H.G. Wells was the fourth and last child of Joseph Wells (a shopkeeper and professional cricketer) and Sarah Neal. His early education was patchy as was his early working life but, at the age of 18 he won a scholarship to study biology at the Normal School of Science (later the Royal College of Science) in South Kensington. He left before graduating to return to teaching, beginning also to focus intensively on writing. He was a prolific writer in many genres but is probably best known for his science fiction novels; seriously establishing himself as a writer with the publication of The Time Machinein 1895, completed during the short period when he lived in Woking. I will reference the following books where relevant:-
Several biographies have been written of H. G. Wells, but the one I obtained is by Michael Sherborne (2010) H. G. Wells: Another Kind of Life. London & Chicago. Peter Owen. Sherborne did comprehensive research and the book is full of detailed accounts of Wells’s activities, writings and thoughts. In fact, there was so much detail that I found it hard to distinguish between what was of most and least importance. Michael Sherborne obviously found his subject to be highly fascinating whatever he was engaged in.
H. G. Wells wrote several autobiographies. The one I obtained as a Kindle version is Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain (since 1866) (1934) which takes him to 1900.
I also have a Critical Edition of “War of the Worlds” with Introduction and Notes by David Y. Hughes and Harry M. Geduld (1993) USA. Indiana University Press.
I am concentrating here on the events leading up to his arrival and during his stay in Woking to gain a picture of his perceptions of the Town. At that point he was separated from his first wife, with a divorce pending, and living in lodgings in London with his lover, Amy Catherine Robbins (who he called Jane)  Michael Sherborne comments on this, “It is tempting to interpret her subsequent life as the suppression of an independent woman by a domineering man, particularly since Wells deprived her even of her preferred name, replacing ‘Catherine” with the plain monosyllable ‘Jane’. However, Sherborne suggests that Jane concluded that being the mainstay of a successful man was her best chance to get what she wanted from life as well as having a genuine belief that Wells was remarkably gifted and she could achieve more by assisting him than she could on her own. He doesn’t provide a reference for that though, although he does later speculate that there might have been an element of collaboration in view of Wells’s prolific literary output. (M. Sherborne 2010:116)
Whilst finances had improved, the London air was affecting his generally poor health even more and Wells decided he wanted to find “a little house in the country where I could follow up with another book the success that I felt was coming to the Time Machine. (Page 502 of 769. Location 6701 of 10292). Therefore, they borrowed a hundred pounds through a mortgage on Jane’s mother’s house and “… we furnished a small resolute semi-detached villa with a minute greenhouse in the Maybury Road facing the railway line, where all night long the goods trains shunted and bumped and clattered – without serious effect upon our healthy slumbers”.
Wells viewed the move to Woking in May 1895 as a cheerful adventure, commenting that “Woking was the site of the first crematorium but few of our friends made more than five or six jokes about it”. One thing that Wells doesn’t mention is that some of the trains on the railway line opposite might have been carrying the deceased and the bereaved in their first, second or third carriages on the way to Brookwood Cemetery!
He seemed to like it in Woking – “Close at hand in those days was a pretty and rarely used canal amidst pine-woods, a weedy canal, beset with loose-strife, spiraea, forget-me-nots and yellow water lilies, upon which one could be happy for hours in a hired canoe, and in all directions stretched open and undeveloped heathland, so that we could walk and presently learn to ride bicycles and restore our broken contact with the open air”. Wells wrote about the dangers of the primitive bicycle (an experience he used in one of his later books). Also, “Later on I wheeled about the district marking down suitable places and people for destruction by my Martians”(See below) . As they became more proficient the couple cycled further , wandering about the south of England. Wells also enjoyed drawing and he includes here what he termed a ‘Picshua’ of “Cycling and also of Jane “Engaging A Servant”.
Jane Engaging a Servant
He and Jane were married (27th October 1895) during their stay in Woking, despite the fact that they both believed in ‘free love’ . They had found that servants became impertinent and neighbours curt or insulting when learning of their unmarried state and didn’t want this friction to continue. (M. Sherborne 2010:110). They lived happily, increasing their circle of acquaintances and friends, until Jane’s mother became ill and they decided that should move to a larger house at Worcester Park so that Mrs Robbins could live with them.
The War of the Worlds (1898)
The idea for the book emanated from a discussion Well’s had with his older brother, Frank, as they were out walking and, indeed, he dedicated the book to Frank. They had been discussing the terrible effects on the indigenous Tasmanian population following the building of the first white settlement there in 1803. The Tasmanian Aboriginal people were treated as sub-humans and attempts to resist were met with the superior weaponry and force of the Europeans. Between 1831 and 1835, ostensibly in a final effort at conciliation and to prevent the extermination of approximately 200 Tasmanian Aboriginal people, they were removed to Flinders Island where most of them soon died, due to destruction of their traditional way of life, attempts to ‘civilize’ them and effects of alien diseases. In the discussion Frank remarked, “Suppose some beings from another planet were to drop out of the sky suddenly, and begin laying about them here!”
Hughes and Geduld describe the plot of the book as “apocalyptic” in its unveiling of, “… a predestined future cataclysm of extra-human proportions which destroys the world as we know it but eventuates in the triumph of good over evil. Wells invokes three responses to these events – the scriptural response of the curate; the narrator’s moral and intellectual experimentalism and the artilleryman’s survivalist-authoritarian response and, overall, the book is, (… an exploratory document whose readers must bridge into the world that is dawning after the invasion” (Hughes & Geduld 1993:09). There is the ‘ranting curate’ (Wells was anti-religion; the narrator who bridges between the Scriptural and scientific world views and the artilleryman who believes that civilization and progress is over and “we’ve got to fix ourselves up according to the new state of affairs”.
Mars and the Martians also offer a preview of Earth’s fate with their dying world and violent aggression – a very contemporary issue in view of Climate change. I know it’s an exciting prospect, but I do find it hard at present to avoid conflating the current drive to explore new planets with the destruction that was wreaked on the Tasmanian Aboriginal People and those in other Countries.