H. G. Wells

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As soon as the magic trick has been done the whole business of the fantasy writer is to keep everything else human and real. Touches of prosaic detail are imperative and a rigorous adherence to the hypothesis. Any extra fantasy outside the cardinal assumption immediately gives a touch of irresponsible silliness to the invention. [59] [60]

Dr. Griffin / The Invisible Man is a brilliant research scientist who discovers a method of invisibility, but finds himself unable to reverse the process. An enthusiast of random and irresponsible violence, Griffin has become an iconic character in horror fiction. [61] The Island of Doctor Moreau sees a shipwrecked man left on the island home of Doctor Moreau, a mad scientist who creates human-like hybrid beings from animals via vivisection. [62] The earliest depiction of uplift, the novel deals with a number of philosophical themes, including pain and cruelty, moral responsibility, human identity, and human interference with nature. [63] In The First Men in the Moon Wells used the idea of radio communication between astronomical objects, a plot point inspired by Nikola Tesla's claim that he had received radio signals from Mars. [64] In addition to science fiction, Wells produced work dealing with mythological beings like an angel in The Wonderful Visit (1895) and a mermaid in The Sea Lady (1902). [65]

Though Tono-Bungay is not a science-fiction novel, radioactive decay plays a small but consequential role in it. Radioactive decay plays a much larger role in The World Set Free (1914), a book dedicated to Frederick Soddy who would receive a Nobel for proving the existence of radioactive isotopes. [66] This book contains what is surely Wells's biggest prophetic "hit", with the first description of a nuclear weapon (which he termed "atomic bombs"). [66] [67] Scientists of the day were well aware that the natural decay of radium releases energy at a slow rate over thousands of years. The rate of release is too slow to have practical utility, but the total amount released is huge. Wells's novel revolves around an (unspecified) invention that accelerates the process of radioactive decay, producing bombs that explode with no more than the force of ordinary high explosives—but which "continue to explode" for days on end. "Nothing could have been more obvious to the people of the earlier twentieth century, than the rapidity with which war was becoming impossible ... [but] they did not see it until the atomic bombs burst in their fumbling hands". [67] In 1932, the physicist and conceiver of nuclear chain reaction Leó Szilárd read The World Set Free (the same year Sir James Chadwick discovered the neutron), a book which he wrote in his memoirs had made "a very great impression on me." [68] In 1934, Szilárd took his ideas for a chain reaction to the British War Office and later the Admiralty, assigning his patent to the Admiralty to keep the news from reaching the notice of the wider scientific community. He wrote, "Knowing what this [a chain reaction] would mean—and I knew it because I had read H. G. Wells—I did not want this patent to become public." [66]

The H. G. Wells crater, located on the far side of the Moon, was named after the author of The First Men in the Moon (1901) in 1970. H G Wells crater 5163 med.jpg
The H. G. Wells crater, located on the far side of the Moon, was named after the author of The First Men in the Moon (1901) in 1970.

Wells also wrote non-fiction. His first non-fiction bestseller was Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought (1901). When originally serialised in a magazine it was subtitled "An Experiment in Prophecy", and is considered his most explicitly futuristic work. It offered the immediate political message of the privileged sections of society continuing to bar capable men from other classes from advancement until war would force a need to employ those most able, rather than the traditional upper classes, as leaders. Anticipating what the world would be like in the year 2000, the book is interesting both for its hits (trains and cars resulting in the dispersion of populations from cities to suburbs; moral restrictions declining as men and women seek greater sexual freedom; the defeat of German militarism, and the existence of a European Union) and its misses (he did not expect successful aircraft before 1950, and averred that "my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocate its crew and founder at sea"). [69] [70]

His bestselling two-volume work, The Outline of History (1920), began a new era of popularised world history. It received a mixed critical response from professional historians. [71] However, it was very popular amongst the general population and made Wells a rich man. Many other authors followed with "Outlines" of their own in other subjects. He reprised his Outline in 1922 with a much shorter popular work, A Short History of the World , a history book praised by Albert Einstein, [72] and two long efforts, The Science of Life (1930)—written with his son G. P. Wells and evolutionary biologist Julian Huxley, and The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind (1931). [73] [74] The "Outlines" became sufficiently common for James Thurber to parody the trend in his humorous essay, "An Outline of Scientists"—indeed, Wells's Outline of History remains in print with a new 2005 edition, while A Short History of the World has been re-edited (2006). [75]

H. G. Wells c. 1918 H. G. Wells Daily Mirror.jpg
H. G. Wells c. 1918

From quite early in Wells's career, he sought a better way to organise society and wrote a number of Utopian novels. [3] The first of these was A Modern Utopia (1905), which shows a worldwide utopia with "no imports but meteorites, and no exports at all"; [76] two travellers from our world fall into its alternate history. The others usually begin with the world rushing to catastrophe, until people realise a better way of living: whether by mysterious gases from a comet causing people to behave rationally and abandoning a European war ( In the Days of the Comet (1906)), or a world council of scientists taking over, as in The Shape of Things to Come (1933, which he later adapted for the 1936 Alexander Korda film, Things to Come ). This depicted, all too accurately, the impending World War, with cities being destroyed by aerial bombs. He also portrayed the rise of fascist dictators in The Autocracy of Mr Parham (1930) and The Holy Terror (1939). Men Like Gods (1923) is also a utopian novel. Wells in this period was regarded as an enormously influential figure; the literary critic Malcolm Cowley stated: "by the time he was forty, his influence was wider than any other living English writer". [77]

