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H. G. Wells

(1866—1946) novelist and social commentator

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British novelist and social philosopher.

Wells was born in Bromley, Kent, the son of an unsuccessful tradesman and a lady's maid. As the result of a boyhood accident he became an omnivorous reader, which provided an opportunity to supplement his meagre elementary-school education. When he was fourteen his father became insolvent and the Wells home broke up, with H. G. Wells, after several false starts, being apprenticed to a draper. Although he loathed the job it gave him time to study. In 1883 he managed to obtain a place as a student teacher at Midhurst Grammar School, from which he gained a free studentship to what later became the Imperial College of Science, South Kensington, where he was taught biology by T. H. Huxley. At this time he was also interested in socialism and became an early member of the Fabian Society.

After failing his third-year examinations, Wells became a teacher but his health intermittently broke down. In 1890 he finally took his BSc. In 1891 he married his cousin but abandoned her in 1893 for one of his students, whom he married in 1895. Meanwhile he had already begun his career as a writer and found a ready public for his stories. The Time Machine (1895) was the first in a long series of so-called ‘Wellsian’ scientific romances, embodying his fascination with technological change and the potentialities of a reorganized human society. His knack of being able to anticipate scientific developments, such as the splitting of the atom in The World Set Free (1914), won him the status of a popular prophet. In the 1890s he also started to write his realistic novels, the first of which was The Wheels of Chance (1896). He followed this with Love and Mr Lewisham (1900), Kipps (1905), Tono-Bungay (1909), Ann Veronica (1909), and The History of Mr Polly (1910); all these drew strongly upon his own youthful experiences and were immensely popular, although Ann Veronica caused something of a scandal by its advocacy of greater sexual freedom for women. Social change, especially as affecting the status of women, was the theme of several of Wells's books in the early 1900s, including A Modern Utopia (1905), The New Machiavelli (1911), and Marriage (1912). He resigned from the Fabian Society in 1908 but continued to pursue various radical crusades. He was a poor orator so he relied upon his books, of which he wrote over a hundred, to make his views known.

The futile tragedy of World War I caused Wells to focus his attention sharply on a strategy to enable mankind to avoid self-destruction. After a brief flirtation with theism, expressed in the novel Mr Britling Sees It Through (1916), he pursued the idea of a world state. In some of his most powerful later treatises – The Outline of History (1920), The Science of Life (1931), and The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind (1932) – he laid the theoretical groundwork for such a state.

Subjects: Literature

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