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H. G. Wells

One of the most influential and creative authors ever to set pen to page, H. G. Wells would go on to influence dozens of successful writers who would follow in his footsteps.  His literary blockbusters, The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and The First Men in the Moon, are still household names.  In sheer volume, he wrote more words in his career than Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare combined.

Herbert George Wells was born in Bromley, England, on September 21, 1866.  His parents were from the working class.  His father was a shopkeeper and a professional cricket player, and his mother served from time to time as a housekeeper at the nearby estate of Uppark.  When his father's business failed, Wells was apprenticed, along with his brothers, to work for a draper, spending the years between 1880 and 1883 in Windsor and Southsea.  Later he recorded these years in Kipps (1905).

In 1883, Wells enrolled as a teacher-pupil at Midhurst Grammar School from which he obtained a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in London.  There, he studied under famed biologist T. H. Huxley.  However, his interest in biology faded, and he left in 1887 without a degree.  He taught in private schools for four years, not receiving his B.S. until 1890.  The following year, he moved to London, married his cousin Isabel, and continued his career as a teacher in a correspondence college.  He eventually left Isabel for one of his brightest students, Amy Catherine, whom he married in 1895.

After finishing school, Wells worked for several years writing biology textbooks.  In time, though, he grew tired of that, and he turned to writing fiction.  Between the years of 1895 and 1898, he published all of the novels for which he is best remembered: The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898).  During the time that Wells was turning out his best work, scientists were still debating the processes of evolution, the dangers of scientific knowledge, the possibility of life on other planets, and the existence of a fourth dimension: i.e., time.  Wells was among the first writers to explore these ideas in print.

His passionate concerns for humankind led Wells to join the socialist Fabian Society in London, but he soon quarreled with the society's leaders, including playwright/activist George Bernard Shaw.  His experience was the basis for his novel, The New Machiavelli (1911), in which he painted portraits of the Fabians.  After WW I, Wells published several nonfiction works, including The Outline Of History (1919-1920), his attempt to write a complete history of the world.  It ended up outselling all of his other books combined during his lifetime.  He also wrote The Science Of Life (1929-39) and Experiment In Autobiography (1934).  In 1917, he was named to the Research Committee for the League of Nations and published several books about the world organization.  Between the years 1924 and 1933, he lived mainly in France.  From 1934 to 1946, he was the International president of PEN.

In The Holy Terror (1939), Wells studied the psychological development of a modern dictator based on the careers of Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler.  The author lived through World War II in his house on Regent's Park, refusing to let the blitz drive him out of London.  His last book, Mind At The End Of Its Tether (1945), expressed pessimism about mankind's future prospects. 

The reputation that Wells enjoyed as a prophet was not without merit.  He foresaw the decisive use of tanks in modern warfare years before they were developed, and he described in graphic detail the destruction of cities by bombing and gas from aircraft barely five years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight.  He predicted with uncanny accuracy a devastating world war with Germany and a new weapon he called an “atomic bomb” in his novel, The World Set Free.  Even though he pre-dated real atomic bombs by decades, Wells’ "invention" similarly relied on atomic chain reactions and rendered their target areas uninhabitable for years.

As remarkable as his prophecies proved, Wells was very human in one respect.  His love life was scandalously active.  After marrying Amy Catherine, who proved to be the stabilizing influence he needed for his work and home, their sexual relationship cooled, and Wells began to wander.  It was a pattern he would follow for the rest of his life.  Because of his open marriage, his philandering was nearly always with Amy's full knowledge.  His three most notorious affairs included Baroness Moura Budberg, American Constance Coolidge, and Martha Gellhorn, who would go on to marry Ernest Hemingway.

H. G. Wells once said, "It is possible to believe that all the human mind has ever accomplished is but the dream before the awakening."  And, "Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race."

H. G. Wells died in London on August 13, 1946.

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