Given my education as an engineer, you may expect that I began reading the work of H G Wells because of his science fiction writing. It’s true that, as a child, I watched several movies that were derived from Wells’ science fiction, such as “War of the Worlds”, but I never actually read any of his books.
In fact, though, I was first motivated to read Wells’ work because of his social ideas. One of the first titles I read was “In the Days of the Comet“, which is now largely forgotten, but, when published, was regarded as outrageous, and was even denounced as pornographic!
Not all of Wells’ works fall into the genre of science fiction; some are simply social novels, such as “Ann Veronica” (also now forgotten, but controversial when first published, because it advanced the cause of women’s rights). Many include autobiographical details, such as “Tono Bungay“, which he published in 1909.
A few years after reading “Tono Bungay”, I moved to London to begin my undergraduate studies in Electrical Engineering. It was only then that I picked up the book again, and realized the ominous title of the first chapter:
I recalled that Wells had indeed been a student at London’s “Normal School of Science” himself, almost a hundred years before I began studying at the same university, now renamed as Imperial College. Wells’ own studies didn’t work out as planned; he did indeed “go astray” and failed his degree. Nonetheless, his experience working on the college’s student newspaper led to his successful writing career, so the outcome was actually successful.
For my part, although I found London very distracting, and it would have been easy to have “gone astray”, I managed to get through and obtain an Honours degree. In addition, I gained vital experience in several other fields that proved useful professionally, but which I’d never anticipated, such as illustration and television.
The college building in which H G Wells studied still exists, across the road from the current Imperial College. It is now known as the Henry Cole Wing of the Victoria & Albert Museum, as shown below in my 1996 photograph.