Harvill Secker £18.99

A Man of Parts, By David Lodge

Wells was bohemian, Byronic and – according to this biographical novel, at least – a thoroughly decent chap

Ah, the sexual travails of the literary man! As Byron once said of Claire Clairmont after she got pregnant by him, "a man is a man, and if a girl of 18 comes prancing to you at all hours, there is but one way ...."

Just like Byron, H G Wells was regularly assailed by prancing girls (Dorothy Richardson, Amber Reeves, Rebecca West) who kept getting pregnant in spite of all his efforts. Similarly, he didn't let it get in the way of his literary career. And just like Conan Doyle, Wells believed that his popular works (The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine) would not grant him immortality, but that his serious history volumes would "change the course of history itself". Was he similarly deluded about the women in his life and his behaviour towards them?

Just like Byron ... just like Conan Doyle. It is too much to suggest a historical pattern of male literary behaviour, both private and public, but David Lodge's biographical novel about Wells (as opposed to novelised biography, a description that better suits Kathleen Jones's recent approach to Katherine Mansfield) is very much concerned with legacy. Just as in Lodge's novel about Henry James, Author! Author!, here we meet a great writer at the end of his life – a focus that must point to Lodge's concern about his own legacy, surely.

The author best known for comic novels such as Small World and Nice Work, just as he did with James, a first-rate dinner party guest who kept everyone entertained, maintains an optimistic outlook in A Man of Parts. Wells's relationships with Richardson, Reeves and West are not tragic affairs but jolly good fun; his marriages are not exercises in control (even if he did change his second wife's name), but rather situations that suit everyone. The dark side of Wells's private life, the damage done, is minimised.

All of this is relayed by an authorial voice which ranges from the formally biographical ("The best of his novels about men seeking to understand what was wrong with contemporary society, and to find some useful role for themselves in it, was Tono-Bungay, published in 1909 ...") to the novelistic ("He imagined himself making love to the pretty girl naked under the trees, like Adam and Eve in their nuptial bower ..."), while also managing to be the voice of Wells's conscience and subjecting him to questions about his past behaviour and attitudes ("Did you tell your mother that you were no longer a believer? – No, though she probably guessed"). Crucially, this voice gives Wells a chance to answer critics of his books and his morals. Look, he can say, this is what I meant when I wrote about euthanasia for those who can't live happy, fulfilled lives! This is how much I truly cared about Amber Reeves when I got her pregnant and persuaded her to marry a man she didn't love!

As a technique, it's an interesting experiment and well suited to a subject who does have quite a bit of explaining to do. Lodge focuses much of his novel on Wells's liaison with Reeves, a woman given little coverage in the past. (It is Wells's 10-year relationship with West that attracts most attention.) Wells also has an affair with Rosamund Bland, the daughter of the children's author E Nesbit. Then it turns out, to Wells's shock, that she isn't Nesbit's daughter at all. (Wells's petite bourgeois background permeates his life, no matter how much his bohemian "open marriage" with Jane may seem to counter it.) Next, Wells turns to the more intellectually appealing Amber Reeves, and their affair is described with intimate and practical detail.

Lodge's depiction of Wells as cat-nip to pretty young girls is a little optimistic (he leaves out the older Wells's approaches to a glamorous young Martha Gellhorn, for instance – possibly because these approaches were rejected) and any sense that Wells was a predator in matters of sex (he wasn't called Jaguar by West for nothing, surely) is played down.

So, too, is the sense of his wife, Jane, as a real person. Jane Wells stood as a candidate for elections to the executive committee of the Fabian Society, so she must have had a strong political sense. That marriage is truly intriguing, but is only really glimpsed here. Lodge has given us his Wells, a man made in his image to the extent that he is a decent individual, honest and hard-working. Darkness is banished to the wings and with it, an important aspect of Wells's inner life. As with James, this is the public Wells. All the sexual detail in the world won't give us the private man.



Lesley McDowell is the author of Between the Sheets: The Literary Liaisons of Nine 20th-Century Women Writers (Duckworth £16.99)

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee