Background and inspiration
Herbert George Wells was born on 21 September 1866 in Bromley, Kent. Called 'Bertie' by his family, he was the fourth and last child of shopkeepers, Joseph Wells and Sarah Neal.
Aged eight, an accident left Bertie bedridden with a broken leg so to pass the time his father would bring him books from the local library to read. He soon became devoted to the characters and exciting new worlds that the likes of Dickens gave him.
Bertie discovered he could go anywhere he wanted and travel beyond the confines of his room by simply using his imagination. This stimulated his desire to write and four years later, aged 12, he wrote an illustrated comic book, The Desert Daisy.
Education and early career
Wells spent a brief spell at Midhurst Grammar School in Sussex before a scholarship at the Normal School of Science in London in 1884 (now Imperial College, London). He studied biology under Thomas H. Huxley, one of the most influential scientific thinkers of the Victorian age, responsible for popularising Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, however, Wells’ interest in his studies faltered, and in 1887 he left without a degree.
Despite not having any formal qualifications he secured a string of teaching roles including one at Henley House where he taught A.A. Milne, the creator of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. Wells returned to his studies in 1890 and was awarded a B.Sc. (Hons) degree in Zoology and Geology from London University, and a teaching diploma.
Wells in Woking
He settled in London, married his cousin Isabel Wells and worked as a teacher. In 1893 illness forced him to give up teaching whereupon he decided to become a professional writer, initially as a journalist.
In May 1895, aged 28 and divorced from Isabel, Wells moved to Woking with student Amy Catherine Robbins, otherwise known as ‘Jane’. They married in the October and resided happily at ‘Lynton’, (now 141 Maybury Road).
Soon after his arrival in Woking, Wells’ first science fiction novel, The Time Machine, was published. He spent his mornings at Lynton dealing with correspondence or enjoying the surrounding countryside with Jane. Afternoons and evenings were spent writing and revising proofs.
Wells’ stay in Woking, although lasting less than 18 months, proved to be an extremely creative period, perhaps the most productive of his whole writing career. While living in Woking he planned and wrote the War of the Worlds and the Invisible Man, completed The Island of Dr Moreau, wrote and published both The Wonderful Visit and a pioneering cycling novel called The Wheels of Chance. He began writing When the Sleeper Wakes, another science fiction story, and started on Love and Mr Lewisham. By his own admission, Wells had been working “at a ghastly pace”, and “writing away for dear life” to make his name and fortune.
A high earner
Reportedly, his literary earnings in 1896 were £1,056, equivalent to £118,000 in today’s money. He reflects in his autobiography that by the time he left Woking his career as a full time writer was “fairly launched at last” and that he and Jane were “getting on” in life. Later that summer, the pair moved from Woking to a larger house in Worcester Park, near Kingston-upon-Thames.
Influential and famous friends
In the years that followed, Wells’ success as a fiction, and non-fiction, writer and influence as a public intellectual earned the attention of world leaders. He met with President Theodore Roosevelt, Lenin, Stalin and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
His latter years
Despite remaining married to Jane until her death in 1927, Wells fathered two illegitimate children in that time and had numerous love affairs with famous, much younger women. He lived in London throughout the Second World War and died in Regent’s Park on the 13 August 1946, aged 79.