H.G. Wells; Another Kind of Life: Michael Sherborne
Running alongside my current reading of H.G. Well’s short stories (see ‘pages’ links to the right), I have read this book as the most recent biography of Wells that is readily available. I therefore present a review of this book from the position of a Wells ‘outsider’; someone who is not a Wells scholar and picks this book up as an introduction to his life and works.
The biography follows Well’s life from conception to death, with an emphasis placed on his many and varied relationships with women, and is the first publication to look at a particular set of correspondence between Wells and one of his mistresses. In fact, Wells seemed to have so many mistresses that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to keep up with them all. It’s hard to see how Wells himself managed, and I envy him his boundless energy if not the more obvious insecurities that led him to his philandering ways.
Whilst this book is clearly a valuable tool for scholars who wish to keep tabs of whom Wells was seeing at the time of writing a given text, it does make for a read which feels somewhat gossipy. Indeed, at times it feels rather too concerned with sordid detail, even discussing on which occasions Wells used a prophylactic and which he didn’t. I appreciate that contraception was something Wells was a public proponent of, but analysing individual cases feels like a little too much information for my taste.
This minor gripe aside, the biography gives us a very well rounded portrait of the man. It details his writing and gives brief biographical analyses of his works, also mentioning contemporary critical reactions to each, in a timely and engaging manner. The book manages to tie the story of Wells’ formative years and various romances in beautifully with the development of his thinking in order to produce an engaging narrative that produces a portrait of a man who has been sadly neglected by serious scholarship. Known to most as the author of The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, and The Invisible Man, this book exposes how he was also an immensely popular and well-connected author with high literary ambitions, a producer of best-selling educational text books, and, perhaps most surprisingly, an outspoken and controversial political agitator, influencing some of the greatest and most well-known political leaders of the early twentieth century from Clement Attlee, through Winston Churchill, to F.D. Roosevelt and even Stalin. What is perhaps most impressive about this is that Wells was not born into the Victorian aristocracy, he was a resolutely middle class child who dragged himself up through sheer will, confidence, and bloody mindedness to become a major player on the world stage, advocating his liberal socialist agenda without rest, fear, or remorse, to whoever may cross his path, regardless of how powerful or dangerous they may have been.
This biography, then, gives a balanced and rounded picture of Wells the man; a notorious and unrepentant philanderer with dreams of greatness and a certainty that his way was the correct way. A reader is left with both a mild dislike for his obvious selfishness and apparent wilfull naivety, but also an admiration for his self-confidence, and the incredible example he set in both his unflinching concern for the well-being of humanity and the iron self-regard that his awareness of this quality gave him.
Sherborne clearly knows his man and his subject inside out, meaning that this biography contains more than enough detail for the curious casual reader to understand Wells and his works, but also that it can provide a fantastic jumping-off point for those new to Wells scholarship who are looking for a good introduction to the subject. Highly recommended.