The Sleeper Awakes

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The Sleeper Awakes
The Sleeper Awakes.jpg
Author H. G. Wells
Original title When The Sleeper Wakes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Science fiction novel
Publication date
1899, 1910
Media type Print
Pages 274
ISBN 1-4264-5876-2
Preceded by Love and Mr Lewisham

The Sleeper Awakes (1910) is a dystopian science fiction novel by H. G. Wells about a man who sleeps for two hundred and three years, waking up in a completely transformed London, where, because of compound interest on his bank accounts, he has become the richest man in the world. The main character awakes to see his dreams realised, and the future revealed to him in all its horrors and malformities.

The novel is a rewritten version of When the Sleeper Wakes, a story by Wells that was serialised between 1898 and 1899.

Publication history[edit]

The novel was originally published, as When the Sleeper Wakes, in The Graphic from 1898 to 1903 and illustrated by H. Lanos.[1] Dissatisfied with its original form, Wells, who was an outspoken socialist and author of prophetic writings, rewrote it in 1910. "Like most of my earlier work", he wrote in the 1910 edition's preface, "it was written under considerable pressure; there are marks of haste not only in the writing of the latter part, but in the very construction of the story".[2]

The short story "A Story of the Days To Come" (1897) is a forerunner of the novel, being a tale set within the same future society.


The story follows the fortunes of a late nineteenth century Englishman identified only as Graham, living in London in 1897. One day, he suddenly falls into a strange coma-like "trance", due to his dabbling in drugs to cure a prolonged and serious insomnia. He sleeps over the course of decades, and awakens exactly 203 years later, in futuristic 2100. He soon finds out that he has inherited sizeable wealth from his cousin Warmings and a friend of his, Isbister. His money had been put into a trust. Over the years, the trust, known as the White Council, used Graham's unprecedented wealth to establish a vast political and economic world order.

Upon first awakening, Graham is extremely confused and suffers from severe culture shock. The individuals who had been charged with minding him during his sleep react to his awakening with surprise and alarm. No one had seriously expected Graham to ever arise from his slumber. Somehow, word spreads to the general populace that the sleeper has awakened. This leads to a great deal of distress among Graham's stewards which only increases when large mobs begin crowding around the building housing Graham. They shout and chant demands to see the fabled sleeper.

All of this confuses Graham and his naturally inquisitive nature compels him to ask questions of everyone in sight. The people around him are reluctant to give him answers and act in a very evasive manner. They only explain that the society in which they live is beset by troubles, and elaborate no further. They keep Graham from leaving and insist that, for his own well-being, he stay in the quarters provided for him.

Graham is effectively under house arrest, able to understand the society of the future mainly by what little information he can get from those allowed to see him. He learns from his guardian, Howard, that around this time that he is, by the order of things, the legal owner and master of the world. He also learns that a rebellious figure known as Ostrog seeks to overthrow this established order.

After returning to his quarters, Graham is liberated by individuals who identify themselves as agents of Ostrog. They briefly explain that the people of the world are preparing to stage a revolt against the White Council and require his leadership. Uncertain about their story but unwilling to remain a prisoner, Graham leaves with them.

After a perilous journey over the rooftops of future London and a mad flight from aeroplanes searching for him, Graham arrives at a massive hall where the workers and underprivileged classes have gathered to prepare for the revolution. It is at this time that Graham meets Lincoln, Ostrog's brother. Ostrog himself, Lincoln explains, is busy making the final preparations for the revolt. The assembled workers chant the Song of the Revolution and begin to march against the White Council. Graham is caught up in the mob, which soon engages in a battle with the state police.

In the ensuing confusion, Graham is separated from the revolutionaries and wanders the streets of London alone. London itself is in a panic as the revolt spreads across the world. The power is cut and order begins to dissolve as the fighting intensifies. During this time, he meets an old man who recounts to him the history of the sleeper, how the White Council used him as a figurehead to gain power and how, by investing his wealth in various companies and political parties, grew his inheritance and subtly bought the industries and political entities of half the world, establishing a plutocracy and sweeping the remains of democratic parliament and the monarchy away. The old man also shares his cynical views on how he believes that the sleeper is not real but a made-up figure to brainwash the population.

