Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

The Young H.G. Wells: Changing the World, by Claire Tomalin

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Uppark was to be of crucial importance to Wells over the next eleven years. To begin with it made a large contribution to his education. Later it became a place of refuge when his health was failing, where he was nursed, seen, prescribed for and advised by a first-rate London medical man, Dr William Collins. The same doctor made sure that he was again taken to Uppark when he suffered further breakdowns, and there looked after efficiently, nursed, kept warm and well fed and able to convalesce over many weeks and months. In this way Uppark acted as hospital, convalescent home and indeed almost as a home to him; it is not too much to say that his life was effectively saved there. The Wells family could never have afforded to pay Dr Collins, and were clearly not expected to This long connection between the Fetherstonhaugh family and the housekeeper's son is a striking instance of support being given by privileged land-owners to a sick young man with very little claim on them. Their generosity was a piece of extraordinary good luck for Wells — owed, of course, to the old friendship between his mother and Frances Fetherstonhaugh.
I've read a couple of other books about Wells - David Lodge's novel A Man of Parts and Adam Roberts' H.G. Wells: A Literary Life. This is better than either of them. Tomalin goes into considerable detail on Wells' childhood and early youth, and takes the story up to roughly 1911; both Lodge and Roberts looked at the way in which Wells' love life is reflected in his novels, but Tomalin takes it in the right order, explaining the history of Wells' many relationships, and then turning to the writing to explain how he used the raw material of his own life for his fiction, most obviously in Tono-Bungay, Kipps and Ann Veronica (of the books I have read so far).

A couple of other points that jumped out at me. First, that Wells' love of reading was boosted by a couple of spells of prolonged ill-health as a teenager and young man; his parents were not bookish and didn't really understand what he was up to, but lying in bed all day for months, books gave him an escape route which he retained access to for the rest of his life.

The success of The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine was a complete game-changer. He and his wives had struggled economically until then; after that, his struggle was with maintaining his delivery on his various writing commitments. Poor Jane got to do all the typing up of his handwritten manuscripts while he went out with other women.

Tomalin comments a couple of times on the incredible energy he showed in the first decade of the twentieth century - continuing his output of fiction and non-fiction, heavy engagement in the Fabian Society and nascent Labour movement (while also cultivating friendships with Balfour and Churchill), and still pursuing numerous emotional entanglements (if we are being polite about it). Some of his behaviour was frankly foolish.

There's a lot here, with some pleasing pen and ink illustrations of the buildings where Wells lived as well as the usual clutch of photographs. I'd be hard pressed to choose a favourite of the Claire Tomalin biographies I've read (Samuel Pepys, Jane Austen, Mary Wollstonecraft) but this is certainly their equal. It has only just been published; you can get it here.
Tags: bookblog 2021, writer: hg wells
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