Wells contemplates the ideas of nature and nurture and questions humanity in books such as The First Men in the Moon, where nature is completely suppressed by nurture, and The Island of Doctor Moreau, where the strong presence of nature represents a threat to a civilized society. Not all his scientific romances ended in a Utopia, and Wells also wrote a dystopian novel, When the Sleeper Wakes (1899, rewritten as The Sleeper Awakes, 1910), which pictures a future society where the classes have become more and more separated, leading to a revolt of the masses against the rulers. [78] The Island of Doctor Moreau is even darker. The narrator, having been trapped on an island of animals vivisected (unsuccessfully) into human beings, eventually returns to England; like Gulliver on his return from the Houyhnhnms, he finds himself unable to shake off the perceptions of his fellow humans as barely civilised beasts, slowly reverting to their animal natures. [79]

Wells also wrote the preface for the first edition of W. N. P. Barbellion's diaries, The Journal of a Disappointed Man, published in 1919. Since "Barbellion" was the real author's pen name, many reviewers believed Wells to have been the true author of the Journal; Wells always denied this, despite being full of praise for the diaries. [80]

H. G. Wells, one day before his 60th birthday, on the front cover of Time magazine, 20 September 1926 H. G. Wells-TIME-1926.jpg
H. G. Wells, one day before his 60th birthday, on the front cover of Time magazine, 20 September 1926

In 1927, a Canadian teacher and writer Florence Deeks unsuccessfully sued Wells for infringement of copyright and breach of trust, claiming that much of The Outline of History had been plagiarised from her unpublished manuscript, [81] The Web of the World's Romance, which had spent nearly nine months in the hands of Wells's Canadian publisher, Macmillan Canada. [82] However, it was sworn on oath at the trial that the manuscript remained in Toronto in the safekeeping of Macmillan, and that Wells did not even know it existed, let alone seen it. [83] The court found no proof of copying, and decided the similarities were due to the fact that the books had similar nature and both writers had access to the same sources. [84] In 2000, A. B. McKillop, a professor of history at Carleton University, produced a book on the case, The Spinster & The Prophet: Florence Deeks, H. G. Wells, and the Mystery of the Purloined Past. [85] According to McKillop, the lawsuit was unsuccessful due to the prejudice against a woman suing a well-known and famous male author, and he paints a detailed story based on the circumstantial evidence of the case. [86] In 2004, Denis N. Magnusson, professor emeritus of the Faculty of Law, Queen's University, Ontario, published an article on Deeks v. Wells. This re-examines the case in relation to McKillop's book. While having some sympathy for Deeks, he argues that she had a weak case that was not well presented, and though she may have met with sexism from her lawyers, she received a fair trial, adding that the law applied is essentially the same law that would be applied to a similar case today (i.e., 2004). [87]

H. G. Wells Society plaque at Chiltern Court, Baker Street in the City of Westminster, London, where Wells lived between 1930 and 1936 H. G. Wells (5026568202).jpg
H. G. Wells Society plaque at Chiltern Court, Baker Street in the City of Westminster, London, where Wells lived between 1930 and 1936

In 1933, Wells predicted in The Shape of Things to Come that the world war he feared would begin in January 1940, [88] a prediction which ultimately came true four months early, in September 1939, with the outbreak of World War II. [6] :209 In 1936, before the Royal Institution, Wells called for the compilation of a constantly growing and changing World Encyclopaedia, to be reviewed by outstanding authorities and made accessible to every human being. He also presented on his conception of a world encyclopedia at the World Congress of Universal Documentation in Paris in 1937. [89]

In 1938, he published a collection of essays on the future organisation of knowledge and education, World Brain , including the essay "The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopaedia". [90]

Prior to 1933, Wells's books were widely read in Germany and Austria, and most of his science fiction works had been translated shortly after publication. [91] By 1933, he had attracted the attention of German officials because of his criticism of the political situation in Germany, and on 10 May 1933, Wells's books were burned by the Nazi youth in Berlin's Opernplatz, and his works were banned from libraries and book stores. [91] Wells, as president of PEN International (Poets, Essayists, Novelists), angered the Nazis by overseeing the expulsion of the German PEN club from the international body in 1934 following the German PEN's refusal to admit non-Aryan writers to its membership. At a PEN conference in Ragusa, Wells refused to yield to Nazi sympathisers who demanded that the exiled author Ernst Toller be prevented from speaking. [91] Near the end of World War II, Allied forces discovered that the SS had compiled lists of people slated for immediate arrest during the invasion of Britain in the abandoned Operation Sea Lion, with Wells included in the alphabetical list of "The Black Book". [92]

Wartime works

Title page of Wells's The War That Will End War (1914) The War That Will End War - Wells.djvu
Title page of Wells's The War That Will End War (1914)

Seeking a more structured way to play war games, Wells wrote Floor Games (1911) followed by Little Wars (1913), which set out rules for fighting battles with toy soldiers (miniatures). [93] A pacifist prior to the First World War, Wells stated "how much better is this amiable miniature [war] than the real thing". [93] According to Wells, the idea of the game developed from a visit by his friend Jerome K. Jerome. After dinner, Jerome began shooting down toy soldiers with a toy cannon and Wells joined in to compete. [93]

