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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

"H. G. Wells" by Lovat Dickson

This is a biography of the writer of science fiction novels such as The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, and The Invisible Man, of 'serious' novels such as Kipps, The History of Mr Polly, and Love and Mr Lewisham, of a History of the world and many, many more books. Starting life as the son of ex-servants (told of in Tono-Bungay), failing to impress as a draper's apprentice, a chemist's apprentice, and a draper's apprentice (again), then failing as a teacher because his cousin the headmaster had "forged the necessary references and documents to obtain the position", enduring grinding poverty as a student, he became a lifelong socialist. Wells sparred with George Bernard Shaw and the Webbs before leaving the Fabians; later he interviewed both Lenin and Stalin. The private life of Dickson's "lusty, whoring, meat-eating, tubby hero" was scandalous, leaving his first wife to run away with the woman who became his second, then engineering a marriage that left him free to have affairs (he wasn't the only one: children's novelist Edith Nesbit lived among many children fathered by her husband - and their mothers), including fathering novelist and historian Anthony West on his long-standing lover, author Rebecca West (who wrote The Return of the Solider). Novels reflecting his advocacy of free love proved rather difficult even for a world famous author to publish in the years before the First World War. This book makes the point that we sometimes see the First World War as the watershed, after which the old order could no longer stand, but change was occurring before then. "Antagonisms between classes, between generations, even between the sexes, were expressing themselves in strikes and lockouts, in lack of sympathy between social classes, in women's struggle for emancipation, in political uncertainties. A new order was evolving, making the young impatient to inherit their destiny, and the old grimly reluctant to yield up authority." (C 12)

He was incredibly influential. "Test him for prophetic accuracy at any point, and he is nearly always right." (C 19). One book, The World Set Free, with its prediction of atomic warfare written in 1913, so horrified Leo Szilard that when he sought to patent his idea of a nuclear chain reaction he assigned the patent to the British Admiralty in order that it might be kept secret.

Yet somehow this biography failed to enthrall me. It virtually ignored some of his most famous works, such as The Invisible Man, concentrating instead on charting the development of his ideas in some of his later works. I was sometimes confused by the chronology. There were moments when episodes in the books were linked with real life experiences, and it is clear that Wells frequently turned friends and acquaintances (and enemies) into characters, but I still wanted more about the writing and less about the life. Perhaps I am being unrealistic. Perhaps I should read a literary evaluation rather than a biography.

Some more great lines:

  • "if an angel were to appear on earth, somebody would be sure to shoot it." (C 5)
  • "Jealousy and possessiveness are the natural accompaniment of any love affair" (C 6)
  • "the heaven Wells dreamed of in 1900 bears a distinct resemblance to the 1984 hell imagined half a century later by George Orwell." (C 7)
  • "The Christian Christ is too fine for him; he had no petty weaknesses." (C 9)
  • "He saw all the scandal as emanating from the Old Gang in the Fabian Society - not surprisingly, since he had succeeded in seducing the daughters of two of its most eminent members" (C 11)
  • "part of the price for such a misdemeanour has to be paid by those who have not drunk the wine and eaten the cake." (C 11)
  • "Self-sacrifice is a dream and self-restraint a delusion." (C 11)
  • "He was not powerless against the surge of sex so much as seeking it ... as a sensual release to a mind overburdened by thought." (C 12)
  • "Popular newspapers inclined the popular mind to the persuasion that just outside their humdrum lives drama impended." (C13) Panem et circenses I suppose.
  • "Sex had got out of the pages of daring novels and into the bed of the common man" (C 16)
  • "It was a poor time for prophets, since all of them must be Cassandras." (C 18)

October 2018; 317 pages

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