Call for Papers 2022

The H.G. Wells Society Conference

Experiments in (Auto)biography: H.G. Wells and Life-Writing


15 October 2022


Call for Papers

The recent publication of Claire Tomalin’s critically acclaimed The Young Wells has prompted us to think not only about the making of Wells as a writer but also to explore the purpose and scope of life-writing. Written in the 1930s when Wells was aware that he was entering the twilight years of his life, Experiment in Autobiography saw Wells, influenced by developments in psychology, become the historian of his own developing mind. In this voluminous work, arguably one of the greatest and enterprising literary autobiographies, Wells is particularly adept at shifting between the general and the specific, employing the microscope and the theodolite with alacrity and brilliant clarity to give us the measurements of the societal landscape in which he came of age and lived. His fictional writing is also infused with biographical details – for instance, The Time Traveller in Wells’s The Time Machine (1895) races beyond his own lifespan and everything that he knows only to find himself in a distant future, inconvenienced by the limitations of his Victorian footwear. For Wells, the subterranean kitchen of his childhood and the fear of being tethered to the drapery establishment from which he longed to escape haunt his works and are also elaborated on in Experiment in Autobiography. Perhaps the impact that the many brushes with death had on his body altered his use of vocabulary – the adjective ‘gaunt’ stalks his narratives.

But as deeply biographical as Wells’s work was, we never receive the full story, as is suggested by supplementary documents, notably his correspondence and H.G. Wells in Love, together with the wealth of biographies that have appeared over the years. This conference will be wide-ranging and below are only a few of the subjects that we will investigate. We welcome contributions from writers and readers of auto/biographies alike:

What is the value of auto/biography and what were Wells’s innovations in this field?

Can we separate ourselves from our subject and should we?

When rendering a life story vivid, how much artistic freedom should we have and are there boundaries between fact and fiction that we should never cross?

We will explore the locations of Wells’s life and how these appear in his works and look at why Wells kept returning to the circumstances of his own life in his fiction.

How have various biographies of Wells been received?

What are the pitfalls of writing about a difficult historical figure or, how do we negotiate the more challenging aspects of the subject of our biography, for example, when we think about any objectionable views which Wells may have held that we do not share ourselves?

It would be interesting to explore Wells as a character in works by other writers.

Please send abstracts of no more than 200 words by 31 August 2022 to Dr Emelyne Godfrey and Dr Brenda Tyrrell