1866 – 1946,
Known as H. G. Wells, Herbert George Wells was a prolific English writer who adapted his writing skills to many styles of literature, writing dozens of novels, short stories, and works of social commentary, satire, biography and autobiography. He is best known for his brilliant imagination and the predictions in his science fiction novels such as ‘The Time machine’, ‘War of the Worlds’ and ‘The Invisible man’ all of which were turned into notably successful films and one, the ‘War of the Worlds ‘, was credited with creating public panic when it was realistically broadcast on the radio in America by the young Orson Welles.
H.G.Wells was the fourth and last child of Joseph and Sarah Wells and was born in Bromley, Kent on 21st September 1866. His father was a former domestic gardener and at the time, a shopkeeper and professional cricketer, playing for Kent County from which he managed to earn a meagre income.
In 1874 when he was eight, Wells had an accident that left him bedridden with a broken leg and he started avidly reading books from the local library, brought to him by his father. He then entered Thomas Morley’s Commercial Academy, a private school until 1880 where he learned how to write and simple mathematics, but not a lot more. In 1877, his father, Joseph Wells, fractured his thigh, effectively ending his cricket career and his 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 placed their sons as apprentices in various occupations. From 1880 to 1883, Wells had unhappy apprenticeships first as a draper and then as a chemist’s assistant.
In their reduced circumstances, Wells mother was obliged to return to work as a lady’s maid and she and Joseph separated. Fortunately for Herbert, Uppark ,where his mother worked, had a magnificent library in which he immersed himself, reading many classic works of literature. Then he had the good fortune to secure a position at Midhurst Grammar School as a student and teacher of the junior pupils, which meant that Wells could continue his self-education in earnest. The following year, Wells won a scholarship to the Royal College of Science in South Kensington, , studying biology under Thomas Henry Huxley.
He soon entered the Debating Society of the college and he began to be interested in social issues and the fashionable reformation of society by joining the socialist ‘Fabian Society’. Writing for ‘The Science School Journal’, allowed him to express his views on literature and society, as well as trying his hand at fiction with his first novel, ‘The Chronic Argonauts’ . He left the college in 1887 and in 1890 earned a BSc in Zoology from the University of London. After some years teaching, he returned to study and to earn money, he began writing short, humorous articles for journals such as The Pall Mall Gazette, and for many other publications.
In 1891, Wells married his cousin Isabel Wells, but they separated in 1894 when he fell in love with one of his students, Jane, whom he married in 1895 and they moved to a house in Woking.
During this period , Wells was at his most productive as a writer. He wrote ‘The War of the Worlds ‘and ‘The Time Machine’, completed ‘The Island of Dr Moreau’, ‘The Wonderful Visit ‘and ‘The Wheels of Chance’ and began writing two other books, ‘When The Sleeper Wakes’ and ‘Love and Mr Lewisham’.
Wells’ ill health prompted the couple to move to Sandgate, near Folkestone, in 1901 where they had two sons ,George and Frank . But Wells was an inveterate womaniser and with Jane’s consent, he had affairs with a number of women. In 1909, he had a daughter, Anna-Jane, with the writer Amber Reeves and in 1914, a son, Anthony West , with the novelist and feminist Rebecca West, 26 years his junior.
With imaginative writers such as Jules Verne, Wells invented classic science fiction story with such works as ‘The Time Machine’, ‘The Island of Doctor Moreau’, ‘The Invisible Man’,’ The War of the Worlds’, ‘When the Sleeper Wakes’, ‘The First Men in the Moon’ and ‘The World Set Free’ which placed the imaginative fantasy in the context of the current time, real life and people and the events which happened to them. Wells also wrote dozens of short stories and novellas, as well as socially revealing novels of the Edwardian period like ‘Kipps’, ‘Tono-Bungay’ and The history of Mr Polly’.
Being a writer at the end of the 19th century, before many of the scientific and mechanical inventions which changed the modern world , Wells was remarkable for his prescience and prominent as a forward-looking, even prophetic writer and social critic. In his books he foresaw the advent of airplanes, tanks, space travel, nuclear weapons, satellite television and communication systems, not unlike the World Wide Web. His science fiction imagined time travel, alien invasion, invisibility, and biological engineering. , and from an early date, he was an outspoken socialist, and occasional pacifist. He portrayed the rise of fascist dictators in ‘The Autocracy of Mr Parham’ in 1930 and in 1933, Wells predicted in ‘The Shape of Things to Come’, the world war he feared .
Wells’ earliest specialised training was in biology and he also wrote nonfiction. His first nonfiction bestseller was ‘Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought ‘ in 1901. Originally serialised in a magazine, it was subtitled, ‘An Experiment in Prophecy’ and is considered his most explicitly futuristic work. His bestselling two-volume work, ‘The Outline of History ‘ in 1920, began a new era of popularised world history.
After an amusing game of toy soldiers with a friend , Wells sought a more structured way to play adult war games, so wrote ‘Floor Games’ in 1911 , followed by ‘Little Wars’ in 1913, which set out rules for fighting battles with toy soldiers. This is recognised today as the first recreational war game and Wells is regarded by gamers and hobbyists as ‘the Father of Miniature War Gaming’. A thorough pacifist, Wells observed at the outset of World War 1, that how much better was the amiable miniature war than the real thing.
A diabetic, in 1934, Wells co-founded the charity The Diabetic Association ,known today as Diabetes UK.
Wells died of unspecified causes , probably a heart attack, on 13 August 1946, aged 79, at his home at 13 Hanover Terrace, overlooking Regent’s Park, London.