God bless H.G. Wells. He seems like kind of a decent guy, and as a kid I loved his books (The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, etc.). My parents had a set of a History of the World he’d written, which I tried to read about a million times but could never get beyond five pages. I don’t think they had either; it had the classic feel of “Oh, that was that year that everyone bought that one book that nobody actually read.”
Something about him always made me think he was kind of a bumbler. Why? Because I realized that other respected writers didn’t take him seriously? I’m not sure. It may have been the cover of my copy of The Time Machine, which had a desperate looking man on it. I always thought that was him. Earnest. Forthright. A Serious Person in capital letters. And…sort of buffoonish. Maybe this is unfair. But it stuck with me.
And then yesterday I ran across an interview he did…of Joseph Stalin.
The headline quote is Wells saying, “I believe I’m to the left of you, Mr. Stalin,” which of course fits my conception of the earnest intellectual bumbler. But really, you don’t need to go further than this opening-exchange jaw-dropper:
Wells I am very much obliged to you, Mr Stalin, for agreeing to see me. I was in the United States recently. I had a long conversation with President Roosevelt and tried to ascertain what his leading ideas were. Now I have come to ask you what you are doing to change the world . . .
Stalin Not so very much.
Maybe it’s not fair to judge H.G. Wells with the hindsight of history. But it’s the only view I have.
The New Statesman has the entire interview online.
Image Credit: Telegraph.co.uk