H G Wells
Literature and Love


H G Wells
H G Wells
Image source: www.gutenberg.org

This article could be subtitled 'The War of the Worlds' because, not only did that book become H G Wells's most enduring work, but the phrase also encapsulates the perpetual struggle he experienced in finding himself and his place in life. I am not sure that he ever found it: some people are always misfits and unsuited to their times.

Wells first came to major public attention with 'The Time Machine' (published 1895). I can understand how this pioneering work about travelling through time would have captured the public imagination back in Victorian times and, indeed, the longevity of 'Dr Who' proves how popular the theme still is, but, given how far the science fiction/horror genre has advanced in the last century or so, it seems pretty dated and tame fare now.

Surreal Image'In a moment I was clutched by several hands, and there was no mistaking that they were trying to haul me back. I struck another light, and waved it in their dazzled faces. You can scarce imagine how nauseatingly inhuman they looked--those pale, chinless faces and great, lidless, pinkish-grey eyes!--as they stared in their blindness and bewilderment. But I did not stay to look, I promise you: I retreated again, and when my second match had ended, I struck my third. It had almost burned through when I reached the opening into the shaft. I lay down on the edge, for the throb of the great pump below made me giddy. Then I felt sideways for the projecting hooks, and, as I did so, my feet were grasped from behind, and I was violently tugged backward. I lit my last match ... and it incontinently went out. But I had my hand on the climbing bars now, and, kicking violently, I disengaged myself from the clutches of the Morlocks and was speedily clambering up the shaft, while they stayed peering and blinking up at me: all but one little wretch who followed me for some way, and well-nigh secured my boot as a trophy.'

This book can be read on more than one level, depending on the age and comprehension of the reader. At its most simplistic it is a tale of a man who builds a time machine, which is then stolen by a race of subterranean and nocturnal troglodytes called the Morlocks. However, the story really concerns civilisation itself and is a commentary on capitalism. It had a long evolution, beginning years earlier in Wells's student days as a short story called 'The Chronic Argonauts', which was discarded, rewritten, lengthened, serialised and finally published in the form we know today. In a moment I will chronicle the hard road that HG travelled to attain success, but firstly I must explain why he appears on this website.

For a time during the 1890s Wells lived in a house called 'Heatherlea' in The Avenue, Worcester Park, which is just within the boundaries of the Borough of Epsom & Ewell (Cuddington). He did not stay for long, but he did a lot of writing there and used the neighbourhood in one of his novels - 'Ann Veronica' - which we shall come to presently.

The Avenue 1908
The Avenue 1908.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum.

'Heatherlea' before being demolished in 1955.
'Heatherlea' before being demolished in 1955.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum.

Seeing this picture, it is hard to believe that in Wells's time there he held 'Saturday afternoons' when friends came to talk, take tea and play croquet. Guests often stayed for the weekend and the house was a little social mecca for Wells's circle.

Worcester Park has rather fraudulently claimed this temporary resident as its own by naming a pub after him on Cheam Common Road. At the time of writing the pub's website boasts that the author was born 'only round the corner from here', which is a convenient moment to take us back to the beginning.

The HG Wells pub
The HG Wells pub (formerly The Old Drill).
© Copyright Bill Boaden and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Childhood

'Only round the corner from here' was Bromley, Kent, which is today approximately 15 miles away from 'here' by road. Herbert George (Bertie) Wells was born on 21 September 1866, the fourth child and third son of Joseph (Joe) Wells and Sarah (née Neal - married 1853). It is claimed that HG was conceived as a replacement for the eldest child, Frances Sarah (Fanny), who had died from appendicitis in 1864, aged nine. His two brothers were Francis Charles (Frank), born 1857, and Frederick Joseph (Fred), born 1862.

Joe, who died in 1910, was variously a gardener, china dealer and professional cricketer, but made little money from anything. Although he was obviously good at cricket, as he played for Kent, his professional career was ended by an injury and Sarah then became the main breadwinner.

Joe Wells.
Joe Wells.
Image source: it.wikipedia.org

Joe and Sarah were ill-suited. He was well read, but aggressive, ill-tempered and intolerant of religion: she was religious and aspired to be at least lower middle class. When Joe made a mess of his shop-keeping she went as live-in housekeeper to Uppark, a house at South Harting, near Petersfield, Hampshire, then owned by the Fetherstonhaugh family.

Uppark
Uppark.
Photo by Craig Cullum via Wikimedia Commons.

HG was a sickly child and seems to have been something of a trial to his mother. While the family was still in Bromley he was sent, aged seven, to Morley's Academy because, Sarah said, the local National School was intended for the lower classes and HG was not allowed to mix with them. As the family income declined, so the fees became unaffordable, and at the age of thirteen (1880) he left to become an apprentice draper in Windsor, a career path which Fred was already following. Given the financial circumstances, Mrs Wells could not realise very lofty ambitions for her offspring, but drapery was at the more genteel end of the trade spectrum.

HG hated it and deliberately did so badly that he was released after a month's trial, whereupon a job was found assisting a Mr Williams, who was teaching at the National School in Wookey, Somerset. Unfortunately, Mr Williams's qualifications were not as he had claimed and, when he was sacked, HG was obliged to go home.

Only Sarah could live in at Uppark, so HG had to be sent somewhere - anywhere really that would produce some income - and he became a pharmacist's assistant in the nearby town of Midhurst. However, there were no funds to pay for studies in that field, so he became a temporary boarder at Midhurst Grammar School, which had very recently been reopened by schoolmaster Horace Byatt. For reasons best known to Sarah, he was then apprenticed to a draper once more - this time in Portsmouth. HG got as far as starting a formal apprenticeship, but decided he wished to return to Midhurst Grammar as an assistant teacher. Sarah was not amused, since the apprenticeship had already been paid for, but HG got his way and began studying for teaching qualifications. It is worth mentioning that by this time he was an atheist, or so he thought, and was appalled that all teachers had to be confirmed in the Church of England. He complied resentfully.

The lad did very well in his exams and was offered a teacher training scholarship at the Normal School of Science in South Kensington (later part of Imperial College). Byatt was furious but allowed him to go.

Student life

HG came to hate the Normal School of Science and eventually did what he did to many places that he hated - physically destroyed it in a work of fiction - and we will come to that soon. However, all was well initially and he was delighted to be studying biology under T H Huxley (see wikipedia.org). Huxley was right up HG's street, being a leading proponent of Darwin's theory of evolution and an agnostic, as well as an eminent scientist.

T H Huxley
T H Huxley by Carlo Pelligrini ('Ape') from 'Vanity Fair' 1871.

Sarah sent HG to lodge with an acquaintance in an overcrowded London house with no bathroom. It seems that the landlady had a flirtatious daughter and there may well have been some fumbling attempts at intimacy, but he soon moved in with his Aunt Mary (widow of Joe Wells's brother William) in the Euston Road. Also in residence was Mary's daughter, Isabel Mary (born c.1865 Donhead, Wiltshire), who worked as a photograph retoucher.

