“The Stolen Body” is a short story by the English author H. G. Wells (1866–1946), first published in The Strand MagazineMonthly publication founded by George Newnes, published 1891–1950, credited with introducing the short story to a British audience. in November 1898 and subsequently reprinted in Twelve Stories and a DreamCollection of 13 short stories by H. G. Wells, first published in 1903. (1903). The story concerns two amateur paranormal researchers, one of whom loses his body to a spirit while he is experimenting with astral projection.
The story, as told by an unidentified third-person narrator, concerns a pair of amateur paranormal researchers, Mr Bessel and Mr Vincey. Their particular interest is in astral projection, the possibility of projecting an apparition of one’s self through space. At a pre-arranged hour, Bessel and Vincey, who live about two miles apart, each fix their minds on the other, in an attempt to project themselves as a “phantom of the living”. Nothing happens until, on the fifth or sixth night, Vincey imagines that he sees an image of Bessel standing in the room with him, wearing an anxious expression and with his hair disheveled.
Elated, Vincey rushes round to Bessel’s apartment to tell him the good news, but is alarmed to find the place in a shambles; the porter tells him that Bessel had, at about the time of the apparition, rushed out of the apartment block like a madman, shouting “Life”!
Returning home, Vincey retires to his bed, but is woken by a vivid dream that convinces him that Bessel is in danger. He dresses and goes out in search of his friend, only to discover that he is being chased around London after perpetrating a series of increasingly violent attacks on passersby. Vincey seeks the aid of a medium, who directs him to an excavated shaft at a building site, at the bottom of which Bessell is lying with a broken arm, leg, and two ribs.
Once he is recovered, Bessel explains that in sending his apparition to Vincey he had entered “into a world beyond this world, a world undreamt of, yet lying so close to it and so strangely situated with regard to it that all things on this earth are clearly visible both from without and from within, in this other world about us.” This world is inhabited by spirits, one of which took possession of Bessel’s body while his consciousness was absent from it, thus explaining his apparent insanity. But once the spirit had damaged Bessel’s body and learned “the lesson of pain”, it returned to its own world, allowing him to take possession of his own body once again.
- H. G. Wells bibliographyList of publications written by H. G. Wells during the more than fifty years of his literary career.
- Full text of “The Stolen Body” at Project Gutenberg