H. G. Wells Biography

H. G. Wells Biography

H. G. Wells' influence on the emerging field of science fiction is almost impossible to overstate. Trained in science and as a teacher, Herbert George Wells was also intensely political: he was a socialist, a radical, and a supporter of a planned world state. In his fiction, Wells often combined his pedagogical tendencies with his political concerns, but that in no way affected the creativity and high literary value of his sci-fi writing. Among his genre-defining works are a time travel novel (The Time Machine), a riveting classic about interplanetary warfare (War of the Worlds), and some genuinely creepy novels exploring the social implications of scientific exploration (The Invisible Man and The Island of Doctor Moreau).

Facts and Trivia

  • Wells is a sufficiently intriguing and romantic figure that he has appeared as a character in other people’s stories many times. He’s popped up in episodes of Lois and Clarke and Doctor Who, and he also provided the model for a character in C. S. Lewis’ novel That Hideous Strength. If you look closely enough, you can even see his picture in one scene from the 2002 film version of The Time Machine.
  • Speaking of romantic figures, Wells was married twice and had numerous affairs throughout his life.
  • In 1938, Orson Welles directed a radio adaptation of Wells’ The War of the Worlds. Many listeners took the broadcast as factual and thought Earth had actually been invaded by Martians.
  • In The Time Machine, Wells suggested that classes might actually evolve into different races. The working class became the Morlocks, a name that has been used in comic books (in Marvel’s X-Men series) and music (there’s a garage-punk band called The Morlocks).
  • Wells had no doubts about his talent, his intelligence, and his legacy. Here’s what he thought his epitaph would have to be: “I told you so. You damned fools.” (The italics, by the way, were Orwell’s.)


(History of the World: The 20th Century)
ph_0111201604-Wells.jpg H. G. Wells Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Through his writings—both fiction and nonfiction—Wells became a significant shaper of liberal social thought in the first half of the twentieth century.

Early Life

Herbert George Wells was born into a family struggling to maintain its place in the lower middle class. His father, Joseph, owned a shop but made more money coaching and playing professional cricket. After an injury prevented Joseph from playing cricket, Sarah, Herbert’s mother, worked as a maid and housekeeper. A working wife ended the family’s claim to middle-class status. Wells made much of, perhaps exaggerated, his family’s struggles, and his characters often struggled with the conflicts of social respectability, personal satisfaction, and happiness.

One of the family’s middle-class gestures was to send Wells to a private school, which was socially preferable to state schools even when, as in this case, the instruction was wretched. In 1874 Wells entered Thomas Morley’s Commercial Academy. He learned little, but books supplied by his father during a six-month convalescence with a broken leg and access to the library of the estate where his mother was housekeeper provided him with an extensive, if haphazard, accumulation of knowledge.

In the early 1880’s, Sarah arranged several apprenticeships for her son, twice with drapers and once with a pharmacist. Although his reading continued (at times in preference to his apprenticeship work) and he learned something of science from the pharmacist, Wells ultimately rejected the hopelessness of a career as a clerk. Out of concern that her son have a respectable occupation and to avoid forfeiting the apprenticeship fee, Sarah resisted. Finally, after coercing his mother with hints of suicide, Wells left the draper’s trade and entered, in 1883, Midhurst Grammar School as a teaching scholar. As Wells remembers this time, he was expected to do most of the teaching and win government-sponsored scholarships to bring distinction and money to the school. Preparing for scholarship examinations helped expand his knowledge significantly.

More important, Wells discovered scholarships to study in the new government schools of science and technology. In 1884 he enrolled in the Normal School of Science in South Kensington, where he studied biology under the famous Thomas Henry Huxley, who has sometimes been called “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his vigorous advocacy of evolution. Finally, the first-class intelligence of Wells met with first-class instruction and knowledge. Regrettably, illness kept Huxley from teaching after Wells’s first year, and, not drawn to less inspired substitutes, he gave more and more attention to politics and writing for the Science Schools Journal, which he came to edit. Too late, he crammed for his exams and was forced to leave without a degree.

Life’s Work

To earn a living, Wells began teaching. In 1886 he met his cousin Isabel Mary Wells, whom he was to marry in 1891. Wells’s relations with women were always problematic. His libido was strong, and although short (around 5 feet 6 inches) and a bit pudgy later in life, his chestnut hair and blue eyes were striking. Women were attracted to him, but he found respectable behavior difficult. Within one year of his marriage, he was enthralled by a student, Amy Catherine Robins. In 1895 his marriage ended in divorce, and he married Robins, whom he always called Jane. This marriage lasted until her death in 1927, but Wells had many affairs, most notably with Rebecca West, Moura Budberg, and Odette Keun. These relationships resulted in several illegitimate children. He frequently attacked restrictive sexual mores in his fiction. His novel Ann Veronica (1909), for example, was criticized because the heroine finds unwed bliss with her science teacher. The conventional view was that she should have suffered for such immoral behavior. He addressed this theme repeatedly but perhaps most effectively in The Passionate Friends (1913).

