|H. G. Wells|
Photograph by George Charles Beresford, 1920
|Born||Herbert George Wells
21 September 1866
Bromley, Kent, United Kingdom
|Died||13 August 1946
Regent's Park, London, United Kingdom
|Occupation||Novelist, teacher, historian, journalist|
|Alma mater||Royal College of Science (Imperial College London)|
|Genre||Science fiction (notably social science fiction), social realism|
|Subject||World history, progress|
|Spouse||Isabel Mary Wells
Amy Catherine Robbins (1895–1927, her death)
|Children||George Phillip "G. P." Wells (1901–1985)
Frank Richard Wells (1903–1982)
Anna-Jane Kennard (1909–2010)
Anthony West (1914–1987)
Herbert George "H. G." Wells (21 September 1866 – 13 August 1946) was an English writer. He was prolific in many genres, including the novel, history, politics, social commentary, and textbooks and rules for war games. Wells is now best remembered for his science fiction novels and is called a "father of science fiction", along with Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback.[a] His most notable science fiction works include The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898). He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times.
Wells's earliest specialised training was in biology, and his thinking on ethical matters took place in a specifically and fundamentally Darwinian context. He was also from an early date an outspoken socialist, often (but not always, as at the beginning of the First World War) sympathising with pacifist views. His later works became increasingly political and didactic, and he wrote little science fiction, while he sometimes indicated on official documents that his profession was that of journalist. Novels like Kipps and The History of Mr Polly, which describe lower-middle-class life, led to the suggestion, when they were published, that he was a worthy successor to Charles Dickens, but Wells described a range of social strata and even attempted, in Tono-Bungay (1909), a diagnosis of English society as a whole. A diabetic, in 1934, Wells co-founded the charity The Diabetic Association (known today as Diabetes UK).
Herbert George Wells was born at Atlas House, 46 High Street in Bromley, Kent, on 21 September 1866. Called "Bertie" in the family, he was the fourth and last child of Joseph Wells (a former domestic gardener, and at the time a shopkeeper and professional cricketer) and his wife, Sarah Neal (a former domestic servant). An inheritance had allowed the family to acquire a shop in which they sold china and sporting goods, although it failed to prosper: the stock was old and worn out, and the location was poor. Joseph Wells managed to earn a meagre income, but little of it came from the shop and he received an unsteady amount of money from playing professional cricket for the Kent county team. Payment for skilled bowlers and batsmen came from voluntary donations afterwards, or from small payments from the clubs where matches were played.
A defining incident of young Wells's life was an accident in 1874 that left him bedridden with a broken leg. To pass the time he started reading books from the local library, brought to him by his father. He soon became devoted to the other worlds and lives to which books gave him access; they also stimulated his desire to write. Later that year he entered Thomas Morley's Commercial Academy, a private school founded in 1849 following the bankruptcy of Morley's earlier school. The teaching was erratic, the curriculum mostly focused, Wells later said, on producing copperplate handwriting and doing the sort of sums useful to tradesmen. Wells continued at Morley's Academy until 1880. In 1877, his father, Joseph Wells, fractured his thigh. The accident effectively put an end to Joseph's career as a cricketer, and his subsequent earnings as a shopkeeper were not enough to compensate for the loss of the primary source of family income.
No longer able to support themselves financially, the family instead sought to place their sons as apprentices in various occupations. From 1880 to 1883, Wells had an unhappy apprenticeship as a draper at the Southsea Drapery Emporium, Hyde's. His experiences at Hyde's, where he worked a thirteen-hour day and slept in a dormitory with other apprentices, later inspired his novels The Wheels of Chance and Kipps, which portray the life of a draper's apprentice as well as providing a critique of society's distribution of wealth.
Wells's parents had a turbulent marriage, owing primarily to his mother being a Protestant and his father a freethinker. When his mother returned to work as a lady's maid (at Uppark, a country house in Sussex), one of the conditions of work was that she would not be permitted to have living space for her husband and children. Thereafter, she and Joseph lived separate lives, though they never divorced and remained faithful to each other. As a consequence, Herbert's personal troubles increased as he subsequently failed as a draper and also, later, as a chemist's assistant. Fortunately for Herbert, Uppark had a magnificent library in which he immersed himself, reading many classic works, including Plato's Republic, and More's Utopia. This would be the beginning of Herbert George Wells's venture into literature.
