H.G. Wells

The Young H G Wells by Claire Tomalin

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By Byron Beynon

The first book I ever read by H G Wells was The Time Machine. I was at school. I was thirteen years old, and I enjoyed the experience of reading it very much. I was not to know then that Wells was considered the founder of modern science fiction and that during his lifetime he had published over fifty works of fiction, and, in total 150 books and pamphlets.

Claire Tomalin is the celebrated author of several highly acclaimed biographies, including works on Mary Wollstonecraft, Austen, Hardy ad Dickens. She has now turned her skilled eyes towards the life and works of H G Wells (1866-1946), she follows him until his forties, Tomalin adds “My excuse being that he still seems and behaves like a young man.”

Wells came from a working -class family but was determined to educate himself, and his sudden success with the Time Machine (1895) and The War of the Worlds (1898) transformed his life and catapulted him to international fame. He also became the writer who inspired George Orwell and predicted men walking on the moon seventy years before it happened.

As a child he was taught by his mother, and he took pleasure in reading. However, in the summer of 1874 he broke the tibia in his leg and became immobilised. Wells himself said that the accident changed his life for the better, and while he was recovering his father supplied him with books, on geography, history, natural history and the magazines Punch and Fun. He read these with a passion and blessed with a good memory, Tomalin notes “This time of uninterrupted reading was crucial to his mental development”.

Wells also understood that “he would have to work hard to learn to write well – to revolutionize himself, as he put it.”  This he achieved through perseverance, dedication and hard work, and driven by curiosity he would produce works such as The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), The War of the Worlds (1898) The First Man in the Moon (1901), Kipps (1905), The History of Mr Polly (1910) and The Shape of Things to Come (1933).  Many of his novels would later be made into popular movies.

In 1906 he spent several months in America, and managed to visit Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, The Niagara Falls, Washington DC and New York. It was in New York that he met another socialist writer, the Russian, Maxim Gorky.  By the early twentieth century he had become a very popular author on both sides of the Atlantic, and his books were being translated into French, German, Spanish, Russian and other European languages. In 1933 his books were publicly burnt by the Nazis in Berlin, and he was banned from visiting fascist Italy.

Wells was a man who revelled in life itself, “its pleasures, in landscape, sunshine, books, friendship, good conversation, sex, food, walking, bicycling, well-designed and well-built houses, children’s games, comfortable clothes – including boots.  He wanted to reorganize the world so that everyone could enjoy it, and, if he did not succeed in that as well as he had hoped, he gave his superabundant energy to speaking and writing for the cause.”

Claire Tomalin has written a crisp, clear-eyed and well-balanced biography about this prophetic writer with a social and political message, who despite an impoverished childhood went on to produce several memorable novels that will continue to be read and who also influenced the works of several future writers.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08VRPBX3S/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p1_i0

“Byron Beynon is a Welsh poet. His work has appeared in several publications including North of Oxford, South Bank Poetry, Santa Fe Literary Review, Poetry Wales, The London Magazine, The Worcester Review and the human rights anthology In Protest (University of London and Keats House Poets). He coordinated the Wales section of the anthology Fifty Strong (Heinemann). Recent collections include A View from the  Other Side (Moonstone Press) and Where Shadows Stir (The Seventh Quarry Press).”

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Literature & the Great War by Randall Stevenson

