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The Remarkable Life of H.G. Wells: Pioneering Sci-Fi Author and Ardent Social Reformer

Best remembered today as the "father of science fiction", Herbert George Wells led a tumultuous yet extraordinary life. As both a boundary-pushing author and progressive activist promoting socialist policies, his works enthralled generations of readers while also advancing radical political ideas. Beyond wowing Victorian crowds with his early scientific romances, Wells later rocked Britain‘s establishment through highly-charged novels critiquing social divisions. His vision consistently charted humanity‘s course decades ahead of contemporaries.

Humble Beginnings and a Love of Learning: 1866-1883

Wells entered the world in humble surroundings on September 21, 1866 in Bromley, Kent, England. His family rented rooms above a china shop which was never very profitable. Of their four children, his parents focused attention on the two elder boys destined for trade apprenticeships. Young Herbert George grew up with few comforts or prospects for advancement.

Nicknamed Bertie, Wells discovered solace through reading. A freak accident at age 8 left him bedridden for months after falling and breaking his leg. Isolated and in pain, Wells turned to the magic of stories for relief from boredom. Books opened new worlds feeding his imagination, planting early seeds of becoming a writer.

Fit again at 10 years old, Wells lacked academic opportunities until 13 when his father’s broken leg ended dreams of cricket stardom. Joseph Wells had scraped by playing the sport professionally, but the injury forced the family to apportion the boys to any trade that would take them. After failed apprenticeships, good fortune arrived for 16-year old Herbert via a scholarship program at Midhurst Grammar School.

Rescued By Teaching

As a student-teacher at Midhurst, Wells received training while instructing younger pupils. Thriving in this environment, he continued his voracious reading habits across diverse subjects. Wells also exhibited early traces of defiant independence and socialist sympathies. When the headmaster protested Shoreham Harbor food rations for striking workers, Wells loudly voiced support for the laborers.

His outspoken views brought a reprimand but no lasting damage to his prospects. Excelling at Midhurst soon led to Wells winning another scholarship in 1884, this time to the Normal School of Science in South Kensington, London. Here he learned biology under famed scientist Thomas Huxley, known as "Darwin‘s Bulldog" for his ardent defense of evolutionary theories.

Scientific Awakenings and First Publications: 1884-1895

At Normal School, Wells soaked up Huxley’s provocative lectures and joined the debating society to hone persuasive arguments. He also founded the student journal Science Schools Journal to publish perspectives on literature and social issues. This taste of editorial oversight foreshadowed Wells’ future standing as Britain’s leading public intellectual for decades.

After completing his Normal School studies in 1887, Wells endured several unhappy stints teaching disobedient children. Needing income, he began submitting humorous articles to prominent periodicals mocking Victorian society’s latest fads. As his pieces earned acceptance – and payments – Wells soon quit teaching in 1891 to become a full-time writer.

The big breakthrough came via 1893-95 "scientific romance" stories blending adventure thrills with cutting-edge theory. Wells honed his craft across over a dozen tales before hitting paydirt with the 1895 serialization of The Time Machine. The account of an eccentric inventor whisking himself to the year 802,701 A.D. propelled the 28 year-old author to literary stardom.

Overnight Sensation

Wells successfully balanced highbrow scientific elements against an irresistible plot pace generating wide popular appeal. The sublime image of the planet’s last surviver watching the sun fade into darkness as Earth ends resonated deeply. No previous works contained such masterful scientific extrapolation wedded to philosophical themes on class divides.

The Time Machine sold over 150,000 copies during Wells’ lifetime, gaining translations into dozens of languages. At least eight film adaptations have arrived, plus sequels, mash-ups and loving pop culture references across television. Wells moved from poverty to fame almost overnight on the book’s heels. Despite over 80 subsequent works, this early triumph remains his most influential and fondly remembered.

Soaring Fame and Radical Politics: 1896-1920

Now earning enough income to marry, Wells entered a turbulent personal life as chaotic as his fame. He wedded cousin Isabel in 1891 but left her in 1894 for student Amy Catherine "Jane" Robbins. They married a year later. Wells churned out hit books like The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) exploring the ethics of biological experimentation through a scientist’s attempts to transform animals into people.

The Invisible Man (1897) plays on universal fantasies of escaping moral censure via anonymity. Gripping tales of hubristic scientists encountering monsters of their own making recurred across Wells‘ work, subtly cautioning Victorian society against rapid industrialization at expense of morality or consequence.

As the 20th century dawned, Wells produced masterpieces like The First Men in the Moon (1901) along with more grounded novels. Often exploring social divisions, his stories criticized the British class system. Wells joined activist groups such as the Fabian Society to advocate socialist policies.

