“Our true nationality is mankind” – H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells Biography
H.G. Wells was an English author whose literary career began in the late 19th century and lasted nearly until his death in 1946. He was considered one of the most prescient of thinkers and writers and his list of hits and misses is impressive.
Consider some of these predictions:
- He envisioned that trains and cars would result in the dispersion of populations from the cities to the suburbs.
- He anticipated the sexual revolution;
- The development of a European Union;
- The defeat of German militarism
- Genetic engineering
- Biological warfare
- The atomic bomb, and
- The moon landing.
Wells also anticipated a number of technological inventions that we now take for granted, including:
- Heat rays
- Wireless wrist intercoms
- A precursor to cellphones
- Automatic doors
- Escalators and walk belts
- Armored vehicles, and
Despite his amazing imaginative foresight, Wells wasn’t infallible. He also anticipated some events and developments that either have not occurred or occurred in time frames far different from his expectations.
Wells believed that air travel and use of airplanes in warfare was viable but would occur at a much later date. He also thought that submarines would do nothing more than suffocate their crews and founder at sea. Despite using invisibility as the center point of one of his more famous science fiction novels, The Invisible Man, humans still are not able to become, “no more opaque than water”. And we do not yet have the ability to time travel and neither have humans and alien beings engaged in warfare.
Wells’ prediction on the demise of the medium of the newspaper was premature. He anticipated a ‘”new order’ where newspapers would be dead and instead we’d ‘ring up N.E.W.S. on our telephones’ and ‘listen in to a summary of what has happened in the last 2 – hours.’”
H. G. Wells was born Herbert George Wells on 21st September 1866 in Kent, England, to Joseph and Sarah Wells. Joseph had been a gardener, professional cricket player, and shop keeper of little success and Sarah had been a domestic. H. G. had two older brothers and a sister who unfortunately died in childhood.
Joseph Wells’ cricket career ended with a broken leg and his shopkeeper income was too little to support the family. Herbert and his two brothers were apprenticed to various industries to help with the family finances. H. G. spent time as apprentice to a draper, working a thirteen-hour day and sleeping in a dormitory. As the family’s financial situation worsened, Sarah returned to work as a live-in lady’s maid, effectively ending a turbulent marriage with Joseph and they lived separately for the remainder of their lives.
H. G.’s career as a draper was a failure but he would eventually complete his education. Wells received a scholarship to the Normal School of Science, now part of the Imperial College London. He studied biology, physics, astronomy, and chemistry and he helped establish the Royal College of Science Association.
A voracious reader from childhood, Wells also had begun writing and published his first short story about time travel, The Chronic Argonauts, in college. By 1895, Wells had become a literary sensation with the publication of The Time Machine. This novel explored not only the concept of time travel but also class conflict and evolution. He would incorporate those themes in later works as well.
Today, Wells is sometimes referred to as the Man Who Invented Tomorrow and as one of the Fathers of Science Fiction. In this genre, he is well-known for a series of futuristic books which were published in quick succession following The Time Machine. They included: The Island of Doctor Moreau in 1896, The Invisible Man in 1897, and War of the Worlds in 1898.
Although the predominant themes of each of these novels is futuristic, the themes are also layered with Wells’ exploration of eugenics in The Island of Doctor Moreau, darkly personal transformation in The Invisible Man, and the mass panic response that ensues from an alien invasion in War of the Worlds.
Wells’ writing was not confined to science fiction subjects though. His body of work included comedies, history, essays exploring social issues, science, economic globalization, politics, militarism, and an ongoing concern about the disparity of income and the social classes.
He wrote a series of Utopian novels in which he envisioned a world endangered by catastrophic conditions or events. In this series, some of the conditions he created would come to pass such as the destruction of cities by aerial bombs as would happen in World War I, and the rise of fascism which would precede World War II. His book The Shape of Things to Come predicted the outbreak of the second World War.
Socially, politically and spiritually, Wells followed his own path. He considered his views socialistic and was, for a short time, a member of The Fabian Society whose purpose was to “advance the principles of socialism via gradualist and reformist means”. Wells also ran, unsuccessfully, as a Labor Party candidate in 1922 and 1923. He was a proponent of universal human rights but was a bitter opponent of Zionism. Wells would eventually apologize to Chaim Weizmann for his anti-Zionist statements.
Wells was widely traveled and included in his later travels meetings with the diversely political leaders Joseph Stalin and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He wrote about religion and his concept of God not based upon the traditional religions of the world. Wells considered himself neither atheist nor Buddhist, nor Mohammedan nor Christian.
H. G. Wells was married twice but neither of his marriages lasted. He favored an open marriage and was considered a free thinker about sex and sexuality. He had numerous affairs throughout his marriages and his life. Wells and his second wife had two children together and he also had a son with his lover, feminist author Rebecca West.
Late in his life, Wells would become increasingly pessimistic. He referred to the period leading up to World War II as “The Age of Frustration” in his final book, published in 1945 – Mind at the End of its Tether. Wells died on 13th August, 1946, at his home in London, of unspecified causes. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea.
Although H. G. Wells was a prolific and diverse author and visionary, he may best be recognized today for his science fiction novels, The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine. They have both been transformed into a number of movies but probably the most powerful interpretation of the latter is the famous radio production that aired on 31st October, 1938.
Actor and director Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre performers dramatized the story so realistically that the broadcast reportedly created widespread panic. The panic may be more the result of journalistic sensationalism but the panic myth, and H. G. Wells’ legacy survive.