In October 1879 Wells's mother arranged through a distant relative, Arthur Williams, for him to join the National School at Wookey in Somerset as a pupil–teacher, a senior pupil who acted as a teacher of younger children. In December that year, however, Williams was dismissed for irregularities in his qualifications and Wells was returned to Uppark. After a short apprenticeship at a chemist in nearby Midhurst, and an even shorter stay as a boarder at Midhurst Grammar School, he signed his apprenticeship papers at Hyde's. In 1883 Wells persuaded his parents to release him from the apprenticeship, taking an opportunity offered by Midhurst Grammar School again to become a pupil–teacher; his proficiency in Latin and science during his previous, short stay had been remembered.
The years he spent in Southsea had been the most miserable of his life to that point, but his good fortune at securing a position at Midhurst Grammar School meant that Wells could continue his self-education in earnest. The following year, Wells won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science (later the Royal College of Science in South Kensington, now part of Imperial College London) in London, studying biology under Thomas Henry Huxley. As an alumnus, he later helped to set up the Royal College of Science Association, of which he became the first president in 1909. Wells studied in his new school until 1887 with a weekly allowance of 21 shillings (a guinea) thanks to his scholarship. This ought to have been a comfortable sum of money (at the time many working class families had "round about a pound a week" as their entire household income) yet in his Experiment in Autobiography, Wells speaks of constantly being hungry, and indeed, photographs of him at the time show a youth who is very thin and malnourished.
He soon entered the Debating Society of the school. These years mark the beginning of his interest in a possible reformation of society. At first approaching the subject through Plato's Republic, he soon turned to contemporary ideas of socialism as expressed by the recently formed Fabian Society and free lectures delivered at Kelmscott House, the home of William Morris. He was also among the founders of The Science School Journal, a school magazine that allowed him to express his views on literature and society, as well as trying his hand at fiction; a precursor to his novel The Time Machine was published in the journal under the title The Chronic Argonauts. The school year 1886–87 was the last year of his studies.
During 1888 Wells stayed in Stoke-on-Trent, living in Basford, and also at the Leopard Hotel in Burslem. The unique environment of The Potteries was certainly an inspiration. He wrote in a letter to a friend from the area that "the district made an immense impression on me." The inspiration for some of his descriptions in The War of the Worlds is thought to have come from his short time spent here, seeing the iron foundry furnaces burn over the city, shooting huge red light into the skies. His stay in The Potteries also resulted in the macabre short story "The Cone" (1895, contemporaneous with his famous The Time Machine), set in the north of the city.
After teaching for some time, Wells found it necessary to supplement his knowledge relating to educational principles and methodology and entered the College of Preceptors (College of Teachers). He later received his Licentiate and Fellowship FCP diplomas from the College. It was not until 1890 that Wells earned a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology from the University of London External Programme. In 1889–90 he managed to find a post as a teacher at Henley House School, where he taught A. A. Milne. His first published work was a Text-book of Biology in two volumes – 1893.
Upon leaving the Normal School of Science, Wells was left without a source of income. His aunt Mary—his father's sister-in-law—invited him to stay with her for a while, which solved his immediate problem of accommodation. During his stay at his aunt's residence, he grew increasingly interested in her daughter, Isabel. He would later go on to court her.
In 1891, Wells married his cousin Isabel Mary Wells. The couple agreed to separate in 1894 when he fell in love with one of his students, Amy Catherine Robbins (later known as Jane), with whom he moved to Woking, Surrey in May 1895. They lived in a rented house, 'Lynton', (now No.141) Maybury Road in the town centre for just under 18 months and married at St Pancras register office in October 1895. His short period in Woking was perhaps the most creative and productive of his whole writing career, for while there he planned and wrote the War Of the Worlds and The Time Machine, completed The Island of Dr Moreau, wrote and published The wonderful Visit and The Wheels Of Chance, and began writing two other early books, When The Sleeper Awakes and Love And Mr Lewisham.
In late summer 1896 Wells and Jane moved to a larger house in Worcester Park, near Kingston upon Thames for two years until his poor health took them to Sandgate, near Folkestone, where in 1901 he constructed a large family home: Spade House. He had two sons with Jane: George Philip (known as "Gip") in 1901 (died 1985) and Frank Richard in 1903 (died 1982).
With his wife Jane's consent, Wells had affairs with a number of women, including the American birth control activist Margaret Sanger, adventurer and writer Odette Keun, Soviet spy Moura Budberg and novelist Elizabeth von Arnim. In 1909 he had a daughter, Anna-Jane, with the writer Amber Reeves, whose parents, William and Maud Pember Reeves, he had met through the Fabian Society; and in 1914 a son, Anthony West (1914–1987), by the novelist and feminist Rebecca West, 26 years his junior. In Experiment in Autobiography (1934), Wells wrote: "I was never a great amorist, though I have loved several people very deeply". David Lodge's novel A Man of Parts (2011) – a 'narrative based on factual sources' (author's note) – gives a convincing and generally sympathetic account of Wells's relations with the women mentioned above, and others.
