A Man of Parts (2011) is a fictionalised biography of HG Wells which draws heavily on his own Experiment in Autobiography, published (on his instructions) 50 years after his death. It’s a hefty book but worth persevering with, dealing satisfactorily with the three main threads of Wells’s life – his writing (he published non-fiction including history and scientific papers as well as novels, novellas, short stories and amazingly prophetic science fiction); his politics – he was for many years a leading light in the Fabian Society, a believer in world government and supporter of equal rights for women ; and his private life – married twice to women who weren’t interested in sex, he conducted hundreds of affairs, some casual, several more lasting, many of which caused serious unhappiness for others and problems for Wells. David Lodge keeps close to the facts, quoting letters, articles, biographies and memoirs.
The result is a novel that is both outrageously clunky and curiously engrossing. Its power is cumulative: there are no flashes of revelation or startling moments, just a slow unfolding of friendships and feuds, plots and counter plots.
(Claudia Fitzherbert The Telegraph 25 March 2011)
One interesting aspect of Wells’s life is his relationship with Henry James. Cordial at first, it ended sadly, after Wells had cruelly and publicly poked fun at James’s literary style once too often. Wells himself had little time for aesthetics in his novels, seeing fiction as a means to improve society.
Lodge gives his material shape by beginning at the end, as the dying Wells looks back over his life, and by introducing several sections in which Wells is interrogated by a kind of inner voice, answering the increasingly penetrating questions of this pitiless interviewer. Even so, Lodge doesn’t seem to judge Wells too harshly for his relentless pursuit of women, many of them extremely young and no doubt flattered at the attentions of a famous author who didn’t let a small thing like friendship with the girl’s parents get in the way of Free Love.
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……. this is the public Wells. All the sexual detail in the world won’t give us the private man.
(Lesley McDowell The Independent 3 April 2011)
The Acknowledgments run to several pages, and he not only lists the many biographies consulted but specifies which letters in the novel have been made up. Less grounded novelists would let their imagination run away with them but Lodge remains scrupulous and scholarly. With some subjects that would be a failing, but Wells’s life is so extraordinary that it needs no embroidery.
(Blake Morrison The Guardian 9 April 2011)
More thoughts on real lives turned into fiction here
Paperback edition due to be published January 2012.