The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana

by Jess Nevins

The Angel of the Revolution (1893)

copyright © Jess Nevins 2022

The Angel of the Revolution was written by “George Griffith” and first appeared in Pearson’s Weekly (Jan 21-Oct 14, 1893). “George Griffith” was the pseudonym of George Chetwynd Griffith Jones (1857-1906), a British journalist and prolific writer of adventure fiction, historical novels, and science fiction. Although not a good writer, he was extremely popular—for a time he was more popular and successful than H.G. Wells, who thought little of Griffith—and embodied many of the worst aspects of the imperial British world-view.

The Angel of the Revolution is about a successful anarchist revolution. Richard Arnold is an inventor fallen on hard times. Arnold is hapless about most things, but he is brilliant at inventing. He has created a machine which combines “two liquefied gases which, when united, exploded spontaneously” as well as a “clockwork escapement” which enables the propulsion of heavier-than-air crafts. Arnold sees what his inventions are capable of and is contemplating suicide when he is befriended by a stranger, who claims to be a part of the “Brotherhood of Freedom” but is actually a member of the anarchist group Terror. Before long Arnold is in the company of high-ranking members of Terror. Terror was founded by Natas, formerly a Hungarian Jew named Israel di Murska. Di Murska had the misfortune to fall into the hands of the Russian secret police after traveling to Russia to protest the Russian persecution of the Jews. The Russians tortured di Murska, forcing him into hard labor and eventually paralyzing him from the waist down. He was eventually freed but then discovered that his wife had also been taken by the Russians and used as a sexual plaything by a Siberian official until she died of shame and misery. Di Murska swore vengeance on Russia, and his hatred later spread to all established authority. Natas created the organization Terror as a way to overthrow the governments of the older and establish and new and more just world order. For years Terror was the fear of the organized world. Their agents would assassinate cruel, abusive, or exploitive government officials and would leave their bodies with a “T” carved into their foreheads. Natas used his powerful mesmeric ability to aid Terror’s rise to power. But they lacked the ability to completely destroy the military might of the governments of the world, and Terror was forced to stay in the shadows.

But when they discover Arnold, they see in his inventions the solution to their problems. Arnold is sympathetic to Terror’s aims. He has also has fallen in love with Natasha, Natas’ daughter and the titular “angel of the revolution.” So Arnold builds a fleet of a dozen airships for Terror. All of the airships are armed with guns which fire extremely powerful explosive shells. Against the backdrop of a world war–the English and Germans are fighting against the French and the Russians–Terror lays its plans and prepares for its final moves. Eventually Terror acts. When a Franco-Russian revolution takes place in America, Terror squashes the revolution and executes the President, the Cabinet, and a number of Congressmen, all of whom were in the pay of corrupt capitalists. Terror then installs a new government in America, run by one of Terror's officials. After the French and Russians have bombed and starved England almost into submission via their submarines and “aerostats” (war balloons), and as their soldiers are preparing to finish the siege of London, Terror takes action and destroys the Franco-Russian fleet, its aerostats and much of its army. After overthrowing the French government, Terror proceeds east, overthrowing the Tsar, capturing him and sending him into Siberian exile. The novel ends with Terror ruling the world and with Arnold and Natasha married (her precondition for marriage was that he fulfill his oath, to bring about world peace).

Olga Romanoff; or, the Syren of the Skies (1894), Griffith’s sequel to The Angel of the Revolution, is set 125 years later. The descendants of Arnold, Natasha, and the other Terror members have become the elite of the Earth, and when a comet strikes the Earth they are the only survivors. The titular character is a Fatal Woman who rebels against the world order of Terror.

The Angel of the Revolution is not a bad novel. It has some drawbacks, among them a decision on Griffith's part to concentrate on the romantic subplots to the exclusion of more interesting aspects. (Griffith was capable of writing in many different styles but he lacked the skill to write a convincing romantic relationship). Similarly, Griffith’s prejudices are on full display; every nationality comes off poorly in Angel except for the English, and the Americans are particularly badly portrayed. (Griffith was opposed to the U.S., and reflected this stance in his work; consequently, Griffith’s novels were for the most part not given American editions, and he and his work were not influential on American science fiction).1 Griffith does include several laudable sentiments in the novel. He emphasizes the horrendous treatment of the lower classes by an exploitive and heartless European bourgeoisie and he does not hesitate to show how vicious the Tsarist government was in its treatment of the Russian people. Griffith’s descriptions of the Siberian camps, and the implications of what was done to women unfortunate to become Russian prisoners, are genuinely uncomfortable to read. The plot of Angel of the Revolution is interesting, with some mildly surprising twists and a willingness, on Griffith’s part, to see the premise of his novel all the way through, and not to have the status quo reinstated by the story’s end. Griffith was not an extremely talented writer, but The Angel of the Revolution has an internal energy which keeps the pages turning.

Angel is the most successful of Griffith’s novels, and the best combination of the anarchist and Future War genres, far superior to his earlier The Outlaws of the Air. The apex of the anarchy novel proper came in the late 1880s. In the early 1890s anarchy novels continued to appear, but they were increasingly influenced by science fiction and the Future War novel. Griffith was not the first to combine these genres into a single work, but he was the first to do so in a commercial and sensational form. Though popular, Griffith was never given the critical credit of H.G. Wells and never experienced Wells’ commercial success–something that galled Griffith no end–but Griffith influenced contemporary British science fiction, and later novelists who combined anarchy and the Future War usually used the template which Griffith established in The Angel of the Revolution.

Olga Romanoff, though less successful than Angel, will still be of some interest to modern readers. The titular protagonist is, as mentioned, a Fatal Woman, but is also a mad scientist—something that, despite there being numerous real-life examples of, did not appear in Victorian fiction until the 1890s.2

It wasn't until the 1890s, with the advent of the "New Woman," that fictional women were allowed to be mentally as well as physically and sexually dangerous….

The fictional female mad scientist was one of the many negative fictional reactions to the New Woman. For many middle and upper-class Victorian men, women were the guardians of civilization and English culture's higher values. For the New Woman to strive for more than a role as wife and mother was deeply threatening to conservative moralists. For the New Woman to become an intellectual rival to men was even more alarming. Most novels of the 1890s portrayed the New Woman as coming to bad ends, and the novels with fictional female scientists are one version of this reaction.3

Olga Romanoff is similar to the female mad scientists of Zalma and The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings. Olga Romanoff is “primitive, with pages of padding, sentimentalized characters, but superior to the antecedent volume in imagination,”4 but its futuristic setting, global scale of its plot, and ultimately apocalyptic plot make it even more science fictional than Angel of the Revolution. Taken together, the two novels represent one of the most imaginative achievements of speculative fiction in the Victorian era—more poorly written than Wells’ work, but the imaginative superior.

Recommended Edition

Print: George Griffith, The Angel of the Revolution. London: Forgotten Books, 2015. 


For Further Research

Steven Mollmann, "Air-Ships and the Technological Revolution: Detached Violence in George Griffith and H.G. Wells," Science Fiction Studies 42.1 (March, 2015): 20-41.


1 John Eggeling and John Clute, “Griffith, George,” The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, accessed Feb. 11, 2019,

2 Jess Nevins, “From Alexander Pope to ‘Splice’: A Short History of the Female Mad Scientist,” io9, accessed Jan. 22, 2019,

3 Nevins, “From Alexander Pope to ‘Splice.’”

4 E.F. Bleiler, Science-Fiction: The Early Years (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1990), 304.

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