One of the ways that Wells expressed himself was through his drawings and sketches. One common location for these was the endpapers and title pages of his own diaries, and they covered a wide variety of topics, from political commentary to his feelings toward his literary contemporaries and his current romantic interests. During his marriage to Amy Catherine, whom he nicknamed Jane, he drew a considerable number of pictures, many of them being overt comments on their marriage. During this period, he called these pictures "picshuas". These picshuas have been the topic of study by Wells scholars for many years, and in 2006 a book was published on the subject.
Some of his early novels, called "scientific romances", invented several themes now classic in science fiction in such works as The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, When the Sleeper Wakes, and The First Men in the Moon. He also wrote realistic novels that received critical acclaim, including Kipps and a critique of English culture during the Edwardian period, Tono-Bungay. Wells also wrote dozens of short stories and novellas, including, "The Flowering of the Strange Orchid", which helped bring the full impact of Darwin's revolutionary botanical ideas to a wider public, and was followed by many later successes such as "The Country of the Blind" (1904).
According to James Gunn, one of Wells's major contributions to the science fiction genre was his approach, which he referred to as his "new system of ideas". In his opinion the author should always strive to make the story as credible as possible, even if both the writer and the reader knew certain elements are impossible, allowing the reader to accept the ideas as something that could really happen, today referred to as "the plausible impossible" and "suspension of disbelief". While neither invisibility nor time travel was new in speculative fiction, Wells added a sense of realism to the concepts which the readers were not familiar with. In "Wells's Law", a science fiction story should contain only a single extraordinary assumption. Being aware the notion of magic as something real had disappeared from society, he therefore used scientific ideas and theories as a substitute for magic to justify the impossible. Wells's best-known statement of the "law" appears in his introduction to The Scientific Romances of H.G. Wells (1933),
"As soon as the magic trick has been done the whole business of the fantasy writer is to keep everything else human and real. Touches of prosaic detail are imperative and a rigorous adherence to the hypothesis. Any extra fantasy outside the cardinal assumption immediately gives a touch of irresponsible silliness to the invention."
Though Tono-Bungay is not a science-fiction novel, radioactive decay plays a small but consequential role in it. Radioactive decay plays a much larger role in The World Set Free (1914). This book contains what is surely his biggest prophetic "hit". Scientists of the day were well aware that the natural decay of radium releases energy at a slow rate over thousands of years. The rate of release is too slow to have practical utility, but the total amount released is huge. Wells's novel revolves around an (unspecified) invention that accelerates the process of radioactive decay, producing bombs that explode with no more than the force of ordinary high explosives—but which "continue to explode" for days on end. "Nothing could have been more obvious to the people of the earlier twentieth century", he wrote, "than the rapidity with which war was becoming impossible ... [but] they did not see it until the atomic bombs burst in their fumbling hands". In 1932, the physicist and conceiver of nuclear chain reaction Leó Szilárd read The World Set Free, a book which he said made a great impression on him.
Wells also wrote nonfiction. Wells's first nonfiction bestseller was Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought (1901). When originally serialised in a magazine it was subtitled, "An Experiment in Prophecy", and is considered his most explicitly futuristic work. It offered the immediate political message of the privileged sections of society continuing to bar capable men from other classes from advancement until war would force a need to employ those most able, rather than the traditional upper classes, as leaders. Anticipating what the world would be like in the year 2000, the book is interesting both for its hits (trains and cars resulting in the dispersion of populations from cities to suburbs; moral restrictions declining as men and women seek greater sexual freedom; the defeat of German militarism, and the existence of a European Union) and its misses (he did not expect successful aircraft before 1950, and averred that "my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocate its crew and founder at sea").
His bestselling two-volume work, The Outline of History (1920), began a new era of popularised world history. It received a mixed critical response from professional historians. However, it was very popular amongst the general population and made Wells a rich man. Many other authors followed with "Outlines" of their own in other subjects. Wells reprised his Outline in 1922 with a much shorter popular work, A Short History of the World, and two long efforts, The Science of Life (1930) and The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind (1931). The "Outlines" became sufficiently common for James Thurber to parody the trend in his humorous essay, "An Outline of Scientists"—indeed, Wells's Outline of History remains in print with a new 2005 edition, while A Short History of the World has been re-edited (2006).
