Wells, H(erbert) G(eorge)

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WELLS, H(erbert) G(eorge)

Nationality: English. Born: Bromley, Kent, 21 September 1866. Education: Mr. Morley's Bromley Academy until age 13: certificate in book-keeping; apprentice draper, Rodgers and Denyer, Windsor, 1880; pupil-teacher at a school in Wookey, Somerset, 1880; apprentice chemist in Midhurst, Sussex, 1880-81; apprentice draper, Hyde's Southsea Drapery Emporium, Hampshire, 1881-83; student/assistant, Midhurst Grammar School, 1883-84; studied at Normal School (now Imperial College) of Science, London (editor, Science School Journal), 1884-87; University of London, B. Sc. (honors) in zoology 1890, and D. Sc. 1943. Family: Married 1) his cousin Isabel Mary Wells in 1891 (separated 1894; divorced 1895); 2) Amy Catherine Robbins in 1895 (died 1927), two sons; had one daughter by Amber Reeves, and one son by Rebecca West, the writer Anthony West. Career: Teacher, Holt Academy, Wrexham, Wales, 1887-88; teacher, Henley House School, Kilburn, London, 1889; tutor, University Tutorial College, London, 1890-93; full-time writer from 1893; theater critic, Pall Mall Gazette, London, 1895; Labour candida te for Parliament, for the University of London, 1922, 1923. Lived mainly in France, 1924-33. International president, PEN, 1934-46. Awards: D. Lit.: University of London, 1936. Honorary fellow, Imperial College of Science and Technology, London. Member: Fabian Society, 1903-08. Died: 13 August 1946.


Short Stories

The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents. 1895.

Select Conversations with an Uncle (Now Extinct), and Two Other Reminiscences. 1895.

The Plattner Story and Others. 1897.

Thirty Strange Stories. 1897.

Tales of Space and Time. 1899.

A Cure for Love (story). 1899.

The Vacant Country (story). 1899.

Twelve Stories and a Dream. 1903.

The Country of the Blind and Other Stories. 1911; revised edition of The Country of the Blind, 1939.

The Door in the Wall and Other Stories. 1911.

Tales of the Unexpected [of Life and Adventure, of Wonder], edited by J.D. Beresford. 3 vols., 1922-23.

Short Stories. 1927.

The Shape of Things to Come: The Ultimate Resolution. 1933; revised edition, as Things to Come (film story), 1935.

Man Who Could Work Miracles (film story). 1936.

28 Science Fiction Stories. 1952.

Selected Short Stories. 1958.

The Valley of Spiders. 1964.

The Cone. 1965.

Best Science Fiction Stories. 1966.

The Man with the Nose and Other Uncollected Short Stories, edited by J. R. Hammond. 1984.

The Complete Short Stories. 1987.


The Time Machine: An Invention. 1895; edited by Harry M. Geduld, 1987.

The Wonderful Visit. 1895.

The Island of Dr. Moreau. 1896.

The Wheels of Chance. 1896.

The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance. 1897.

The War of the Worlds. 1898; revised edition, edited by David Y. Hughes and Harry M. Geduld, 1993.

When the Sleeper Wakes: A Story of the Years to Come. 1899; revised edition, as The Sleeper Wakes, 1910.

Love and Mr. Lewisham. 1900.

The First Men in the Moon. 1901; revised edition with an introduction by Leon E. Stover, 1997.

The Sea Lady: A Tissue of Moonshine. 1902.

The Food of the Gods, and How It Came to Earth. 1904.

A Modern Utopia. 1905.

Kipps. 1905.

In the Days of the Comet. 1906.

The War in the Air, and Particularly How Mr. Bert Smallways Fared While It Lasted. 1908.

Tono-Bungay. 1908; edited by Bernard Bergonzi, 1966.

Ann Veronica. 1909.

The History of Mr. Polly. 1910; edited by Gordon N. Ray, 1960.

The New Machiavelli. 1911.

Marriage. 1912.

The Passionate Friends. 1913.

The World Set Free: A Story of Mankind. 1914.

The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman. 1914.

Boon. 1915.

Bealby. 1915.

The Research Magnificent. 1915.

Mr. Britling Sees It Through. 1916.

The Soul of a Bishop. 1917.

Joan and Peter. 1918.

The Undying Fire. 1919.

The Secret Places of the Heart. 1922.

Men Like Gods. 1923.

The Dream. 1924.

Christina Alberta's Father. 1925.

The World of William Clissold. 1926.

Meanwhile: The Picture of a Lady. 1927.

Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island. 1928.

The King Who Was a King: The Book of a Film. 1929.