HG had been very interested in sex for some time and being in close proximity to the attractive Isabel only intensified his feelings. It was not long before they became unofficially engaged, recognising that they could not marry until he was able to earn a living and support her. Meanwhile he excelled in his first exams at the Normal School and was elected to the Committee of the Debating Society. So far, so good, but everything went wrong when he started studying physics and was required to construct laboratory apparatus. He disagreed with the physics theories concerning the universe and detested the practical aspects, so he began to argue, miss lectures and shirk. Most of his time was spent in local libraries, reading about literature, history and religion.

The life that HG craved for himself could not exist in his current circumstances and he had to find something to earn him a living in due course, whatever that turned out to be. One of his main complaints was that he was supposed to be training as a teacher but nobody was showing him how to teach, and he probably had a point there. At the end of his second year he had bad results in everything except Geometrical Drawing, but his grant was renewed and he soldiered on after a fashion. He was now more interested in the Debating Society than his studies and in 1886 he launched 'The Science Schools Journal', which became his main interest. He flunked his final exams and the grant came to an end.

Being unqualified for state school teaching, he was forced to take work at a private school near Wrexham which, needless to say, he loathed. The hatred was mutual and one day the pupils gave him a serious kicking during a rugby game, which resulted in significant injury to a kidney. He became so ill that he was allowed to go and stay with Sarah at Uppark (by now Joe was living in a cottage near Rogate, Sussex with Frank, who worked as an itinerant clock repairer). Whilst convalescing he wrote some stories, which were rejected, but he did manage to have 'The Chronic Argonauts' published in 'The Science Schools Journal'.

After staying with a friend for several weeks, he returned to London and found a bed-sit. Mary and Isabel no longer kept a lodging-house and had a flat in Primrose Hill. Inevitably HG soon moved in with them and Isabel provided financial support, although he did obtain some oddments of work.

HG  c.1890
HG c.1890.
Photo by Frederick Hollyer from the LSE Library

Career beginnings, marriage and divorce

HG was not a believer in marriage, Joe and Sarah having been a bad example, but 'free love' was not a viable option at that time, especially if the man was in a respectable profession. So, having obtained a position as a science teacher at a Kilburn school run by A A Milne's father, he became officially engaged to Isabel in May 1889.

At this point, we may as well fast-forward and blow up the Normal School of Science, since HG had finished with it, so I will now hand you over to the short story entitled 'The Argonauts of the Air' (written in 1895). Worcester Park residents should pay attention because the locale was used as the launch-site for the relevant flying machine, even though HG had not yet moved in.

The story features an attempt at manned and powered flight, which was not yet a successful reality. However, the main point from the author's perspective was to flatten the detested Normal School (by now renamed the Royal College of Science).

Clement Ader's Avion No.3
The reality of powered flight design around the time HG's story was published. This is Clement Ader's Avion No.3 of 1897. Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Only a few years later the Wright Brothers made their first successful flight, at Kittyhawk, which covered a distance of 120 feet in 12 seconds.

The Wright Brothers' successful flight in December 1903
The Wright Brothers' successful flight in December 1903.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

HG's machine was rather more large-scale and elaborate than the models just pictured, requiring an extensive launch structure.

'One saw Monson's Flying Machine from the windows of the trains passing either along the South-Western main line or along the line between Wimbledon and Worcester Park - to be more exact, one saw the huge scaffolding which limited the flight of the apparatus. They rose over the tree-tops, a massive alley of interlacing iron and timber, and an enormous web of ropes and tackle, extending the best part of two miles. From the Leatherhead branch this alley was foreshortened and in part hidden by hill with villas; but from the main line one had it in profile, a complex tangle of girders and curving bars, very impressive to the excursionists from Portsmouth and Southampton and the West. Monson had taken up the work where Maxim had left it, had gone on at first with an utter contempt for the journalistic wit and ignorance that had irritated and hampered his predecessor, and had spent (it was said) rather more than half his immense fortune upon his experiments. The results, to an impatient generation, seemed inconsiderable. When some five years had passed after the growth of the colossal iron groves at Worcester Park, and Monson still failed to put in a fluttering appearance over Trafalgar Square, even the Isle of Wight trippers felt their liberty to smile. And such intelligent people as did not consider Monson a fool stricken with the mania for invention, denounced him as being (for no particular reason) a self-advertising quack.

It was the next day after this that he exploded upon Woodhouse and his workmen, and thereafter his bearing was consistently grim for three weeks, and anxiety dwelt in Cheam and Ewell, Maldon, Morden and Worcester Park, places that had thriven mightily on his experiments.'

So, eventually the craft is launched and it reaches South Kensington.

'But the crash, the flame of blazing paraffin that shot heavenward from the shattered engines of the machine, the crushed horrors that were found in the garden beyond the Students' Club, the masses of yellow parapet and red brick that fell headlong into the roadway, the running to and fro of people like ants in a broken ant-hill, the galloping of fire-engines, the gathering of crowds-all these things do not belong to this story, which was written only to tell how the first of all successful flying-machines was launched and flew. Though he failed, and failed disastrously, the record of Monson's work remains a sufficient monument-to guide the next of that band of gallant experimentalists who will sooner or later master this great problem of flying. And between Worcester Park and Malden there still stands that portentous avenue of iron-work, rusting now, and dangerous here and there, to witness to the first desperate struggle for man's right of way through the air.'

We return to the newly-engaged HG, now living with Mary and Isabel in a larger flat. He had knuckled down to finishing his exams, was given a job teaching science for a Correspondence College and in January 1891, still aged only 24, he obtained his BSc degree, taking first class honours in Zoology; he also became a qualified teacher, still fiddling with 'The Chronic Argonauts' and writing educational articles. His health was indifferent, but he now felt ready to marry Isabel and the ceremony took place at All Saints Church, Wandsworth on 31 October 1891.

It is difficult to understand why HG was so attractive to women, for he was short, had a squeaky voice and it has been said that he was not too fussy about personal hygiene. Photographs of him indicate that he was not a snappy dresser. He was, however, supposed to have had considerable charm and wit. Many years later the Baroness de T'Serclaes met him just after World War 1 at Easton Lodge, Dunmow, Essex, the home of the Countess of Warwick and said, '… H G Wells, who rented a cottage on the estate, often dropped in and joined the circle. Sometimes we went to his place for lunch, sometimes he came to the big house for dinner, and he hardly ever stopped talking, fortunately quite enthrallingly, in his funny high-pitched voice. He was full of theories of the past, present and future and the play of his intellect was in itself the highest possible kind of entertainment.'