From quite early in his career, he sought a better way to organise society, and wrote a number of Utopian novels. The first of these was A Modern Utopia (1905), which shows a worldwide utopia with "no imports but meteorites, and no exports at all"; two travellers from our world fall into its alternate history. The others usually begin with the world rushing to catastrophe, until people realise a better way of living: whether by mysterious gases from a comet causing people to behave rationally and abandoning a European war (In the Days of the Comet (1906)), or a world council of scientists taking over, as in The Shape of Things to Come (1933, which he later adapted for the 1936 Alexander Korda film, Things to Come). This depicted, all too accurately, the impending World War, with cities being destroyed by aerial bombs. He also portrayed the rise of fascist dictators in The Autocracy of Mr Parham (1930) and The Holy Terror (1939). Men Like Gods (1923) is also a utopian novel. Wells in this period was regarded as an enormously influential figure; the critic Malcolm Cowley stated "by the time he was forty, his influence was wider than any other living English writer".
Wells contemplates the ideas of nature and nurture and questions humanity in books such as The Island of Doctor Moreau. Not all his scientific romances ended in a Utopia, and Wells also wrote a dystopian novel, When the Sleeper Wakes (1899, rewritten as The Sleeper Awakes, 1910), which pictures a future society where the classes have become more and more separated, leading to a revolt of the masses against the rulers. The Island of Doctor Moreau is even darker. The narrator, having been trapped on an island of animals vivisected (unsuccessfully) into human beings, eventually returns to England; like Gulliver on his return from the Houyhnhnms, he finds himself unable to shake off the perceptions of his fellow humans as barely civilised beasts, slowly reverting to their animal natures.
Wells also wrote the preface for the first edition of W. N. P. Barbellion's diaries, The Journal of a Disappointed Man, published in 1919. Since "Barbellion" was the real author's pen name, many reviewers believed Wells to have been the true author of the Journal; Wells always denied this, despite being full of praise for the diaries, but the rumours persisted until Barbellion's death later that year.
In 1927 a Canadian citizen, Florence Deeks (1864–1959), unsuccessfully sued Wells for infringement of copyright and breach of trust, claiming that much of The Outline of History had been plagiarised from her unpublished manuscript, The Web of the World's Romance, which had spent nearly nine months in the hands of Wells's Canadian publisher, Macmillan Canada.
In 2000, A. B. McKillop, a professor of history at Carleton University and a leading Canadian historian, produced a book on the Deeks versus Wells case, called The Spinster & The Prophet: Florence Deeks, H. G. Wells, and the Mystery of the Purloined Past. McKillop had been researching another Canadian historical figure when he came across information relating to this, and intrigued, followed through with this book. According to McKillop, the lawsuit was unsuccessful due to the prejudice against a woman suing a well-known and famous male author; McKillop paints a detailed story based on the circumstantial evidence of the case, and suggests that in a more modern court, she would have been successful.
Deeks's manuscript was apparently sent to MacMillan and Company, UK, to check that references to other works did not violate copyright. It appeared to go through the hands of one of the editors in the UK who passed it onto Wells, as he knew Wells was thinking of a similar project. The net result was that Deeks's eventually rejected work came back and when it was eventually opened, it was found "soiled, thumbed, worn and torn, with over a dozen pages turned down at the corners, and many others creased as if having been bent back in use". When she compared her work to The Outline of History in the winter of 1920–21 she found remarkable similarities, exact text similarities, and the same errors and omissions that marred her work, also in Wells's.
In 2004, Denis N. Magnusson, Professor Emeritus of the Faculty of Law, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, had published in Queen's Law Journal an article on Deeks v. Wells. This re-examines the case in relation to McKillop's book (described as "a novel" in the editorial introduction). While having some sympathy for Deeks, he "challenges the outpouring of public support" for her. He argues that she had a weak case that was not well presented, and though she may have met with sexism from her lawyers, she did receive a fair trial. He goes on to say that the law applied is essentially the same law that would be applied to a similar case today (i.e., 2004)
In 1933 Wells predicted in The Shape of Things to Come that the world war he feared would begin in January 1940, a prediction which ultimately came true four months early, in September 1939, with the outbreak of World War II.
In 1936, before the Royal Institution, Wells called for the compilation of a constantly growing and changing World Encyclopaedia, to be reviewed by outstanding authorities and made accessible to every human being. In 1938, he published a collection of essays on the future organisation of knowledge and education, World Brain, including the essay, "The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopaedia".
