Wednesday, December 20, 2017

H. G. Wells and Harvey Weinstein as mama's boys, after a fashion

H. G. Wells and Harvey Weinstein? Two very different guys to be sure. Weinstein is much in the news these days as a sexual predator. He's a very successful movie producer, twice married. I've seen a bunch of his films, including Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. I'm tempted to say that Wells is all but forgotten, but I don't know if that's true, though he's certainly not in the news. He was a prolific British writer of the late 19th and 20th century perhaps best known for his science fiction. I've read The Island of Doctor Moreau and The War of the Worlds, but not The Time Machine, though I may have thumbed through a copy. I recall seeing The Outline of History among my father's books, but I never read it. That is perhaps one of the books he'd inherited from his father.

Anyhow, my friend Adam Roberts is gearing up to write a literary biography of Wells and so has been reading though his works in chronological order and blogging about them, starting in February of this year. He's just reached The Book of Catherine Wells (1928).
Amy Catherine Robbins, who had become the second Mrs Wells in 1895 (and who had adopted the name ‘Jane’ at Wells's prompting, for reasons that remain opaque) died in October 1927. She had been diagnosed with an inoperable cancer in the spring of that year, and her health declined very rapidly. Wells returned from Europe to be with her and was present at her death.

Wells decided to curate a memorial volume. Back in the mid 1890s Catherine had been his sometime collaborator, nosing out ideas for short articles and newspaper pieces and helping him realise them, and whilst the bulk of the resulting saleable pieces were written by Wells, she herself sometimes sketched out and wrote up these light-hearted pieces herself. Writing wasn't a career she developed any further than these few sketches, instead devoting herself to being Wells's homemaker and companion, turning a blind eye to his many infidelities and often (as with 1920's The Outline of History) acting as secretary, amanuensis and researcher.

The Book of Catherine Wells is a collection of some of her earlier, mostly rather disposable journalistic essays from the 1890s, with a seven-page introduction by Wells himself (the intro was later collected in H G Wells in Love).
Though Wells does not appear to have been a sexual predator, he certainly was a womanizer, having bedded over 200 other women while married to Catherine. I have no idea about Weinstein's sexual activity other than the predation for which he has all of a sudden become something of a poster boy. Catherine knew about her husband's infidelity but nonetheless remained devoted to him, though it seems we don't really know what she thought about it.

Here's one of Adam's many interesting observations about all this:
But there's something diminishing, it seems to me, in the way it actually panned out in his life: not a sexual liberation so much as a kind of semi-licensed serial bigamy, in which Wells found the thrill of sexual novelty with a string of younger women whilst also positioning his wife as a kind of mother confessor, to whom he could always return and unburden himself. What's wrong with this picture? I don't know. I suppose it's the way it suggests the ways in which he wasn't walking the walk as well as talking the talk—the way, in other words, that his own psyche remained striated by a fundamentally Victorian sexual guilt that needed the absolution of a maternal, home-making, dependable woman to clear Wells's conscience, such that could once again range out into the world of sexual dalliance.
In response, I posted the following on his blog:
I can't help but read this material against the backdrop of the appalling sexual predation among the rich and powerful men that's been paraded across the front pages for the last month or so. Wells is certainly no Harvey Weinstein or Leon Wieseltier but still, we certainly are bedeviled by sexuality aren't we – by "we" I mean the race of naked apes.

I can sort of understand penetrating rape, not condone it by any means, not THAT kind of understanding, but understand as something a horny bastard would do (and, yes, I know "it's about power"). What I don't get is these guys, for Weinstein isn't alone in this by any means, forcing women to watch them masturbate. What's up with that?

It's like a three year-old finds himself with a "stiffy" and is both enormously pleased ("my aren't we standing proud!") and a bit terrified ("what if it won't go away!?"). So he does what any good three year old would do, he shows it to his mommy. Maybe she'll kiss it and make it go away, maybe not. But surely she'll do something!

Catherine Wells as mother confessor seems in the same ballpark. To be sure, a different location in the park, but the same park nonetheless.
I'm tempted to quote Rodney King as this point, "Can we all get along?" Well there, I gave in to temptation, didn't I? It seems that Wells did get along. Weinstein not so much.

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