Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Tag: A Man of Parts

When Ann Veronica met Clarissa

Why did I relegate H. G. Wells to the realms of science fiction? If I had read Ann Veronica with no awareness of the author I would never have guessed that the amazingly modern story (for 1909) advocating women’s equality was written by the same man celebrated for The War of the Worlds.

Ann Veronica is a student in her twenties who wants to be completely independent. As Wells puts it, she wants to ‘live like a man’. The plot of this book is based around the various attempts towards freedom Ann Veronica makes. From what I have read about H. G. Wells, he puts a lot of autobiography into his novels: This one in particular is based around his relationship with Amber Reeves. As Wells was already married, it caused quite a scandal, which was exacerbated by the publication of the book.

Reading Ann Veronica I kept thinking about Clarissa. It was written some two hundred years previously but what was expected of both characters is quite similar. Granted I’m still in the early stages of Clarissa, but the desire for independence is there. Neither woman wants to be married off, although Ann Veronica sees deeper problems. The average age for marriage was increasing; two hundred years worth of ‘progression’ for women appears to be boredom. It is more than avoiding marriage for Ann Veronica – she wants a life of value and purpose and what did all those unmarried women do with their time?

As far as introductions to authors go, this was a good one. It was the book mentioned in A Man of Parts that I thought sounded most appealing, and I wasn’t wrong. There is so much more to H. G. Wells than I ever gave him credit for – not a time machine or futuristic war in sight. Although to be fair, I think I’m now much more likely to give those books a try. My favourite part of this book was getting an insight into something completely different: Whilst I have read books by authors of a similar time, H. G. Wells differs by writing with an urgency to change the times he lived in.

Nice to Meet You, Mr. Wells.

I’ve progressed from men of property to men of parts:  A Man of Parts by David Lodge.

David Lodge draws on letters, autobiography and novels to create a fictional biography of H. G. Wells. I haven’t read any books by Wells, in fact the only thing I knew about him prior to beginning this book was that he had a fairly unconventional marriage. Katie Roiphe’s Uncommon Arrangements explored Wells’ belief in free love: Basically whilst Wells was a married man, he had an arrangement with his wife that he could have affairs as and when he pleased. A Man of Parts focuses on the relationships Wells had with various mistresses and how that affected his career and beliefs.

I’ve only ever read one other fictional biography, which was The Paris Wife and was about Hemingway in the Paris literary scene of the 1920s. I really enjoyed that book because of the dynamic created by looking in on a circle of writers. A Man of Parts doesn’t disappoint in this way: H. G. Wells’  contemporaries were writers like Ford Madox Ford and Henry James. The discussion about why different writers choose to write was interesting. For example Henry James was portrayed in this novel as writing towards the higher (?) purpose of creating art itself. He was interested in beauty rather than structure. Wells in contrast was writing to change the world. He used his novels as a medium for expressing his social and political views. The discussion of writing was very welcome in a book about a writer; I enjoyed reading about how Wells worked best and how prolific his writing was.

H. G. Wells was a writer of a very particular era. (Yes, more war talk!) His writing prior to the war was political and heeded warning messages for the future. This changed to a very pessimistic and hopeless outlook after the second world war. He was also a socialist, and  advocated women’s rights, particularly for unmarried women with children… Whilst he was impregnating mistresses, he was looking after them!

You don’t need to have read H. G. Wells to appreciate this book, in fact, Lodge may just convince you to read them. The book relies heavily on the theory that art copies life, and so each of the novels appears to be a product of each period of H. G. Wells’ life. To such end, I now have Ann Veronica and Tono-Bungay ready and waiting. They aren’t so much science fiction as his more famous novels, more social commentary, and from parts of the book that I found most interesting. I’d also like to read Mr. Britling Sees It Through, but I will have to hunt out a second hand copy first as its out of print.

I’ll let you know what I think of H. G. Wells’ own writing in a few days…