Prior to 1933, Wells's books were widely read in Germany and Austria, and most of his science fiction works had been translated shortly after publication. By 1933 he had attracted the attention of German officials because of his criticism of the political situation in Germany, and on 10 May 1933, Wells's books were burned by the Nazi youth in Berlin's Opernplatz, and his works were banned from libraries and bookstores. Wells, as president of PEN International (Poets, Essayists, Novelists), angered the Nazis by overseeing the expulsion of the German PEN club from the international body in 1934 following the German PEN's refusal to admit non-Aryan writers to its membership. At a PEN conference in Ragusa, Wells refused to yield to Nazi sympathisers who demanded that the exiled author Ernst Toller be prevented from speaking. Near the end of the World War II, Allied forces discovered that the SS had compiled lists of people slated for immediate arrest during the invasion of Britain in the abandoned Operation Sea Lion, with Wells included in the alphabetical list of "The Black Book".
Seeking a more structured way to play war games, Wells also wrote Floor Games (1911) followed by Little Wars (1913). Little Wars is recognised today as the first recreational war game and Wells is regarded by gamers and hobbyists as "the Father of Miniature War Gaming".
Wells's literary reputation declined as he spent his later years promoting causes that were rejected by most of his contemporaries as well as by younger authors whom he had previously influenced. In this connection George Orwell described Wells as "too sane to understand the modern world". G. K. Chesterton quipped: "Mr Wells is a born storyteller who has sold his birthright for a pot of message".
On 28 October 1940, on the radio station KTSA in San Antonio, Texas, Wells took part in a radio interview with Orson Welles, who two years previously had performed a famous radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds. During the interview, by Charles C Shaw, a KTSA radio host, Wells admitted his surprise at the widespread panic that resulted from the broadcast, but acknowledged his debt to Welles for increasing sales of one of his "more obscure" titles.
Wells died of unspecified causes on 13 August 1946, aged 79, at his home at 13 Hanover Terrace, Regent's Park, London. Some reports also say he died of a heart attack at the flat of a friend in London. In his preface to the 1941 edition of The War in the Air, Wells had stated that his epitaph should be: "I told you so. You damned fools". He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on 16 August 1946, with his ashes scattered at sea near Old Harry Rocks. A commemorative blue plaque in his honour was installed at his home in Regent's Park.
Wells called his political views socialist. He was for a time a member of the socialist Fabian Society, but broke with them as his creative political imagination, matching the originality shown in his fiction, outran theirs. He later grew staunchly critical of them as having a poor understanding of economics and educational reform. He ran as a Labour Party candidate for London University in the 1922 and 1923 general elections after the death of his friend W. H. R. Rivers, but at that point his faith in the party was weak or uncertain.
Social class was a theme in Wells's The Time Machine in which the Time Traveller speaks of the future world, with its two races, as having evolved from:
"the gradual widening of the present (19th century) merely temporary and social difference between the Capitalist and the Labourer. ... Even now, does not an East-end worker live in such artificial conditions as practically to be cut off from the natural surface of the earth? Again, the exclusive tendency of richer people ... is already leading to the closing, in their interest, of considerable portions of the surface of the land. About London, for instance, perhaps half the prettier country is shut in against intrusion."
Wells has this very same Time Traveller, reflecting his own socialist leanings, refer in a tongue-in-cheek manner to an imagined world of stark class division as "perfect" and with no social problem unsolved. His Time Traveller thus highlights how strict class division leads to the eventual downfall of the human race:
"Once, life and property must have reached almost absolute safety. The rich had been assured of his wealth and comfort, the toiler assured of his life and work. No doubt in that perfect world there had been no unemployed problem, no social question left unsolved."
Fred Siegel of the center-right Manhattan Institute wrote of Wells's unflattering take on American democracy: "Wells was appalled by the decentralised nature of America's locally oriented party and country-courthouse politics. He was aghast at the flamboyantly corrupt political machines of the big cities, unchecked by a gentry that might uphold civilised standards. He thought American democracy went too far in providing leeway to the poltroons who ran the political machines and the 'fools' who supported them." Siegel goes on to note Wells's dislike of America's not allowing African Americans to vote.
