Herbert George "H.G." Wells, writer of The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, and The Island of Doctor Moreau, is the most durable of the so-called fathers of science fiction. His stories influenced voices as diverse as Nabokov and Borges. He anticipated, in some form or another, developments such as lasers, genetic engineering, and email. His political and scientific writing influenced the following generation of thinkers, leading George Orwell to conclude that “thinking people who were born about the beginning of this century are in some sense Wells’s own creation. . . . The minds of all of us, and therefore the physical world, would be perceptibly different if Wells had never existed.”
We sometimes forget just how much H.G. Wells as an artist and thinker influenced the world. For both fans of and foreigners to the work of H.G. Wells, we’ve compiled a few facts to illuminate the life of a master of science fiction and storytelling.
He Enjoyed a Very Open Marriage
In line with Wells’s penchant for envisioning freer, more utopian futures, the author loved like a bohemian, in defiance of his time. With the moderate consent of his wife Jane, Wells conducted numerous affairs, often with prominent women of his time. Wells was linked to birth control activist and Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, adventurer and writer Odette Keun, the Russian aristocrat Moura Budberg, and the novelist Elizabeth von Arnim. He also engaged with other writers, like Martha Gellhorn, Violet Hunt, and Dorothy Richardson. Wells fathered children with two of his paramours: the writers Amber Reeves and Rebecca West, the latter who was 21 when she began an affair with the mid-40s author.
His Private Illustrations Are a Subject of Scholarship
Wells decorated his notes with drawings he liked to call “picshuas.” They frequently reflect personal matters, especially regarding his marriage, and were meant for his wife, Amy Catherine Robbins, whom Wells liked to call Jane. One volume, subtitled “A Burlesque Diary” and published by the University of Illinois, compiles and analyzes 132 such picshuas (selected out of 650). Some shed light on Wells’s perception of the marriage, casting Jane as an imperious dictator, though she put her own ambitions aside to be a manager of the author as he edited drafts, entered society, and built a home with his beloved.
His Politics Sometimes Missed the Mark
Wells never purported much to be the next Shakespeare, but he did fancy himself a fine speculative thinker of politics. In his capacious writings, there are a handful of terrible opinions, like an inclination to anti-Semitism and an early endorsement of Stalin. Like G.B. Shaw and other writers of his time, Wells also took a liking to eugenics. In the essay “Anticipations,”he wrote that a better world would see the careful elimination of “a multitude of contemptible and silly creatures, fear-driven and helpless and useless, unhappy or hatefully happy in the midst of squalid dishonour, feeble, ugly, inefficient, born of unrestrained lusts, and increasing and multiplying through sheer incontinence and stupidity.” Reading his novels is far better.