Acclaimed as a scientific and social prophet, Herbert George Wells was a prolific novelist famous primarily for science fiction but also for comic realism.
He was born in Bromley, Kent, the son of shopkeeper who was also a legendary fast bowler until disabled by an injury, and a lady's maid, who worked at the Sussex mansion of Uppark (where Wells had the run of the library), pictured in Tono-Bungay (1909). After a brief apprenticeship to a draper, Wells became a student-teacher, eventually winning a scholarship to the Normal School of Science (later Imperial College) where his studies under the great zoologist T H Huxley inspired his science fiction writing. By now he was a socialist and a member of the Fabian Society, as well as a writer of textbooks, short stories and reviews.
The Time Machine (1895) was the first of his hugely popular and prescient ‘scientific romances’ which foresaw the splitting of the atom, travel to the moon and aerial warfare. He also wrote anarchic and comic contemporary novels, defending the little man (and woman) against class oppression.
After a brief and unsuccessful marriage to a cousin, he married Catherine Robbins, who had been one of his students, in 1895; they had two children. She tolerated the ideal of free love which he explores in Utopian novels such as In The Days of The Comet (1906) and the starkly realistic Ann Veronica (1909); he had affairs with, among others, the novelists Dorothy Richardson, Elizabeth von Arnim and Rebecca West.
After World War One, Wells became an advocate of a world state dedicated to peaceful purposes, and wrote ambitious manifestos on the subject such as The War That Will End War (1914), The Outline of History (1920), and The Work, Wealth, and Happiness of Mankind (1931). He lived to see the end of World War Two, and his advocacy of human rights had a significant role in the formation of the United Nations.