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H. G. Wells: Aspects of a Life is Anthony West's account of the life of his father. It is a narrative that is both respectful and just. West is never carried away by the discomfort that his parents' relationship imposed on him. But "understanding all'' (the intent of this book) does not lead easily and effortlessly to "forgiving all." Indeed, West reserves his deepest sternness for his mother and for the manipulations by which she tried to assert her position. But the main topic of this volume—the "aspects" of Wells's career—invites West to revisions of current legends about Wells. There are also sharp notations of how one element of Wells's activity, such as the Fabianism of his middle years, is discontinuous with Wells's calm expectation of submission and cooperation from a woman who happened to draw his attention.
But all such perceptions are kept subordinate to West's steady and orderly account of his father's life, a life that moved from a low social level to, from [End Page 343] some points of view, a very high one. In that life many "aspects" mingle; and it is a mingling in which some literary scholars try to find a unity. The creation of such a unity is not West's concern. West instead shows us a notable man moving through a real world that was sometimes resistant to Wells's will and just as often submissive. All this composes a narrative that will please a wide variety of readers: readers who want information about a man and an era now at many points obscure and readers who take some interest in the "art of fiction" as it was practiced by a man who rejected Jamesian formulas and who was markedly incurious about models provided in his time by Joyce, Proust, and Virginia Woolf.
A ready formula for Wells's fiction, as West describes it in a sometimes glancing way, is "total involvement." Wells did not take up a carefully chosen position of detachment on some aesthetic shore. Instead, Wells plunged into whatever going flood there was to swim in: the lures of science, emancipation from Victorian constraints, and heartening visions of the future. Such matters come and go before the eyes that read his many novels. And West does not hesitate to show us how particular novels are patterned on current love affairs. (For example, Apropos of Delores is an unflattering account of a late mistress. Here and elsewhere, West shows us that his father not only kissed but also told, at great and usually profitable length.)
This is an "art of fiction" careless and unabashed rather than reserved and reclusive, and West does it some unsystematic justice. But to West the novels are only elements in the long battle of Wells's life. West tells us of some of the fictional forays. But there is no need, it seems, to give them the spotlight and to trace out the workings of the various intellectual textures that advanced and retreated in Wells's mind as he moved from The Time Machine (1895) to a novel such as Brynhild: Or, the Show of Things (1937).
Part of such a task is undertaken in William J. Scheick's The Splintering Frame: The Later Fiction of H. G. Wells. The study covers the fiction that Wells published in the last two decades of his life. Thanks to relentless interest in the "shape of things to come" Wells's earlier fiction is still in public view. Scheick, in his careful and well-argued study, thinks that a...