Herbert George Wells


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Wells, Herbert George

 

Born Sept. 21, 1866, in Bromley, Kent; died Aug. 13, 1946, in London. English writer.

Wells came from a petit bourgeois family. He graduated from the University of London in 1888 and by 1891 had a bachelor of science degree with a first in zoology and a second in geology; in 1942 he received a doctor of science degree. In 1893, Wells published textbooks in biology and physical geography. In 1930, together with J. Huxley, he published the popular three-volume work The Science of Life. With his novel The Time Machine (1895), in which he made use of concepts from natural science, Wells founded 20th-century science fiction. His literary antecedents were Swift, Voltaire, and the American and German romanticists. Arguing against the positivists in the novel, he demonstrated that the development of society within a bourgeois framework would lead to degeneration and the destruction of mankind. In The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), Wells presented the history of civilization allegorically as an inevitable but monstrously cruel process. He directed the novel The Invisible Man (1897) against both the stagnation of the middle class and the Nietzschean “superman.” In The War of the Worlds (1898), he described an attack from Mars that forces people to doubt the perfection of their social organization, and in When the Sleeper Wakes (1899; reissued in 1911 as The Sleeper Awakes) he depicted scenes from a popular revolution that shakes capitalist society in the 21st century. The early cycle of Wells’ work ends with the novels The First Men in the Moon (1901) and The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth (1904).

The Wheels of Chance (1896) was the first of Wells’ novels of everyday life and was followed by Love and Mr. Lewisham (1900), Kipps (1905), The History of Mr. Polly (1910), and Bealby: A Holiday (1915). The novel Ann Veronica (1909), devoted to the question of the emancipation of women, caused a sensation. The most significant of Wells’ non-science-fiction novels, Tono-Bungay (1909), was an attempt to describe a cross section of English society in the tradition of Balzac. Wells’ style as a science-fiction writer also underwent changes. In the Days of the Comet (1906) was a novel of everyday life with a sprinkling of science-fiction elements, and the novel The War in the Air (1908) was written in the spirit of the “technological” science fiction of J. Verne. The fantastic element was lacking altogether in the novel The World Set Free (1914), which is about the military and peaceful use of atomic energy.

After 1900, Wells produced a number of Utopian works that forecast the future, including the tract Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life and Thought (1901) and a number of articles. In the polemical novel A Modern Utopia (1905), he presented a plan for restructuring the world on the basis of state socialism, although private enterprise would have been permitted to continue on an extensive scale. The foundation of Wells’ ideology was that of the Enlightenment adapted to the 20th century. It took on the character of bourgeois reformism that was sometimes altogether radical, as in the tract New Worlds for Old (1908). However, in the polemical novel The World of William Clissold (1926) and the tract The Open Conspiracy: Blue Prints for a World Revolution (1928), Wells drew a sharp contrast between his theory and Marxism. From 1903 to 1909 he was a member of the Fabian Society. He was sharply critical of the political opportunism of the Fabians, but his own world view was only one form of Fabianism.

During World War I, Wells was an active proponent of war propaganda, as seen in The War That Will End War (1914). In 1916 he published an antiwar novel, Mr. Britling Sees It Through, but officially he did not change his position. His god-creating theories, which were first outlined in the latter novel and which resembled bogostroitel’stvo, were developed in the short novels God the Invisible King (1917), The Soul of a Bishop, and others. The Outline of History (1920), A Short History of the World (1922), and other works on history and pedagogy were also devoted to propaganda for a new religion as a means of reeducating mankind. In 1923, Wells published the educational Utopian novel Men Like Gods. Starting with the novel Meanwhile: The Picture of a Lady (1927), he took an active antifascist position; works in a similar vein include the novel The Autocracy of Mr. Parham (1930) and the tale “The Croquet Player” (1936). Wells’ outstanding satirical craftsmanship found expression in the novels Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island (1928), The Bulpington of Blup (1932), and You Can’t Be Too Careful (1941). In 1933, Wells was elected president of P.E.N.

Wells visited Russia three times, in 1914, 1920, and 1934. His conversation with V. I. Lenin on Oct. 6, 1920, became widely known owing to his book Russia in the Shadows (1920). Despite Wells’ belief that Soviet Russia was incapable of restoring and developing agriculture without help from the West, Russia in the Shadows played a large role in spreading the truth about Soviet Russia and the Communist Party. During World War II, Wells supported the Soviet Union.

As the father of 20th-century science fiction, and as a truly great master of critical realism, Wells made a significant contribution to the development of world literature.

WORKS

The Works (Atlantic edition), vols. 1–28. London, 1924–27.
In Russian translation:
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–15. Moscow, 1964.
Kratkaia istoriia chelovechestva. Moscow-Leningrad, 1924.

REFERENCES

Zamiatin, E. Gerbert Ueils. Petrograd, 1922.
Kagarlitskii, Iu. Gerbert Ueils. Moscow, 1963.
Uspenskii, L. Zapiski starogo peterburzhtsa. Leningrad, 1970. Pages 346–77.
Levidova, I. M., and B. M. Parchevskaia. G. Dzh. Ueils: Bibliografiia russkikh perevodov i kriticheskoi literatury na russkom iazyke, 1898–1965. Moscow, 1966.
Bergonzi, B. The Early H. G. Wells. Manchester, 1961.
Raknem, I. H. G. Wells and His Critics. Oslo, 1962.
H. G. Wells: A Comprehensive Bibliography, 2nd ed. London, 1968.

IU. I. KAGARLITSKII

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