the futurity man


“Self-made” simply isn’t a strong enough term for H. G. Wells, as Michael Sherborne’s authoritative new Life makes very clear. His father was an unsuccessful shopkeeper in Bromley, Kent; his mother a lady’s maid who had to return to service as the family got gradually poorer. Lack of money meant that Bertie’s formal education was delayed until a few months before his eighth birthday and ended soon after his thirteenth: the next year he was expected to teach other children, some bigger than him, at a National School in Wookey. Lessons consisted of “whatever occurred” to the teenager, punctuated by hand-to-hand combat, as Wells recalled in his autobiography: “I fought my class, hit them about viciously and had altogether a lot of trouble with them”. Wells was put to several apprenticeships and seemed fated to replicate his father’s life in trade, either as a draper or a chemist. But he was not prepared to leave his change of fortune to luck or accident. There was a “game against life” which he was determined to win, and as his lowly hero Mr Polly comes to realize in the novel, “If the world does not please you, you can change it”.

more from Claire Harman at the TLS here.