At the end of the 19th century people felt excited about the new discoveries of science, which seemed to promise so much in the future. Only few writers expressed this feeling so well or so lifelike as H. G. Wells. With the French writer Jules Verne he may fairly be called the father of science fiction. But it wasn’t the only type of literature that he wrote.
H. G. Wells was born at Bromley in Kent in 1886. He was the son of domestic servants and lived in poverty and hardship. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a draper at Windsor. Two years later he became a student assistant at Midhurst Grammar School. At 18 he won a scholarship to study biology at the Normal School of Science, where T. H. Huxley was one of his teachers. In 1891 he made a marriage to his cousin Isabel Mary Wells but it wasn’t successful and in 1895 he married Any Catherine Robins. This marriage was to be lasting.
Wells used his knowledge of science as the starting point for a series of
exciting fantastic stories. His literary career began with the publication of his first novel The Time Machine in 1895. It was immediately successful, so he began a series of science fiction novels that revealed him as an original writer: The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), The War of the Worlds (1898) and The First Men in the Moon (1901).
For a time he acquired a reputation as a prophet of the future. In The War in the Air he foresaw certain developments in the military use of aircraft. But his imagination flourished at his best in the astronomical fantasies of The First Men in the Moon and The War of the Worlds. He also wrote many short stories, which were collected in The Stolen Bacillus (1895) and Tales of Space and Time (1899).
Eventually, Wells decided to write comic novels of lower middle-class life. Because of the harshness of his early life and its working class background he knew a lot about the problems of ordinary people and wrote about their ambitions and disappointments in novels such as Kipps (1905) and The History of Mr. Polly (1910). These novels are full of humour and life.
Wells felt much of the pessimism prevalent in 1890s. In his short-term view, however, his study of biology led him that human society would evolve into higher forms. Having wrote Anticipations (1901), Mankind in the Making (1903) and A Modern Utopia (1905), he became a leading preacher of the doctrine of social progress. About this time, too, he became an active socialist, and in 1903 joined the Fabian Society. But soon he began to criticize its methods and quarreled with G. B. Shaw and Beatrice Webb. This quarrel is retold in his novel The New Machiavelli (1911), in which Webbs are parodied as the Baileys. Wells was a socialist and he wrote many books about the history and science so that people would be able to understand the important ideas of modern world.
These works include The Outline of History (1920), The Science of Life (1931) and The Shape of Things to Come (1935). At the same time he continued to publish works of fiction in which his gifts of narrative and dialogue give away almost entirely to polemics. His sense of humour reappears, however in Experiment in Autobiography (1934).
Fear of tragic wrong turning in the development of the human race, to which he had early given imaginative expression in the animal mutations of The Island of Doctor Moreau, dominates the shirt novels and fables he wrote in the later 1930s.
Wells was now ill and aging. With the outbreak of World War 2, he lost all confidence in the future, and in Mind at the End of its Tether (1945) he depicts a bleak vision of a world in which nature has rejected, and is destroying humankind.