by Claire Tomalin (Viking £20, 272 pp)

H. G. Wells’ classic science-fiction works, The Time Machine (1895), and The War Of The Worlds (1998), showed how H. G. Wells predicted with incredible accuracy the future shape of things: fascist governments and vegetarianism, destruction of rural England, and the spread of roads.

The man was ‘a volcano in perpetual eruption of burning thoughts and luminous images’.

In his sociological and political tracts, Wells discussed nationalism, religious bigotry and xenophobia — all the dilemmas of the following century, and the one after that, i.e, ours.

Claire Tomalin explores the life of H.G. Wells, born in Bromley, in 1866, in a new biography. Pictured: H.G. Wells and actress Paulette Goddard

Claire Tomalin examines the life and times of H.G. Wells, born in Bromley, in 1866, in a new biography. Pictured: H.G. Wells and Paulette Goddard

Wells, a pioneer socialist, wanted a health care system and old-age pensions. He condemned the base profit-seekers as well as the misadventures of advertising.

All very noble — but the abiding theme in Claire Tomalin’s biography is that Wells, born in Bromley, London, in 1866, was completely sex mad.

‘He felt that sexual desire was as natural as hunger or thirst,’ and no more to be the subject of moral censure than golf or chess. ‘Wells felt entitled to seek and enjoy sexual intercourse whenever, wherever and with whom he pleased.’

It’s hard to know the secret of his appeal, though Tomalin does say ‘his body smelt deliciously of honey’ (that’s what I call research).

Wells also had a terrible wispy moustache, wore baggy Jaeger suits and when young weighed little more than 7 st. Just 5 ft 7½ in, in maturity he was bald and podgy, and resembled Arthur Lowe.

Perhaps money was the aphrodisiac. The Time Machine was published at the age 29 by Wells and remains in print until today. He was a huge bestseller. His work was translated and sold all over the globe. There have been many film adaptations. Orson Welles’s ‘The Martians Have Landed’ hoax news bulletin, his radio version of The War Of The Worlds broadcast on October 30, 1938, additionally made Wells a household name.

Listeners were filled with panic, believing that meteorites were coming down on New York City and that an invasion from outer space was underway.

Wells was born in modest circumstances. His mother was a housekeeper at Uppark in West Sussex and his father sold cricket bats.

Claire Tomalin claims Wells (pictured) was a chronic invalid, always suffering from breakdowns and kidney problems, made worse by a rugby accident

Claire Tomalin claims Wells was a chronic invalid who suffered from kidney problems and breakdowns throughout her life. This was made worse after a rugby accident.

Herbert George was 13 when he was apprenticed to a draper. This meant that he worked long hours six days a weeks, taking charge of the till, collecting cash payments, cleaning and tidying the stock.

Though gents’ outfitting was safe and respectable, Wells longed to jump over the counter, so to speak, and search for a world elsewhere — as his heroes Kipps and Mr Polly do, in the popular novels he wrote based on his impecunious origins. (Kipps became Half A Sixpence when Tommy Steele joined him.

Wells liked reading, mugged up on physics, biology and chemistry, studied Latin and won a scholarship to be a trainee teacher in Kilburn, at a ‘cheap private boarding school’ run by the father of A. A. Milne. He took a correspondence class offered by the University of London.

While all who encountered him were left in no doubt of Wells’s ‘driving will and intelligence’, what Tomalin shows is that he was a chronic invalid, always suffering from breakdowns and kidney problems, made worse by a rugby accident.

He had a ‘bruised liver’, urinated and coughed blood, suffered from bronchitis and piles and both lungs were congested. Haemorrhages were frequent. There was an internal abscess. Wells’s life was saved (more than once) by a doctor at Uppark, who painted his chest with iodine.

At this stage, Wells was so poor, ‘he had nothing worth pawning. His socks were in holes’. He began writing stories and articles from his sickbed.

Almost immediately after Wells (pictured) married his first cousin Isabel in 1891, the writer embarked on infidelities

The writer started infidelities shortly after Wells (pictured), had married Isabel, his first cousin, in 1891. 

Editors (and readers) warmed to tales about inter-planetary travel, Martians (‘brains in tall metal walking machines’), creatures on the moon and weird vivisection experiments — which became The Island Of Doctor Moreau (1896) and was filmed twice, with Charles Laughton and Marlon Brando.

Perhaps because of his illnesses and fragility, Wells was all the more determined to prove sex ‘was neither filth nor flirtation and I began to want more of it’.

In the Victorian era, ‘only a wedding made sex permissible’, so in 1891 Wells married his first cousin, Isabel. She was ‘obliviously conventional’ and burst into tears on her wedding night. She bought a tricycle to ride on weekends away from Wandsworth’s marital couch.

Almost at once, says Tomalin, Wells ‘embarked on infidelities’. Though we are not vouchsafed what they may have been, Wells would ‘opt for variety and sexual adventures’, like a turn-of-the-century Warren Beatty.

What we are told is that, having divorced Isabel ‘with amazing speed’, in October 1895 Wells married once more — to Amy Robbins, known as Jane, a student-teacher. They moved to Camden, where they later built a large house in Sandgate, Kent coast by C.F.A. Voysey.

THE YOUNG H.G. WELLS by Claire Tomalin (Viking £20, 272 pp)

THE YOUNG H.G. WELLS by Claire Tomalin (Viking £20, 272 pp)

Jane had a child in 1901 when Wells and Jane were both doing well. Wells ‘left sharply the next day on his bicycle’, vanished for months, and had flings in Brighton, Worthing, Petersfield, Hastings and Winchelsea.

‘It was now accepted between them’, says Tomalin, ‘that Wells needed to be free to behave as he liked’. Jane never made a fuss, because she had ‘less enthusiasm for sex than he did’. In 1927, she died from cancer. The loneliness and humiliation she endured was scandalous — Wells sounds a wretched little man.

He almost had his comeuppance when, at 42, he fell in love with Amber Reeves (an undergraduate at Cambridge). She ‘flung herself into his arms’ and Wells was besotted.

Tomalin discovered his love letters, which are quite embarrassing. ‘I kiss the little button that buttons you up,’ etc. I honestly can’t think what he can be referring to, and I’ve been about.

Wells experienced sexual jealousy for the first time when Amber married George Rivers Blanco White. Blanco White was a barrister. Amber tried to assure Wells she found her husband ‘physically repellent’, so Wells (at her request apparently) made her pregnant in 1909. Blanco White raised the child as his. This is a French farce.

Tomalin doesn’t have space to go into Wells’s sexual involvements with Violet Hunt, a girl he met in a New York brothel, Ella D’Arcy, Dorothy Richardson, Rebecca West (with whom he had a son), Moura Budberg (‘We live in open sin’) and a mistress in France called Odette.

We get the idea. ‘Wells was not conventional or even respectable.’ He ‘overstepped accepted bounds so outrageously’, he couldn’t keep friends even in the Labour Party. He died in 1946.

Churchill admired Wells’s social and political prophecies and kept a full set of his works at Chartwell.