The Autocracy of Mr. Parham. 1930.

The Bulpington of Blup. 1932.

The Croquet Player. 1936.

Star Begotten: A Biological Fantasia. 1937.

Brynhild. 1937.

The Camford Visitation. 1937.

The Brothers. 1938.

Apropos of Dolores. 1938.

The Holy Terror. 1939.

Babes in the Darkling Wood. 1940.

All Aboard for Ararat. 1940.

You Can't Be Too Careful: A Sample of Life 1901-1951. 1941.

The Wealth of Mr. Waddy, edited by Harris Wilson. 1969.


Kipps, with Rudolf Besier, from the novel by Wells (produced1912).

The Wonderful Visit, with St. John Ervine, from the novel by Wells (produced 1921).

Hoopdriver's Holiday, from his novel The Wheels of Chance, edited by Michael Timko. 1964.

The Prophetic Soul: A Reading of Wells's Things to Come, Together with His Film Treatment Whither Mankind and the Postproduction Script, by Leon Stover. 1987.


H. G. Wells Comedies (Bluebottles, The Tonic, Daydreams), with Frank Wells, 1928; Things to Come, 1936; The Man Who Could Work Miracles, with Lajos Biro, 1936.


Text-Book of Biology. 2 vols., 1893.

Honours Physiography, with R.A. Gregory. 1893.

Certain Personal Matters: A Collection of Material, Mainly Autobiographical. 1897.

Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought. 1901.

The Discovery of the Future (lecture). 1902; revised edition, 1925.

Mankind in the Making. 1903.

The Future in America: A Search after Realities. 1906.

Faults of the Fabian (lecture). 1906.

Socialism and the Family. 1906.

Reconstruction of the Fabian Society. 1906.

This Misery of Boots. 1907.

Will Socialism Destroy the Home? 1907.

New Worlds for Old. 1908; revised edition, 1914.

First and Last Things: A Confession of Faith and Rule of Life.1908; revised edition, 1917.

Floor Games (for children). 1911.

The Labour Unrest. 1912.

War and Common Sense. 1913.

Liberalism and Its Party. 1913.

Little Wars (children's games). 1913.

An Englishman Looks at the World, Being a Series of Unrestrained Remarks upon Contemporary Matters. 1914; as Social Forces in England and America, 1914.

The War That Will End War. 1914; reprinted in part as The War and Socialism, 1915.

The Peace of the World. 1915.

What Is Coming? A Forecast of Things after the War. 1916.

The Elements of Reconstruction. 1916.

War and the Future. 1917; as Italy, France, and Britain at War, 1917.

God the Invisible King. 1917.

A Reasonable Man's Peace. 1917.

In the Fourth Year: Anticipations of a World Peace. 1918; abridged edition, as Anticipations of a World Peace, 1918.

British Nationalism and the League of Nations. 1918.

History Is One. 1919.

The Outline of History, Being a Plain History of Life and Mankind.2 vols., 1920 (and later revisions). Russia in the Shadows. 1920.

The Salvaging of Civilisation. 1921.

The New Teaching of History, with a Reply to Some Recent Criticisms of The Outline of History. 1921.

Washington and Hope of Peace. 1922; as Washington and the Riddle of Peace, 1922.

The World, Its Debts, and the Rich Men. 1922.

A Short History of the World. 1922; revised edition, 1946.

Socialism and the Scientific Motive (lecture). 1923.

The Story of a Great Schoolmaster, Being a Plain Account of the Life and Ideas of Sanderson of Oundle. 1924.

The P.R. Parliament. 1924.

A Year of Prophesying. 1924.

Works (Atlantic Edition). 28 vols., 1924.

A Forecast of the World's Affairs. 1925.

Works (Essex Edition). 24 vols., 1926-27.

Mr. Belloc Objects to The Outline of History. 1926.

Democracy under Revision (lecture). 1927.

Wells' Social Anticipations, edited by H. W. Laidler. 1927.

In Memory of Amy Catherine Wells. 1927.

The Way the World Is Going: Guesses and Forecasts of the Years Ahead. 1928.

The Open Conspiracy: Blue Prints for a World Revolution. 1928; revised edition, 1930; revised edition, as What Are We to Do with Our Lives?, 1931.

The Common Sense of World Peace (lecture). 1929.

Imperialism and the Open Conspiracy. 1929.

The Adventures of Tommy (for children). 1929.

The Science of Life: A Summary of Contemporary Knowledge about Life and Its Possibilities, with Julian Huxley and G. P. Wells. 3 vols., 1930; revised edition, as Science of Life Series, 9 vols., 1934-37.

The Problem of the Troublesome Collaborator. 1930.