During August 1914, immediately after the outbreak of the First World War, Wells published a number of articles in London newspapers that subsequently appeared as a book entitled The War That Will End War. [6] :147 [94] He coined the expression with the idealistic belief that the result of the war would make a future conflict impossible. [95] Wells blamed the Central Powers for the coming of the war and argued that only the defeat of German militarism could bring about an end to war. [96] Wells used the shorter form of the phrase, "the war to end war", in In the Fourth Year (1918), in which he noted that the phrase "got into circulation" in the second half of 1914. [97] In fact, it had become one of the most common catchphrases of the war. [96]

In 1918 Wells worked for the British War Propaganda Bureau, also called Wellington House. [98] Wells was also one of fifty-three leading British authors — a number that included Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle — who signed their names to the "Authors' Declaration." This manifesto declared that the German invasion of Belgium had been a brutal crime, and that Britain "could not without dishonour have refused to take part in the present war." [98]

Travels to Russia and the Soviet Union

Wells (left) pictured with Soviet physiologist Ivan Pavlov SSSR. Pavlov I.P., G. Uells i vnuchka Pavlova Milochka. 1924g. (pavlovs museum).jpg
Wells (left) pictured with Soviet physiologist Ivan Pavlov

Wells visited Russia three times: 1914, 1920 and 1934. After his visits to Petrograd and Moscow, in January 1914, he came back to England, "a staunch Russophile". His views were recorded in a newspaper article, "Russia and England: A Study on Contrasts", published in The Daily News on 1 February 1941, and in his novel Joan and Peter (1918). [99] During his second visit, he saw his old friend Maxim Gorky and with Gorky's help, met Vladimir Lenin. In his book Russia in the Shadows , Wells portrayed Russia as recovering from a total social collapse, "the completest that has ever happened to any modern social organisation." [100] On 23 July 1934, after visiting U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Wells went to the Soviet Union and interviewed Joseph Stalin for three hours for the New Statesman magazine, which was extremely rare at that time. He told Stalin how he had seen 'the happy faces of healthy people' in contrast with his previous visit to Moscow in 1920. [101] However, he also criticised the lawlessness, class discrimination, state violence, and absence of free expression. Stalin enjoyed the conversation and replied accordingly. As the chairman of the London-based PEN International, which protected the rights of authors to write without being intimidated, Wells hoped by his trip to USSR, he could win Stalin over by force of argument. Before he left, he realised that no reform was to happen in the near future. [102] [103]

Final years

H. G. Wells in 1943 Herbert George Wells in 1943.jpg
H. G. Wells in 1943

Wells's greatest literary output occurred before the First World War, which was lamented by younger authors whom he had influenced. In this connection, George Orwell described Wells as "too sane to understand the modern world", and "since 1920 he has squandered his talents in slaying paper dragons." [104] G. K. Chesterton quipped: "Mr Wells is a born storyteller who has sold his birthright for a pot of message". [105]

Wells had diabetes, [106] and was a co-founder in 1934 of The Diabetic Association (now Diabetes UK, the leading charity for people with diabetes in the UK). [107]

On 28 October 1940, on the radio station KTSA in San Antonio, Texas, Wells took part in a radio interview with Orson Welles, who two years previously had performed a famous radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds. During the interview, by Charles C Shaw, a KTSA radio host, Wells admitted his surprise at the sensation that resulted from the broadcast but acknowledged his debt to Welles for increasing sales of one of his "more obscure" titles. [108]


Commemorative blue plaque at Wells's final home in Regent's Park, London H.G. WELLS 1866-1946 WRITER lived and died here.jpg
Commemorative blue plaque at Wells's final home in Regent's Park, London

Wells died on 13 August 1946, aged 79, at his home at 13 Hanover Terrace, overlooking Regent's Park, London. [109] [18] In his preface to the 1941 edition of The War in the Air , Wells had stated that his epitaph should be: "I told you so. You damned fools". [110] Wells's body was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on 16 August 1946; his ashes were subsequently scattered into the English Channel at Old Harry Rocks, the most eastern point of the Jurassic Coast and about 3.5 miles (5.6 km) from Swanage in Dorset. [111]

A commemorative blue plaque in his honour was installed by the Greater London Council at his home in Regent's Park in 1966. [112]


"Novelist and thinker". Statue of H. G. Wells by Wesley Harland in Woking H G Wells.jpg
"Novelist and thinker". Statue of H. G. Wells by Wesley Harland in Woking

A futurist and "visionary", Wells foresaw the advent of aircraft, tanks, space travel, nuclear weapons, satellite television, and something resembling the World Wide Web. [5] Asserting that "Wells's visions of the future remain unsurpassed", John Higgs, author of Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century, states that in the late 19th century Wells "saw the coming century clearer than anyone else. He anticipated wars in the air, the sexual revolution, motorised transport causing the growth of suburbs and a proto-Wikipedia he called the "world brain". In his novel The World Set Free, he imagined an "atomic bomb" of terrifying power that would be dropped from aeroplanes. This was an extraordinary insight for an author writing in 1913, and it made a deep impression on Winston Churchill." [113]

Many readers have hailed H. G. Wells and George Orwell as special kinds of writers, ones endowed with remarkable prescriptive and prophetic powers. Wells was the twentieth-century prototype of this literary vatic figure: he invented the role, explored its possibilities, especially through new forms of prose and new ways to publish, and defined its boundaries. His impact on his culture was profound; as George Orwell wrote, "The minds of all of us, and therefore the physical world, would be perceptibly different if Wells had never existed."

