12 December 2007

The Invisible Man. H.G. Wells. 1897.

H.G. Wells. THE INVISIBLE MAN: A GROTESQUE ROMANCE...C. Arthur Pearson Limited, London 1897.

Current Selling Prices
$3000-$10000 /£1500-£5000

Wells's world famous tale. He later pointed out that the title is something of a misnomer: the protagonist is actually The Transparent Man. The title page is printed in orange and black, 2 pages of ads at back. It's in red pictorial cloth, front in black and gold, lettered gilt at the spine. Illustration on cover in black shows clothed man sitting in chair with no head and shoes, but no ankles. Suvin in 'Victorian Science Fiction in the UK' puts it thus: "Amoral scientist discovers invisibility, but even this fails in the face of invincible obtuseness and cruelty of petty bourgeois England. Brilliant idea, memorable scenes, and vigorous chase-plot in an ambiguous (and scientifically impossible) tale."

Wells was making a similar point to young Mary Shelley in Frankenstein 80 years earlier - that science without humanity amounts to misery and destruction. Filmed several times with the Invisible Man appearing separately as a character in many adventures, satires, jokes, parodies etc., - the last being the bitterly disappointing 'League of Extraordinary Gentleman' where he appeared alongside Captain Nemo, Dorian Gray, Dr Jekyll etc., Connery as Quatermaine gamely tries to keep the film together, David Hemmings appears at the end looking terrible (sadly his last role.) The Alan Moore comic on which the film is based remains excellent.

The 1897 book itself first appeared as a racy serial in Pearson's magazine; it is not one of Wells greatest works (like,say, Tono Bungay.) It secured Wells financially for life, bringing him not only a constant flow of royalty cheques, but money from the Hollywood film adaptation of 1933 starring Claude Rains.

VALUE? A vulnerable, cheaply produced book, so great copies are uncommon and command goodly sums. Fine copies are almost impossible. The publisher Pearson's books have survived badly- they were almost always in poor quality bindings with cheap paper - this was the only Wells book from them fortunately. Reasonable ones can be had at about a £1000 ( a not bad copy failed recently at ebay at $1000).It has turned up in terrestrial auctions 60 times in the last 30 years (according to ABPC) and seldom gets into 4 figures unless very nice or inscribed. An inscribed US first with a drawing made $23000 at the Neville sale in 2004, something of a freak result. A decent signed copy of the UK first sits on ABE at £12.5K. In a world where people will pay £35000 for a cocktail this is not steep. The LEC copy will get you $100 with a following wind. Ralph Ellison's 1952 'Invisible Man' goes for similar sums to Wells's work (but this time it needs a d/w) but not as much signed. It is itself a much admired and much wanted political parable. Because the people he encounters 'see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination' he too is, effectively, invisible.

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