The Island of Doctor Moreau

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The Island of Doctor Moreau

H. G. Wells


(Full name Herbert George Wells; also wrote under the pseudonyms Sosthenes Smith, Walker Glockenhammer, and Reginald Bliss) English novelist, short-story writer, essayist, autobiographer, screenwriter, critic, and nonfiction writer.

The following entry presents commentary on Wells's novel The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) through 2007. For further information on his life and career, see CLR, Volume 64.


A perennial favorite among young adult readers, The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) has been consistently recognized as a classic work of science fiction. Often described as a dark and provocative parable akin to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in its depiction of an obsessive scientist meddling with Nature, Wells's novel contemplates the effects of misguided scientific progress on humanity. The subject of a wide range of interpretive study, The Island of Doctor Moreau has been variously characterized as an adventure in the tradition of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, a satire in the spirit of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, and a gothic mystery modeled after Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Critics have analyzed Wells's thematic concerns from a variety of perspectives, exploring the novel's religious, mythical, historical, and scientific influences. An illustrated young adult edition of The Island of Doctor Moreau, adapted by Steven Grant and Eric Vincent, was released in 1990 as part of First Comics/Berkeley Publishing's relaunch of the "Classics Illustrated" series of comic book adaptations of classic literary works.


Wells was born on September 21, 1866, into a lower-middle-class Cockney family in Bromley, Kent, a suburb of London. He was awarded a scholarship to London University and the Royal College of Science, where he studied zoology under noted biologist T. H. Huxley, who instilled in him a belief in social as well as biological evolution. After graduating from London University, Wells published his first nonfiction work, Text-Book of Biology (1893), and contributed short stories to several magazines. The serialization of his novella The Time Machine (1895) launched his career as an author of fiction, and his subsequent science fiction and science fantasies proved extremely popular with audiences and critics alike. Enabled by his growing fame to meet such prominent authors as Arnold Bennett and Joseph Conrad, Wells developed his own prose style while serving under editor Frank Harris as a literary critic for The Saturday Review. A socialist, Wells joined the Fabian Society in 1903, but left the group after fighting a long, unsuccessful war of wit and rhetoric over some of the group's policies with his friend George Bernard Shaw, a prominent Fabian and man of letters. Most of Wells's short stories were published prior to World War I, a period when Wells was commonly regarded as an advocate of the new, the iconoclastic, and the daring. However, the war and its aftermath of widespread disillusionment upset his optimistic vision of humankind. Wells's postwar ideas on the perfectibility of humanity were modified to stress the necessity of education in bringing about progress. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Wells's fiction and nonfiction became progressively less optimistic about the future of humanity. The advent of World War II increased Wells's despondency about the future, and his last book, Mind at the End of Its Tether (1945), predicts the destruction of civilization and the degeneration of humanity. Wells died in London on August 13, 1946.


The novel begins with an introduction which explains that the subsequent narrative is an unsubstantiated manuscript written by a former medical student named Edward Prendick. The sole survivor of the sunken ship Lady Vain, Prendick is on the verge of death and drifting aimlessly in the Pacific Ocean when his lifeboat is discovered by the Ipecacuanha, a trading vessel bound for Noble's Isle. The ship is carrying a cargo of wild animals overseen by a man named Montgomery. Although Montgomery nurses Prendick back to health, he offers no further aid once the boat reaches its destination. When the captain of the ship declines to carry him any further, Prendick finds himself stuck on Noble's Isle. He soon learns that his new surroundings serve as the refuge for a sadistic scientist named Doctor Moreau, and that the animals aboard the Ipecacuanha are subjects for Moreau's vile experiments involving the surgical alteration of animals into human-like creatures. Prendick recalls the highly publicized controversy surrounding Moreau's unorthodox vivisections back in England. Moreau and Montgomery, his assistant, reveal that the mutated inhabitants of Noble's Isle are the outcome of Moreau's attempt to create a superior race of beings. Part man and part animal, these "Beast Folk" have been taught to speak, walk upright, and behave in a civilized manner. Their primal instincts are suppressed through strict adherence to "the Law," a set of directives written by Moreau. Failure to abide by these rules is punishable by torture in the "House of Pain." One of the inhabitants, a leopard-man, is suspected of defying "the Law" by eating wild animals in the jungle. When confronted, he attacks Moreau and is killed. News of the leopard-man's death creates unrest among the other creatures, prompting one of Moreau's experimental subjects to escape before being fully transformed. When Moreau is slain during his pursuit of the creature, the island erupts in revolt against the remaining humans. Montgomery kills several of the creatures in self-defense before being devoured, and Moreau's compound is burned. Prendick manages to survive amidst the anarchy long enough to locate a lifeboat and escape the island. Nearly a year after the wreck of the Lady Vain, Prendick is rescued by a passing ship. Once home, Prendick cannot help but recognize the inherently savage nature of his fellow human beings. He retreats from society, and his story is dismissed as the ravings of a madman.