The Author as Cultural Hero: H. G. Wells and George Orwell. [114]

In 2011, Wells was among a group of science fiction writers featured in the Prophets of Science Fiction series, a show produced and hosted by film director Sir Ridley Scott, which depicts how predictions influenced the development of scientific advancements by inspiring many readers to assist in transforming those futuristic visions into everyday reality. [115] In a 2013 review of The Time Machine for the New Yorker magazine, Brad Leithauser writes, "At the base of Wells's great visionary exploit is this rational, ultimately scientific attempt to tease out the potential future consequences of present conditions—not as they might arise in a few years, or even decades, but millennia hence, epochs hence. He is world literature's Great Extrapolator. Like no other fiction writer before him, he embraced "deep time". [116]

Political views

Churchill avidly read Wells. An October 1906 Churchill speech was partly inspired by Wells's ideas of a supportive state as a "Utopia". Two days earlier, Churchill had written Wells: "I owe you a great debt." Churchill V sign HU 55521.jpg
Churchill avidly read Wells. An October 1906 Churchill speech was partly inspired by Wells's ideas of a supportive state as a "Utopia". Two days earlier, Churchill had written Wells: "I owe you a great debt."

Wells was a socialist and a member of the Fabian Society. [119] He stood as a Labour Party candidate for London University in the 1922 and 1923 general elections. [120]

Winston Churchill was an avid reader of Wells's books, and after they first met in 1902 they kept in touch until Wells died in 1946. [117] As a junior minister Churchill borrowed lines from Wells for one of his most famous early landmark speeches in 1906, and as Prime Minister the phrase "the gathering storm"—used by Churchill to describe the rise of Nazi Germany—had been written by Wells in The War of the Worlds, which depicts an attack on Britain by Martians. [117] Wells's extensive writings on equality and human rights, most notably his most influential work, The Rights of Man (1940), laid the groundwork for the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations shortly after his death. [121]

His efforts regarding the League of Nations, on which he collaborated on the project with Leonard Woolf with the booklets The Idea of a League of Nations, Prolegomena to the Study of World Organization, and The Way of the League of Nations, became a disappointment as the organization turned out to be a weak one unable to prevent the Second World War, which itself occurred towards the very end of his life and only increased the pessimistic side of his nature. [122] In his last book Mind at the End of Its Tether (1945), he considered the idea that humanity being replaced by another species might not be a bad idea. He referred to the era between the two World Wars as "The Age of Frustration". [123]

Wells was initially an opponent of Zionism, but later following the Holocaust became a strong supporter of the State of Israel. [124]

He was a member of The Other Club, a London dining club.

Religious views

Wells' views on God and religion changed over his lifetime. Early in his life he distanced himself from Christianity, and later from theism, and finally, late in life, he was essentially atheistic. Martin Gardner summarises this progression:

[The younger Wells] ... did not object to using the word "God" provided it did not imply anything resembling human personality. In his middle years Wells went through a phase of defending the concept of a "finite God," similar to the god of such process theologians as Samuel Alexander, Edgar Brightman, and Charles Hartshorne. (He even wrote a book about it called God the Invisible King .) Later Wells decided he was really an atheist. [125]

In God the Invisible King (1917), Wells wrote that his idea of God did not draw upon the traditional religions of the world:

This book sets out as forcibly and exactly as possible the religious belief of the writer. [Which] is a profound belief in a personal and intimate God. ... Putting the leading idea of this book very roughly, these two antagonistic typical conceptions of God may be best contrasted by speaking of one of them as God-as-Nature or the Creator, and of the other as God-as-Christ or the Redeemer. One is the great Outward God; the other is the Inmost God. The first idea was perhaps developed most highly and completely in the God of Spinoza. It is a conception of God tending to pantheism, to an idea of a comprehensive God as ruling with justice rather than affection, to a conception of aloofness and awestriking worshipfulness. The second idea, which is contradictory to this idea of an absolute God, is the God of the human heart. The writer suggested that the great outline of the theological struggles of that phase of civilisation and world unity which produced Christianity, was a persistent but unsuccessful attempt to get these two different ideas of God into one focus. [126]

Later in the work, he aligns himself with a "renascent or modern religion ... neither atheist nor Buddhist nor Mohammedan nor Christian ... [that] he has found growing up in himself". [127]

Of Christianity, he said: "it is not now true for me. ... Every believing Christian is, I am sure, my spiritual brother ... but if systemically I called myself a Christian I feel that to most men I should imply too much and so tell a lie". Of other world religions, he writes: "All these religions are true for me as Canterbury Cathedral is a true thing and as a Swiss chalet is a true thing. There they are, and they have served a purpose, they have worked. Only they are not true for me to live in them. ... They do not work for me". [128] In The Fate of Homo Sapiens (1939), Wells criticised almost all world religions and philosophies, stating "there is no creed, no way of living left in the world at all, that really meets the needs of the time .... When we come to look at them coolly and dispassionately, all the main religions, patriotic, moral and customary systems in which human beings are sheltering today, appear to be in a state of jostling and mutually destructive movement, like the houses and palaces and other buildings of some vast, sprawling city overtaken by a landslide." [129]