Although twice failing to gain election to Parliament in 1922 and 1923, he later drafted radical manifestos promoting worldwide democracy. Yet Wells hypocritically touted global unity while neglecting personal responsibilities. His wife Jane raised their two young sons largely alone for years during the 1900s.

Wartime Shift

World War I profoundly impacted Wells, who obsessively wrote commentary reacting to the devastating conflict. Contrasting with his previous visions of rational utopias, he now outlined chilling predictions for aerial bombardment bringing civilization to ruins within decades. By the War‘s end in 1918, Wells stood renowned as Britain‘s foremost public intellectual.

Wells fully envisioned the epochal impacts from rapid technological change. In 1901 he accurately predicted atomic energy and nuclear weapons in the speculative work Anticipations. By the late 1930s, most of Wells‘ political and technological forecasts had proven quite accurate. But Wells would not live to see his most ambitious goal achieved – a unified world government. He did however lay philosophical foundations picked up by future thinkers.

Quest for a New World Order: 1921-1946

In the postwar years Wells continued updating Anticipations predictions, while churning out fiction at a staggering clip to sustain his expensive lifestyle and alimony payments. Even so, epic sales of his three-volume The Outline of History (1920) secured his finances. The sober tome interwove Darwin‘s evolutionary theories into a universal history to explain technological progress as fueling expansion of empires.

Wells envisioned conquering war‘s causes via global education and free trade erasing national borders. Unlike contemporaries clinging to social Darwinist arguments, Wells rejected racist assumptions and optimism about imperialism‘s civilizing potential. He became convinced only an authoritarian world state could prevent another catastrophic war and advance human development.

Messy Personal Life

Throughout these decades Wells maintained houses with Jane despite brazen affairs, even fathering multiple children out of wedlock. Their marriage permitted harmony as long as scandal stayed hidden, but Jane bitterly learned of Wells’ conquests through newspaper gossip.

They had two sons – Frank born 1903 and George Philip in 1901 on the cusp of Wells’ initial fame. But accompanying renown and fortune came a string of dalliances. Amber Reeves gave birth to Wells’ daughter Anna-Jane in 1909 before her own parents whisked the infant away. Wells then shifted passions to influential writer Rebecca West, who bore a son Anthony in 1914 which she raised alone.

Upon Jane’s passing in 1927, Wells settled into his longest extramarital relationship with adventurer Moura Budberg. Wells repeatedly asked Budberg to marry him but despite functioning as his wife during stays at their shared French Riviera villa, she rebuffed proposals fearing damage to her autonomy. Yet Budberg cared for the ailing writer in his final years until Wells’ sudden passing.

Influence Beyond Imagination: The Lasting Legacy

As evidenced by the abundance of adaptations, tributes and everyday phrases spawned from his books, Wells‘ stories remain culturally ingrained today. Concepts he pioneered permeate sci-fi and wider fiction. Terms like "time machine", "war of the worlds", "invisibility", and "alien invasion" trace directly to his groundbreaking works.

Pop Culture Longevity

A 1956 film verison of The War of The Worlds starring Gene Barry seared alien tripod designs and the iconic opening line "No one would have believed…" into public memory. Then Steven Spielberg’s 2005 treatment starring Tom Cruise grossed $591 million worldwide. Ironically Wells criticised Hollywood for prioritising spectacle over substance. Yet modern computerized effects finally fulfill his visions for alien menace onscreen.

Wells also left a lasting impact as an outspoken social critic promoting progressive policies to reduce inequality. His endorsement of science and technology as constructive forces offered a shining counterpoint to dystopian contemporaries in the early 1900s. He conveyed an optimistic faith in reason triumphing over mankind‘s destructive impulses.

Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic 2001 A Space Odyssey channels Wells’ optimistic belief that cosmic mysteries propel evolution, despite perils of technological change. Concepts in The War of The Worlds also clearly inspired H.G.’s contemporary Jules Verne’s novel The Begum‘s Fortune with its foreboding future vehicles bringing devastation.

Few authors exhibited more mastery crossing literary genres or such accurate peering into the future‘s hazy vista. As a visionary titan during the turbulent 20th century, Wells realized many predictions society now takes for granted regarding technology, conflict, and politics. Yet his enduring fame stems from ideas kindling imaginations beyond facts – writing emotionally resonant stories of human daring against cosmic forces. Ever insatiably curious, his humble origins produced a voice worth commemorating long after lesser rivals fade into obscurity.