Themes of science and evolution figure prominently in The Island of Doctor Moreau. Raising challenging moral questions of enduring relevance, Wells's novel illustrates the cataclysmic power of science devoid of ethics and the tragic consequences of experimenting with the creation of human life. In addition to its concern with the limits of scientific progress, The Island of Doctor Moreau reflects Wells's fascination with Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Prendick, whom Wells portrays as a student of biologist and Darwin advocate T. H. Huxley, witnesses an accelerated evolutionary process through Moreau's manipulation of natural order. Moreover, the novel draws upon the Darwinian principle that the human race is animal in origin to explore the dual nature of mankind. Inspired by The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Wells designed Moreau's creatures to echo the conflict between the civilized and bestial aspects of humanity, as suggested by Stevenson's novel and Darwin's theory. In his satirical depiction of the Beast Folk's inevitable regression to their animal nature and the collapse of Moreau's mock-biblical code of civility, Wells speculated on the propensity of humanity to revert to savagery. Critics have highlighted additional motifs concerning the Judeo-Christian creation myth and the Greek legend of Prometheus in the novel. Furthermore, Wells's book has been thematically linked with William Shakespeare's The Tempest in terms of its island setting, power dynamics, and indistinction of men and monsters.


Recent studies of The Island of Doctor Moreau have focused on revisions made to the five authorized editions of the text. Though the changes are arguably minor, scholars have identified them as a key to understanding Wells's creative process. Similarly, some translations of the novel have been cited as providing additional insight into the author's modifications. Commentators have viewed the novel as a cautionary tale, specifically exploring the "Beast Folk" as reflections of the human condition. Likewise, critics have examined Wells's utilization of evolutionary theory to remind the civilized world that modern mankind is not far from the brutality of Moreau's creations. Critics have read The Island of Doctor Moreau as a parody of such prominent works of British imperialism as Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book and have emphasized Wells's satiric intent through comparisons to Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Scholars have also traced parallels between Wells's novel and William Butler Yeats's poem "The Second Coming" from an allegorical perspective. Wells's characterization of Moreau as maniacal and audacious in the face of natural order has been likened to Shakespeare's Prospero and Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein. Aside from literary precedents, commentators have investigated possible historical influences for the character of Moreau, including the iconoclastic scientist Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis. Though rejected as blasphemous and gruesome by some late nineteenth-century reviewers, The Island of Doctor Moreau has since inspired a wealth of critical reflection and analysis.


Text-Book of Biology. 2 vols. (nonfiction) 1893

The Stolen Bacillus, and Other Incidents (short stories) 1895

The Time Machine: An Invention (novel) 1895

The Wonderful Visit (novel) 1895

The Island of Doctor Moreau (novel) 1896; published as a comic book adaptation by Steven Grant and Eric Vincent, 1990

The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance (novel) 1897

The War of the Worlds (novel) 1898

The First Men in the Moon (novel) 1901

The Food of the Gods, and How It Came to Earth (novel) 1904

Mankind in the Making (nonfiction) 1904

Tono-Bungay (novel) 1908

Mr. Britling Sees It Through (novel) 1916

The Outline of History: Being a Plain History of Life and Mankind [illustrations by J. F. Horrabin] (non-fiction) 1920

The Works of H. G. Wells: Atlantic Edition. 28 vols. (novels) 1924-1927

Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island (novel) 1928

The Scientific Romances of H. G. Wells (novels) 1933

The Shape of Things to Come: The Ultimate Revolution (novel) 1933

Seven Famous Novels (novels) 1934

Things to Come (screenplay) 1935

The Croquet Player (novel) 1936

The Man Who Could Work Miracles (screenplay) 1936

Mind at the End of Its Tether (criticism) 1945

H. G. Wells: Early Writings in Science and Science Fiction (essays and short stories) 1975

H. G. Wells in Love: Postscript to an Experiment in Autobiography (autobiography) 1984

The Island of Doctor Moreau: A Variorum Text [edited by Robert M. Philmus] (novel) 1993

The Island of Doctor Moreau: A Critical Text of the 1896 London First Edition [edited by Leon Stover] (novel) 1996


Roger Bowen (essay date fall 1976)

SOURCE: Bowen, Roger. "Science, Myth, and Fiction in H. G. Wells's Island of Dr. Moreau." Studies in the Novel 8, no. 3 (fall 1976): 318-35.

