"I had rather be called a journalist than an artist," H. G. Wells informed Henry James in 1915. This statement successfully put an end to the lectures on literary methodology that James had been inflicting on him for seventeen years. However, in more recent times some critics have homed in on the ambiguous declaration and taken it to be a confession that Wells was not a genuine creative writer, only a commentator who made use of stories as vehicles for his ideas. While this description fits some of Wells's later books all too accurately, it is hardly a fair characterisation of his life's work.
The word "journalist" can mean many things, after all. We can safely assume that Wells was not trying to convince James of his undistinguished style or short-term perspective. Rather, in refusing to sign up to the master's artistic criteria and adopt Flaubert as his role model, Wells was using the word "journalist" to identify himself with an alternative literary tradition, that of Defoe, Swift and Dickens, writers of classic fiction who engaged head-on with contemporary issues and who readily found room in their oeuvres for nonfiction books, pamphlets and articles.
James had emphasised composition, as though a novel was a painting whose elements could be resolved into a single coherent image. To Wells, writing such as his own which incorporated contentious ideas was bound to be discursive and, to a degree, self-contradictory. A novel of this type was not a painting to be looked at, more like a building to be walked around and explored: a house of many mansions equipped with curious installations, garrulous tour guides, some ironic doubling back and even the odd dead end. The reader should reach the exit with some sense of aesthetic satisfaction no doubt, but should also be left with questions that could only be pursued outside the text. Fortunately, some tips for this pursuit would always be at hand in Wells's latest articles [End Page 519] or in compilations of them with titles like What is Coming? and An Englishman Looks at the World.
An inventory of Wells's journalism, then, is likely to be central to an understanding of his work, and it is no surprise that David Smith's Annotated Bibliography features Wells's short stories and novel serialisations among its almost 3,000 items. Their inclusion reflects the impossibility of separating Wells's "journalism" from his other writings, but also indicates the book's origins as a fully comprehensive bibliography. After Smith's death in 2009, the team who took over the project decided that the most needful information it contained was his forty years of research into journal publications—research that has since been extensively checked and revised by the doyen of Wells scholars, Patrick Parrinder.
As a result, both the quantity and quality of information about Wells's writing have suddenly increased. It turns out, for example, that those of us who have repeated the "fact" that Wells's novel Love and Mr Lewisham received its British serialisation in a Sunday newspaper called the Weekly Times now have to eat our words. The story actually ran for fourteen weeks in the Times Weekly Edition, an entirely different publication produced by the Times for readers living abroad.
This clarification is to be found among the 2,041 items which make up the main section of the bibliography. A thoroughgoing account of Wells's magazine and newspaper contributions, it begins in 1886 with "To the Average Man," an editorial for the Science Schools Journal, a magazine which Wells started as an undergraduate, and ends in 1984 with posthumous revelations in the Sunday Telegraph about his scandalous love life ("Duped by a Russian Baroness"). The items are arranged by year of publication, but within each year they are grouped by the journal in which they appeared, an arrangement that usefully flags up series, sequels and rejoinders. With this layout and an extensive index, readers will...