Wells's opposition to organised religion reached a fever pitch in 1943 with publication of his book Crux Ansata , subtitled "An Indictment of the Roman Catholic Church". [130]

Literary influence and legacy

H. G. Wells as depicted in Gernsback's Science Wonder Stories in 1929 H G Wells SWS 2906.jpg
H. G. Wells as depicted in Gernsback's Science Wonder Stories in 1929

The science fiction historian John Clute describes Wells as "the most important writer the genre has yet seen", and notes his work has been central to both British and American science fiction. [131] Science fiction author and critic Algis Budrys said Wells "remains the outstanding expositor of both the hope, and the despair, which are embodied in the technology and which are the major facts of life in our world". [132] He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1921, 1932, 1935, and 1946. [12] Wells so influenced real exploration of space that impact craters on Mars and the Moon were named after him: [133]

Wells's genius was his ability to create a stream of brand new, wholly original stories out of thin air. Originality was Wells's calling card. In a six-year stretch from 1895 to 1901, he produced a stream of what he called "scientific romance" novels, which included The Time Machine , The Island of Doctor Moreau , The Invisible Man , The War of the Worlds and The First Men in the Moon . This was a dazzling display of new thought, endlessly copied since. A book like The War of the Worlds inspired every one of the thousands of alien invasion stories that followed. It burned its way into the psyche of mankind and changed us all forever.

Cultural historian John Higgs, The Guardian. [113]
Magazine reprint of Wells's 1910 dystopian science fiction When the Sleeper Wakes Amazing stories quarterly 1928win.jpg
Magazine reprint of Wells's 1910 dystopian science fiction When the Sleeper Wakes

In the United Kingdom, Wells's work was a key model for the British "scientific romance", and other writers in that mode, such as Olaf Stapledon, [134] J. D. Beresford, [135] S. Fowler Wright, [136] and Naomi Mitchison, [137] all drew on Wells's example. Wells was also an important influence on British science fiction of the period after the Second World War, with Arthur C. Clarke [138] and Brian Aldiss [139] expressing strong admiration for Wells's work. A self-declared fan of Wells, John Wyndham, author of The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos , echoes Wells's obsession with catastrophe and its aftermath. [140] His early work (pre 1920) made Wells the literary hero of dystopian novelist George Orwell. [141] Among contemporary British science fiction writers, Stephen Baxter, Christopher Priest and Adam Roberts have all acknowledged Wells's influence on their writing; all three are vice-presidents of the H. G. Wells Society. He also had a strong influence on British scientist J. B. S. Haldane, who wrote Daedalus; or, Science and the Future (1924), "The Last Judgement" and "On Being the Right Size" from the essay collection Possible Worlds (1927), and Biological Possibilities for the Human Species in the Next Ten Thousand Years (1963), which are speculations about the future of human evolution and life on other planets. Haldane gave several lectures about these topics which in turn influenced other science fiction writers. [142] [143]

Wells's works were reprinted in American science fiction magazines as late as the 1950s. Two complete science adventure books 1951win n4.jpg
Wells's works were reprinted in American science fiction magazines as late as the 1950s.

In the United States, Hugo Gernsback reprinted most of Wells's work in the pulp magazine Amazing Stories , regarding Wells's work as "texts of central importance to the self-conscious new genre". [131] Later American writers such as Ray Bradbury, [144] Isaac Asimov, [145] Frank Herbert, [146] Carl Sagan, [133] and Ursula K. Le Guin [147] all recalled being influenced by Wells.

Sinclair Lewis's early novels were strongly influenced by Wells's realistic social novels, such as The History of Mr Polly ; Lewis also named his first son Wells after the author. [148] Lewis nominated H. G. Wells for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1932. [12]

In an interview with The Paris Review , Vladimir Nabokov described Wells as his favourite writer when he was a boy and "a great artist." [149] He went on to cite The Passionate Friends, Ann Veronica , The Time Machine, and The Country of the Blind as superior to anything else written by Wells's British contemporaries. Nabokov said: "His sociological cogitations can be safely ignored, of course, but his romances and fantasies are superb." [149]

2016 illustrated postal envelope with an image from The War of the Worlds, Russian Post, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the author's birth Herbert George Wells Postal stationery envelope Russia 2016 No 286.jpg
2016 illustrated postal envelope with an image from The War of the Worlds, Russian Post, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the author's birth

Jorge Luis Borges wrote many short pieces on Wells in which he demonstrates a deep familiarity with much of Wells's work. [150] While Borges wrote several critical reviews, including a mostly negative review of Wells's film Things to Come, [151] he regularly treated Wells as a canonical figure of fantastic literature. Late in his life, Borges included The Invisible Man and The Time Machine in his Prologue to a Personal Library, [152] a curated list of 100 great works of literature that he undertook at the behest of the Argentine publishing house Emecé. Canadian author Margaret Atwood read Wells's books, [79] and he also inspired writers of European speculative fiction such as Karel Čapek [147] and Yevgeny Zamyatin. [147]

