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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

Sunday, 29 September 2019

"H.G. The History of Mr Wells" by Michael Foot

I suppose that I should have expected that Michael Foot, once leader of the British Labour Party, should write a biography of H G Wells in which his politics are given far more prominence than his novels. Although H G Wells is principally remembered now for his science fiction classics of The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and the War of the Worlds, these barely receive a mention in Foot's biography. Of far more interest to Foot is the development of Wells's socialism, his battles with the Fabian society and George Bernard Shaw, his defence of free speech, and his journalism. The science fiction is barely quoted but novels such as Tono-Bungay, which describe social conditions, are. Of especial interest is the development of Wells's feminist ideas from his early sympathy with his mother, worn down through drudgery, to his youthful advocacy of free love (he swiftly divorced his first wife following an affair with the woman who became his second; he then had affairs with many other women including author Rebecca West who wrote the brilliant The Return of the Soldier  - her son writer Anthony West is Wells's son - and Maura who told Somerset Maugham that she liked Wells because “his body smelt of honey"; C 10), to a review of one of his books which Foot quotes for several pages which changed his opinions and the way he portrayed women in his books. I am not saying that socialism and feminism and politics were not extraordinarily important to Wells but I am suggesting that this highly-prolific writer must have spent a large part of every day involved in the craft of writing and something more about how this side of his life would have been welcome.

Frankly I preferred the biography by Lovat Dickson; it was better balanced. 

Nevertheless, Foot manages to convey the extraordinary qualities of HG. There are extensive quotes of Wells himself:

  • The world has forgotten now the hate and bitterness of disappointed parentage.” (C 1)
  • All over Europe and America youths and maidens ... were being caught helplessly young and jammed for life into laborious, tedious, uninteresting and hopeless employments [and] being denied the most healthy and delightful of freedoms of mutual entertainment [ie sex]” (C 2)
  • There were millions of young people in the world in the same state of sexual suspension and unrest as myself, quite unable to free themselves sweetly and honestly from these entangling preoccupations.” (C 2) I love the phrase 'entangling preoccupations' - a perfect double entendre
  • Patriotism is not a thing which flourishes in the void - one needs a foreigner.” (C 3)
  • Having permitted the child to come into existence, public policy and the older standard of justice alike demand ... that it must be fed, cherished, and educated not merely up to a respectable minimum but to the full height of its possibilities.” (C 3)
  • The Christian states of today are, as a matter of fact, engaged in slave-breeding. The chief result, though of course not the intention, of the activities of priest and moralist to-day in these matters, is to renew a vast multitude of little souls into this world, for whom there is neither sufficient food nor love nor schools, nor any prospect at all in life but the insufficient bread of servitude. It is a result that endears religion and purity to the sweating employer.” (C 3)
  • Through all the world go our children, our sons the old world has made into servile clerks and shopmen, plough drudges and servants; our daughters who were erst anaemic drudges, prostitutes, sluts, anxiety-racked mothers, or sere, repining failures.” (C 3)

Other great moments:

  • ‘When Adam delved and Eve span/ who was then the gentleman?’ All the real work was done by Adam and Eve; and the gentleman, if he existed at all, all was a parasite. And when he first heard the couplet ... it is hard to believe that he did not see Adam as his wayward, unlucky, but still inspirational garden-addicted father and Eve as his broken, shamefully overworked mother.” (C 1)
  • In The World Set Free Wells “seized upon some recent highly tentative revelations about the splitting of the atom and transformed them into a full-scale description of what an atom-bomb war might entail ... fearful as the explosions might be, the subsequent ineradicable effects of the radiation might be even more fearful ... terrorists could carry their world-destructive potions in suitcases.” (C 5)
  • An arrangement was made that they should meet in Ragusa ... and depart together afterwards for a honeymoon without the formalities.” (C 9)
  • His book [The Autocracy of Mr Parham by H G Wells] showed ... how the English parliament might be closed down as easily as Mussolini had performed the feat in Rome.” (C 9)
  • All American presidents speak the language of Thomas Paine, although few of them know it.” (C 9)
  • He likened the thought processes of the British Communist Party to that of the Roman Catholic Church, much to the fury of both.” (C 10)
  • A few of his latter-day critics ... called him a misogynist ... It seems that this strange notion may have been unloosed by Malcolm Muggeridge in one of his last spasms of Christian charity. He could shake any stage upon which he appeared with terrible anathemas, preferably with a sexual connotation, against his opponents, all the more virulent if they were dead and could never answer back.” (C 10)

Wells also wrote:

and lots more!

September 2019; 307 pages

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