The Invisible Man
A Story about Science. January 2023 Newsletter
The Invisible Man, a Story about Science
Rushing through an airport over the holidays, I had a few extra seconds to swipe through a bookstore for something to read. I’d had enough of books about food and noticed a display of pocket editions of science fiction classics. One cover caught my attention. The Invisible Man, by H. G. Wells, portrayed a man’s face wrapped with torn cloth, with no facial features visible. He wore an elegant yet sinister black hat and a disturbing pair of glasses, the frame harsh, militant. A trench coat hid his identity, or lack thereof. The image drew me in as a healthy counterbalance to the upcoming days of potential bliss.
During the late nineteenth century in Victorian England, Wells joined other writers such as Jules Verne in questioning how technologies that emerged during the Industrial Revolution might impact society and the world. Not all writers considered science, known at the time as “new knowledge,” a good thing. Some told stories of a dystopian future, others of a new and improved world, drawing upon Darwin’s ideas of evolution. Wells himself studied biology and taught science and would have been familiar with the evolution of science and “natural philosophers,” such as Darwin, who experimented with a range of new ideas, such as steam power, genetics, and electricity.
Written in 1897, The Invisible Man puts to use the science of optics, now considered a branch of physics. But Wells calls his protagonist, Griffin, a “demonstrator,” not a scientist.