Eventually Graham makes his way to the mysterious figure of Ostrog, who explains to him that the revolution is a success. All that remains is to accept the surrender of the White Council. Ostrog also explains how the people were dissatisfied with the administration of the White Council and demanded the fortune to be returned to the Sleeper.

Graham is hailed as the saviour of the people and is nominally restored to his rightful place as master of the world. He is given comfortable quarters and his every pleasure is fulfilled on a whim. The governorship of society is left in Ostrog's hands. Graham contents himself with learning as much about this new world as he can. He especially takes an interest in aeroplanes and insists on learning how to operate the flying machines.

His carefree life soon comes to an end when a young woman named Helen Wotton explains that the people are suffering as badly under Ostrog as they did under the White Council. For the lower class, the revolution has changed nothing. Inspired by Helen's words, Graham begins to ask Ostrog questions about the condition of the world. Ostrog admits that the lower classes are still dominated and exploited but defends the system. It is clear that Ostrog has no desire to change anything, that the revolution was merely an excuse to toss the White Council out and seize power himself, using Graham as a puppet.

After pressing Ostrog, Graham learns that, in other cities, the workers have continued to rebel even after the fall of the White Council. To suppress these insurrections, Ostrog has used a police force, Black Africans recruited from Senegal and South Africa, to get the workers back in line. Graham is furious to learn of this and demands that Ostrog keep his police out of London. Ostrog agrees and promises to help Graham assume direct control over the world's affairs. Meanwhile, Graham decides to examine this new society for himself.

Graham and a valet travel through London in disguise and examine the daily life of the average worker. London is portrayed as a dehumanised, industrialised quagmire caught in perpetual darkness. The lower classes are forced to work day and night in the factories, having nothing more to look forward to than some cheap amusements. As he examines this grim scene, Graham learns that Ostrog has ordered his troops to London to disarm the remaining revolutionary workers.

The workers rise up once more and Graham makes his way back to Ostrog, who attempts to subdue Graham. With the help of the workers, Graham escapes Ostrog. He runs into Helen who, it is revealed, was the one who learned about Ostrog's treachery and made it public. With her by his side, Graham oversees the liberation of London from Ostrog.

Ostrog himself manages to narrowly escape London. He joins the air fleet carrying the black troops to London. While most of London is secure, Ostrog's men still hold a few airports to land the African soldiers. The workers find anti-aircraft guns Ostrog had built for his own use and intend to turn them against Ostrog's air fleet. However, they need time to set up the weapons. To delay the air fleet, Graham decides to fly the one remaining aeroplane in possession of the revolutionaries against Ostrog and his air force. He bids farewell to Helen and departs.

Over the skies of London, Graham uses his aeroplane as a battering ram to knock down several of the negro-transporting aeroplanes in Ostrog's fleet. Down below, the revolutionaries manage to get the anti-aircraft guns in place and begin shooting down the air fleet. Graham attempts to take down Ostrog's personal aeroplane, but he fails. However, Graham's aeroplane is critically damaged in an airport bombing and he plummets to earth.


Aspects of the novel's storyline are similar to the plot of the Woody Allen 1973 film Sleeper.[3]

Pulp writer Harry Stephen Keeler took the idea further in a 1914 story called "John Jones' Dollar", in which a solar system's economy is built around a single silver dollar left to accumulate until the year 2921 to the "astounding" sum of $6.3 trillion, financing an interplanetary socialist paradise.

The Futurama episode "A Fishful of Dollars" is loosely based upon Wells's novel. Fry discovers that his bank account has continued to accrue interest over the course of a thousand years.


  1. ^ Russell, Alan K. ed. The Collector's Book of Science Fiction by H. G. Wells. Castle Books; New Jersey, 1978. Pg 364
  2. ^ Wells (1910). "Preface". The Sleeper Awakes. 
  3. ^ James Robert Parish, Michael R. Pitts. The great science fiction pictures: Volume 1, Scarecrow Press, 1977. Pg. 298: "Iconoclastic film star /filmmaker Woody Allen turned his comedic genius to a satirical look into the future with a storyline that owes a nod of gratitude to HG Wells' When the Sleeper Awakes."

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