24 aprilie 2012

H.G. Wells

Earlier this year I run a sort of poll among people I know. I have asked a little more than a dozen, maybe even twenty, if the name H.G. Wells rings a bell. Less than a handful correctly pointed out the English novelist, member of Fabian society. On the opposite, all of them immediately recognized the name of Jules Verne. I found this both disturbing and unfair. Hence this post on HG Wells.

A sort of iconic figure for the British society, Wells was portrayed as an episodic character in the successful TV series Dr.Who (the 2005 series), and reinvented as a women (which is somehow ironical) recurring as character in the Warehouse 13 series. However, he is much more than a personage common to some TV series. Born in 1866, he lived a passionate life, as a front page actor. Nowadays he is considered as one of the three founding fathers of science fiction, along with Jules Verne and the Luxembourger Hugo Gernsback. The later was an inventive and efficient editor of SF literature. He invented the term, published first magazines, and was at the origin of fandom. Hugo Gernsback was a mediocre writer, therefore the comparison should be done between Wells and Verne.

Both were active approximately in the same period, had excellent literary skills, and were also mainstream writers. Their style was however different. Verne wrote nice adventure stories that everybody knows and have enjoyed during childhood. Captain Grant’s kids and Phil’s Fog balloon travel around the globe, to pick just two examples, were good novels, with lovely plots, exiting adventures, some romance, and happy endings. Their success triggered the popular interest towards the SF writings, in which the author popularized mild inventions such as flying machines, rockets to the Moon, or Nemo’s submarine. All become reality and today everybody knows about Jules Verne. At least everybody who might read this blog ;).

1966 Romanian edition of The Invisible Man
source: http://moshulsf.wordpress.com/
Wells was more concerned with promoting his political ideas, like socialist utopias, and free love. They make good profits for the editors, but were less likely to be fully accepted by public opinion. More, catholic, orthodox, and communist countries were probably not very eager to translate HG Wells. Also, his science fiction contributions were more fantastic than Jules Verne’s. He described a Time Machine (and here is the connection with Dr. Who), an Invisible Man, or Martians invading Earth, during a complicated War of Worlds. There is not much engineering, but more imagination about what can be, and how this would affect life and humanity. All his themes are to be found, in more refined versions in contemporary science fiction literature.

On the other hand, Wells’ personal life involved continuous extramarital relations, and a rather gender-imbalanced approach, according to nowadays standards. However, according to the standards of his time, he was rather an activist for woman rights, and an advocate for a more equal world. His presence in the Fabian society (the ancestor of the Labour Party) was therefore natural. Due to his liberal views on marriage and sexual relations, Wells proved to be too radical even for socialists, even if not in the communist direction.

As I said, personal life and libertine ideas, made Wells less known outside Britain and probably the US. (In the 30s, when radio was a kind of God, they have broadcasted, without any warning, Wells’s story about Martians invading Earth. Many people though it is for true, panicked, get hysterical… A good rehearsal for extreme situations, like the Romanian Revolution in 1989, I would say…)

The most recent David Lodge’s novel discusses HG Wells life, loves, ideas and novels. I will briefly introduce it in the next post.

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