In 2021, Wells was one of six British writers commemorated on a series of UK postage stamps issued by Royal Mail to celebrate British science fiction. [153] Six classic science fiction novels were depicted, one from each author, with The Time Machine chosen to represent Wells. [153]



  • The superhuman protagonist of J. D. Beresford's 1911 novel, The Hampdenshire Wonder , Victor Stott, was based on Wells. [135]
  • In M. P. Shiel's short story "The Primate of the Rose" (1928), there is an unpleasant womaniser named E. P. Crooks, who was written as a parody of Wells. [154] Wells had attacked Shiel's Prince Zaleski when it was published in 1895, and this was Shiel's response. [154] Wells praised Shiel's The Purple Cloud (1901); in turn Shiel expressed admiration for Wells, referring to him at a speech to the Horsham Rotary Club in 1933 as "my friend Mr. Wells". [154]
  • In C. S. Lewis's novel That Hideous Strength (1945), the character Jules is a caricature of Wells, [155] and much of Lewis's science fiction was written both under the influence of Wells and as an antithesis to his work (or, as he put it, an "exorcism" [156] of the influence it had on him).
  • In Brian Aldiss's novella The Saliva Tree (1966), Wells has a small off-screen guest role. [157]
  • In Saul Bellow's novel Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970), Wells is one of several historical figures the protagonist met when he was a young man. [158]
  • In The Dancers at the End of Time by Michael Moorcock (1976) Wells has an important part.
  • In The Map of Time (2008) by Spanish author Félix J. Palma; Wells is one of several historical characters. [159]
  • Wells is one of the two Georges in Paul Levinson's 2013 time-travel novelette, "Ian, George, and George", published in Analog magazine. [160]
  • David Lodge's novel A Man of Parts (2011) is a literary retelling of the life of Wells.


Film adaptations

The novels and short stories of H. G. Wells have been adapted for cinema. These include Island of Lost Souls (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), Things to Come (1936), The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1937), The War of the Worlds (1953), The Time Machine (1960), First Men in the Moon (1964), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), The Time Machine (2002) and War of the Worlds (2005). [174] [175] [176] [177]

Literary papers

In 1954, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign purchased the H. G. Wells literary papers and correspondence collection. [178] The university's Rare Book & Manuscript Library holds the largest collection of Wells manuscripts, correspondence, first editions and publications in the United States. [179] Among these is unpublished material and the manuscripts of such works as The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine. The collection includes first editions, revisions and translations. The letters contain general family correspondence, communications from publishers, material regarding the Fabian Society, and letters from politicians and public figures, most notably George Bernard Shaw and Joseph Conrad. [178]


See also

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Frank Herbert</span> American science fiction author (1920–1986)

Franklin Patrick Herbert Jr. was an American science fiction author best known for the 1965 novel Dune and its five sequels. Though he became famous for his novels, he also wrote short stories and worked as a newspaper journalist, photographer, book reviewer, ecological consultant, and lecturer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">J. G. Ballard</span> English writer (1930–2009)

James Graham Ballard was an English novelist and short story writer, satirist and essayist known for psychologically provocative works of fiction that explore the relations between human psychology, technology, sex and mass media. Ballard first became associated with New Wave science fiction for post-apocalyptic novels such as The Drowned World (1962), but later courted political controversy with the short-story collection The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), which includes the story "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan" (1968) and the novel Crash (1973), a story about car-crash fetishists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Robert A. Heinlein</span> American author and aeronautical engineer (1907–1988)

Robert Anson Heinlein was an American science fiction author, aeronautical engineer, and naval officer. Sometimes called the "dean of science fiction writers", he was among the first to emphasize scientific accuracy in his fiction, and was thus a pioneer of the subgenre of hard science fiction. His published works, both fiction and non-fiction, express admiration for competence and emphasize the value of critical thinking. His plots often posed provocative situations which challenged conventional social mores. His work continues to have an influence on the science-fiction genre, and on modern culture more generally.

<i>The Time Machine</i> 1895 science fiction novel by H. G. Wells

The Time Machine is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novella by H. G. Wells, published in 1895. The work is generally credited with the popularization of the concept of time travel by using a vehicle or device to travel purposely and selectively forward or backward through time. The term "time machine", coined by Wells, is now almost universally used to refer to such a vehicle or device.

<i>The Invisible Man</i> 1897 science fiction novel by H. G. Wells

The Invisible Man is a science fiction novel by H. G. Wells. Originally serialised in Pearson's Weekly in 1897, it was published as a novel the same year. The Invisible Man to whom the title refers is Griffin, a scientist who has devoted himself to research into optics and who invents a way to change a body's refractive index to that of air so that it neither absorbs nor reflects light. He carries out this procedure on himself and renders himself invisible, but fails in his attempt to reverse it. A practitioner of random and irresponsible violence, Griffin has become an iconic character in horror fiction.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mad scientist</span> Stock character in fiction

