“The Story of the Late Mr. Elvesham” is a short story by the English author H. G. Wells (1866–1846), first published in the IdlerIllustrated monthly magazine published in London from 1892 until 1911. in May 1896, and subsequently reprinted in The Plattner Story and OthersCollection of 17 short stories by H. G. Wells, first published in 1897. (1897) and The Country of the Blind and Other StoriesCollection of 33 short stories by H. G. Wells, first published in 1911. (1911). It is told as a first-person narrative by a young man whose body is taken over by an elderly philosopher.
The story is related by Edward George Eden, who after becoming orphaned at the age of five was brought up by his uncle. When the latter died, four years before the narrative begins, he left his entire fortune of £500 to Eden, who resolved to use the money to complete his medical education. He enrolled at University College, London and rented a shabby single room to better eke out his resources.
One day, as Eden is leaving his accommodation to take a pair of shoes to be mended, he encounters a “little old man with a yellow face” who addresses him by name although Eden has never met him. The old man invites Eden to a very excellent lunch at Blavitski’s. He explains that as he is a very old man with no children to inherit his fortune, he has decided to find some poor, ambitious, healthy young man and make him his heir. But there are some conditions, including the heirs heredity, private morals, the details of how his parents and grandparents died, and he must agree to take the old man’s name. He goes on to say that Eden has been recommended to him as a suitable candidate by Professor Haslar, but declines to give his own name.
Eden undergoes medical examinations arranged by the Loyal Insurance Company and with the prominent Dr Henderson, with satisfactory results. Some time later the old man calls on Eden to tell him that everything is satisfactory, and to celebrate the “accession” he invites Eden to a sumptuous dinner in Regent Street. On the way, the old man reveals that he is Egbert Elvesham, the well-known philosopher. At the end of the meal, Elvesham takes a packet of pinkish powder from his pocket and adds a little to each of their glasses of liqueur. Eden’s head begins to spin, but he attributes that to an excess of champagne.
Suddenly Elvesham announces that he must leave, as he has an early train to catch in the morning, but before he goes he gives Eden another powder to take before going to bed, to relieve the symptoms of the first. On his walk home, Eden notices that his memories are becoming confused, some new memories and some lost, struggling even to remember the address of his lodgings. His room when he arrives home seems unfamiliar, but attributing it to drunkenness, he takes the second powder and retires to bed.
Eden wakes in the early hours of the morning to find that he is inhabiting Elvesham’s body, and that he is in Elvesham’s house. In a fit of madness he grabs a poker and begins to smash the desk in his study, which is how the staff of the house find him. Nobody believes his story, he is considered to be demented, and to compound his problems he finds that he has no access to Elvesham’s fortune, as his signature is still that of Eden. He discovers a secret drawer in the writing desk he wrecked on his first day, containing a white powder in a phial labelled “Release”. He understands that the contents are probably poison, but decides to take the powder anyway.
The story concludes by revealing that the written account was found on Elvesham’s desk alongside his dead body, in a handwriting quite unlike his own. Twenty-four hours earlier, Eden had been struck by a cab in London and had been killed instantly.
- 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 Story of the Late Mr. Elvesham” at Project Gutenberg