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By Ray Greenblatt
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          I, an educated, middle-aged American, learned so much from this outstanding book. So many pieces of information filled in my spotty familiarity with the Great War. Prof. Stevenson has studied a staggering number of books about the War, as well as individual letters, military documents, etc. He also has a broad overview not only of literature written during the War, but of writing that preceded it as well as later literature influenced by the War. 
          The organization of Stevenson’s work is lucid: the uniqueness of the Great War; prose about the War; the poetry; and the influence of the Great War on culture generally. My discussion will follow those four divisions.
          Peace for Britain had lasted for a hundred years, with only distant skirmishes in the Empire. However, some more prescient writers, like H.G. Wells, sensed tensions growing in Europe centered in Germany. Once the War began, the government asked many authors to write encouraging comments about events taking place. Most agreed; individuals like G.B. Shaw continued to voice their own concerns. Before very long the press was censored; newspaper headlines—even cinema—were tilted toward the positive for morale sake.
          Letters from the front became a new and vital concept. What resulted was exposure in writing to the spoken word, local dialects, foreign languages, swearing, and especially “militarese.” Even then, many soldiers did not want to relate the horrors. Likewise, the older generation on the home front, who had lived more of a romantic ideal, did not want to hear the gruesome truths. Perhaps, suggests Stevenson, if the government and press had been truthful, the War might have stopped sooner!
          Since the Great War was truly titanic in scope with science developing gas masks, steel helmets, airplanes, tanks, and long-distance bombs, the average soldier felt diminished. Perhaps only the Air Force felt cavalier about one-to-one air duels. Time became meaningless in the trenches; time for those at home meant either a letter or a death notice.
          Prof. Stevenson cannily points out that lines blurred between the autobiography, memoir and novel. Coherency was often missing because that was how the mind worked during war. It was even difficult to use the right tense because under extreme stress time could freeze or rush helter-skelter.
          Siegfried Sassoon had his two selves talk in The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston. T.E. Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom stated that soldiers felt dwarfed by Nature. R.H. Mottram‘s Spanish Farm consisted of multiple books: one about the War, another about a love affair during the War. Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End explored the inner consciousness of soldiers.
         Since I have been a working poet for nearly forty years, I think it fitting to include one of the most moving poems to come out of the Great War, since Prof. Stevenson did not have space for complete poems:
 
Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfrid Owen
 
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
 
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
 
In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
 
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
 
          As Prof. Stevenson writes, poems by soldiers as well as civilians dominated the depiction of the Great War. Poetry is essentially a song that is an inherent part of mankind.  It represents emotion, exaltation, spirit, soul. Compared to a novel a poem can be quickly written; it can also be fragmentary. These qualities best fit the atmosphere of battle. Edward Thomas, a noted prose writer about Nature before the War, changed to poetry very successfully while serving in the War.
          Historically poetry had strongly been about Nature, so the tradition continued although the environment was no longer soothing. Down deep in trenches, men looked up to the sky and clouds and stars for inspiration.  But as the War progressed, idealism and heroism, as written about in many of Rupert Brooke’s poems, grew bleaker. After the battle of the Somme in 1916, the entire tenor of the War and literature as well became negative, as in Wilfrid Owen’s poetry.
          Prof. Stevenson writes that in Britain 40,000 war memorials were dedicated to the Great War. As an American I see WWI memorials fused with WWII, even the Korean and Viet Nam Wars. Many American monuments are raised to the American Revolutionary War and even more so to the American Civil War. The same horrors occurred, like tourists searching for souvenirs on the battlefield. Many say that the Great War caused history to break and progress to regress; that war will always happen.
          Without  the War no debts would have accrued and perhaps more schools and hospitals could have been constructed.  Women were offered more opportunities during and after the War. The working class man became the backbone of the army.
          Prof. Stevenson states that some things are sure, with which I agree wholeheartedly.  Poetry in English class, rather than in history class, brought the Great War vividly alive. What history disturbs, culture restores. More experimental and abstract writing was spurred by the War.  In poetry, specifically, varied line lengths and half-rhymes became more accessible. It took until well into the 1920’s for authors to be read without censorial interference. Indirect influences from the Great War can be seen in D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love (1921), E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924), Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (1927), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932). And those literary changes caused by the Great War continue today!
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You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Literature-1914-1918-Oxford-Textual-Perspectives/dp/019959645X

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Ray Greenblatt has recently been published in: Abbey, Apiary, Boston Literary Magazine, Comstock Review, Clarion, and Painters & Poets.  His experimental novel TWENTY YEARS ON GRAYSHEEP BAY, half poetry and half prose, is being republished by Sunstone Press.