1912 caricatures of HG by Bateman
1912 caricatures of HG by Bateman, published in 'The Sketch'

It seems that the wedding night was a grave disappointment to both parties, with HG simply satisfying his urges and the rigid Isabel ending up in tears. They were temperamentally unsuited as well, with Isabel being fairly conventional and unimaginative, everything that her husband was not. It did not take long for the marriage to break down. HG took a fancy to Ethel Kingsmill, who came to the house for photographic lessons from Isabel, and late in 1892 he met Amy Catherine Robbins (subsequently known as Jane), who was a student at the Correspondence College. Certainly she was more suited to him intellectually than Isabel was.

In his autobiography HG says of Ethel, 'Quite soon after my marriage indeed came an adventure that did much to restore my baffled self-confidence. There was a certain little Miss Kingsmill who came to Haldon Road first as a pupil to learn retouching and then as a helper with the work. She was cheerfully amoral and already an experienced young woman. She was about the house before and after my marriage; the business stirred her; she may have had confidences from my cousin and a quickening interest became evident in her manner towards me. I found myself alone with her in the house one day; I was working upon a pile of correspondence books, my aunt was out shopping and my wife had gone to London with some retouched negatives. I forget by what excuse Ethel Kingsmill flitted from her retouching desk upstairs, to my study. But she succeeded in dispelling all the gloomy apprehensions I was beginning to entertain, that lovemaking was nothing more than an outrage inflicted upon reluctant womankind and all its loveliness a dream. The sound of my returning aunt's latch-key separated us in a state of flushed and happy accomplishment. I sat down with a quickened vitality to my blottesque red corrections again and Ethel, upstairs, very content with herself, resumed her niggling at her negative. Sentimentally and "morally" this is a quite shocking incident to relate; in truth it was the most natural thing in the world.'

(If you have a taste for fictional embroidery, in his book 'A Man of Parts' (Harvill Secker 2011), David Lodge fills in the bare biographical facts with his imagination, making for a somewhat juicier read than HG's delicate narrative.

Ethel Kingsmill seems to have been a passing romp and HG claims that he was still devoted to Isabel, but she obviously did not provide what he wanted and his eye soon began to rove more widely.

'Meanwhile I talked outside my home and began to find an increasing interest in the suggestions of personality in the girls and women who flitted across the background of my restless, toilsome little world. Then it was that my Destiny saw fit to bring a grave little figure into my life who was to be its ruling influence and support throughout all my most active years. When I came into my laboratory to meet the new students who were assembling for the afternoon class of 1892-93 I found two exceptionally charming young women making friends at the end table. One of them was a certain Adeline Roberts, so dazzlingly pretty and so essentially serious, that she never in all her life had time to fall in love with a man before he was in a state of urgent and undignified protestation at her feet. So that she is still Adeline Roberts, M.D., L.C.C., and a soundly conservative influence in the affairs of the county of London. The other, Amy Catherine Robbins, was a more fragile figure, with very delicate features, very fair hair and very brown eyes. She was dressed in mourning, for her father had been quite recently killed in a railway accident, and she wanted to get the London B.Sc. degree before she took up high school teaching.

If either of these young ladies had joined my class alone I should probably never have become very intimate with either. It would not have been within my range of possibility to single out any particular student for more than a due meed of instruction. It would have been "conspicuous." But with two students capable of asking intelligent questions, it was the most natural thing in the world to put a stool between them, sit down instructively, and let these questions expand. They were both in a phase of mental formation and student curiosity, they were both reading widely, and it was the most natural thing in the world that comparative anatomy should lead to evolutionary theory and that again point the way to theological questions and social themes. They revived the discursive interests of my Kensington days. The disposition of Adeline Roberts was towards orthodoxy; her mind had been built upon an unshaken and wholly accepted Christian faith; Catherine Robbins had read more widely and had a bolder curiosity. She was breaking away from the tepid, shallow, sentimental Church of England Christianity in which she had been brought up. The snatches of talk for four or five minutes at a stretch that were possible during the class session were presently not enough for us, and we developed a habit of meeting early and going on talking after the two hours of rigorous biology were over. Little Miss Robbins was the more acutely interested and she was generally more punctually in advance of her time than her friend, so that we two became a duologue masked as a three-cornered friendship.'

'Little Miss Robbins' (Jane) soon became HG's mistress and the relationship lasted until she died in 1927 - but not monogamously on his part.

Although he remained with Isabel for the time being (still seeing Jane), HG's world was crashing down around him. Sarah had lost her job at Uppark and, at 70 years of age, could not find other work: she was packed off reluctantly to live with her husband. Fred had been let go from the draper's, so moved in with HG and Isabel, and then HG had a haemorrhage. At that point he felt as if he would not survive for much longer and determined that he should do what he wanted with the time he had left (which turned out to be roughly 53 years, but he didn't know that). Fred was sent to South Africa to seek his fortune, HG started to make a living from writing and Isabel instigated a move to Sutton, Surrey, presumably to get him away from Jane. This did not work, as HG then invited Jane to re-draw the illustrations for one of his textbooks, so he continued to see her.

Isabel issued an ultimatum and HG left her, with the divorce coming through early in 1895. We will park him for a moment to see what subsequently happened to Isabel. In the 1901 census she was in Cholsey, Berkshire as housekeeper to a young farmer. In 1902 she married a printer called Edward Fowler Saville Smith (died 1947) and they had a daughter called Joyce Marie Saville. Isabel died in 1931 at St Thomas's Hospital, Lambeth. Apparently HG remained on good terms with her, apart from a five-year period after her remarriage, and even sought reconciliation at one time.

Success

In 1894 HG, not yet divorced, had returned to London and set up home with Jane. He wrote prolifically and a considerable number of stories were published in magazines such as 'The Pall Mall Gazette', its new offshoot 'The Pall Mall Budget' and 'The National Observer'. The latter title was then run by W E Henley (see wikipedia.org), who is remembered today for his short, but inspirational and lasting, poem 'Invictus'.

There were hundreds of periodicals vying for sales in the late Victorian era and many of them soon failed. Alternatively, they were taken over by new owners and/or acquired new editors who preferred different material, so that being a regular contributor was not necessarily long-term. HG was unlucky, in that 'The Pall Mall Budget' closed down, its parent publication went off his work and a new owner of 'The National Observer' found him insufficiently commercial. 'The Chronic Argonauts' was dusted off yet again and this time, after running as a serial called 'The Time Traveller', it became 'The Time Machine'. At that stage he and Jane (plus her disapproving mother) were living in Sevenoaks, Kent.

Even before publication of the novel, the fickle world of periodicals had warmed to HG once more. 'The Pall Mall Gazette' began to publish his work again and appointed him drama critic; he was welcomed with open arms by 'The Saturday Review', which had recently been taken over by Frank Harris (see wikipedia.org), who later wrote the sexually explicit 'My Life and Loves', a notorious set of volumes in its day. HG and Jane moved back to London, depositing her mother elsewhere.


W E Henley
W E Henley in a caricature entitled 'The National Observer'
by Leslie Ward ('Spy') from 'Vanity Fair' 1892.

Jane was not well (suspected tuberculosis) and before long the delicate HG began coughing up blood again. He did not like reviewing theatre plays but was quite keen on another new role, that of principal fiction reviewer for 'The Saturday Review', which was work he could do at home. Money was still quite tight, since he was by now supporting his parents and paying maintenance to Isabel.

The lure of leafier climes overcame him once more and this time he took Jane to Maybury Road, Woking, Surrey.

The Wells house at 143 Maybury Road, Woking
The Wells house at 143 Maybury Road, Woking, photographed in 2009.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

HG would go on cycling expeditions round Surrey, and further afield, and Jane often accompanied him at the back of a tandem. He used his cycling experiences in 'The Wheels of Chance' (1896), a comic tale about a draper's assistant who goes on a bicycling tour. I have not yet quoted an example of HG's humour, so here is an extract from the book.

'As Mr. Dangle had witnessed, the fugitives had been left by him by the side of the road about two miles from Botley. Before Mr. Dangle's appearance, Mr. Hoopdriver had been learning with great interest that mere roadside flowers had names,-star-flowers, wind-stars, St. John's wort, willow herb, lords and ladies, bachelor's buttons,-most curious names, some of them. "The flowers are all different in South Africa, y'know," he was explaining with a happy fluke of his imagination to account for his ignorance. Then suddenly, heralded by clattering sounds and a grind of wheels, Dangle had flared and thundered across the tranquillity of the summer evening; Dangle, swaying and gesticulating behind a corybantic black horse, had hailed Jessie by her name, had backed towards the hedge for no ostensible reason, and vanished to the accomplishment of the Fate that had been written down for him from the very beginning of things. Jessie and Hoopdriver had scarcely time to stand up and seize their machines, before this tumultuous, this swift and wonderful passing of Dangle was achieved. He went from side to side of the road,-worse even than the riding forth of Mr. Hoopdriver it was,-and vanished round the corner.'
The Wheels of Chance

As HG pedalled the highways and byways he identified sites which could later be blown up in 'War of the Worlds'. We have already seen that he liked to destroy disagreeable places in his works and Woking was earmarked for a grim fate. He said that he would 'completely wreck and destroy Woking - killing my neighbours in painful and eccentric ways - then proceed via Kingston and Richmond to London, selecting South Kensington for feats of peculiar atrocity.'

HG had no particular desire to marry Jane, but the irregular domestic arrangements caused problems with servants and neighbours, so they tied the knot at St Pancras Register Office on 27 October 1895. Sarah, Joe and Frank were installed in a bigger house at Liss, Hampshire and Fred was now a draper in Johannesburg.

I am not going to deal with all of HG's books, or we shall be here for days (and we shall also expire of boredom, since some of them were very turgid), but the earlier ones were of course the bedrock of his lasting fame and after 'The Time Machine' came 'The Island of Dr Moreau', a gruesome and horrible tale about vivisection experiments. I read this when I was quite young and found it both frightening and repellent.

Island of Dr Moreau'So long as I live, I shall remember the terror of that chase. I ran near the water's edge, and heard every now and then the splash of the feet that gained upon me. Far away, hopelessly far, was the yellow light. All the night about us was black and still. Splash, splash, came the pursuing feet, nearer and nearer. I felt my breath going, for I was quite out of training; it whooped as I drew it, and I felt a pain like a knife at my side. I perceived the Thing would come up with me long before I reached the enclosure, and, desperate and sobbing for my breath, I wheeled round upon it and struck at it as it came up to me,-struck with all my strength. The stone came out of the sling of the handkerchief as I did so. As I turned, the Thing, which had been running on all-fours, rose to its feet, and the missile fell fair on its left temple. The skull rang loud, and the animal-man blundered into me, thrust me back with its hands, and went staggering past me to fall headlong upon the sand with its face in the water; and there it lay still.

I could not bring myself to approach that black heap. I left it there, with the water rippling round it, under the still stars, and giving it a wide berth pursued my way towards the yellow glow of the house; and presently, with a positive effect of relief, came the pitiful moaning of the puma, the sound that had originally driven me out to explore this mysterious island. At that, though I was faint and horribly fatigued, I gathered together all my strength, and began running again towards the light. I thought I heard a voice calling me.'

Early in 1896 HG was approached by the up and coming literary agent James Brand Pinker and became his client, although not exclusively. Pinker helped HG to find a house in Worcester Park, which was 'Heatherlea' in The Avenue - early Victorian and picturesque but insanitary. As mentioned earlier, he and Jane entertained their friends there, but Worcester Park did not suit him and he said at one point that it was 'inhabited by amateur poultry fanciers and dog lovers with occasional literary men.' (He did, however, like cats and kept them.)

I have looked at the 1901 census for The Avenue, as it is the nearest in date to HG's occupancy: poultry and dogs are not mentioned but almost every inhabitant is either a professional man (e.g. member of the Stock Exchange, barrister, retired railway superintendent) or living on his own means. No wonder that these people did not suit the rather particular HG, who seems to have liked mainly imaginative/creative/intelligent people, preferably from the literary world - for example, Pinker and George Gissing.

HG's drawing of gardening at 'Heatherlea' 1897
HG's drawing of gardening at 'Heatherlea' 1897.
Image source: freeread.com.au

In 1898 HG apparently proclaimed enigmatically that he was giving up the house for some obscure geological reason, but, according to his autobiography, the real motivation seems to have been his health, so I imagine that this had something to do with the 'Heatherlea' sanitation. He and Jane moved out in March 1899, let to tenants and then sold up. HG was not, though, finished with the locality, since he used it in his novel 'Ann Veronica' (published 1909) and it is convenient to deal with that now before we move to new pastures.

'Ann Veronica' was scandalous for its time, being the tale of a young woman struggling for emancipation in a man's world (see wikipedia.org for a plot synopsis) and it was published at a time when HG's affair with Amber Reeves (see later) had become public knowledge. It is not a scandalous book in the sense of being sexually explicit, but the time had not yet come for stories about emancipated young women and their love affairs. At that time such things could and did happen, but writing about them was taboo.

Worcester Park, named Morningside Park in the book, did not get the usual Wells treatment of being physically decimated, but he makes his opinion crystal clear.

Ann Veronica'Morningside Park was a suburb that had not altogether, as people say, come off. It consisted, like pre-Roman Gaul, of three parts. There was first the Avenue, which ran in a consciously elegant curve from the railway station into an undeveloped wilderness of agriculture, with big, yellow brick villas on either side, and then there was the pavement, the little clump of shops about the post-office, and under the railway arch was a congestion of workmen's dwellings. The road from Surbiton and Epsom ran under the arch, and, like a bright fungoid growth in the ditch, there was now appearing a sort of fourth estate of little red-and-white rough-cast villas, with meretricious gables and very brassy window-blinds. Behind the Avenue was a little hill, and an iron- fenced path went over the crest of this to a stile under an elm-tree, and forked there, with one branch going back into the Avenue again. "It's either now or never," said Ann Veronica, again ascending this stile. "Much as I hate rows, I've either got to make a stand or give in altogether."

