A Man of Parts

Michael Dirda

HG. Wells’s life (1866-1946) has always read like a novel. And now it is one. Or is it?

David Lodge’s “A Man of Parts” hews closely to all the known facts about Wells, derives much of its dialogue from his letters and memoirs and includes no made-up characters.

( LIBRARY OF CONGRESS / ) – H.G. Wells

The book also draws many details from the numerous secondary works devoted to Wells and his distinguished contemporaries. After all, the author of “The Time Machine” and “The War of the Worlds” — not to overlook “Tono-Bungay” and “The Outline of History” — knew Henry James, Arnold Bennett, Bernard Shaw, Ford Madox Ford, the children’s author E. Nesbit, all the movers and shakers of the Fabian socialists, the Russian writer Maxim Gorky and many, many others.

He also slept with an astonishing number of women, including some noted writers (Rebecca West, Dorothy Richardson), at least one Cambridge undergraduate, the daughters of friends, a possible Russian spy (Moura Budberg), a black Washington prostitute named Martha, birth-control pioneer Margaret Sanger and, according to his own calculations, perhaps 100 other women. Why? Or, perhaps, why not?

“A Man of Parts” explores, with great verve, Wells’s lifelong attempt to honor his own complexity, to be true to himself as a sexual being, a loving family man, a creative artist and an ambitious social thinker.

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