Sunday, September 18, 2011

Reading plans? I got 'em; or, H.G. Wells, Gissing, and the gang

by Susan

Back in the early days of January, I stated that David Lodge's novel about H.G. Wells, A Man of Parts (reviewed this weekend in the Sunday Book Review), was the book I was most anxious to read in 2011. I ordered it as soon as it was available in the UK and, naturally, it remains unread, as do seven other books from my Top Ten Books to Read list.

I am of course too distractable to stick with any list of ten, but in this case I also put pressure on myself to delay its reading because I needed to earn the right to do so. My interest in Wells derives primarily because of my Rebecca West project, and it just seemed as if I ought to have read a bit more by him (I'd only read The Island of Doctor Moreau with the Slaves) and about him before rewarding myself with the Lodge.

So in August I read The Time Machine, which led to the other novel published this year with Wells as the a main character, Felix J. Palma's The Map of Time. From there I proceeded to The Invisible Man and almost went straight on to The War of the Worlds, which would have given me the four books necessary to fulfill Peril the First in Carl's R.I.P. challenge if I should feel the need to cheat and count The Time Machine (and I don't. I have another time travel book all lined up. And Caleb Williams, which will count for both R.I.P. and Gothic Lit for the Classics Circuit. And was a favorite of Rebecca West's).

Instead I opted to take a break from the science fiction and go with Ann Veronica,  the 1909 novel regarded as a roman a clef based on his affair with the other other woman--besides West--to bear him a child outside his marriage to Jane: Amber Reeves.

So I'm tooling along quite happily with Ann Veronica yesterday, enjoying my time with this representation of the New Woman until Vee's involvement with the Suffragettes lands her in prison and she undergoes a radical 180 in her beliefs and expectations.

And I think: I'm reading George Gissing. I'm reading a George Gissing novel. And I take to the internet to see if anyone else has noticed this. Could be it's just your typical sneaky underhanded misogyny.

And while I may very well have read this fact before, I must have glossed right over it: George Gissing and H.G. Wells were friends (or, at least, frenemies. It depends on which camp, pro- or anti-Wells, that you're in).  Wells was there at Gissing's death bed, force-feeding him beef broth and stealing his final words to use as a character's final words in Tono-Bungay. There's actually an out-of-print collection of Gissing and Wells' letters: I ordered it immediately.

So now I have to at least read the letters and Tono-Bungay before I proceed to A Man of Parts, as well as more Gissing. And I want to read more about the suffragettes--I've been planning to do that since reading A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book. I'll have a new book to add to my list in November--Susan Hertog's biography Dangerous Ambitions: Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson: New Women in Search of Love and Power comes out then.

For anyone who finishes Ann Veronica and feels a bit bummed at how Wells brings Vee to such a conventional, second fiddle status by the end of the novel, take heart. Amber Reeves, Margaret Drabble tells us, accomplished much more with her life than Wells would imagine for her on the page.

I'll have to resort to ILL to get my hands on Reeves' novels, but I will. Just as soon as I get caught back up with my Drabbles.


  1. I've only read a couple of Wells's novels but I have Ann Veronica on my shelves and have long wanted to read it as a good suffragette novel--how could he make her have a 180 degree conversion?? I think I've only read ONE book from my list of books to read this year. I started another, does that count? I'm not sure I'll actually finish it this year. I'm starting to give up any hope of actually getting my reading stack under control.

  2. Anonymous11:07 AM

    I admire your H. G. Wells plan. I love Wells and also did similar "background" to prepare for David Lodge's book. But you can fly through it any time you want. It's like having a very good biography, even though it's fiction.

    Michael Dirda wrote a very good review of Lodge's book (this week, I think) at The Wash Post.

    And I mean to get to Rebecca West, too. I do love her, but have a couple of her books I've never been able to crack (The Birds Fall Down is one, and you told me it's good, so I must read it!).

  3. Isn't that how things go? The one book you really want to read gets put off because of all the fascinating background reading. Just think though how much more enjoyable the Lodge book will be when you get to it!

    And by chance have you seen the TV show Warehouse 13? H.G. Wells makes an ocassional appearance and is actually a woman.

  4. I always liked War of the Worlds and The Time Machine!

    Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer

  5. I've not read Wells at all. I am interested in the Rebecca West biography you mentioned. I'll look out for it.


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