She seated herself in a loose and easy attitude and surveyed the backs of the Avenue houses; then her eyes wandered to where the new red-and-white villas peeped among the trees. She seemed to be making some sort of inventory. "Ye Gods!" she said at last. "WHAT a place!

"Stuffy isn't the word for it."'
...

'The call Ann Veronica paid with her aunt that afternoon had at first much the same relation to the Widgett conversation that a plaster statue of Mr. Gladstone would have to a carelessly displayed interior on a dissecting-room table. The Widgetts talked with a remarkable absence of external coverings; the Palsworthys found all the meanings of life on its surfaces. They seemed the most wrapped things in all Ann Veronica's wrappered world. The Widgett mental furniture was perhaps worn and shabby, but there it was before you, undisguised, fading visibly in an almost pitiless sunlight. Lady Palsworthy was the widow of a knight who had won his spurs in the wholesale coal trade, she was of good seventeenth-century attorney blood, a county family, and distantly related to Aunt Mollie's deceased curate. She was the social leader of Morningside Park, and in her superficial and euphuistic way an extremely kind and pleasant woman. With her lived a Mrs. Pramlay, a sister of the Morningside Park doctor, and a very active and useful member of the Committee of the Impoverished Gentlewomen's Aid Society. Both ladies were on easy and friendly terms with all that was best in Morningside Park society; they had an afternoon once a month that was quite well attended, they sometimes gave musical evenings, they dined out and gave a finish to people's dinners, they had a full- sized croquet lawn and tennis beyond, and understood the art of bringing people together. And they never talked of anything at all, never discussed, never even encouraged gossip. They were just nice.'

After 'The Wheels of Chance' and 'The Island of Doctor Moreau' came 'The Invisible Man' (1897), in which Griffin, a scientist, makes himself invisible and ends up being hunted down by the police. The ending, when Griffin, having been caught and attacked, re-materialises, is a great example of HG's imagination at work.

The Invisible Man'Suddenly an old woman, peering under the arm of the big navvy, screamed sharply. "Looky there!" she said, and thrust out a wrinkled finger.

And looking where she pointed, everyone saw, faint and transparent as though it was made of glass, so that veins and arteries and bones and nerves could be distinguished, the outline of a hand, a hand limp and prone. It grew clouded and opaque even as they stared.

"Hullo!" cried the constable. "Here's his feet a-showing!"

And so, slowly, beginning at his hands and feet and creeping along his limbs to the vital centres of his body, that strange change continued. It was like the slow spreading of a poison. First came the little white nerves, a hazy grey sketch of a limb, then the glassy bones and intricate arteries, then the flesh and skin, first a faint fogginess, and then growing rapidly dense and opaque. Presently they could see his crushed chest and his shoulders, and the dim outline of his drawn and battered features.

When at last the crowd made way for Kemp to stand erect, there lay, naked and pitiful on the ground, the bruised and broken body of a young man about thirty. His hair and brow were white-not grey with age, but white with the whiteness of albinism-and his eyes were like garnets. His hands were clenched, his eyes wide open, and his expression was one of anger and dismay.'

"Cover his face!" said a man. "For Gawd's sake, cover that face!" and three little children, pushing forward through the crowd, were suddenly twisted round and sent packing off again.

Someone brought a sheet from the "Jolly Cricketers," and having covered him, they carried him into that house. And there it was, on a shabby bed in a tawdry, ill-lighted bedroom, surrounded by a crowd of ignorant and excited people, broken and wounded, betrayed and unpitied, that Griffin, the first of all men to make himself invisible, Griffin, the most gifted physicist the world has ever seen, ended in infinite disaster his strange and terrible career.'
I realise with alarm that, by March 1899, HG was still only 32 years old. I have packed a lot in so far, but so had he.

The War of the Worlds

This was published in 1898, when HG still lived in Worcester Park, and it is undoubtedly his most famous and lasting work, spawning film versions, a concept album by Jeff Wayne and, most notably perhaps, the 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Welles which convinced many listeners that we really were being invaded from Outer Space.

Surrey took a mighty hammering from the Martians, featuring many of the sites from HG's cycle rides. Here are the invaders in an area some of you will know well.

'As the dawn grew brighter we withdrew from the window from which we had watched the Martians, and went very quietly downstairs.

The artilleryman agreed with me that the house was no place to stay in. He proposed, he said, to make his way Londonward, and thence rejoin his battery -No. 12, of the Horse Artillery. My plan was to return at once to Leatherhead; and so greatly had the strength of the Martians impressed me that I had determined to take my wife to Newhaven, and go with her out of the country forthwith. For I already perceived clearly that the country about London must inevitably be the scene of a disastrous struggle before such creatures as these could be destroyed.

Between us and Leatherhead, however, lay the third cylinder, with its guarding giants. Had I been alone, I think I should have taken my chance and struck across country. But the artilleryman dissuaded me: "It's no kindness to the right sort of wife," he said, "to make her a widow"; and in the end I agreed to go with him, under cover of the woods, northward as far as Street Cobham before I parted with him. Thence I would make a big detour by Epsom to reach Leatherhead.

I should have started at once, but my companion had been in active service and he knew better than that. He made me ransack the house for a flask, which he filled with whiskey; and we lined every available pocket with packets of biscuits and slices of meat. Then we crept out of the house, and ran as quickly as we could down the ill-made road by which I had come overnight. The houses seemed deserted. In the road lay a group of three charred bodies close together, struck dead by the Heat-Ray; and here and there were things that people had dropped-a clock, a slipper, a silver spoon, and the like poor valuables. At the corner turning up towards the post office a little cart, filled with boxes and furniture, and horseless, heeled over on a broken wheel. A cash box had been hastily smashed open and thrown under the debris.

Except the lodge at the Orphanage, which was still on fire, none of the houses had suffered very greatly here. The Heat-Ray had shaved the chimney tops and passed. Yet, save ourselves, there did not seem to be a living soul on Maybury Hill. The majority of the inhabitants had escaped, I suppose, by way of the Old Woking road-the road I had taken when I drove to Leatherhead-or they had hidden. We went down the lane, by the body of the man in black, sodden now from the overnight hail, and broke into the woods at the foot of the hill. We pushed through these towards the railway without meeting a soul. The woods across the line were but the scarred and blackened ruins of woods; for the most part the trees had fallen, but a certain proportion still stood, dismal grey stems, with dark brown foliage instead of green.'

And, of course, he reserved something special for Woking. (Weybridge and Shepperton caught a packet too, so he presumably did not like those areas either. As a Sussex resident I could wish that he was still around to take a similar aversion to Newhaven, which he mentioned earlier, since it would benefit hugely from being razed to the ground.)