[In the following essay, Bowen illustrates shared thematic concerns in The Island of Doctor Moreau and Wells's scientific essays, noting the mythical implications of the novel's isolated setting.]

An old edition of Captain Cook's "Travels," fascinating middle-eighteenth century Atlas with abounding Terrae Incognitae, are vivid among the writer's memories … and the pictures in a Wood's "Natural History" … gave him an inkling of evolution and a nightmare terror of gorillas.

     H. G. Wells, "General Introduction," The Atlantic Edition of the Works of H. G. Wells (1924), pp. xii-xiii.

H. G. Wells's full-length science-romances, written at the beginning of his career, are distinguished by their domestication of fantastic hypotheses, such as extraterrestrial invasion, lunar flight and lunar civilization, time travel, and invisibility. Wells's strategy is always to "hold the reader to the end by art and illusion and not by proof and argument."1 In his own definition of the tradition to which he has contributed, one which includes the "Golden Ass of Apuleius, the True Histories of Lucian, Peter Schlemil and the story of Frankenstein," Wells asserts that the "living interest lies in their non-fantastic elements and not in the invention itself."2 Thus, in The Time Machine (1895), the Time Traveller's story is told in the dancing firelight of a late Victorian smoking-room, and debated by a group of representative men of their day (while the actual workings of the machine remain vague); the drama and tragedy of invisibility in The Invisible Man (1897) is played out against the peaceful villages and suburbs of Kent; in The First Men in the Moon (1901) the moonflight has its humble and accessible beginnings in another bucolic setting, while the Martian invasion in The War of the Worlds (1898) brings death and destruction to a familiar and finely observed southern English landscape.

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), however, is an exception. It shows the least attempt to domesticate the fantasy, and provides us with none of the settings which allow the reader to get and keep his bearings.

A "private gentleman," Edward Prendick, is the sole survivor of a shipwreck in the Pacific Ocean. He is rescued, close to death, by a trading schooner whose captain in turn abandons him when his vessel reaches a small island to deliver a cargo of wild animals. On the island, a certain Dr. Moreau, with an assistant, Montgomery, runs a scientific laboratory. Prendick is reluctantly taken ashore by the doctor and permitted to stay. The nature of the latter's work is at first unclear but seems to be a form of animal vivisection. In a series of horrifying episodes Prendick discovers that Moreau is actually engaged in experiments designed to create men from beasts. These schemes eventually fail and the would-be creator is killed by his creations. Prendick finds himself alone on the island at the mercy of the Beast Folk. He finds rescue eventually and returns, like Gulliver at the end of the Travels, to his English home, his mind forever scarred. Except for the novel's short Introduction where Prendick's nephew presents his uncle's manuscript and authenticates it in all but its "essential particular,"3 and the last chapter describing his return to something approximating civilization, the narrative is given over to the reliving of a nightmare, to what could be called a prolonged hallucination, set on a distant terra incognita in the Pacific Ocean. Moreau [The Island of Doctor Moreau ], therefore, separates itself from the body of Wells's science-romances as its protagonist is separated from the known lands and the traffic of men.

The mythopoeic quality4 of Wells's scientific fantasies is, of course, grounded in his fascination with the theories of Darwinism: "For him the universe was the enigmatic cosmos of late-nineteenth century physics; animate nature was the slaughter and struggle for existence described by Darwin and Huxley; man was a species of animal, Homo Sapiens, of the order Primates, thrown up by an accident of evolution and forced to adapt to its environment or degenerate or perish."5 While this philosophical starting point informs in one degree or another all Wells's early experiments in the genre of science-romance, in Moreau speculation about evolution is at the heart of the narrative as it is not in the remaining novels. Wells does not, as he does in The Time Machine, present glimpses of possible evolutionary developments in the distant future, but spells out instead the incontrovertible essence of man, cutting across the barriers of past and future. There is no need to travel in time to find the appalling truth of man's condition; a journey in space, and in the present, is enough. The usual need in utopian or dystopian fiction for displacement in time and space is thus only partly met, but the simple emphasis on spatial rather than spatial and temporal separation becomes the story's peculiar strength as Wells explores evolution, the primal terrors associated with the origins of man, and the spectre of devolution, on a small, uninhabited Pacific islet. The geography of Wells's third published novel is, perhaps, its most significant feature, and this readily emerges in a consideration of the novel's three generic bases: The literary, comprising mainly fiction and prose narrative, the mythic, and the scientific.