The mad scientist is a stock character of a scientist who is perceived as "mad, bad and dangerous to know" or "insane" owing to a combination of unusual or unsettling personality traits and the unabashedly ambitious, taboo or hubristic nature of their experiments. As a motif in fiction, the mad scientist may be villainous or antagonistic, benign, or neutral; may be insane, eccentric, or clumsy; and often works with fictional technology or fails to recognise or value common human objections to attempting to play God. Some may have benevolent intentions, even if their actions are dangerous or questionable, which can make them accidental antagonists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Genre fiction</span> Fictional works written with the intent of fitting into a specific literary genre

Genre fiction, also known as formula fiction or popular fiction, is a term used in the book-trade for fictional works written with the intent of fitting into a specific literary genre in order to appeal to readers and fans already familiar with that genre.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scientific romance</span> Old Literary Genre

Scientific romance is an archaic, mainly British term for the genre of fiction now commonly known as science fiction. The term originated in the 1850s to describe both fiction and elements of scientific writing, but it has since come to refer to the science fiction of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, primarily that of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle. In recent years the term has come to be applied to science fiction written in a deliberately anachronistic style as a homage to or pastiche of the original scientific romances.

<i>The Outline of History</i> Book by H. G. Wells

The Outline of History, subtitled either "The Whole Story of Man" or "Being a Plain History of Life and Mankind", is a work by H. G. Wells chronicling the history of the world from the origin of the Earth to the First World War. It appeared in an illustrated version of 24 fortnightly instalments beginning on 22 November 1919 and was published as a single volume in 1920. It sold more than two million copies, was translated into many languages, and had a considerable impact on the teaching of history in institutions of higher education. Wells modelled the Outline on the Encyclopédie of Denis Diderot.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jack Dann</span> American writer

Jack Dann is an American writer best known for his science fiction, as well as an editor and a writing teacher, who has lived in Australia since 1994. He has published over seventy books, the majority being as editor or co-editor of story anthologies in the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres. He has published nine novels, numerous shorter works of fiction, essays, and poetry, and his books have been translated into thirteen languages. His work, which includes fiction in the science fiction, fantasy, horror, magical realism, and historical and alternative history genres, has been compared to Jorge Luis Borges, Roald Dahl, Lewis Carroll, J. G. Ballard, and Philip K. Dick.

Literary fiction, mainstream fiction, non-genre fiction, serious fiction, high literature, artistic literature, and sometimes just literature are labels that, in the book trade, refer to market novels that do not fit neatly into an established genre ; or, otherwise, refer to novels that are character-driven rather than plot-driven, examine the human condition, use language in an experimental or poetic fashion, or are simply considered serious art.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Griffith</span> British science fiction writer (1857–1906)

George Chetwynd Griffith-Jones was a British writer. He was active mainly in the science fiction genre—or as it was known at the time, scientific romance—in particular writing many future-war stories and playing a significant role in shaping that emerging subgenre. For a short period of time, he was the leading science fiction author in his home country both in terms of popularity and commercial success.

<i>The First Men in the Moon</i> 1901 novel by H. G. Wells

The First Men in the Moon is a scientific romance, originally serialised in The Strand Magazine and The Cosmopolitan from November 1900 to June 1901 and published in hardcover in 1901, by the English author H. G. Wells, who called it one of his "fantastic stories". The novel tells the story of a journey to the Moon undertaken by the two protagonists: a businessman narrator, Mr. Bedford; and an eccentric scientist, Mr. Cavor. Bedford and Cavor discover that the Moon is inhabited by a sophisticated extraterrestrial civilisation of insect-like creatures they call "Selenites". The inspiration seems to come from the famous 1865 book by Jules Verne, From the Earth to the Moon, and the opera by Jacques Offenbach from 1875. Verne's novel also uses the word "Selenites" to describe inhabitants of the Moon.

Christian science fiction is a subgenre of both Christian literature and science fiction, in which there are strong Christian themes, or which are written from a Christian point of view. These themes may be subtle, expressed by way of analogy, or more explicit. Major influences include early science fiction authors such as C. S. Lewis, while more recent figures include Stephen Lawhead.

<i>Sherlock Holmess War of the Worlds</i> 1975 novel by Manly Wade Wellman

Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel by American writers Manly Wade Wellman and his son Wade Wellman. A sequel to H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, it was published in 1975. It is a pastiche crossover which combines H. G. Wells's 1897 extraterrestrial invasion story with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Professor Challenger characters. The book is composed of stories originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

<i>Men Like Gods</i> 1923 novel by Herbert George Wells

Men Like Gods (1923) is a novel, referred to by the author as a "scientific fantasy", by English writer H. G. Wells. It features a utopia located in a parallel universe.