'About seven o'clock last night the Martians came out of the cylinder, and, moving about under armour of metallic shields, have completely wrecked Woking station with the adjacent houses, and massacred an entire battalion of the Cardigan Regiment. No details are known. Maxims have been absolutely useless against their armour; the field guns have been disabled by them. Flying hussars have been galloping into Chertsey. The Martians appear to be moving slowly towards Chertsey or Windsor. Great anxiety prevails in West Surrey, and earthworks are being thrown up to check the advance Londonward. That was how the Sunday Sun put it, and a clever and remarkably prompt "handbook" article in the Referee compared the affair to a menagerie suddenly let loose in a village.'

The War of the WorldsThe War of the Worlds

Martian Tripod in East Church Street, Woking
Sculpture by Michael Condron of a Martian Tripod in East Church Street, Woking. 2006
Photo by Warofdreams via Wikimedia Commons.

South Kensington naturally got a pasting, even though he had already destroyed a swathe of it in 'The Argonauts of the Air', as did Kilburn and Primrose Hill. Well, it's great stuff, but we must progress.

Wedded Bliss?

HG seems to have been reasonably happy with Jane but in his eyes she had a defect - the physical aspect was not sufficiently exciting for him. So, apparently with her agreement and certainly her knowledge, he had extra-marital affairs and plenty of them.

Whilst still at Worcester Park, he became involved with Dorothy Miller Richardson, an old schoolfriend of Jane's who worked in a dental surgery. It is alleged that, several years later they had a brief affair which resulted in pregnancy and a miscarriage. Doing his bit for literature, he encouraged her to write a series of autobiographical novels, which were published many years later. One of these was 'The Tunnel' (1919), in which Hypo and Alma Wilson are HG and Jane, living at 'Heatherlea'. The book is online at www.archive.org. HG mentioned in his autobiography that 'The Tunnel' contained a good description of life in the Worcester Park House. Dorothy also described Hypo/HG as being a little square figure with a high, huskily hooting voice - a common voice with a cockney twang.

We shall continue for a while with HG's mistresses (or, at least, a few of them). It is difficult to fit them into any chronological narrative, since no one seems too sure of the precise dates when they were 'current' and there was some overlap.

Amber Reeves (1887-1981)

Amber was a feminist writer and scholar from New Zealand and became the model for 'Ann Veronica'. HG was a friend of her parents. The precise starting date for their physical relationship was likely to be somewhere around 1907/08 and, apparently, she gave HG the adventure and eroticism that he could not obtain at home. She wanted his child and became pregnant in 1908/09. The couple went to France to attempt a life together, but this did not work out and HG returned to Jane, whilst Amber hurriedly married lawyer George Rivers Blanco White (a boyfriend she had kept on the back burner during her relationship with HG) in May 1909. He became the father of the child (Anna Jane, born 31 December 1909) for practical purposes.

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)

Margaret Sanger in 1922
Margaret Sanger in 1922.
Image source: Library of Congress

Margaret (née Higgins) was an American birth control activist, married to William Sanger: they were divorced in 1921, after she had met HG. Their affair continued throughout the 1920s whenever she visited England, and in New York and France, even though in 1922 she had remarried.

Elizabeth von Arnim (1866-1941)

Elizabeth, a novelist, was born Mary Annette Beauchamp in Australia, but was raised in England. Her first marriage, to an Austrian count, produced five children but was unhappy and after his death in 1910 she embarked on a three-year affair with HG. She shared HG's taste for something a little different and, for example, on a trip to the Swiss Alps, they apparently made love on beds of pine needles. In 1916 she married the Second Earl Russell, elder brother of the philosopher Bertrand Russell, but that was unsuccessful and she had another affair with a man nearly 30 years her junior.

Rebecca West (1892-1983)

Rebecca West
Rebecca West.
Photo by Madame Yévonde via Wikimedia Commons

Rebecca (born Cicely Isabel Fairfield) was an author, but also a feminist and political thinker. Her affair with HG lasted from about 1913 to 1923 and they had a son, Anthony West. Their relationship continued for some time after Anthony's birth, but in 1930 Rebecca married a banker. She was created DBE in 1959.

Anthony West (born Anthony Panther West Fairfield, 1914-87) was an author and literary critic. He did not get on well with his mother, but admired HG and wrote a biography of him.

There were many other mistresses and casual affairs, but by now we can see that HG was a serial philanderer and we should return to his literary life.

More Novels and Politics

After Worcester Park HG moved to Sandgate, Kent (near Folkestone), where he had a house built by architect Charles Voysey. Apart from the health benefits of sea air, he and Jane were intending to start a family. In 1899 he published 'Love and Mr Lewisham', another novel based on his own experiences, which tells of a man who abandons his socialist political ambitions for love and loyalty.

Another work from this time was 'When the Sleeper Wakes', which first appeared as a serial and has been described as 'socially engaged science fiction': it was not particularly successful, although George Orwell was impressed, and a skim-read has persuaded me that it is odd and one to miss. HG admitted that he rushed to finish it because he needed the money.

'The Sleeper'
A 1928 American periodical featuring 'The Sleeper'.
Image source: freeread.com.au

HG was friendly with many big names of the day, including Henry James, Arnold Bennett, Joseph Conrad and George Bernard Shaw, most of whom were clients of J B Pinker. He also remained very loyal to the troubled and sickly George Gissing.

In July 1901 Jane gave birth to their first child, George Philip (known as 'Gip') and another son, Francis Richard (Frank), was born in October 1903. In between those two events 'The First Men in the Moon' came out. After the strangeness of 'Sleeper' this was a return to his previous science fiction form, although it does not bear much resemblance to the landing of the real first men in the moon just 68 years later..

The First Men in the Moon'Then Cavor switched on the electric light, and told me he proposed to bind all our luggage together with the blankets about it, against the concussion of our descent. We did this with our windows closed, because in that way our goods arranged themselves naturally at the centre of the sphere. That too was a strange business; we two men floating loose in that spherical space, and packing and pulling ropes. Imagine it if you can! No up nor down, and every effort resulting in unexpected movements. Now I would be pressed against the glass with the full force of Cavor's thrust, now I would be kicking helplessly in a void. Now the star of the electric light would be overhead, now under foot. Now Cavor's feet would float up before my eyes, and now we would be crossways to each other. But at last our goods were safely bound together in a big soft bale, all except two blankets with head holes that we were to wrap about ourselves.

Then for a flash Cavor opened a window moonward, and we saw that we were dropping towards a huge central crater with a number of minor craters grouped in a sort of cross about it. And then again Cavor flung our little sphere open to the scorching, blinding sun. I think he was using the sun's attraction as a brake. "Cover yourself with a blanket," he cried, thrusting himself from me, and for a moment I did not understand.

Then I hauled the blanket from beneath my feet and got it about me and over my head and eyes. Abruptly he closed the shutters again, snapped one open again and closed it, then suddenly began snapping them all open, each safely into its steel roller. There came a jar, and then we were rolling over and over, bumping against the glass and against the big bale of our luggage, and clutching at each other, and outside some white substance splashed as if we were rolling down a slope of snow....

Over, clutch, bump, clutch, bump, over....