Wells's most consistent political ideal was the World State. He stated in his autobiography that from 1900 onward he considered a World State inevitable. He envisioned the state to be a planned society that would advance science, end nationalism, and allow people to progress by merit rather than birth. Wells's 1928 book The Open Conspiracy argued that groups of campaigners should advocate a "world commonwealth", governed by a scientific elite, that would work to eliminate problems such as poverty and warfare. In 1932, Wells told Young Liberals at the University of Oxford that progressive leaders must become liberal fascists who would "compete in their enthusiasm and self-sacrifice" against the advocates of dictatorship. In 1940, Wells published a book called The New World Order that outlined his plan as to how a World Government would be set up. In The New World Order, Wells admitted that the establishment of such a government could take a long time, and be created in a piecemeal fashion.
Some of Wells's early science fiction works reflect his thoughts about the degeneration of humanity. Wells doubted whether human knowledge had advanced sufficiently for eugenics to be successful. In 1904 he discussed a survey paper by Francis Galton, co-founder of eugenics, saying, "I believe that now and always the conscious selection of the best for reproduction will be impossible; that to propose it is to display a fundamental misunderstanding of what individuality implies ... It is in the sterilisation of failure, and not in the selection of successes for breeding, that the possibility of an improvement of the human stock lies". In his 1940 book The Rights of Man: Or What Are We Fighting For? Wells included among the human rights he believed should be available to all people, "a prohibition on mutilation, sterilization, torture, and any bodily punishment".
Wells wrote in 1902 in Anticipations "And how will the New Republic treat the inferior races? How will it deal with the black? how will it deal with the yellow man? how will it tackle that alleged termite in the civilized woodwork, the Jew? Certainly not as races at all...And for the rest, those swarms of black, and brown, and dirty-white, and yellow people, who do not come into the new needs of efficiency? Well, the world is a world, not a charitable institution, and I take it they will have to go." According to one biographer "Nothing has done more damage to Wells's reputation than the concluding chapter of Anticipations."
Wells's 1906 book The Future in America, contains a chapter, "The Tragedy of Colour", which discusses the problems facing black Americans. While writing the book, Wells met with Booker T. Washington, who provided him with much of his information for the book. Wells praised the "heroic" resolve of black Americans, stating he doubted if the US could:
"show any thing finer than the quality of the resolve, the steadfast effort hundreds of black and coloured men are making to-day to live blamelessly, honourably, and patiently, getting for themselves what scraps of refinement, learning, and beauty they may, keeping their hold on a civilization they are grudged and denied."
In his 1916 book What Is Coming? Wells states, "I hate and despise a shrewish suspicion of foreigners and foreign ways; a man who can look me in the face, laugh with me, speak truth and deal fairly, is my brother, though his skin is as black as ink or as yellow as an evening primrose".
In The Outline of History, Wells argued against the idea of "racial purity", stating: "Mankind from the point of view of a biologist is an animal species in a state of arrested differentiation and possible admixture. ... [A]ll races are more or less mixed".
In 1943 Wells wrote an article for the Evening Standard, "What a Zulu Thinks of the English", prompted by receiving a letter from a Zulu soldier, Lance Corporal Aaron Hlope. Wells's article was a strong attack on anti-black discrimination in South Africa. Wells claimed he had "the utmost contempt and indignation for the unfairness of the handicaps put upon men of colour". Wells also denounced the South African government as a "petty white tyranny".
Regarding the Jewish people, Wells was relatively cosmopolitan: "There is something very ugly about many Jewish faces, but there are gentile faces just as coarse and gross." Wells had given some moderate, unenthusiastic support for Territorialism before the First World War, but later became a bitter opponent of the Zionist movement in general. He saw Zionism as an exclusive and separatist movement which challenged the collective solidarity he advocated in his vision of a world state. The Jews themselves were responsible for anti-Semitism due to their ancient irrational ritual, self-exclusion and the concept of the Chosen people:
"Today… these implacable nationalists are still conspicuously seeking suitable regions … where, pursuing an ancient and irrational ritual so far as it suits them, they can sustain a solidarity foreign and uncongenial to all the people about them… No country wants them on such conditions. Why should any country want these inassimilable aliens bent on preserving their distinctness?"
The Chosen people idea took a "form of a persistent organised attitude of self-exclusion from the common fellowship of the world … Everywhere the same reaction occurs and everywhere the Jew expresses his astonishment. Not only Christians but Turks have resorted to pogroms." No other result could be from the Chosen people idea associating with Nazism:
"[I]t is essentially a bad tradition, and the fact that for two thousand years the Jews on the whole have been roughly treated by the rest of mankind does not make it any less bad … people are apt to catch up and repeat phrases about the nobility in the Book of Isaiah on the strength of a few chance quotations torn from their context. But let the reader take that book and read for himself straightforwardly, and note the setting of theses fragments. Much of it is ferocious; extraordinarily like the rantings of some Nazi propagandist."
