Back in the early days of January, I stated that David Lodge's novel about H.G. Wells, A Man of Parts (reviewed this weekend in the Sunday Book Review), was the book I was most anxious to read in 2011. I ordered it as soon as it was available in the UK and, naturally, it remains unread, as do seven other books from my Top Ten Books to Read list.
I am of course too distractable to stick with any list of ten, but in this case I also put pressure on myself to delay its reading because I needed to earn the right to do so. My interest in Wells derives primarily because of my Rebecca West project, and it just seemed as if I ought to have read a bit more by him (I'd only read The Island of Doctor Moreau with the Slaves) and about him before rewarding myself with the Lodge.
So in August I read The Time Machine, which led to the other novel published this year with Wells as
Instead I opted to take a break from the science fiction and go with Ann Veronica, the 1909 novel regarded as a roman a clef based on his affair with the other other woman--besides West--to bear him a child outside his marriage to Jane: Amber Reeves.
So I'm tooling along quite happily with Ann Veronica yesterday, enjoying my time with this representation of the New Woman until Vee's involvement with the Suffragettes lands her in prison and she undergoes a radical 180 in her beliefs and expectations.
And I think: I'm reading George Gissing. I'm reading a George Gissing novel. And I take to the internet to see if anyone else has noticed this. Could be it's just your typical sneaky underhanded misogyny.
And while I may very well have read this fact before, I must have glossed right over it: George Gissing and H.G. Wells were friends (or, at least, frenemies. It depends on which camp, pro- or anti-Wells, that you're in). Wells was there at Gissing's death bed, force-feeding him beef broth and stealing his final words to use as a character's final words in Tono-Bungay. There's actually an out-of-print collection of Gissing and Wells' letters: I ordered it immediately.
So now I have to at least read the letters and Tono-Bungay before I proceed to A Man of Parts, as well as more Gissing. And I want to read more about the suffragettes--I've been planning to do that since reading A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book. I'll have a new book to add to my list in November--Susan Hertog's biography Dangerous Ambitions: Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson: New Women in Search of Love and Power comes out then.
For anyone who finishes Ann Veronica and feels a bit bummed at how Wells brings Vee to such a conventional, second fiddle status by the end of the novel, take heart. Amber Reeves, Margaret Drabble tells us, accomplished much more with her life than Wells would imagine for her on the page.
I'll have to resort to ILL to get my hands on Reeves' novels, but I will. Just as soon as I get caught back up with my Drabbles.