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H. G.

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Unfortunately, this biography seldom rises above the level of tabloid journalism. It displays juvenile assessments, cut-and-paste quotations from Wells’s AUTOBIOGRAPHY, and a shake-out of titillating sex. Foot makes no attempt to combine insightful portraiture with analytic social and literary criticism. Rather, he emphasizes tabloid sensationalism by unveiling Wells’s oversexed propensity for lechery, his adamant rebellion against the elitism of the British upper class, and his bull-in-a-china-shop iconoclasm on behalf of Fabian socialism, the “new woman,” “free love,” atheism, progressive education, a league of nations, world government, admiration for the Soviet experiment, and faith in scientific progress.

In addition to having acquired two wives by abandoning the first for the second and being unfaithful to both, Wells, in the words of a prominent British critic, “probably holds the twentieth- century record for the most mistresses possessed in a lifetime by a public man.” Of these “new women” perhaps the most notable are author Rebecca West (who bore him two children); novelist Dorothy Richardson (whom he also made pregnant); and Baroness Moura Budberg, Estonian mistress of Russian writer Maxim Gorky, who joined Wells after Gorky’s death and looked after him during his last years.

In the footsteps of Edgar Poe and Jules Verne, Wells is a leading pioneer of scientific fantasy, and his work in this vein—THE TIME MACHINE (1895), THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1896), THE INVISIBLE MAN (1897), and THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1898)—displays a lively imagination and a high level of artistry. It will very likely endure. His middle-class comedies—LOVE AND MR. LEWISHAM (1900), KIPPS (1905), and THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY (1910)—and his utopian novels—WHEN THE SLEEPER AWAKES (1899) and IN THE DAYS OF THE COMET (1906)—are also noteworthy. Those novels attempting to deal with sexual disharmony by offering utopian solutions amounting to downright licentiousness are deservedly forgotten. On the whole, Foot’s praises of Wells’s literary art are much overdone and lack thoughtful discrimination. Finally, his failure to provide an index to his biography is a serious fault and may stem from his too journalistic outlook.