The Invisible Man – H. G. Wells (1897)

Having a hankering for some more classics reading and wanting something that wasn’t a huge long commitment, I found “The Invisible Man” by H. G. Wells on the library shelves. I noticed that the edition was a special commemorative 100-year anniversary edition as well (with great production values) so it jumped into my hands. And goodness me – it was a good read.

I would imagine that there are many readers out there familiar with at least the general idea of this story: a man invents a way to control the field of optics (in physics) and then becomes invisible. Imagine the power and the glory for someone who can’t be seen by others…

This science fiction story was originally published as a serial in 1897, although Wells expanded it into a novel that was published later on that same year.

The protagonist, the invisible man in question, was a man called Griffin who was, incidentally, an “albino” medical student (along with the challenges inherent in having that condition) so when he started messing around with light refraction in the human body, he was very focused on making his own life easier (as well as changing the scientific world around him.) He has designs on power for when he had his invisibility and tries the initial experiment on a cat, who actually does become invisible (except for its spooky eyes). 

(And this is a real physics thing, apparently – not the making-yourself-invisible in real-life just yet but if everything else in the human body is invisible and can’t be seen, theorists think that the only thing that can’t be invisible would be the retinas of the eye. Fascinating if off-putting to think about.)

Wells did a really good job of explaining the physics behind this theory and after reading it carefully, I think I finally understand how it could work, so kudos to Wells for his step-by-step explanation of this. (If I can understand it, so can you.) 

So back to the novel: Griffin arrives as a visiting scientist to the small village of Iping in Sussex. He boards at a small rooming house with an inquisitive landlady and ends up setting up a lab in one of her rooms. (These experiments cause several accidents but Griffin is sanguine about these costs and just instructs the landlady to add it to his bill. Problems arise when she asks Griffin for the money – he doesn’t have it which leads to some of his behavioural choices later.)

What takes this plot up a notch is that Griffin quickly learns that life is lot more complicated when you are invisible. It’s starts off all fun and games (and power) but quickly becomes pockmarked with issues. 

If you are invisible and eat your lunch, your food is visible in your stomach until it is absorbed into your body. If you get cold, you will want to put clothes on (and who wants to be naked?) so once you are wearing these items, you’ll be visible again (through the outline of the clothing). What about sleeping? Where will you go? And can you manage your new life alone or will you need help?

And as life changes for Griffin in his new form, he gradually becomes more and more unstable and more and more violent. He has a quick temper anyway, but the frustrations of living as an invisible man are overwhelming and he starts to fight and physically hurt people.

Others in the village learn of his situation but start to view him as a scary bogeyman-type of person, more of an urban legend than a human… The chase is afoot. 🙂

He gets scared and hungry, and so he travels to a nearby town with a man called Marvel who Griffin enlists to help him. Griffin had burned down his original bed-and-breakfast home (to spite the landlady) but in doing so, he had burned down his laboratory. Only his three notebooks had survived so he asked Marvel, the assistant, to track down these books since they have the solution to how, Griffin believes, that he can get his life back and stop being invisible. 

However, others are also on the case (with evil designs on the info contained therein) and so there is an adventurous chase that occurs – all very Boys’ Annual type of story.

This was fun but I was taken aback by all the violence by the Invisible Man. I had no idea he had these tendencies but it was a hard life, if you’re honest. (He did do it to himself, that’s true, but still…) 

Does Griffin ever get his life back? Does he ever become visible again? Is there happiness for him?

I’m not going to say but rather encourage you to read this novella for yourself. Just steel yourself for the ongoing fights and arguments but they are part of the story and integral to the plot. 

I’m glad that I have read this and now I’m curious about Well’s other works, including “The Time Machine” (1895) (this one is actually on the physical TBR I saw this morning) and “The Island of Doctor Moreau” (1896). Have you read any of these? 

4 thoughts on “The Invisible Man – H. G. Wells (1897)

  1. Wells is an interesting writer. I’ve not read this one but I have read War of the Worlds and The Island of Doctor Moreau. Moreau is pretty horrific with lots of vivisection and violence in general.

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