Herbert George Wells was one of the world’s most talented writers. He was able to write in many styles, whether it be science-fiction or nonfiction. Although talented in many areas and genres of the literary world, it is for his contribution to the realm of science-fiction that he will always be remembered. H. G. Wells is known as “The Shakespeare of Science-Fiction.”
He is one of the writers that gave credibility to a rising new genre of science-fiction, or Scientific Romance as it was first called in the late 19th century (the genre was not called science-fiction until 1929, (Wells, H. G. The War of the Worlds: viii)).
Herbert George Wells was born on September 21, 1866, in a “shabby home,” as Wells himself once called it, in Bromley, Kent, England to Joseph Wells and Sarah Neal Wells (Borrello, Alfred: 2). He had two older brothers, Frank and Fred. His family was poor but “shabby-genteel” (H. G. Wells: A Collection of Critical Essays: 3).
Wells’s father sold china and played professional cricket, and his mother was a housekeeper to the gentry, Sir Harry Featherstonhaugh. Though devoted to his parents, he viewed them as “willing victims of society” (Borrello, Alfred: 2). He was angry at their refusal to take effective measures to improve their place in life. And it was because of this that he did not care for the working class and envied the solidly established middle class.
As a boy, H. G. Wells had always been physically active, but after he broke his leg at the age of 8 in 1874, he couldn’t do too much. During his period of convalescence, he turned to books for the first time. When Herbert’s mother went to work at the gentry’s house, she took Herbert with her (his older brothers were apprenticed into the drapery trade). Sir Harry Featherstonhaugh had a large variety and number of books. With this large availability of new books, Wells’s reading broadened.
From 1884-1887 he was a student at Normal School of Science, London. There he studied biology under the well-known Thomas H. Huxley. In the early 1890s, Wells started teaching science classes, which led him to write a biology textbook. He also started writing articles in the popular magazines that were beginning to pop up everywhere.
At the invitation of one of the editors, he began writing science-fiction stories in the mid-1890s. In 1893 Wells suffered a physical breakdown that forced him to abandon teaching forever. It is after this that he was determined to pursue a literary career. In 1895, he published his first science-fiction novel, The Time Machine. The Time Machine rose to instant success, and so did H. G. Wells.
Over the next five years, he wrote a number of romantic mythical stories that are still popular today (all of which have been made into popular movies, some more than once. These include: The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds.)
In writing his novels and stories, Wells had many influences. Two of them are his schooling and teaching as a biologist and the state of mind of Victorian society during his time. Many people of that era saw the wonders that modern science and industry were providing and dreamed about a coming utopia in the next century. They had the belief that science would solve every problem that people had.
His scientific outlook on life let him see science as a great benefit to mankind and he tried to point the way to the proper use of its techniques in many of his novels. But people at that time were hung up on the idea that science could solve their problems instantaneously. Wells, though, knew better. Under the direction of Huxley’s teachings, Wells thought that there are things in nature and in the universe that are beyond the control of man, and not even science can control them (Costa, Richard Hauer: 33).
Although many of his novels were scientific in origin, in his later years he was surrounded by destruction, hate, and fear. He lived through both World Wars, in 1905 his mother died, in 1910 his father died, in 1927 his second wife died. It is not surprising that some of this despair would be part of the mood of his novels, no matter what their topic.
His novels before the turn of the century portrayed a very bleak outlook for the future. “Wells’s visions of the future were apocalyptic, even terrifying, and he found the prospect of disturbing his readers very satisfying” (H. G. Wells: A Collection of Critical Essays: 3). After the turn of the century, Wells’s interest in the future became much more positive. In 1905 he wrote his first famous Utopian fantasy, A Modern Utopia.
Wells’s new Utopian style of writing brought to the surface one of his long felt beliefs. He believed “that progress cannot be brought about by an individual, but that society needed to be completely restructured” into one World State (Borrello, Alfred: Back Flap). These feelings were fueled by World War I and the chaos which followed. And that is why he wanted to portray such perfected societies in his novels. Although Wells’s interests were now focused on utopian worlds, there were still projections of a grim, destructive future in some of his stories, including When the Sleeper Wakes and A Story of Days to Come.
In 1919 Wells decided to try something he had never done, to write comprehensive world history. When The Outline of History was published in 1920, it sold a quarter of a million copies, more than any of his other novels. The novel opened up a whole new realm to Wells. It also gave credibility to Wells as one who is an authority on everything. With this new credibility, he gained many more supporters to the growing genre of science-fiction.
In retrospect H. G. Wells “almost singlehandedly invented modern science fiction, creating or refining most of its major themes,…Science fiction, better than any other art form, has wrestled with the risks inherent to our age, shown us the possible consequences of our actions, and made us aware of the dangers underlying some of our advances.
It is this ability, exemplified by Wells and…of those who have followed him, that make science fiction the dominant and most important literary form of our time” (Ferrell, Keith).
H. G. Wells died on August 13, 1946, after a literary career spanning five decades and the publishing of over fifty novels and stories. Although Wells considered himself more of a scientist than an artist, it is for his novels that he will be remembered for all time.
Borrello, Alfred. H. G. Wells: Author in Agony. United States: Southern Illinois University Press, 1972.
Costa, Richard Hauer. H. G. Wells. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1967.
Ferrell, Keith. “The Challenges of Scinece Fiction.” Omni Publications International Ltd. MAS FullTEXT ELITE . [Computer program].
Foot, Michael. The History of Mr. Wells. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1995.
“H. G. Wells.” Masterplots II: Cyclopedia of World Authors. Salem Press, Inc. (1992). [Computer program].
H. G. Wells: A Collection of Critical Essays (Bernard Bergonzi, Ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1976.
Martin, Christopher. H. G. Wells. Vero Beach, FL: Rourke Enterprises, Inc., 1989.
Wells, H(erbert) G(eorge). Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. [Computer program]. (1995).
“Wells, H(erbert) G(eorge).” Gale Research Inc. [Computer program]. (1993).
“Wells, H(erbert) G(eorge).” Microsoft(r) Encarta(r) 96 Encyclopedia. [Computer program]. (1993-1995) Microsoft Corporation. Funk & Wagnalls Corporation.
Wells, H. G. The War of the Worlds. United States: Aerie Books Ltd., 1986, 1987.
“Wells, H. G.” The World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia ä. [Computer program]. (1995) World Book, Inc.