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In its broad outlines, this book, written between 1935 and 1942 but unpublished until now, does not reveal anything that is not already known to a reader of Norman and Jeanne Mackenzie's biography of Wells. The first section, Wells's memoir of his wife, is familiar as the Introduction to The Book of Catherine Wells, and the third and final section, a short "looseleaf diary," is a rather superficial addition to the Experiment in Autobiography, though it has some marvelous touches, such as a paragraph recounting a conversation with Freud. Most interesting to students of Wells is the middle section, a series of long sketches of some important women in Wells's life—Amber Reeves, Rebecca West, Elizabeth von Arnim, Odette Keun, and Moura Budberg. When it was written, the publication of such a narrative of Wells's nonmarital relationships with women would have been scandalous. Today, when the basic story is more public than even Wells himself seems to have wanted to make it (he does not mention Margaret Sanger here), we look to such a text not for revelations but for evidence of the distortion, fabrication, and omission that autobiographical construction entails. The memoir needs to be read in [End Page 804] the context of Wells's other works and of the versions of other interested participants.
Wells in Love offers some charming anecdotes but little new biographical information about Wells's liaisons with Amber Reeves, Elizabeth von Arnim, and Rebecca West. In the case of the long affair with West, a variety of recent sources have given us a full and complex picture of that relationship (particularly Anthony West, H. G. Wells: Aspects of a Life; and Gordon Ray, H. G. Wells and Rebecca West), and we may find Wells in Love more polite than explicit, most interesting for the details it omits.
The portrait of Odette Keun, done in anger soon after the dissolution of the relationship, lacks the polite distance Wells brings to the earlier portraits. Wells depicts here a much more difficult person than the woman the Mackenzies sketch and a more interestingly eccentric one than he himself creates in Apropos of Dolores. Yet, despite its claim to hostile accuracy, this is not an entirely trustworthy narrative. For example, Wells here reasserts without repeating his earlier elegiac description of his departure from the house he had built for Keun and himself. We may want to set against this scene of noble renunciation Anthony West's more humiliating version of that departure: "He had been sent packing. Odette had thrown him out."
Revelations of another sort appear in the depiction of Wells's relationship with Moura Budberg. In the final passages of the Experiment in Autobiography, describing his trip to the USSR and his meetings with Stalin and Gorky, Wells gives no hint that he had just become aware of Budberg's double life (Anthony West is convinced that she must have been closely associated with the KGB). Wells in Love makes Wells's bafflement and pain clear, but then, surprisingly, it leaves the huge ambiguities of Budberg's behavior unexplored.
H. G. Wells in Love is important not because it offers a "true" version of what is elsewhere "fictionalized" but because it contributes detail to an autobiographical and artistic site whose excavation may uncover needs and strategies much too essential to Wells's own psyche for him ever to have consciously understood or described them.