No supporter of Jewish identity in general, Wells had in his utopian writings predicted the ultimate assimilation of the Jewish people. In notes to accompany his biographical novel A Man of Parts David Lodge describes how Wells came to regret his attitudes to the Jews as he became more aware of the extent of the Nazi atrocities. This included a letter of apology written to Chaim Weizmann for earlier statements he had made.
He supported Britain in the First World War in his 1914 article, "Why Britain Went To War", despite his many criticisms of British policy, and opposed, in 1916, moves for an early peace. In an essay published that year he acknowledged that he could not understand those British pacifists who were reconciled to "handing over great blocks of the black and coloured races to the [German Empire] to exploit and experiment upon" and that the extent of his own pacifism depended in the first instance upon an armed peace, with "England keep[ing] to England and Germany to Germany". State boundaries would be established according to natural ethnic affinities, rather than by planners in distant imperial capitals, and overseen by his envisaged world alliance of states.
Wells described his impression of Shintoism: "To the Western mind accustomed to a widely different system of myths and absurdities, this reads like monstrous nonsense. But it is wiser not to say that in Japan." He emphasised the brutality of the Japanese tradition. Forty-seven Ronin, for example, "is the heroic consummation of a vendetta, ending, after the decapitation of the initiator of the feud, with the hara-kiri of these forty-seven heroes." Having such traditions, the Japanese should not complain about the "aggressive" external world from which Japan was no longer ringed-in: "Perry's guns in 1853 aroused that ringed-in Japan of blood feuds, hara-kiri, and heroic decapitations to the existence of a dangerous and aggressive outer world."
The leadership of Joseph Stalin led to a change in his view of the Soviet Union even though his initial impression of Stalin himself was mixed. He disliked what he saw as a narrow orthodoxy and intransigence in Stalin. He did give him some praise saying in an article in the left-leaning New Statesman magazine in 1934, "I have never met a man more fair, candid, and honest" and making it clear that he felt the "sinister" image of Stalin was unfair or false. Nevertheless, he judged Stalin's rule to be far too rigid, restrictive of independent thought, and blinkered to lead toward the Cosmopolis he hoped for. In the course of his visit to the Soviet Union in 1934, he debated the merits of reformist socialism over Marxism-Leninism with Stalin.
In 1939 Wells denounced the ideological takeover of science by fascism and communism:
"In Communist circles you may hear the most terrible balderdash about proletarian chemistry or proletarian mathematics. In Germany also it is alleged that some remarkable iniquity attaches to Jewish physics and Einstein is denounced and banned."
Wells brought his interest in art and design, and politics together when he and other notables signed a memorandum to the Permanent Secretaries of the Board of Trade, among others. The November 1914 memorandum expressed the signatories' concerns about British industrial design in the face of foreign competition. The suggestions were accepted, leading to the foundation of the Design and Industries Association. In the 1920s he was an enthusiastic supporter of rejuvenation attempts by Eugen Steinach and others. He was a patient of Dr Norman Haire (perhaps a rejuvenated one) and in response to Haire's 1924 book Rejuvenation: the Work of Steinach, Voronoff, and Others, Wells prophesied a more mature, graver society with "active and hopeful children" and adults "full of years" where none will be "aged".
In his later political writing, Wells incorporated into his discussions of the World State a notion of universal human rights that would protect and guarantee the freedom of the individual. His 1940 publication The Rights of Man laid the groundwork for the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In the end Wells's contemporary political impact was limited, excluding his fiction's positivist stance on the leaps that could be made by physics towards world peace. His efforts regarding the League of Nations, on which he collaborated on the project with Leonard Woolf with the booklets The Idea of a League of Nations, Prolegomena to the Study of World Organization, and The Way of the League of Nations, became a disappointment as the organization turned out to be a weak one unable to prevent the Second World War, which itself occurred towards the very end of his life and only increased the pessimistic side of his nature. In his last book Mind at the End of Its Tether (1945) he considered the idea that humanity being replaced by another species might not be a bad idea. He also came to refer to the Second World War era as "The Age of Frustration".