Came a thud, and I was half buried under the bale of our possessions, and for a space everything was still. Then I could hear Cavor puffing and grunting, and the snapping of a shutter in its sash. I made an effort, thrust back our blanket-wrapped luggage, and emerged from beneath it. Our open windows were just visible as a deeper black set with stars.

We were still alive, and we were lying in the darkness of the shadow of the wall of the great crater into which we had fallen.'
HG at the Sandgate house, 1908
HG at the Sandgate house, 1908.
Image source: Project Gutenberg

The next book should be glossed over as quickly as possible. The star of 'The Sea Lady' was a mermaid and that is all that need be said. After that came 'The Food of the Gods and how it came to Earth', another science fiction tale and I think it is sufficient to note that a 1976 film adaptation won a Golden Turkey award for the worst rodent movie of all time.

Soon after Gip was born HG went off on his bicycle for several months, which was probably precipitated by the combination of a new baby and a career crisis. He then entered a more political phase, marked by the publication of 'Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life and Thought'. Despite the clunky title, it was hailed as a triumph. The Prophet had landed. Arguments have continued over this book. Was he being racist and fascist or was he simply predicting the advent of the Nazis? Was he or was he not anti-Semitic? HG may not have been sure himself, since he subsequently back-pedalled on some of his pronouncements. His new reputation as something of a prophet introduced him to influential political thinkers and he joined the Fabian Society, a socialist organisation.

In 1903 he was summoned urgently to Saint-Jean-Pied-de Port, at the foot of the Pyrenees, where George Gissing was dying. He stayed with his friend, ministering to him, and later used the scenario in 'Tono-Bungay'.

'And now my story converges on what, in that queer corner of refuge out of the world, was destined to be my uncle's deathbed. There is a background of the Pyrenees, of blue hills and sunlit houses, of the old castle of Luzon and a noisy cascading river, and for a foreground the dim, stuffy room whose windows both the religieuse and hostess conspired to shut, with its waxed floor, its four-poster bed, its characteristically French chairs and fireplace, its champagne bottles and dirty basins and used towels and packets of Somatose on the table. And in the sickly air of the confined space in behind the curtains of the bed lay my little uncle, with an effect of being enthroned and secluded, or sat up, or writhed and tossed in his last dealings of life. One went and drew back the edge of the curtains if one wanted to speak to him or look at him.

Usually he was propped up against pillows, because so he breathed more easily. He slept hardly at all.

I have a confused memory of vigils and mornings and afternoons spent by that bedside, and how the religieuse hovered about me, and how meek and good and inefficient she was, and how horribly black were her nails. Other figures come and go, and particularly the doctor, a young man plumply rococo, in bicycling dress, with fine waxen features, a little pointed beard, and the long black frizzy hair and huge tie of a minor poet. Bright and clear-cut and irrelevant are memories of the Basque hostess of my uncle's inn and of the family of Spanish people who entertained me and prepared the most amazingly elaborate meals for me, with soup and salad and chicken and remarkable sweets. They were all very kind and sympathetic people, systematically so.'

George Gissing
George Gissing c.1890s
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

In amongst all the politics HG completed 'Kipps', the story of a drapery assistant who inherits a small fortune and loses it. This was another hit, but it was followed by three less successful books and then, in 1909/10 he published 'Tono-Bungay', 'Ann Veronica' and 'The History of Mr Polly'.

Sarah Wells had died in 1905 and it seems that HG felt freed from censure and became more open about his sexual affairs - this was apparently when he became intimate with Dorothy Richardson. Simultaneously he was conducting relationships with two older women, writers Ella d'Arcy and Violet Hunt.

Ella d'Arcy
Ella d'Arcy.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1906 HG embarked upon a tour in the United States, and met such luminaries as President Theodore Roosevelt, Maxim Gorky, Booker T Washington and Oliver Wendell Holmes. He also (in the interests of literary research no doubt) visited a coloured brothel.

On returning home he decided to attempt a new role as pillar of the community and became a Justice of the Peace for Folkestone, but he occupied the bench infrequently and obviously decided that stolen chickens and purloined parsnips were unworthy of his intellect.

'Tono-Bungay' was semi-autobiographical and the exotic sounding title was actually a patent medicine, probably inspired by HG's days at the Midhurst pharmacy. We have already looked at 'Ann Veronica' and the scandal surrounding its publication, but here is how it went down in Hull.

H G Wells Book Banned in Hull

Mr H G Wells's 'Ann Veronica' has just been banned by the Hull Public Libraries Committee. Mr Dawson held that the book made a mockery of marriage and Canon Lambert said he would as soon send any daughter of his into a house infected with typhoid or diphtheria as give her the book.

The book was even thrown in HG's face (not literally) several years later when he appeared as a witness against Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas in a libel trial and found his morality being impugned because of this shocking tale.

'The History of Mr Polly' was a full-blown return to the comic novel and many of us will remember, if only from television showings, the film portrayal by the incomparable John Mills (1949).

Original edition
Original edition.
Image source: freeread.com.au

There are some gems in 'Mr Polly', such as these.

'Mr. Polly went into the National School at six and he left the private school at fourteen, and by that time his mind was in much the same state that you would be in, dear reader, if you were operated upon for appendicitis by a well-meaning, boldly enterprising, but rather over-worked and under-paid butcher boy, who was superseded towards the climax of the operation by a left- handed clerk of high principles but intemperate habits,-that is to say, it was in a thorough mess. The nice little curiosities and willingnesses of a child were in a jumbled and thwarted condition, hacked and cut about-the operators had left, so to speak, all their sponges and ligatures in the mangled confusion-and Mr. Polly had lost much of his natural confidence, so far as figures and sciences and languages and the possibilities of learning things were concerned.'

'His father had died suddenly-the local practitioner still clung to his theory that it was imagination he suffered from, but compromised in the certificate with the appendicitis that was then so fashionable.'

'His project was to begin the fire with the stairs that led from the ground floor to the underground kitchen and scullery. This he would soak with paraffine, and assist with firewood and paper, and a brisk fire in the coal cellar underneath. He would smash a hole or so in the stairs to ventilate the blaze, and have a good pile of boxes and paper, and a convenient chair or so in the shop above. He would have the paraffine can upset and the shop lamp, as if awaiting refilling, at a convenient distance in the scullery ready to catch. Then he would smash the house lamp on the staircase, a fall with that in his hand was to be the ostensible cause of the blaze, and then he would cut his throat at the top of the kitchen stairs, which would then become his funeral pyre. He would do all this on Sunday evening while Miriam was at church, and it would appear that he had fallen downstairs with the lamp, and been burnt to death. There was really no flaw whatever that he could see in the scheme. He was quite sure he knew how to cut his throat, deep at the side and not to saw at the windpipe, and he was reasonably sure it wouldn't hurt him very much. And then everything would be at an end.'

