17 October 2016

H. G. Wells at 150: The Picshuas of H. G. Wells

Science fiction without any picshuas: I review the eighth Doctor's latest adventure on audio, Doom Coalition 3.

Hardcover, 251 pages
Published 2006
Acquired and read July 2016
The Picshuas of H. G. Wells: A Burlesque Diary
by Gene K. Rinkel & Margaret E. Rinkel

When reading Wells's Experiment in Autobiography, I was entertained but frequently perplexed by the "picshuas" he included: the sketches he would draw for his second wife, Jane, on letters, in her diary, on scraps of paper, and on the title pages of the books he presented her. The Rinkels' book collects many of the picshuas, with a higher quality of reproduction than in the Experiment, and some time spent deciphering Wells's handwriting, contextualizing them in a narrative of the domestic life of H. G. and Jane. Sometimes I felt like I was drowning in details, but the picshuas themselves and the Rinkels' interpretation thereof always carried me through. The Rinkels usually call the duo Bins and Bits, using their nicknames from the picshuas, a nice touch that makes the picshuas seem like an alternate world of sorts.

Bins's bravery was apparently not enough to save their picnic from being colonized by cows.
(from Picshuas of H. G. Wells, p. 26)

There is a lot of cute stuff here, like Bins and Bits going for a picnic and being accosted by cows, or Bits demanding the waves not hit their coastal home, Cnut-style, or Bins looking on nervous as Bits reads his latest manuscript (she was a strong critic, and a strong manager, of his writing career). I wish we knew more about Jane and how she felt about her husbands' affairs: a couple of the picshuas depict her as an avenging air-ship. Was this an attempt to paper over a serious rift, or a harmless bit of fun? The Rinkels also manage to explain all of Wells's weird nicknames for his wife (in addition to Jane and Bits, there's also "P.C.B."!). Wells is a pretty gifted sketch artist, I think, able to evoke a lot with just a few lines.

Death from above!
(from Picshuas of H. G. Wells, p. 152)
Other good ones I could have scanned: the triumph of Bits and Bins when they get their first garden vegetable, everyone falling asleep when Bins gets to lecture at the Royal Institution.

The Rinkels indicate that only the sketches from Bins to Bits count as picshuas (answering a question I had after reading H. G. Wells & Rebecca West, which also includes a number of doodles by Wells), and say that you could fill a whole 'nother book with the existing non-picshua sketches. I'd read it, but ten years on with no sign of it, its existence seems unlikely to me.

Next Week: But who was Jane? I try to find out by reading The Book of Catherine Wells.

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