Sour Apple

Jose Harris

  • H.G. Wells: Aspects of a Life by Anthony West
    Hutchinson, 405 pp, £12.95, June 1984, ISBN 0 09 134540 5
  • Heritage by Anthony West
    Secker, 305 pp, £8.95, April 1984, ISBN 0 436 56592 7

One of H.G. Wells’s abiding obsessions was the fear that the ‘woman of the future’ would bring about ‘race suicide’ by refusing to bear children: which may be a reason why he embarked on fatherhood so energetically, with a variety of women in addition to his wife. One of Wells’s most famous liaisons was with Rebecca West, mother of the author of the latest Wells biography. They met in 1912 when she was 19, he 45. He was an established novelist and social critic, she an ambitious young feminist author, who was beginning to make a name for herself by tart and witty book reviews in the Freewoman, Clarion and Daily News. Her articles ranged over numerous feminist topics: the ‘rat poison’ of housework, the futility of the current suffrage Bill, the scarcity of women geniuses, ‘honesty’ in sexual relationships and the moral imperative for a free woman to abandon an exhausted marriage. She constantly berated fellow females for their passivity, sentimental piety, and lack of a sense of adventure and ambition. From the start Rebecca West was obsessed by Wells – that plain and portly ladykiller, whose attractions seemed so mysterious to those who never met him. She pursued him vigorously both at his home (under the complaisant chaperonage of Mrs Wells) and by writing deliberately provoking reviews of his books. ‘He is the old maid among novelists,’ she wrote of his book Marriage. ‘Even the sex obsession that lay clotted on Ann Veronica and The New Machiavelli like cold white sauce was merely old maid’s mania, the reaction towards the flesh of a mind too long absorbed in airships and colloids.’ No man of Wells’s temperament could resist such baiting, with the result that he and Rebecca West became lovers. Their son, Anthony West, was born in 1914.

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