The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance by H. G. Wells

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Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy The Invisible Man Analysis

H. G. Wells wrote five “scientific romances” in the 1890’s. It is on these novels that his reputation largely rests. The Invisible Man is the third, nestled between The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896) and The War of the Worlds (1898). Like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), it is a cautionary tale of how science can get out of control and do more harm than good.

Although Wells often is called the inventor of science fiction, The Invisible Man is not really a story of what is scientifically possible but rather is a moral romance about the corruption of power. As a contemporary critic remarked, the imagination is everything, the science nothing. Unlike Jules Verne, with whom he is often compared, Wells was less concerned with the accuracy of his science than with the consequences of it.

Wells was firmly anchored in the values and the preoccupations of his time, a period of intense speculation characterized by a feeling of weariness with the past and a foreboding about the future. There was a sense that the whole elaborate Victorian order was teetering on the brink of collapse, both intellectually and socially. Fin de siècle attitudes appeared in the literary work of Henrik Ibsen, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, and, most obviously, Friedrich Nietzsche, whose ideas of the Übermensch figure prominently in The Invisible Man. The theories of Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, and Karl Marx that helped to overturn the intellectual and moral certainties of the nineteenth century and shaped the new world of the twentieth also can be found in Wells’s early romances.

The Invisible Man contains a blend of fantasy and the everyday. It is a comic novel that plays heavily with rural stereotypes...

(The entire section is 430 words.)