H. G. Wells: A Political Life. By Utopian Studies

H. G. Wells: A Political Life.

By Utopian Studies

  • Release Date: 2008-06-22
  • Genre: Religion & Spirituality

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HG. Wells was born into a struggling lower-middle-class family on September 21, 1866 at Atlas House, High Street, in Bromley, Kent. He had two brothers, Frank (1857-1933) and Fred (1862-1954), and a sister, Fanny (1855-1864), who died before he was born. His father, Joseph Wells (1828-1910), was a shopkeeper and former gardener, who moved to Bromley in 1855 to sell china and cricket equipment, and supplemented his income by coaching local cricketers and bowling for Kent County Cricket Club. Wells's mother, Sarah Wells (nee Neal) (1822-1905), had been a lady's maid before her marriage to Joseph in 1853 and shared the shopkeeping duties on their move to Bromley. When Wells was 11 years old, his father's cricket career came to an end when he fractured his leg. Although Joseph persisted with the shop until 1887, with the loss of his cricketing income Sarah returned to domestic service, and was housekeeper to Frances Fetherstonhaugh at Uppark in Sussex from 1880 until her retirement in 1893. In that year, she rejoined Joseph and her son Frank in a cottage in Nyewoods, Sussex where the two men earned a meagre living performing odd jobs. In 1896, their newly prosperous son, H. G., bought his parents a cottage in Liss, Hampshire, where they lived for their remaining years. Wells's schooling took place at Mrs Knott's Dame School (1871-1874) and Thomas Morley's Commercial Academy (1874-1880) in Bromley. Although the curriculum was restricted, he proved an able pupil, learning the "three Rs," basic French, and bookkeeping. He was perfectly equipped to take up a retail apprenticeship. As an apprentice, however, Wells proved unsatisfactory. He worked for brief spells at the Rodgers and Denyer drapery in Windsor (1880), as a pupil-teacher in Wookey (which ended when the headmaster's qualifications were found to be substandard and the school was closed down) (1880), at Cowap's chemists in Midhurst (1881), and again as a trainee draper at Hyde's Drapery Emporium in Southsea (1881-1883). After two miserable years at Hyde's, Wells demanded his mother release him from his indenture or face suicide, and she relented. In September 1883, he enrolled at Midhurst Grammar School (where he had briefly attended Latin classes during his chemist's apprenticeship in 1881) and became a pupil-teacher on an annual salary of 20 [pounds sterling]. While at the grammar school, Wells sat a number of Education Department examinations and won a scholarship to study for a science degree at the Normal School of Science, South Kensington. In September 1884, Wells enrolled at the Normal School, where he studied briefly under T. H. Huxley. He began well only to end his course in 1887 without a degree. Despite his lack of academic success, Wells's time at the Normal School saw him take up amateur journalism. He founded and edited the Science Schools Journal (1886-1887), and got involved in London socialist politics through participation in the School Debating Society and by attending open meetings of the Fabian Society and William Morris's Kelmscott House soirees. There, he heard Morris, George Bernard Shaw, Graham Wallas, and "a sprinkling of foreigners, who discoursed with passion, and a tendency to length, in what they evidently considered was the English tongue" (Experiment in Autobiography 193).