Settlement of the Trouble Between Mr. Thring and Mr. Wells: A Footnote to The Problem of the Troublesome Collaborator. 1930.

The Way to World Peace. 1930.

The Work, Wealth, and Happiness of Mankind. 2 vols., 1931; revised edition, 1934; as The Outline of Man's Work and Wealth, 1936.

After Democracy: Addresses and Papers on the Present World Situation. 1932.

What Should Be Done Now? 1932.

Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain (since 1866). 2 vols., 1934.

Stalin-Wells Talk: The Verbatim Record, and A Discussion with others. 1934.

The New America: The New World. 1935.

The Anatomy of Frustration: A Modern Synthesis. 1936.

The Idea of a World Encylopaedia. 1936.

World Brain. 1938.

Travels of a Republican Radical in Search of Hot Water. 1939.

The Fate of Homo Sapiens: An Unemotional Statement of the Things That Are Happening to Him Now and of the Immediate Possibilities Confronting Him. 1939; as The Fate of Man, 1939.

The New World Order, Whether It Is Obtainable, How It Can Be Obtained, and What Sort of World a World at Peace Will Have to Be. 1940.

The Rights of Man; or, What Are We Fighting For? 1940.

The Common Sense of War and Peace: World Revolution or War Unending? 1940.

The Pocket History of the World. 1941.

Guide to the New World: A Handbook of Constructive World Revolution. 1941.

The Outlook for Homo Sapiens (revised versions of The Fate of Homo Sapiens and The New World Order). 1942.

Science and the World-Mind. 1942.

Phoenix: A Summary of the Inescapable Conditions of World Reorganization. 1942.

A Thesis on the Quality of Illusion in the Continuity of Individual Life of the Higher Metazoa, with Particular Reference to the Species Homo Sapiens. 1942.

The Conquest of Time. 1942.

The New Rights of Man. 1942.

Crux Ansata: An Indictment of the Roman Catholic Church. 1943.

The Mosley Outrage. 1943.

'42 to '44: A Contemporary Memoir upon Human Behaviour During the Crisis of the World Revolution. 1944.

Marxism vs. Liberalism (interview with Stalin). 1945.

The Happy Turning: A Dream of Life. 1945.

Mind at the End of Its Tether. 1945.

Mind at the End of Its Tether, and The Happy Turning. 1945.

The Desert Daisy (for children), edited by Gordon N. Ray. 1957.

Henry James and Wells: A Record of Their Friendship, Their Debate on the Art of Fiction, and Their Quarrel, edited by Leon Edel and Gordon N. Ray. 1958.

Arnold Bennett and Wells: A Record of a Personal and Literary Friendship, edited by Harris Wilson. 1960.

George Gissing and Wells: Their Friendship and Correspondence, edited by R. A. Gettmann. 1961.

Journalism and Prophecy 1893-1946, edited by W. WarrenWagar. 1964; abridged edition, 1965.

Early Writings in Science and Science Fiction, edited by Robert M. Philmus and David Y. Hughes. 1975.

Literary Criticism, edited by Patrick Parrinder and Robert M. Philmus. 1980.

Wells in Love: A Postscript to An Experiment in Autobiography, edited by G. P. Wells. 1984.

The Discovery of the Future, with The Common-Sense of World Peace and The Human Adventure, edited by Patrick Parrinder. 1989.

The Science Fiction. 1995.

The Correspondence of H. G. Wells, edited by David C. Smith . 1998.

Editor, with G. R. S. Taylor and Frances Evelyn Warwick, The

Great State: Essays in Construction. 1912; as Socialism and the Great State, 1914.



Wells: A Comprehensive Bibliography, 1966, revised edition, 1968; Wells: An Annotated Bibliography of His Works by J. R. Hammond, 1977.

Critical Studies:

The World of Wells by Van Wyck Brooks, 1915; Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown by Virginia Woolf, 1924; Wells by Norman Nicholson, 1950; Wells: A Biography by Vincent Brome, 1951; The Early Wells: A Study of the Scientific Romances by Bernard Bergonzi, 1961, and Wells: A Collection of Critical Essays edited by Bergonzi, 1976; Wells: An Outline by F. K. Chaplin, 1961; Wells and the World State by W. Warren Wagar, 1961; Wells and His Critics by Ingvald Raknem, 1962; The Life and Thought of Wells by Julius Kargalitsky, 1966; The Future as Nightmare: Wells and the Anti-Utopians by Mark R. Hillegas, 1967; Wells by Richard Hauer, 1967, revised edition, 1985; Wells: His Turbulent Life and Times by Lovat Dickson, 1969; essay in A Soviet Heretic by Yevgeny Zamyatin, 1970; Wells by Patrick Parrinder, 1970, and Wells: The Critical Heritage edited by Parrinder, 1972; The Time Traveller: The Life of Wells by Norman and Jeanne MacKenzie, 1973, as Wells: A Biography, 1973, revised edition, as The Life of Wells, 1987; Wells: Critic of Progress by Jack Williamson, 1973; Wells and Rebecca West by Gordon N. Ray, 1974; The Scientific Romances of Wells by Stephen Gill, 1975; Anatomies of Egotism: A Reading of the Last Novels of Wells by Robert Bloom, 1977; Wells and Modern Science Fiction edited by Darko Suvin and Robert M. Philmus, 1977; Wells: A Pictorial Biography by Frank Wells, 1977; The Wells Scrapbook edited by Peter Haining, 1978; Who's Who in Wells by Brian Ash, 1979; An H. G. Wells Companion, 1979, and Wells and the Modern Novel, 1988, both by J. R. Hammond, and Wells: Interviews and Recollections, edited by Hammond, 1980; Wells, Discoverer of the Future: The Influence of Science on His Thought by Roslynn D. Haynes, 1980; The Science Fiction of Wells: A Concise Guide by P. H. Niles, 1980; The Science Fiction of Wells by Frank McConnell, 1981; Wells and the Culminating Ape: Biological Themes and Imaginative Obsessions by Peter Kemp, 1982; The Logic of Fantasy: Wells and Science Fiction by John Huntington, 1982; The Natural History of Wells by John R. Reed, 1982; Wells by Robert Crossley, 1984; Wells: Aspects of a Life by Anthony West, 1984; The Splintering Frame: The Later Fiction of Wells by William J. Scheick, 1984; Wells by John Batchelor, 1985; Wells: Desperately Mortal: A Biography by David Smith, 1986; Wells: Reality and Beyond edited by Michael Mullin, 1986; Wells by Michael Draper, 1987; Bennett, Wells, and Conrad: Narrative in Transition by Linda R. Anderson, 1988; Wells by Christopher Martin, 1988; Wells under Revision by Patrick Parrinder and Christopher Rolfe, 1990; The Invisible Man: The Life and Liberties of Wells by Michael Coren, 1992; Shadows of the Future: H. G. Wells, Science Fiction and Prophecy by Patrick Parrinder, 1995; Hidden and Visible Suffrage: Emancipation and the Edwardian Woman in Galsworthy, Wells, and Forster by Anne Holden Rønning, 1995; Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells by Bernard Shaw, 1995; H. G.: The History of Mr. Wells by Michael Foot, 1995; H. G. Wells in West Sussex by Martin O'Neill, 1996.

* * *

One of the most prolific writers of the twentieth century, H. G. Wells produced in just over 50 years a body of work that includes more than 40 novels; political, sociological, and philosophical treatises; textbooks and histories; autobiographies and biographies; journalism and letters; as well as his scientific romances and some 70 short stories. The most artistically fruitful period of his career spans the first 15 years, during which time he wrote his best short fiction such as The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, and almost all of his collections of short stories. Critics generally agree that his highest literary achievement remains the scientific romances. By 1911 Wells largely abandoned telling a story merely for its own sake; the fiction became less entertaining as it gradually took on a blatantly didactic tone.

Though generously laced with humor, the short stories are usually pessimistic—a consequence of Wells's being both a true product and a reflection of his times. Growing up in the Victorian age as the son of an impecunious father whose business failed and an ambitious mother who did everything possible to keep the family solvent, including entering service, Wells knew firsthand the trials and tribulations of the "little man" who tries to make it on his own in the world. This type became a fixture in Wells's fiction. Having been educated as a scientist and trained in biological disciplines under Thomas Huxley, Wells fell under the influence of the prevailing theories of the age, especially Darwinian evolution as applied both to the natural world and social structures. This led to a dismal view of human destiny, with humankind hopeless in the face of social and cosmic forces beyond its control.

The themes that occupied Wells throughout his career first appeared in the short stories. He saw nightmare visions of an apocalyptic war, after which a world state would emerge. Though Wells had hopes for such a state, he also feared its inherent dangers. He saw the possibilities of the emergence of a totalitarian state, which he vigorously condemned. Wells recognized that dangers for humanity come from within and without; though outside forces may conspire to annihilate humankind, humans have the potential to destroy themselves, especially through an innate tendency to deceive themselves by thinking they are safe. In order for the world to survive, humans must evolve into a higher, more intelligent being. With this in mind Wells portrays in several stories the striking contrast between human "bestial" tendencies and the civilizing process of education.