Wells wrote in his book God the Invisible King (1917) that his idea of God did not draw upon the traditional religions of the world:
"This book sets out as forcibly and exactly as possible the religious belief of the writer. [Which] is a profound belief in a personal and intimate God. ... Putting the leading idea of this book very roughly, these two antagonistic typical conceptions of God may be best contrasted by speaking of one of them as God-as-Nature or the Creator, and of the other as God-as-Christ or the Redeemer. One is the great Outward God; the other is the Inmost God. The first idea was perhaps developed most highly and completely in the God of Spinoza. It is a conception of God tending to pantheism, to an idea of a comprehensive God as ruling with justice rather than affection, to a conception of aloofness and awestriking worshipfulness. The second idea, which is opposed to this idea of an absolute God, is the God of the human heart. The writer would suggest that the great outline of the theological struggles of that phase of civilisation and world unity which produced Christianity, was a persistent but unsuccessful attempt to get these two different ideas of God into one focus."
Later in the work he aligns himself with a "renascent or modern religion ... neither atheist nor Buddhist nor Mohammedan nor Christian ... [that] he has found growing up in himself".
Of Christianity he said: "it is not now true for me. ... Every believing Christian is, I am sure, my spiritual brother ... but if systemically I called myself a Christian I feel that to most men I should imply too much and so tell a lie". Of other world religions he writes: "All these religions are true for me as Canterbury Cathedral is a true thing and as a Swiss chalet is a true thing. There they are, and they have served a purpose, they have worked. Only they are not true for me to live in them. ... They do not work for me". In The Fate of Homo Sapiens, published in 1939, Wells criticised almost all world religions and philosophies, stating "there is no creed, no way of living left in the world at all, that really meets the needs of the time… When we come to look at them coolly and dispassionately, all the main religions, patriotic, moral and customary systems in which human beings are sheltering today, appear to be in a state of jostling and mutually destructive movement, like the houses and palaces and other buildings of some vast, sprawling city overtaken by a landslide.
The science fiction historian John Clute describes Wells as "the most important writer the genre has yet seen", and notes his work has been central to both British and American science fiction. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1921, 1932, 1935, and 1946.
In Britain, Wells's work was a key model for the British "Scientific Romance", and other writers in that mode, such as Olaf Stapledon, J. D. Beresford, S. Fowler Wright, and Naomi Mitchison, all drew on Wells's example. Wells was also an important influence on British science fiction of the period after the Second World War, with Arthur C. Clarke and Brian Aldiss expressing strong admiration for Wells's work.
He also had a strong influence on British scientist J. B. S. Haldane, who wrote Daedalus; or, Science and the Future (1924), "The Last Judgement" and "On Being the Right Size" from the essay collection Possible Worlds (1927), and Biological Possibilities for the Human Species in the Next Ten Thousand Years (1963), which are speculations about the future of human evolution and life on other planets. Haldane gave several lectures about these topics which in turn influenced other science fiction writers.
In the United States, Hugo Gernsback reprinted most of Wells's work in the pulp magazine Amazing Stories, regarding Wells's work as "texts of central importance to the self-conscious new genre". Later American writers such as Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert and Ursula K. Le Guin all recalled being influenced by Wells's work.
In an interview with The Paris Review, Vladimir Nabokov described Wells as his favorite writer when he was a boy and as a "a great artist." He went on to cite The Passionate Friends, Ann Veronica, The Time Machine, and The Country of the Blind as superior to anything else written by Wells's British contemporaries. In an apparent allusion to Wells's socialism and political themes, Nabokov said: "His sociological cogitations can be safely ignored, of course, but his romances and fantasies are superb."
Jorge Luis Borges wrote many short pieces on Wells in which he demonstrates a deep familiarity with much of Wells's work. While Borges wrote several critical reviews, including a mostly negative review of Wells's film Things to Come, he regularly treated Wells as a canonical figure of fantastic literature. Late in his life, Borges included The Invisible Man and The Time Machine in his Prologue to a Personal Library, a curated list of 100 great works of literature that he undertook at the behest of the Argentine publishing house Emecé. In addition to Borges's regular discussions of Wells's work in his non-fiction, a strong case can be made[by whom?] for Wells's influence on Borges's own fantastic and speculative fiction.
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In 1954, the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign purchased the H. G Wells literary papers and correspondence collection. The University's Rare Book & Manuscript Library holds the largest collection of Wells manuscripts, correspondence, first editions and publications in the United States. Among these is an unpublished material and the manuscripts of such works as The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine. The collection includes first editions, revisions, translations. The letters contain general family correspondence, communications from publishers, material regarding the Fabian Society, and letters from politicians and public figures, most notably George Bernard Shaw and Joseph Conrad.
H.G. Wells arrived in Woking in May 1895. He lived at 'Lynton', Maybury Road, Woking, which is now numbered 141 Maybury Road. Today, there is an English Heritage blue plaque displayed on the front wall of the property, which marks his period of residence.
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