<i>The War of the Worlds</i> 1898 science fiction novel by H. G. Wells

The War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel by English author H. G. Wells. It was written between 1895 and 1897, and serialised in Pearson's Magazine in the UK and Cosmopolitan magazine in the US in 1897. The full novel was first published in hardcover in 1898 by William Heinemann. The War of the Worlds is one of the earliest stories to detail a conflict between humankind and an extraterrestrial race. The novel is the first-person narrative of an unnamed protagonist in Surrey and his younger brother in London as southern England is invaded by Martians. It is one of the most commented-on works in the science fiction canon.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Biology in fiction</span> Overview of biology used in fiction

Biology appears in fiction, especially but not only in science fiction, both in the shape of real aspects of the science, used as themes or plot devices, and in the form of fictional elements, whether fictional extensions or applications of biological theory, or through the invention of fictional organisms. Major aspects of biology found in fiction include evolution, disease, genetics, physiology, parasitism and symbiosis (mutualism), ethology, and ecology.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Romance (prose fiction)</span> Genre of novel

The type of romance considered here is mainly the genre of novel defined by the novelist Walter Scott as "a fictitious narrative in prose or verse; the interest of which turns upon marvellous and uncommon incidents", in contrast to mainstream novels which realistically depict the state of a society. These works frequently, but not exclusively, take the form of the historical novel. Scott's novels are also frequently described as historical romances, and Northrop Frye suggested "the general principle that most 'historical novels' are romances". Scott describes romance as a "kindred term", and many European languages do not distinguish between romance and novel: "a novel is le roman, der Roman, il romanzo".


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Further reading

  • Bergonzi, Bernard (1961). The Early H. G. Wells: A Study of the Scientific Romances. Manchester University Press. ISBN   978-0-7190-0126-0.
  • Cole, Sarah (2021). Inventing Tomorrow: H. G. Wells and the Twentieth Century. Columbia University Press.
  • Dickson, Lovat. H. G. Wells: His Turbulent Life & Times. 1969.
  • Elber-Aviram, Hadas (2021). "Chapter 2: The Martian on Primrose Hill: Wells's scientific romances". Fairy Tales of London: British Urban Fantasy, 1840 to the Present. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 61–94. ISBN   978-1-350-11069-4.
  • Gilmour, David. The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002 (paperback, ISBN   0-374-18702-9); 2003 (paperback, ISBN   0-374-52896-9).
  • Godfrey, Emelyne, ed. (2016). Utopias and Dystopias in the Fiction of H. G. Wells and William Morris: Landscape and Space. Palgrave. ISBN   978-1-137-52340-2.
  • Gomme, A. W., Mr. Wells as Historian. Glasgow: MacLehose, Jackson, and Co., 1921.
  • Gosling, John. Waging the War of the Worlds. Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland, 2009 (paperback, ISBN   0-7864-4105-4).
  • James, Simon J. (2012). Maps of Utopia: H. G. Wells, Modernity, and the End of Culture. Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0-19-960659-7.
  • Jasanoff, Maya, "The Future Was His" (review of Sarah Cole, Inventing Tomorrow: H. G. Wells and the Twentieth Century, Columbia University Press, 374 pp.), The New York Review of Books , vol. LXVII, no. 12 (23 July 2020), pp. 50–51. Writes Jasanoff (p. 51): "Although [Wells] was prophetically right, and right-minded, about some things ... [n]owhere was he more disturbingly wrong than in his loathsome affinity for eugenics  ...."
  • Lynn, Andrea The secret love life of H. G. Wells
  • Mackenzie, Norman and Jean, The Time Traveller: the Life of H. G. Wells, London: Weidenfeld, 1973, ISBN   0-2977-6531-0
  • Mauthner, Martin. German Writers in French Exile, 1933–1940, London: Vallentine and Mitchell, 2007, ISBN   978-0-85303-540-4.
  • McConnell, Frank (1981). The Science Fiction of H.G. Wells. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN   9780195028119.
  • McLean, Steven. 'The Early Fiction of H. G. Wells: Fantasies of Science'. Palgrave, 2009, ISBN   978-0-230-53562-6.
  • Page, Michael R. (2012). The Literary Imagination from Erasmus Darwin to H. G. Wells: Science, Evolution, and Ecology. Ashgate. ISBN   978-1-4094-3869-4.
  • Parrinder, Patrick (1995). Shadows of the Future: H. G. Wells, Science Fiction and Prophecy. Syracuse University Press. ISBN   978-0-8156-0332-0.
  • Partington, John S. Building Cosmopolis: The Political Thought of H. G. Wells. Ashgate, 2003, ISBN   978-0-7546-3383-9.
  • Roberts, Adam. H. G. Wells A Literary Life. Springer International Publishing, 2019, ISBN 978-3-03-026421-5.
  • Roukema, Aren. 2021. "The Esoteric Roots of Science Fiction: Edward Bulwer-Lytton, H. G. Wells, and the Occlusion of Magic." Science Fiction Studies 48 (2): 218–42.
  • Shadurski, Maxim. The Nationality of Utopia: H. G. Wells, England, and the World State. London: Routledge, 2020, ISBN   978-0-36733-049-1.
H. G. Wells
H.G. Wells by Beresford.jpg
Photograph by George Charles Beresford, 1920
BornHerbert George Wells
(1866-09-21)21 September 1866
Bromley, Kent, England
Died13 August 1946(1946-08-13) (aged 79)
London, England
  • Novelist
  • teacher
  • historian
  • journalist
Alma mater Royal College of Science
GenreScience fiction (notably social science fiction)
  • World history
  • progress
Literary movement Social realism
Years active1895–1946
Notable works
Isabel Mary Wells
(m. 1891;div. 1894)
Amy Catherine Robbins
(m. 1895;died 1927)
Children4, including G. P. and Anthony
H.G. Wells signature at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.svg
Academic background
Academic advisors Thomas Henry Huxley


Sources—letters, essays and interviews


Critical essays

Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by International President of PEN International
Succeeded by