The Invisible Man Historical Context 📖

H.G. Wells’ ‘The Invisible Man’ is best known for its mixture of science fiction and reality. But there is far more to the novel than that. 

The Invisible Man

H.G. Wells

The short novel is a product of its time. It was one of several short novels that Wells produced within a few years periods and was certainly influenced by the changing world the author experienced on a day-to-day basis. 

From technological advancements to class discrimination, Wells drew on elements of society that were highly relatable and interesting to his readers. This, in combination with the thrilling and interesting story, made The Invisible Man highly popular. 

Publication History 

The Invisible Man was H.G. Wells’ fifth novel. It was published in 1897 and was preceded by The Time Machine, The Wonderful Visit, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and The Wheels of Chance. 

The novel was followed by several more that become nearly synonymous with his name. They include: 

  • The War of the Worlds 
  • The First Men in the Moon
  • The Sleeper Awakes 
  • The Holy Terror

Literary Context 

The novel is considered to be one of Wells’ most important. Today, he is seen as the “father of science fiction” and has written some of the most influential early books in that genre. 

When H.G. Wells was writing The Invisible Man and his other novellas, the science fiction genre as its known today did not exist. It was still a burgeoning literary field that was generally considered to be less worthy of being read and studied than other genres (this is a prejudice in the literary world that still exists today). 

But, Wells’ stories reached an incredibly wide audience, spreading the popularity of his particular brand of science fiction and inspiring generations of authors to write novels based on his works and style.

But, Wells took much of his inspiration from the foundations laid before him by authors like Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and her novel Frankenstein which was published 80 years early (and is truly considered to be one of the first science fiction novels. 

Other noteworthy authors operating before or around the same time that H.G. Wells was writing include Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe. While the latter is certainly well-known for mixing fantasy with reality, Arthur Conan Doyle’s interest in hypothetical science and the short story form was also important in the progression of literature during the Victorian period. 

Jules Verne is another related author who is often paired with H.G. Wells for his interest in short novels, technological advancements, morality tales, and the depiction of dystopias. 

Historical Context 

The novel was written at the end of the 19th century, during a time when major world events, like the publication of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, were changing the way that people saw and understood the world. In general, the world was moving away from a religious and towards a secular understanding of the world. 

During the 1890s alone, scientists in Britain discovered the electron, invented a method for classifying fingerprints, and established the world’s first wireless station. In the previous decade, inventions like the Fresno scraper, reaction steam turbine, and the light switch were changing the way that people lived their everyday lives. 

During the late Victorian age, when the book was written, social class was still incredibly important. The lower and middle classes often struggled to make ends meet and were seen as less important than the upper classes. Many people who were born into money played into this sense of entitlement, furthering the societal notion that one had to have money and possessions to be important or socially accepted. 

Interestingly, The Invisible Man took a different approach. Rather than playing into class expectations, Wells chose to focus on how a simple town, Iping, responded to the presence of the “invisible man.” The common, religious, and faithful people of the town are described as far more good-natured and caring than people from bigger cities and certainly more caring than Griffin himself. They do not have the false sense of superiority that Griffin has or that Dr. Kemp has in the novel. 


Why did H.G. Wells write The Invisible Man?

It’s not 100% clear why Wells chose to write this novel. But, he was likely interested in a variety of subjects, including the dangers of technological advances that go unchecked, class discrimination, and how out of control one person might become if they were not held responsible for their actions. 

What is the main message of The Invisible Man?

The novel could have a few different messages, depending on which person it asks. Some readers see Griffin’s detachment from reality and how dangerous isolation can be as the main message, while others read into the novel further and suggest that the danger of science advancing unchecked is the main message. 

What are some themes in The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells?

Some of the themes in H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man include isolation and loneliness, which are seen through Griffin’s desperation to reverse his invisibility. Another theme is community, depicted through the villagers’ ability to come together in the face of a crisis. Wells also included the theme of technological advancement in the novel, asking readers to consider that not all technology is beneficial to society. 

Why is The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells important? 

While it is not Wells’ most important novel, The Invisible Man is one of his best. It is fantastical, relevant, and inspired by his contemporary time. It connected with readers around the world and still does so to this day. 

Emma Baldwin
About Emma Baldwin
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues on Book Analysis.
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