The Life and Work of H.G. Wells

The prolific author of 'The Time Machine' and 'The War of the Worlds'

HG Wells
De Agostini / Biblioteca Ambrosiana / De Agostini Picture Library / Getty Images. De Agostini / Biblioteca Ambrosiana / De Agostini Picture Library / Getty Images 

Herbert George Wells, more commonly known as H.G. Wells (September 21, 1866-August 13, 1946), was a prolific English author of fiction and non-fiction. Wells is best-remembered, however, for his famous science fiction novels and uncanny predictions about the future.

Fast Facts: H.G. Wells

  • Full Name: Herbert George Wells
  • Occupation: Writer
  • Born: September 21, 1866, Bromley, England
  • Died: August 13, 1946, London, England 
  • Spouse(s): Isabel Mary Wells (1891-1894); Amy Catherine Robbins (1895-1927)
  • Children: G.P. Wells, Frank Wells, Anna-Jane Wells, Anthony West
  • Published Works: "The Time Machine," "The Island of Doctor Moreau," "The Wheels of Chance," "The Invisible Man," "The War of the Worlds"
  • Key Accomplishments: Pioneered the science fiction genre and wrote more than 100 books during his 60-plus year career. 

Early Years

H.G. Wells was born on September 21, 1866, in Bromley, England. His parents, Joseph Wells and Sarah Neal, worked as domestic servants before using a small inheritance to purchase a hardware store. Known as Bertie to his family, Wells had three older siblings. The family lived in poverty for many years as the store provided a limited income due to poor location and inferior merchandise.

At the age of 7, after Wells suffered an accident that left him bedridden, he became a voracious reader of everything from Charles Dickens to Washington Irving. When the family store finally went under, his mother went to work as a housekeeper at a large estate. It was there Wells was able to expand his literary horizons with authors such as Voltaire.  

At the age of 18, Wells received a scholarship to the Normal School of Science, where he studied biology. He later attended London University. After graduating in 1888, Wells became a science teacher. His first book, the "Textbook of Biology," was published in 1893.

Personal Life

Wells married his cousin, Isabel Mary Wells, in 1891, but left her in 1894 for a former student, Amy Catherine Robbins. The couple married in 1895. Wells' first fiction novel, "The Time Machine," was published the same year. The book brought Wells instant fame, inspiring him to embark on a serious career as a writer.

Famous Works

Wells long- and short-form fiction falls into many genres, including science-fiction, fantasy, dystopian fiction, satire, and tragedy. Wells penned plenty of non-fiction, including biographies, autobiographies, social commentaries, and textbooks as well as social commentary, history, biography, autobiography, and recreational war games.

Wells' 1895 debut, "The Time Machine," was followed by "The Island of Doctor Moreau" (1896), "The Invisible Man" (1897), and "The War of the Worlds" (1898). All four novels have been adapted for film, however, one of the most famous renditions of a Wells work was by Orson Welles, whose radio adaptation of "The War of the Worlds" was broadcast on October 30, 1938.

The reports that many listeners, not realizing what they were hearing was a radio play rather than a news broadcast and were so terrorized at the prospect of an alien invasion that they fled their homes in fear has since been debunked. However, the panic story was accepted for years and became one of the most enduring urban legends ever perpetrated in the name of a publicity campaign.

Death

H.G. Wells died on August 13, 1946, at the age of 79 of unspecified causes (his death has been attributed to a heart attack or a liver tumor). Wells' ashes were scattered at sea in Southern England near a series of three chalk formations known as Old Harry Rocks.

Impact and Legacy

H.G. Wells liked to say that he wrote "scientific romances." Today, we refer to this style of writing as science fiction. Wells' influence on this genre is so significant that he, along with French author Jules Verne, share the title of "the father of science fiction."

Wells was among the first to write about such things as time machines and alien invasions. His most famous works have never been out of print, and their influence is still apparent in modern books, films, and television shows.

Wells also made a number of social and scientific predictions in his writing—including airplane and space travel, the atomic bomb, and even the automatic door—that have since come to pass. These prophetic imaginings are part of Wells' legacy and one of the things he is most famous for.

Quotes

H.G. Wells often commented on art, people, government, and social issues. Here are some characteristic examples:

"I found that, taking almost anything as a starting point and letting my thoughts play about with it, there would presently come out of the darkness, in a manner quite inexplicable, some absurd or vivid little nucleus."
"Humanity either makes, or breeds, or tolerates all its afflictions, great or small."
"If you fell down yesterday, stand up today."

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