H.G. Wells and 'The Invisible Man'

One of the ‘fathers of science fiction’, H.G. Wells was seen as forward-looking and prophetic. I’m not a huge science fiction fan, but I have always enjoyed The Invisible Man. Published in 1897, it mingles science and horror. This novel will make you realise that invisibility is no blessing.

Come with me on a fabulous reading journey through 2020. Together we will explore a thought-provoking selection of 19th and 20th Century classics. For each novel you will receive an illustrated monograph packed full of intriguing stories about the author behind the book, explaining its themes, tempting you with film versions to watch, and challenging you with discussion questions.

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Is invisibility a wondrous thing?

I am not a big sci-fi reader – science fiction is generally a section of a bookstore or library that fails to tempt me. I also prefer novels to have a hero and heroine and preferably a love story – The Invisible Man has none of those things. And yet it’s a fabulous book with a gripping plot and relevant and complex issues that are as topical today as when Wells wrote it.

H.G. Wells’ life was a real rags-to-riches tale. His mother was a domestic servant, his father ran a little shop and earned a bit extra playing cricket, but they could not long keep their son in school and he was apprenticed in his teens to a draper. He loathed the work and it gave him a real sympathy for the poor and downtrodden, sparking his life-long interest in socialism. The story of how he escaped the draper, got himself an education and began to write is a fascinating one.

Wells was also a womaniser and was rarely faithful to anyone for long. Some remarkable women fell for him – authors Edith Nesbit and Rebecca West, and possible spy Moura Budberg, were some of them. He wasn’t especially handsome, but when in his company it seemed to these women that no other man could compare with him. His views on sex were remarkably modern, and he put them into practice whenever he could!

“To do such a thing would be to transcend magic. And I beheld, unclouded by doubt, a magnificent vision of all that invisibility might mean to a man—the mystery, the power, the freedom. Drawbacks I saw none. You have only to think! And I, a shabby, poverty-struck, hemmed-in demonstrator, teaching fools in a provincial college, might suddenly become—this.”
― H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man

Wells had a genius for predicting the future in his fiction. He could see the growing power of Mussolini and Hitler and announced this would certainly end in war. Did you know that he fought with Australian Prime Minister Joseph Lyons over this very issue when he visited Australia in 1938? He was ahead of his time in calling for the protection of whales, more humane divorce laws, free education for all, and much more. His novels showed humanity’s increasing reliance on machines and science, and also pointed out that scientific developments could cause harm as well as bring benefits. His books were hugely popular and so Wells’ idea reached a large audience.

In The Invisible Man a scientist called Griffin finds a way of making himself invisible. As children, don’t we all dream of an ‘invisibility cloak’ or the power to disappear at will? The trouble is that Griffin fails to discover a way of reversing the process. Nor has he considered some of the implications of invisibility – he cannot make the food he has just swallowed invisible, or the clothes he needs in an English winter. He becomes a freak, he frightens people, he is cold and hungry and has no place to sleep. Nor does he really know what to do with his new power, and he squanders it on petty pranks and thefts. How people respond to him, how they fear what he can do, and how they try to kill him are the things that make up the plot of this fabulous book.

Wells is often referred to as ‘the Father of Science Fiction’. Learn about this forward-thinking man and join me in delving into one of his best novels and thinking about just what invisibility really means.

“An invisible man can rule the world. No one will see him come; no one will see him go.”
― H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man

Discuss it with me

We live in a world where science is continually pushing the boundaries. What is moral, how far should science be allowed to go? These questions of today also fascinated H.G. Wells in an era when science and technological progress were making rapid and sometimes frightening advances. Do you think this book is still relevant today? Tell me in a comment.

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Discuss it with me

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Featured image credit- Claude Rains and Gloria Stuart in The Invisible Man (1933), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0024184/
Body image credit- Claude Rains in The Invisible Man (1933), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0024184/

Comments (8)

  1. Melvyn Dickson

    Wells had the good educational fortune to study biology under T.H. Huxley and eventually gained a B.Sc in zoology, which was my first field of study. He would have learned the process of preparing specimens for viewing in the light microscope. After hardening a specimen with formaldehyde and dehydrating a specimen with alcohols, it is rendered transparent with a clearing agent, xylol. A transparent specimen does not of course become invisible, but one can imagine that carrying the process of “clearing” further could lead to invisibility. I like to think this is what sparked Wells’ imagination.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks for your comments. If my science teachers had started their teaching with novels like this one, I might have paid more attention as then my imagination would have been involved. Yes, he was lucky to study under Huxley and I think he knew it.

  2. G’day Susannah

    By coincidence I have just finished rereading The Invisible Man. I’ve had the book for years. I haven’t seen any film version.
    There is one mistake made by HG. Griffin could have made a suit invisible. He did ‘disappear’ a piece of material as well as the poor pussycat.
    With a bit of forethought he could have made a complete invisible wardrobe, although I guess he was up against it financially and time-wise.
    That said, it’s a cracking yarn. I love the various character studies, the variety of the ‘class’ of the people and the dialogue.
    HG really studied the English people. TIM is one of my favourite books.
    HG’s other brilliant stories are The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine. HG’s method of having just one improbable item and saying, “What might happen if this were true?” makes the stories quite believable. John Wyndham uses the same device.

    I wonder whether you read any of John Wyndham’s books? The Day of the Triffids, which is an interesting study of human behavior; The Kraken Wakes and The Midwich Cuckoos. The books do have a love interest, a hero and a heroine (much more independent than your usual heroines).
    There is also The Trouble with Lichen, which I’ve also just reread.

    Regards and best wishes, I enjoy your emails.
    Glenn Ball

    • Susannah Fullerton

      You were braver than me – I didn’t are go and see the movie! I suspected that it would bear no relation to the book.
      Thanks for your comments about the invisibility of clothing – you are right! However, his problems with clothes do help make it a gripping story.
      I have not read any John Wyndham – as I noted, I’m not much of a sci-fi reader, but will consider giving him a try.
      I hope you and Maggie are staying well in this awful time.

  3. Elna Estcourt

    Thanks for suggesting this book, which I have never read before. But having read H. G Wells’ story I thought I would go to see the new movie of the same title. Apart from terror and suspense, the only other similarity to the book was the use of the science of optics to become invisible. After that the plot took a completely different path; not about finding a cure and then all going awry in the neighbourhood, but, instead, using invisibility to stalk one individual. The reasons and the mechanisms are completely different to H.G. Wells’ devices. I won’t say any more about the plot, so that there are no spoilers here, except to say that watching it by myself in an almost empty cinema was quite disconcerting!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      You were brave! I didn’t dare go and see it because I knew how different it would be from the book and I’d also heard it was scary. It’s a pity they didn’t make a more faithful version.

  4. Sandra

    Susannah, I’m really enjoying the chance to read these books. The invisible man was such a great book – of course I had heard of it before, I had even seen the gif before. Movie still doesn’t interest me. But it could have been set in present-day and it still would have made sense! Although the invisible man could have travelled further, he also would have been more widely known due to technology. Thanks!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am so pleased that I am introducing you to some new books you might not otherwise have read and that you are enjoying them.
      Like you, I was amazed at how modern ‘The Invisible Man’ is. I listened to it on unabridged audio in my car and was enjoying it so much, I just didn’t want to stop driving.

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