What came next

After 'Mr Polly' Wells was on the slide as a popular novelist, but it was largely his own fault, since he could not stop himself using his stories as vehicles for expounding his opinions on social issues and political ideas, as with this extract from 'The New Machiavelli' (1911). I include it merely to illustrate how what was ostensibly a novel did not read like one and you are welcome to skip it if you wish.

The New Machiavelli
'It gives a measure of the newness of our modern ideas of the State to remember that the very beginnings of public education lie within my father's lifetime, and that many most intelligent and patriotic people were shocked beyond measure at the State doing anything of the sort. When he was born, totally illiterate people who could neither read a book nor write more than perhaps a clumsy signature, were to be found everywhere in England; and great masses of the population were getting no instruction at all. Only a few schools flourished upon the patronage of exceptional parents; all over the country the old endowed grammar schools were to be found sinking and dwindling; many of them had closed altogether. In the new great centres of population multitudes of children were sweated in the factories, darkly ignorant and wretched and the under-equipped and under-staffed National and British schools, supported by voluntary contributions and sectarian rivalries, made an ineffectual fight against this festering darkness. It was a condition of affairs clamouring for remedies, but there was an immense amount of indifference and prejudice to be overcome before any remedies were possible.'
In that same book HG based characters on people he knew and three publishers turned it down, fearing libel actions, although none materialised in the event.

One could say about Wells that he was able to identify what had gone wrong in the past and was remarkable in predicting the future (especially in the scientific field), but his political present was idealistic, confused, inconsistent and impracticable. He did seemingly believe that he was something of a prophet and his books became pontification. The novel was changing and HG got left behind.

For example, Robert Tressell wrote 'The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists' in 1911, although it was not published until 1914. He knew how to make social comment readable, as the following extract illustrates.

Owen stood up and began walking about the room, oppressed with a kind of terror. Presently he returned to the fire and began rearranging the clothes that were drying. He found that the boots, having been placed too near the fire, had dried too quickly and consequently the sole of one of them had begun to split away from the upper: he remedied this as well as he was able and then turned the wetter parts of the clothing to the fire. Whilst doing this he noticed the newspaper, which he had forgotten, in the coat pocket. He drew it out with an exclamation of pleasure. Here was something to distract his thoughts: if not instructive or comforting, it would at any rate be interesting and even amusing to read the reports of the self-satisfied, futile talk of the profound statesmen who with comical gravity presided over the working of the Great System which their combined wisdom pronounced to be the best that could possibly be devised. But tonight Owen was not to read of those things, for as soon as he opened the paper his attention was riveted by the staring headline of one of the principal columns:

TERRIBLE DOMESTIC TRAGEDY
Wife And Two Children Killed
Suicide of the Murderer


It was one of the ordinary poverty crimes. The man had been without employment for many weeks and they had been living by pawning or selling their furniture and other possessions. But even this resource must have failed at last, and when one day the neighbours noticed that the blinds remained down and that there was a strange silence about the house, no one coming out or going in, suspicions that something was wrong were quickly aroused. When the police entered the house, they found, in one of the upper rooms, the dead bodies of the woman and the two children, with their throats severed, laid out side by side upon the bed, which was saturated with their blood. There was no bedstead and no furniture in the room except the straw mattress and the ragged clothes and blankets which formed the bed upon the floor.

The man's body was found in the kitchen, lying with outstretched arms face downwards on the floor, surrounded by the blood that had poured from the wound in his throat which had evidently been inflicted by the razor that was grasped in his right hand. No particle of food was found in the house, and on a nail in the wall in the kitchen was hung a piece of blood-smeared paper on which was written in pencil:

'This is not my crime, but society's.'

The report went on to explain that the deed must have been perpetrated during a fit of temporary insanity brought on by the sufferings the man had endured.

And 1910 had seen the publication of D H Lawrence's 'The White Peacock', which was clearly the work of a poet, something which Wells was not. Lawrence did not skate round the sexual elements of his story and it contained the following paragraphs.

But I had to give in, and bow to him, and he took on an indulgent, gentle manner. I laughed and submitted. For he knew how I admired the noble, white fruitfulness of his form. As I watched him, he stood in white relief against the mass of green. He polished his arm, holding it out straight and solid; he rubbed his hair into curls, while I watched the deep muscles of his shoulders, and the bands stand out in his neck as he held it firm; I remembered the story of Annable.

He saw I had forgotten to continue my rubbing, and laughing he took hold of me and began to rub me briskly, as if I were a child, or rather, a woman he loved and did not fear. I left myself quite limply in his hands, and, to get a better grip of me, he put his arm round me and pressed me against him, and the sweetness of the touch of our naked bodies one against the other was superb. It satisfied in some measure the vague, indecipherable yearning of my soul; and it was the same with him. When he had rubbed me all warm, he let me go, and we looked at each other with eyes of still laughter, and our love was perfect for a moment, more perfect than any love I have known since, either for man or woman.

Somerset Maugham already had several novels under his belt and 'Of Human Bondage' appeared in 1915. Arnold Bennett and Joseph Conrad were still writing successfully at this time, but HG did not keep up and seemed to be off in a world of his own in literary terms.

The First World War changed literature forever and a new wave of novelists emerged, such as Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis and Virginia Woolf. The comic novel genre became the preserve of writers such as P G Wodehouse, E F Benson and Evelyn Waugh.

Although he continued to have big sellers, notably for his non-fiction work 'The Outline of History' (1920), the only other really famous novel that HG wrote was 'The Shape of Things to Come' (1933), in which he predicted the outbreak of the Second World War and speculated on the aftermath far into the future. It is not remotely novel-like and I will spare you an excerpt. As G K Chesterton once said of HG's later offerings, 'Mr. Wells is a born storyteller who has sold his birthright for a pot of message'.

Epilogue

In his declining years HG, who was diabetic, became a co-founder of the charity that is now Diabetes UK; he continued to expound his theories, but found little support for them. His death occurred at his home in Regent's Park (13 Hanover Terrace) on 13 August 1946, either from cancer or a heart attack.

Blue plaque at 13 Hanover Terrace
Blue plaque at 13 Hanover Terrace.
Photo by David Nicholls via flickr.com

George Philip Wells (Gip) was something of a chip off the old block, becoming a zoologist specialising in comparative physiology and an author. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1955 and died in 1985. Francis Richard Wells, who died in 1982, was also an author and had an involvement in film production.

Linda Jackson
May 2013


Sources:
'H G Wells, Another Kind of Life' by Michael Sherborne (Peter Owen 2010)
Notes compiled by G R Crawford, deposited at Bourne Hall
Where an image is not credited in the text it is from either Wikimedia Commons or freeread.com.au (freeread.com.au material originates from Roy Glashan's Library and Project Gutenberg).


HV Usill
HV Usill
Jimmy Page
Jimmy Page
Page Family
Page Family
TH Snow
TH Snow
JA Larby
JA Larby
J Harrison
J Harrison
Foundlings
Foundlings
Nonsuch Mansion
Nonsuch Mansion
New Stables
New Stables