H.G.: The History of Mr. Wells by Michael Foot

H.G.: The History of Mr. Wells

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Foot adds to his reputation as a biographer with this well-researched and skillfully presented work focusing on Wells as a socialist. According to Foot (Debts of Honour, 1981, etc.), himself a staunch socialist and former leader of Britain's Labour Party, ""this is a book about Socialism, but personalities [are] constantly allowed to intrude."" And so they do, as the book moves through Wells's life, from his parents, whose difficult existences gave Wells his first nudge toward radicalism, to his wives and lovers, to his political and literary friends cum sparring partners. Yet what finally emerges from the interactions and influences is Wells as a complex and compelling individual who seizes ideas and charges into what he sees as the problems of his time. Foot, who regards Wells as ""an artist of the first order,"" makes a firmly sympathetic advocate, whether defending his subject from accusations of anti-Semitism and racism or arguing for the individuality of Wells's female characters. Not that he unthinkingly objects to Wells being taken to task: Young Rebecca West is introduced via her scathing review of Wells's novel Marriage, which Foot quotes in its entirety ""to show the power of the invective."" However, when its subject can be shown to advantage, the text fairly hums with satisfaction, as when discussing the insights into early 20th century politics and society in Wells's Tono-Bungay or reporting the writer's attacks on imperialists (among them Winston Churchill). Throughout, what gives the work its shape and coherence is Wells's continuing interest in what Foot calls ""real politics, the mixture of ideas and action,"" and his role in the lively public conversation of his time. Complementing rather than supplanting existing works on Wells, this is valuable to anyone seriously interested in the writer and his works or in the history of English socialism.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
Page count: 344pp
Publisher: Counterpoint--dist. by Publishers Group West