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1991. Essays on his major writings, including Tono-Bungay and The History of Mr. Polly as well as discussions of his science fiction and his treatment of social change, utopia, and women. Includes an introduction but no bibliography. Lynn, Andrea. Shadow Lovers: The Last Affairs of H. G. Wells. Westview, 2002. A lively, but rather narrowly focused, account of Wells’s late-life relationships with three fascinating women. MacKenzie, Norman, and Jeanne MacKenzie. The Life of H. G. Wells: The Time Traveler. Revised. London: Hogarth, 1987. The most detailed scholarly biography of Wells. The MacKenzies do an excellent job of covering the entire life. Menck, Claire. “Inventions in Literature: Time Travel in the Works of H. G. Wells, Mark Twain, and Douglas Adams.” Critical Insights: Technology & Humanity, edited by Carol Colatrella 2012, pp. 164–79. Literary Reference Center Plus, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=83407103&site=lrc-plus. Accessed 1 May 2017. Analyzes the theme of time travel in Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court,” H. G. Wells’s “The Time Machine,” and Douglas Adams’s “Life, the Universe, and Everything.” Murray, Brian. H. G. Wells. New York: Continuum, 1990. Literary criticism effectively set into a biographical framework. Generally insightful but marred by an unfounded assertion that Wells was a racist. Rainwater, Catherine. “Encounters with the ‘White Sphinx’: Poe’s Influence on Some Early Works of H. G. Wells.” English Literature in Transition 26, no. 1 (1983). Wells follows Edgar Allan Poe in blurring the distinction between his characters and their imaginings. Rainwater demonstrates Wells’s debt with “The Red Room,” a Wellsian ghost story which, like Poe’s stories, depends upon a narrator’s altered state of consciousness for its effects. Rinkel, Gene K., and Margaret E. Rinkel. The Picshuas of H. G. Wells: A Burlesque Diary. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006. “Picshuas” is the term Wells used for the sketches and cartoons he used to draw for his second wife, Jane. The sketches are rendered in this book, conveying the dynamics of their relationship and providing readers with fascinating insights into Wells’ psyche and personal life. This work serves as an excellent addition to biographies about Wells’s, and as a complement to his own writing. Smith, David C. H. G. Wells: Desperately Mortal—A Biography. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986. A scholarly biography of Wells, covering every aspect of his life and art. Includes very detailed notes and bibliography. Wells, G. P., ed. H. G. Wells in Love: Postscript to an Experiment in Autobiography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1984. Edited by Wells’s son, this volume includes writings about his personal and sexual relationships and how they influenced his life and work. Wells, H. G. Experiment in Autobiography. 2 vols. London: Gollancz, 1934. Like most authors of autobiographies, Wells is sympathetic toward his subject, but these volumes are far more candid than most such works. Any serious study of Wells must start with the autobiography. West, Anthony. H. G. Wells: Aspects of a Life. New York: Random House, 1984. West, Wells’s illegitimate son by Rebecca West, provides a personal yet balanced and judicious account of his father’s life and career.

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