But Wells perceives even in learning hidden perils. He warns his readers to be careful of science, which when used improperly can lead to amorality through obsessive solipsistic behavior. Wells also sees danger for humanity in humans' aspirations, especially if used as a means of escape from reality.

It is no wonder, then, that a recurring motif in Wells's fiction, as Robert P. Weeks has noted, revolves around his characters' need to escape, to disentangle themselves from the complexities and circumstances of their lives. While this motif manifests itself most obviously in the scientific romances and comic novels, it also runs through a majority of the short stories in one way or another. On a basic level, in "The Purple Pileus," Mr. Coombes, sick of life, his business, and his unpleasant wife, decides to end it all by eating poisonous mushrooms. Instead the fungi transform him into a man enraged. He eventually takes control of his life, only to fall into another trap: complacency. Other characters seek relief from the quotidian only to be destroyed or to see their situations worsen: the nameless little man of "The Beautiful Suit," the morbidly obese protagonist of "The Truth about Pyecroft," as well as the eponymous heroes of "Filmer" and "The Plattner Story."

As a consequence of an accident connected with a scientific experiment, Gottfried Plattner disappears for days into a parallel universe inhabited by spirits of the dead, only to return as a mirror image of himself with all external features and internal organs transposed. Other stories that explore parallel worlds include "The Stolen Body," "Mr. Skelmersdale in Fairyland," "In the Abyss," "Under the Knife," "The Crystal Egg," and "The Remarkable Case of Davidson's Eyes." Rejection of this parallel world and the opportunities it offers can ultimately lead to death, as it does for Lionel Wallace in "The Door in the Wall."

As a child Wallace once opened a door to a secret garden of delights but elected to return to this world. The door appeared to him at various times, always when he had to choose between the promise beyond the door and the task at hand. By always choosing the latter, Wallace becomes famous, yet always discontent. One night he seeks and finds the door, only to walk through it and fall to his death in a construction pit. Here Wallace's decision to escape has fatal consequences.

Wells pursued his favorite themes in various subgenres of the short story: the adventure tale ("The Flying Man"); tales of magic and the occult ("The Magic Shop," "The Red Room," "The Inexperienced Ghost"); prophecies ("A Dream of Armageddon," "The Land Ironclads," "Argonauts of the Air"); social comedies ("My First Aeroplane," "The Hammerpond Park Burglary"); romances ("The Jilting of Jane," "In the Modern Vein: An Unpopular Love Story"); anti-utopian warnings ("A Story of the Stone Age," "A Story of the Days to Come"); and tales of menace ("In the Avu Observatory," "The Empire of the Ants," "Aepornys Island," "The Sea Raiders," "The Star"). Many even see Wells's stories as parables.

The characters who people Wells's stories are usually stylized caricatures or comic creations. He normally puts commonplace, dull characters in extraordinary situations and lets the external events rather than internal motives propel the plot. Very few women appear as characters in Wells's stories. Instead his favorite heroes are men destroyed by their obsessions ("The Lord of the Dynamos," "The Moth"), often perverted scientists ("The Stolen Bacillus," "Slip Under the Microscope").

Wells's style is as uncomplicated as his characters. He preferred a straightforward style with minimal extraneous material. He includes very few country landscape descriptions, though his realistic, accurate portrayals of London and its environs in the scientific romances make the tales credible. Wells excels in his manipulation of the reader through skillful narrational techniques, especially his use of details.

In his explanations of his characters' more bizarre adventures, Wells includes just enough detail to make his premise plausible. He manages to conceal logical objections to improbable inventions and situations by reverting to a scientifically precise, detached tone. Wells's readers willingly enter into a pact with the narrator to suspend their disbelief during the telling of the tale.

Wells did not succumb to his contemporary Henry James and his theory of narration with its insistence on "showing" rather than "telling." Instead he preferred an obtrusive, Victorian storyteller who often called attention to himself and the very process of narration. By establishing early on his firsthand knowledge either of the characters and/or events and then quickly taking the reader into his confidence, Wells's narrator makes a potentially improbably story believable. He also makes it interesting.

Wells believed that the most important trait in a narrator should be imagination; therefore he bestowed on his storytellers all of the wealth of his own inventive resourcefulness. The sense of urgency and immediacy in his early works builds the suspense that attracts and sustains the reader's attention. Unfortunately as his later works, especially the "idea" novels, became more didactic in spirit and tone, they lost the spontaneity and appeal of the short stories and scientific romances. Wells's early works not only established his reputation as a writer but secured it for posterity.

—Christine A. Rydel

See the essays on "The Country of the Blind" and "The Stolen Bacillus."