Nobody would have been more surprised at the current revival of interest in H. G. Wells than Wells himself. “They’re as dead as mutton, you know,” he cheerfully told Somerset Maugham one day while stroking a volume of the Atlantic Edition of his complete works. “They all dealt with matters of topical interest and now that the matters aren’t topical any more they’re unreadable.”

The Second World War gave added force to this offhand remark. “In the public mind,” Anthony West, Wells’s illegitimate son by Rebecca West, has noted, “he [now] stood for everything that the experience of total war and the fascist years had shown to be facile and false in liberal meliorism.” Even Wells himself appeared to jettison the ebullient optimism of his youth at war’s end, arguing in Mind at the End of Its Tether that “the end of...

 

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