H. G. Wells must surely be the most famous ex-pupil of a Midhurst school, although he only moved into the area at the age of 14. However, Midhurst proved sufficiently memorable for Wells to use it as the inspiration for ‘Wimblehurst’ in ‘Tono Bungay’ (1909), although not entirely favourably. The main character George is taken to see an uncle whom he has never met before, who lives and works in Wimblehurst, and describes the place as “dead-and-alive. Nothing happens.” George settles in Wimblehurst for a time and forms his own impressions of the town:
I found something very agreeable and picturesque in its clean cobbled streets, its odd turnings and abrupt corners; and in the pleasant park that crowds up one side of the town.
George is less impressed with the local youths, whom he describes as ‘loutish and slow, service and furtive’, which might or might not be a reflection of Wells’s own opinions of other young people he met during his time in Midhurst. When real experiences are drawn upon to create fiction, it is difficult for the reader to distinguish where the line has been drawn between reality and imagination, but it is worth remembering that the ‘G’ of H. G. Wells is ‘George’.
Wells was undoubtedly a great author (‘The Sleeper Awakes’ is my personal favourite, a hugely imaginative tale of a man who sleeps for over 200 years and wakes to a corrupt world) and is also known somewhat as a man who predicted the future, something that tends to go hand-in-hand with science fiction authorship. Among his predictions are moon landings (‘The First Men in the Moon’), lasers (‘The War of the Worlds’) and genetic engineering (‘The Island of Dr Moreau’), all fairly standard sci-fi concepts. Perhaps his most famous prediction is that of the Second World War in ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ (1933), a fictional history book from the 22nd Century. To put this in perspective, it was not a huge leap of imagination in 1933 to predict the outbreak of another war, and he was not the only writer to do so, but some of the details are quite prescient. The date of outbreak of war he suggested was 1940, remarkably close to the truth.
As is often the case with predictions of the future, for every correct prediction Wells made dozens of incorrect ones. For example, the trigger for war in ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ was a Polish train passenger getting an orange pip stuck under his false teeth. Now, that would be an impressive prediction if it had come true!
The article above was first printed in Envoy, the magazine of Midhurst Parish Church. I am an occasional contributor to Envoy and I am including a selection of my previous articles on this blog to allow them to reach more readers who might be interested in the topics.