Wells continued to teach and earned a bachelor of science from the University of London in 1890. He also wrote more and more, first stories and articles, then the Text-Book of Biology, which was published in 1893. Wells moved steadily toward being a full-time writer. With four books, 1895 proved to be the breakthrough year. Most important was The Time Machine, which has been compared to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) for its satiric treatment of human foibles viewed through the eyes of a traveler. The struggle between the Eloi and Morlocks found by the traveler in the future has also been portrayed as a socialist class struggle. Whatever its ideological focus, it was a good story that sold well and gave Wells and his new bride the beginnings of financial stability. Of the other books published in 1895, The Wonderful Visit, the tale of an angel that appears in a small English village, is the most well known. Its comments about hypocrisy and people’s failings are heavy-handed, and its...

(The entire section is 2079 words.)

H. G. Wells Biography

(Novels for Students)

Herbert George Wells was born on September 21, 1866, in Bromley, Kent, in England. His father was a shopkeeper and a professional cricket...

(The entire section is 424 words.)

H. G. Wells Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

One of the most amply self-documented lives in the annals of English literature began on September 21, 1866, when to Sarah Neal Wells, a lady’s maid, and to Joseph Wells, an unsuccessful tradesman though accomplished cricketer, was born the last of three sons, Herbert George (Bertie) Wells. The infant first “squinted and bubbled at the universe” in a shabby bedroom over a china shop in Bromley, in a residence called Atlas House. Bertie Wells’s escape from the drab life of his two siblings was astonishing though brief. Her older sons safely apprenticed, Sarah Wells took thirteen-year-old Bertie with her to an estate called Uppark, where she hired on as a housekeeper in 1880. The change in outlook from shopkeeper’s window to below stairs in a manor house was lifesaving. It lasted a year, during which the boy encountered great books for the first time—the satires of Voltaire, the saga of Gulliver, the liberating air of Platonic realism’s Politeia (388-368 b.c.e.; Republic, 1701).

The young Wells’s education was fragmentary, alternating with dismal apprenticeships one after another. He escaped anonymity through an unlikely door. He began to pass examinations and to show unusual ability in science. At eighteen he won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science, London, to train to be a teacher. His zoology professor was Thomas H. Huxley, brilliant essayist, evolutionist, and public spokesperson...

(The entire section is 534 words.)

H. G. Wells Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Herbert George Wells was born in 1866 at Bromley in Kent, England, to Joseph and Sarah Neal Wells. He attended a commercial academy from 1874 to 1880. Having run away from his apprenticeship in a drapery shop, he taught in a preparatory school. Then he attended the London Normal School of Science from 1884 to 1887, studying biology under T. H. Huxley. In 1891 he was married to Isabel Mary Wells, and he published “The Rediscovery of the Unique.” The Time Machine brought him fame in 1895, the same year that he divorced Isabel to marry Amy Catherine Robbins.

In 1901, Wells’s son George Philip was born; Frank Richard followed in 1903. In 1914, having visited Russia, Wells published a prophecy, The War...

(The entire section is 268 words.)

H. G. Wells Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Herbert George Wells was born in Bromley, Kent, England, on September 21, 1866, the third son of Joseph and Sarah Neal Wells. In rather mean surroundings (Wells later called it “a suburb of the damnedest”), Sarah struggled to rear her son, returning to her employment as a lady’s maid after her unreliable husband (who was first a gardener and then a professional club cricketer) abandoned the family. Giving Wells the rudiments of an education—teaching him the alphabet and borrowing books from the public library—Sarah took employment with the Fetherstonhaugh family at Up Park, Sussex. These circumstances—growing up poor among the wealthy, observing at close hand the disparity between social classes, and striving to acquire...

(The entire section is 799 words.)

H. G. Wells Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In his fiction and nonfiction, H. G. Wells dreamed of a future that would fundamentally change the conditions of the present. He was fascinated by the scientific and technological developments of his time; he explored politics and business, looking for the roots of self and society. He used his formidable intellect and imagination to lay bare the faults of his age, and he created characters who strove against but often succumbed to the temptations of the emerging capitalist and corporate culture. He often despaired that humanity would find a way to express its highest potential, yet his own prodigious output argued for the value of an inquiring mind, unfazed by obstacles and resolved on accomplishing a revolution in the...

(The entire section is 124 words.)

H. G. Wells Biography

(Novels for Students)
H. G. Wells Published by Gale Cengage

Born in Bromley, England, on September 21, 1866, Herbert George Wells was raised in relative poverty by his father, Joseph Wells, a failed...

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H. G. Wells Biography

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Herbert George Wells was born in Bromley, Kent, England, on September 21, 1866. His father was an unprosperous shop keeper, his mother a head...

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By the time he died on August 13, 1946, in London, Herbert George Wells was admired as a prophet and as an important social philosopher who...

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H. G. Wells Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Herbert George Wells, whose parents ran a china shop, was one of England’s most prolific and best-known writers. Although he had to work for a living early in life, he was determined to get an education and rise in the world. After a period as a draper’s apprentice and a chemist’s assistant, he attended Midhurst Middleschool, where he was a teacher and a student. In 1884 he won a scholarship at the Royal College of Science, studying under the biologist and advocate of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, Thomas Henry Huxley, an experience that made a lasting impression on him. Two years later he founded the Science Schools Journal, combining his interests in teaching and science writing. In 1890 he earned a...

(The entire section is 934 words.)

H. G. Wells Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Confiding to his friend Redmond who narrates "The Door in the Wall," Lionel Wallace relates that a preoccupation is gradually coming to...

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