Herbert George Wells was born in Bromley, Kent, England, on September 21, 1866. His father was an unprosperous shop keeper, his mother a head housekeeper for a Sussex estate. Wells always loved to read, but his early formal education was uneven. At thirteen, he was apprenticed to a dry goods merchant. Four years later, after negotiating a release from his apprenticeship agreement, he obtained a teaching position at Midhurst Grammar School and simultaneously continued his studies. A year later, at eighteen, he won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science at South Kensington. There he studied under T. H. Huxley, whose ideas on biology and science were a lasting influence. During three years of study, he participated in the socialist gatherings of the Fabian Society in London.
After brief stints as a biology teacher, reader for a correspondence school, and textbook writer, Wells turned to journalism for his livelihood. Writing fiction in his spare time, he published The Time Machine when he was 29 years old. Although he wrote over 100 books during his career, this first novel is probably his most famous.
Wells wrote on scientific topics throughout his life, creating a genre of stories known as “scientific romances,” the literary precursor of science fiction. Between 1895 and 1901 he published The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon, and “The Star,” a short story included in Tales of Space and Time. Between 1905 and 1910 Wells produced a series of comedies-Kipps (1905), Tono-Bungay (1908), and The History of Mr. Polly (1910)-in which he depicts numerous scenes from his earlier life. In fact, many of his fictional scenes were drawn from his own experiences. For example, images of the cellar kitchen where he played as a child, the tunnels that connected below-stairs areas at an estate where his mother worked, and the poor basement rooms of his apprenticeship days were embellished to create the underground world of the Morlocks in The Time Machine.
One major novel came out of World War I-Mr. Britling Sees It Through (1916), a perceptive portrayal of the pain and futility of war. After the war, Wells turned more seriously to teaching and pontificating. He produced a series of nonfiction books and began using his novels as vehicles for social, economic, and political ideas. He was a prolific writer of essays and commentaries, and became a sought-after lecturer, consultant, and freelance journalist. He gained a reputation as a sage and a prophet, and indeed many of the things he envisioned in his writings-such as space travel, air warfare, and atomic bombs-eventually became realities.
Wells died in London on August 13, 1946, a year after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Although many of his philosophical writings now seem dated, Wells’s scientific vision, particularly as it is revealed in his earlier fiction, continues to convey his profound creative imagination.