The Young H.G. Wells: Changing the World, a biography by Claire Tomalin 2021

Thanks to a tip off from Tony Kitchen at the always interesting Tin Soldiering On blog, I picked up a shiny hardback copy of this biography of the young H. G. Wells by Claire Tomalin, which focusses on the first four decades of his long life.

An attractive shiny steampunk and War of The Worlds cover

Over 19 chapters the book covers the first four highly productive decades of his life, followed by a final ten page ‘coda’ chapter documenting the last thirty odd years of his life, works and friendships.

The main part finishes round 1911 with the publication of The New Machiavelli (minus its toy soldier chapters).

Floor Games is barely mentioned, Little Wars not at all, the main books mentioned being those from 1895-1911.

Part of my interest was in looking out for toy soldier references.

As mentioned in a previous blog post, the struggling young working class schoolboy played wargames in his head:

This is the closest reference to Floor Games and Little Wars that you will get.

The poorly Wells as a child often went to live with his mother, who worked as a housekeeper at the country house of Uppark, where he had access to books and other stimulating things like a telescope to see the night sky and other planets. Obviously useful for a future writer of science fiction!

I like the mention of the young boy Wells and toy theatres, as these crop up again with Wells playing at satirical toy theatres with G K Chesterton in the 1930s at Easton, mentioned on another of my blog entries.

Wells was obviously a bright lad from a difficult poor working class background who one day would be on good terms with the ‘upstairs‘ of society of aristocrats, writers and intellectuals, the socialist reformers as well as his family background ‘downstairs‘.

This biography is also useful in filling in a little more detail on his circle, including players of The Floor Game or Little Wars (published 1913) such as the invalid writer and ‘dear friend who died’ in 1903 George Gissing,

Fabian / Socialist writer Graham Wallas (Mr. W)

Charles Masterman (Mr M.), writer, politician and brother of Captain M.

Interesting biography, well worth reading, if sadly lacking in toy soldiers.

Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, 4 December 2021

More on H G Wells, Little Wars, Floor Games and Toy Theatres:

12 thoughts on “The Young H.G. Wells: Changing the World, a biography by Claire Tomalin 2021”

  1. Fascinating find, and very interesting glimpse of how the different classes were inter linked and interwoven.
    The much touted them and us of some socialists fails in the light of reality, my parents told me many stories of the upstairs downstairs days, and they never quite equated with Harold Wilson,s version of events.


    1. It all works well enough for nostalgia and heritage industry, the better type of National Trust property that shows both upstairs and downstairs life – all a bit Downton Abbey.
      It also provided estate jobs for many people, admittedly looking after the pampered few and with little say over tied housing and working conditions.
      It’s why I find Wells’ domestic life so interesting as the son of servants who later had his own domestic staff, barely glimpsed presences in Floor Games and Little Wars.


  2. Sounds interesting, pity about the absence of much toy soldier/ floor games info.
    I look forward to the day when that part of his life is explored in depth , perhaps by a phd student…one day.


    1. There’s a PhD for someone … Doctor (in Wellsian’ Toy Soldiers).
      Likewise Robert Louis Stevenson … joining a long list of not often mentioned in polite society … including
      the not often mentioned Andrew Wyeth toy soldiers etc.


  3. Yes I’ve just finished reading it – interesting book but as you say – NO mention of Toy Soldiers ! – is this because a) she doesn’t cover his later life or b) like ALL his biographers so far they are embarrassed by him playing with Toy Soldiers ? – in the listings of books published Floor Games is listed BUT not Little Wars ! – I wonder how much of a best seller it was at the time ? – the events of the following year can’t of helped !?


    1. What a greatly niche Amazon or Blackwells or Good Read book review or returns comment this would be, “1 Star as there was almost no mention of toy soldiers.”

      I think the embarrassment / ‘get out’ clause is that the young Wells section ends in 1911 but then the toy soldier angle isn’t covered in the discussion of The New Machiavelli.
      As if writing science fiction wasn’t geeky and embarrassing enough to some, i.e. not Proper Literature or Novel, far too popular.

      I’m sure the cultural impact of Little Wars (and Floor Games) was heavily curtailed by WW1.


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