H. G. Wells (1866-1946), English author, futurist, essayist, historian, socialist, and teacher wrote The War of the Worlds (1898);
Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.—Ch. 1.
The invasion of earth by aliens from Mars, tripods attacking with Heat Rays and Black Smoke and the evacuation of London while people were terrorised in the surrounding countryside became one of the first internationally read modern science fiction stories. Wells is often credited, along with Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967) and Jules Verne (1828-1905) as being one of the fathers of science fiction. Forty years after its publication, on the night of Halloween 1938, Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre on-air radio broadcast of the novel caused widespread panic in New York City. Wells' masterpiece spawned more invasion literature and inspired numerous movie adaptations and print sequels.
The popular novel foreshadowed things to come for the human race: robotics, World Wars, warfare tactics including aerial bombing, use of tanks and chemical weapons, and nuclear power. Part prophet, part pessimist, Wells was a prolific author not just of science fiction but also fiction and non, utopian and dystopian short stories, travel sketches, histories, and socio-political commentary. While his most popular works tend to show a bleak future for humanity, he was not without his sardonic wit and wry humour;
Think of all the advantages of a cheap possession--cheap and nasty, if you will--compared with some valuable substitute. Suppose you need this or that. "Get a good one," advises Aunt Charlotte; "one that will last." You do--and it does last. It lasts like a family curse. ....
Her mahogany was avuncular; her china remotely ancestral; her feather beds and her bedsteads!--they were haunted; the births, marriages, and deaths associated with the best one was the history of our race for three generations.--from "Thoughts on Cheapness and My Aunt Charlotte", Certain Personal Matters
Herbert George Wells was born on 21 September 1866 in Bromley, Kent County, England, son of Sarah Neal, maid to the upper classes, and Joseph Wells, shopkeeper and professional cricket player. The Wells were quite poor and it was not the happiest of marriages; they would soon live apart though neither re-married.
At an early age Herbert was an avid reader but it would be some years before his talents as a writer were realised. He attended Thomas Morley's Academy for a few years before financial hardship forced him to leave and seek practical employment. His father had broken his leg and not being able to play cricket anymore or pay for Herbert's school, Herbert became an apprentice to a draper at the age of fourteen. The experience provided much fodder for his future works including Kipps (1905) wherein orphan and draper's apprentice Artie Kipps gains a large inheritance and quick education on the ways of upper-class society. The Wheels of Chance: A Bicycling Idyll (1896) followed;
Thus even in a shop assistant does the warmth of manhood assert itself....against the counsels of prudence and the restrictions of his means, to seek the wholesome delights of exertion and danger and pain.—Ch. 1.
When Wells won a scholarship in 1883 to the Normal School of Science in London he realised another area of interest that would serve him well in his writing; he began studies in biology and Darwinism under Thomas Henry Huxley, Aldous Huxley's grandfather. The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), another of Wells' many stories to inspire movie adaptations, deals with themes of eugenics, the ethics of scientific experimentation, Darwin's theories, and religion. Wells was not able to complete the requirements for his degree and lost his scholarship, so, faced with financial hardship he moved to Fitzroy Road in London to live with his Aunt and Uncle Wells. He tutored part-time and studied part-time at his uncle's school. His cousin Isabel Mary also lived with them and they were soon married, in 1891. It lasted only four years; Wells left her for one of his students, Amy Catherine Robbins (Jane) whom he married in 1895 and had two sons with: George Philip (1901-1985) and Frank Richard (b.1903). Wells had liaisons with a number of other women, who became models for his characters, while married to Jane: writer Amber Reeves gave birth to their daughter Anna Jane in 1909 and in 1914 author and feminist Rebecca West gave birth to their son Anthony West. "I didn't believe in marriage anyhow, I insisted. The great thing was not marriage but love. I invoked Godwin, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Socialism."--from Experiment in Autobiography (1939).
For quite some time Wells had been writing stories and in 1895 he had several published; Select Conversations with an Uncle was his first, followed by The Time Machine (1895) which would become a best-seller. Wells is credited as coining the term "time machine" and popularising the concept of time travel. The Wonderful Visit (1895) was followed by The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents (1895). His collection of essays and stories, Certain Personal Matters (1896) was followed by The Invisible Man (1897);
The stranger came early in February, one wintry day, through a biting wind and a driving snow....He was wrapped up from head to foot, and the brim of his soft felt hat hid every inch of his face but the shiny tip of his nose; the snow had piled itself against his shoulders and chest, and added a white crest to the burden he carried. —Ch. 1.
When the Sleeper Wakes (1899) was followed by Love and Mr. Lewisham (1900), The First Men in the Moon (1901) and his first non-fiction best-seller about what the world would be like in the year 2000, Anticipations (1901). A year after its publication Wells joined the socialist Fabian Society and met playwright and co-founder of the New Statesman George Bernard Shaw. A Modern Utopia was published in 1905;
Man is the unnatural animal, the rebel child of nature, and more and more does he turn himself against the harsh and fitful hand that reared him.—Ch. 5.
Wells continued his prodigious output of fiction and non-fiction essays and articles on politics, liberalism, democracy, and on society including Tono-Bungay (1909), Floor Games (1911), The Great State: Essays in Construction (1912), An Englishman Looks at the World (1914), The War That Will End War (1914), and Mr. Britling Sees It Through (1916). After he published Outline of History (1920) he followed it up with A Short History of the World (1922) "to meet the needs of the busy general reader....who wishes to refresh and repair his faded or fragmentary conceptions of the great adventure of mankind."--Preface.
Wells collaborated with his son, zoologist and author George P. Wells and biologist Sir Julian Huxley (Aldous's brother) for The Science of Life (1930), the same year Wells met Rabindranath Tagore in Geneva, Switzerland. They discussed issues of modern civilisation, government and education, comparing them in the East and West. Wells was fast becoming a celebrity and he traveled extensively, meeting with world leaders and fellow authors. The Shape of Things to Come (1933) was followed by Wells' examination of fascist dictators in The Holy Terror (1939). The New World Order was published the same year, Mind at the End of Its Tether in 1945. It would be the last book published during his lifetime. H. G. Wells died on 13 August 1946 at his home in Regent's Park, London.
In a tribute to his friend of over 40 years, George Bernard Shaw wrote in the New Statesman--"he never behaved like a gentleman nor like a shop assistant, nor like a schoolmaster, nor like anyone on earth but himself. And what a charmer he was!"
In the Preface to the 1941 edition of The War In The Air (first published in 1908, then again in 1921) Wells wrote:
"Again I ask the reader to note the warnings I gave in that year, twenty years ago. Is there anything to add to that preface now? Nothing except my epitaph. That, when the time comes, will manifestly have to be: 'I told you so. You damned fools.' (The italics are mine.)"
On 4 January, 1902, Wells gave a lecture at the Royal Institute in London, titled "The Discovery of the Future";
"It is possible to believe that all the past is but the beginning of a beginning, and that all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn. It is possible to believe that all the human mind has ever accomplished is but the dream before the awakening."
Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2007. All Rights Reserved.
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