- H. G. Wells and Rebecca West
In a letter to Emanie Arling, written at the time of H. G. Wells's death, Rebecca West summed up their relationship with characteristic exaggeration: "Dear H. G., he was a devil, he ruined my life, he starved me, he was an unexhaustible source of love and friendship to me for thirty five years, we should never have met, I was the one person he cared to see to the end, I feel desolate because he is gone."* J. R. Hammond attempts a balanced view of these two extraordinary authors and lovers in a dual "literary biography." He achieves better balance and scope than [End Page 963] Gordon N. Ray, whose similarly titled H. G. Wells & Rebecca West was written without consulting their son, Anthony West (by Rebecca West's restriction), and relied heavily upon her memory, and Wells's surviving love letters.
Hammond's work subtends the entire lives of both writers, summarizing many of their works. He usefully identifies differences in their interpretations of life (the Manichaean West being more concerned with evil, and capable of addressing it; Wells having a fugitive impulse, and seeking always after a goddess), and in their literary affiliations (West aligned with Proust, Lawrence and Joyce, but Wells also related to modernism, as distinct from his realist colleague, Arnold Bennett). According to Hammond, West may have derived the idea of a magical garden from Wells, and West sharpened Wells's perceptions of externals. He finds characters based on West in The Research Magnificent, Mr. Britlinq Sees it Through, Joan and Peter, and several other works by Wells. This study conscientiously collects criticisms of each other's style from letters and reviews.
It is a rarity to find a critic who knows the primary texts of both authors so well, yet it is regrettable that he does not connect to recent biography and criticism, to which I think he is indebted, and from which he might have derived more complex analyses of issues related to gender. Minimally the analyses of Ray, Jane Marcus (as editor of The Young Rebecca—listed without its editor in the bibliography), Wells biographer David Smith, West biographer Victoria Glendinning, and the collection based on the 1986 Wells Symposium, H. G. Wells Under Revision, should have been addressed. While he dutifully notes West's critique of Marriage, Hammond still congratulates Wells for his depiction of women characters in Ann Veronica and Joan and Peter. In summarizing West's "Indissoluble Matrimony," Hammond gets stuck on the marriage plot, missing West's dissection of the suburbanized no-man. He considers Christopher "happily married" in The Return of the Soldier, an analysis short-circuited by his attempt to locate Wells' first and second wives as characters.
In his late chapters, Hammond attempts a balanced analysis of the relationship of Anthony and Rebecca West—a job that Victoria Glendinning does better, I think. The story is complex, but should include Rebecca West's sharing of her professional contacts with her son. Also missing is the early phase of Anthony's work on his father's biography. Anthony planned to leave England with Wells's uncataloged papers, without permission of the estate. Thus began the squabbles over access to primary sources, and the issue of personal vs. literary biography, of interest in any new biography of these figures.
* Letter from Rebecca West to Emanie Arling, 13 August 1946. Ms. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Permission granted by Peters Fraser and Dunlop as agents for the Estate of Rebecca West.