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From acclaimed literary biographer Claire Tomalin, a complex and fascinating exploration of the early life of the influential writer and public figure H.G. Wells
Upon the death of H.G. Wells, in 1946, George Orwell remarked, “If he had stopped writing in 1920 his reputation would stand quite as high as it does: if we knew him only by the books he wrote after that date, we should have rather a low opinion of him.” For though Wells is remembered as the author of such influential books of science fiction as The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds, and as a man whose visions of the future remain unsurpassed, his success as a writer of fiction stopped short in his forties. He remained famous, with an established reputation across England, America, and France, but, remarkably, never again equaled his early writing achievements.
In The Young H.G. Wells, Claire Tomalin brings to life the early years of H.G. Wells, and traces his formation as a writer of extraordinary originality and ambition. Born in 1866, the son of a gardener and a housekeeper, Wells faced poverty and ill health from a young age. At 12, he was taken out of school, torment for a child with intellectual aspirations. Determined, Wells won scholarships and worked towards science degrees. Though he failed his final exams, he was soon writing text books, involving himself in politics, and contributing to newspapers. Still suffering from serious illness, as well as multiple physical breakdowns, Wells understood early on the impulse to escape—through books, art, and his imagination—and he began to make his name by writing short stories. But it wasn’t until the publication of his first novel, The Time Machine, in 1895, that Wells attained the great success he had so longed for. His book, which transformed the way readers saw the world, was hailed as an extraordinary accomplishment.
Until the period leading up to the first world war, Wells wrote books at an almost unprecedented speed—about science, mysteries, and prophecies; aliens, planets, and space travel; mermaids, the bottom of the sea, and distant islands. He chronicled social change, and forecasted the future of technology and politics; formed friendships with Winston Churchill, Henry James, and Bernard Shaw, and shaped the minds of the young and old. His most famous works have never been out of print, and his influence is still felt today. In this unforgettable portrait of this complicated man, Tomalin makes clear his early period was crucial in making him into the great writer he became, and that by concentrating on the young Wells, we get the best of his life, and of his work.
Claire Tomalin is the author of eight highly acclaimed biographies, including Charles Dickens: A Life and Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, which won the 2002 Whitbread Book of the Year Award, and a memoir A Life of My Own. She has previously won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography, the Hawthornden Prize, the NCR Book Award for Non-Fiction, and the Whitbread First Book Prize. Educated at Cambridge University, she served as literary editor of the New Statesman and The Sunday Times. Claire Tomalin lives in London and is married to the playwright Michael Frayn.
Benjamin Moser was born in Houston. He is the author of Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector, a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award and a New York Times Notable Book of 2009. For his work bringing Clarice Lispector to international prominence, he received Brazil’s first State Prize for Cultural Diplomacy. He won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2017, and his latest book, Sontag: Her Life and Work, won the Pulitzer Prize.