Saturday 9th July 2016
11.15 Ogilvy Room
Louisa Treger (Author)
“The Muses of H.G. Wells: How the Women in his Life Shaped his Writing”
The fact that H.G. Wells loved women and had many affairs is well-known. What has been less widely documented is the vital role his mistresses played in his creative process. My talk will examine this aspect, arguing that without his women, Wells would not have achieved as much as he did.
Wells’s lovers were not simply physically attractive, they were amongst the most gifted of their day: strong, intelligent, articulate and creative. Far from being exploited victims, they were able to relate to him as equals: intellectually, sexually and creatively.
Wells insisted that satisfied desire was a necessity for his work. But for Wells, each of these affairs was not just about sex. On his own, he felt incomplete: he needed women to satisfy his appetites, to support him, and to inspire his work.
At its most basic, being in love produced a rush of euphoria that in turn generated creative energy and often led to a new novel or novels. However, the influence of love on his work was complex and multi-layered. Wells’s women appeared as characters in his books. His affairs also had an impact on the plot and structure of certain novels, because he used them as a device to work through the complications that inevitably resulted from his extra-marital relationships.
Wells liked to discuss his writing with his lovers and he invited them to comment on his manuscripts. In other words, Wells’s dependence on his women extended to literary dependence: he took their criticisms to heart and they had a material effect on his writing.
Wells encouraged Dorothy Richardson and Rebecca West to write. Not only did Dorothy decline to take his advice [on writing], she actually formulated her ideas about writing in direct opposition to his views. It seems that Wells was more influenced by Dorothy’s literary input than she was by his!
To conclude, Wells was a prolific writer and a prolific lover. His multiple relationships inevitably led to messy and painful situations. At the same time, his need for women went beyond a craving for sex; there was also a deep need for emotional and intellectual support that belied the robust persona he revealed to the outside world. His lovers had an essential, complex and reciprocal influence on his writing; both he and they produced novels which re-imagined and drew creatively on their relationship. In fact, without Wells’s women, we arguably would not be remembering him today.