H. G. Wells

I've put up a biographical blurb about H. G. Wells, celebrated author of Select Conversations with an Uncle and Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island. Wells is almost the Alpha and the Omega of my thesis, and perhaps the Kappa too -- at least in chronological terms: he wrote the first major novel in English on aerial warfare (The War in the Air); was banging on about the use of airpower as the basis of a world government almost until the day he died; and produced a couple of other airminded science fiction novels (The World Set Free and The Shape of Things to Come) and one film in between (Things to Come). His body of work is huge, but most of it little read today, outside of his most famous science fiction novels -- The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and perhaps The Island of Doctor Moreau. Actually, that's not quite fair: though his LibraryThing holdings are dominated by those works, many of his other novels have fairly respectable numbers for an author who produced his best work over a century ago.

His Who's Who entry has some noteworthy points. He clearly measured the worth of his public life by his publications -- no honours listed (except for his D.Lit.) or organisations joined (other than his clubs, and he was clearly very clubbable). Most of his works just get a publication date, a few get a terse explanatory note, e.g '(Sorbonne lecture)'. But interestingly, one, and only one, gets a longer description:

The Outline of History, first published in fortnightly parts and then in several book editions, 1920, is an attempt to reform history-teaching by replacing narrow nationalist by a general review of the human record

This seems odd to me, because The Outline of History was surely one of his better known works (certainly of his 1920s output), and it's still read today.1 So it doesn't seem particularly necessary to explain what it's about. Perhaps he viewed it as his most significant book? That several of his later books relate to it, or at least to allude to its title, might support this: Mr. Belloc Objects to the Outline of History, The Science of Life is 'a companion to The Outline of History' and The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind is 'an Outline of Economic, Social and Political Science'. Also, I suspect that his future history, The Shape of Things to Come owes something of its form, at least, to The Outline of History, though I haven't actually read the latter yet so I can't be sure.

I find it amusing that such a world-famous figure would list his telephone number (Paddington 6204), not to mention his address (13 Hanover Terrace, Regents Park, N.W.1). Did he not get pestered by well-wishers, celebrity-seekers and out-and-out nutters? Maybe he had a secretary to answer the phone.


  1. That's assuming that he did actually write it in the first place, and not Florence Deeks ... 

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4 thoughts on “H. G. Wells

  1. I find it amusing that such a world-famous figure would list his telephone number (Paddington 6204), not to mention his address (13 Hanover Terrace, Regents Park, N.W.1). Did he not get pestered by well-wishers, celebrity-seekers and out-and-out nutters? Maybe he had a secretary to answer the phone.

    George Orwell gave out his address in Partisan Review and actually encouraged its readers to write to him!

  2. But then, very few British people had a phone for a long time - it was one of the consumer goods which lagged behind in terms of uptake into the late 1960s I think. Given a different cultural template, I suspect that not many of the 'celebrities' who gave out their phone numbers got rung up by nutters. You don't say when Wells composed/revised the WW entry to which you refer. Would that account for the explanation of the Outline of History?

  3. Post author

    There was definitely greater deference to the privacy of public figures, and you're right that there weren't so many telephones around ... But Marwick (in A History of the Modern British Isles, 1914-1999) gives figures for the number of private phone line rentals: in 1937 these just exceeded a million for the first time. I think 10 million, in round figures, is close enough for the number of British househoulds? So, all else being equal, around 1 in every 10 British nutters had access to a phone at this time :) There were also 1500 public telephone kiosks in London and 12000 nationwide (according to here) so there was ample opportunity for any nutter who wanted to harangue HG (and who could afford the cost of a call) to do so. So I'd say it had more to do with social conventions.

    The Who's Who entry was clearly up-to-date as of early 1937 (or maybe late 1936): it doesn't list any of the books published in 1937 (including Star Begotten one of his last SF novels), but it does list two films for 1937 which were never actually made as far as I know (The Food of the Gods and The New Faust). So anyway, it was a long time after An Outline of History was published (1920).

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