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…