Claire Tomalin on HG Wells, with Edward Mendelson

NOV 10, 2021 | 5:00 PM TO 6:10 PM



Online event


November 10, 2021: 5:00 PM-6:10 PM




Leon Levy Center for Biography



Here for the first time, Claire Tomalin brings to life the early years of H. G. Wells, and traces his formation as a writer of extraordinary originality and ambition. Born in 1866, the son of a gardener and a housekeeper, Wells faced poverty and ill health from a young age. At 12, he was taken out of school, torment for a child with intellectual aspirations. Determined, Wells won scholarships and worked towards science degrees. Though he failed his final exams, he was soon writing text books, involving himself in politics, and contributing to newspapers. Still suffering from serious illness, as well as multiple physical breakdowns, Wells understood early on the impulse to escape - through books, art, and his imagination - and he began to make his name by writing short stories. But it wasn't until the publication of his first novel, The Time Machine, in 1895, that Wells attained the great success he had so longed for. His book, which transformed the way readers saw the world, was hailed as an extraordinary accomplishment.

Until the period leading up to the first world war, Wells wrote books at an almost unprecedented speed - about science, mysteries, and prophecies; aliens, planets, and space travel; mermaids, the bottom of the sea, and distant islands. He chronicled social change, and forecasted the future of technology and politics; formed friendships with Winston Churchill, Henry James, and Bernard Shaw, and shaped the minds of the young and old. His most famous works have never been out of print, and his influence is still felt today. In this unforgettable portrait of this complicated man, Tomalin makes clear his early period was crucial in making him into the great writer he became, and that by concentrating on the young Wells, we get the best of his life, and of his work.

Claire Tomalin was born Claire Delavenay in 1933 in London. She was educated at Cambridge University and worked in publishing and journalism. Her first book, a life of Mary Wollstonecraft, came out in 1974, the year in which her husband, the journalist Nicholas Tomalin, was killed, leaving her with four children. She has written biographies of Katherine Mansfield, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Samuel Pepys and the actress Mrs Jordan, and most recently a memoir of her own life. She is married to the playwright and novelist Michael Frayn.

Edward Mendelson is the Lionel Trilling Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. He is the literary executor of the Estate of W. H. Auden and the author or editor of several books about Auden's work, including Early Auden and Later Auden. He is also the author of The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About the Stages of Life about nineteenth- and twentieth-century novels, and Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers. His work on Thomas Pynchon includes Pynchon: A Collection of Critical Essays. He is the editor of annotated editions of novels by Thomas Hardy, George Meredith, Arnold Bennett, H. G. Wells, and Anthony Trollope. With Michael Seidel he co-edited Homer to BrechtThe European Epic and Dramatic Traditions.

This is an online event. Please register here to participate via Zoom.