The story's literary antecedents have been faithfully catalogued:6 Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book for "The Saying of the Law," where Wells turns Kipling's whimsy into frightening satire as his Beast Folk struggle to hold on to their new, "human," identity; Poe for variations on some of the more gruesome moments in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym; Defoe for the archetype of the solitary castaway and the psychology of island isolation; Swift for the elements of travel fantasy and the unrelenting satiric thrust; Stevenson for the physical demonstration of human duality from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; and, above all, Mary Shelley for Dr. Frankenstein's experiments in the creation of life. Even Shakespeare, "read at school … but not much of him otherwise,"7 suggests his influence with the figure of Dr. Moreau, a latter day Prospero, but an appropriately named practitioner of the black arts, a modern enchanter holding sway over another "mysterious island." Wells himself acknowledges the influence of Swift and, indeed, the modes of eighteenth-century prose satire are apparent elsewhere in Wells, from The First Men in the Moon (1901) to Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island (1928). And we can also take Frankenstein: or a Modern Prometheus from Wells's own estimate of his literary pedigree, but with this last mentioned work we are already moving into the domain of myth. In fact, the more the sources for, and the tradition behind, The Island of Dr. Moreau are explored the more difficult it becomes to separate cleanly the literary from the mythic antecedents. To simplify, there are two basic myths which lay the foundation for the bizarre story of Dr. Moreau: the myth of the island,8 the novel's particular "geography," and the myth of creation or metamorphosis. In elaborating upon both these traditions Wells succeeds in merging the realms of mythology and science, and it is this final definition which gives the tale its stamp of originality and lends it such disturbing and powerful reverberations.

The classical myth which is the key to the kind of universe suggested by Wells on his Pacific microcosm is easily identified. It was Chalmers Mitchell who asked so despairingly: "must he choose the spell of Circe?"9 Indeed he had to, and did so in order to translate it into the new language of post-Darwinian science. In this translation, the work's first "metamorphosis," the reader encounters the most essential of the story's ironic reversals: from beast to man, and not from man to beast. Circe, skilled in botany, becomes Dr. Moreau, skilled in the science and chemistry of the human form. Prendick identifies the diabolical authority on the island in terms of the ancient myth of the enchantress with the magic wand and potion, until Dr. Moreau explains otherwise and the myth is revised for him and for us.

In Wells's attempts to "give the utmost possible vividness to that conception of man as hewn and confused and tormented beasts,"10 and, as he explained on a later occasion, to convey the "aimless torture of creation,"11 he pursues this revision of Homer's story. The very notion of creation for him is an extension, in light of nineteenth-century evolutionary theory, of that ancient story of a perverter of human souls and an abuser of the human form. On Moreau's island beasts are translated, or partially so, to a higher level of creation by the deific Moreau, as man was created by God. Wells reduces the condition of mankind and the creation of the so-called order of the natural world, the very descent of man, to the indulgent whim of an amoral magician with certain skills in physiology and surgery, who has fallen under "the overmastering spell of research" (p. 40). This magician can afford an occasional nod in the direction of his mythic pedigree: "The Satyr was a gleam of classical memory on the part of Moreau, his face ovine in expression … his voice a harsh bleat, his nether extremities Satanic" (p. 109).

The transition from "spell" to "surgery," from magician to doctor, from Classical to Romantic myth, hinges on Mary Shelley's experimenter, Victor Frankenstein. The relationship between the latter figure and Dr. Moreau is made clear in the crucial chapter, "Dr. Moreau Explains," where the exiled scientist identifies himself as the "first man to take up this question [of Plasticity] armed with antiseptic surgery, and with a really scientific knowledge of the laws of growth" (p. 90). He boasts that his science does not stop at "mere physical metamorphosis," but embraces intelligence and the power of speech. The figure created by Mary Shelley in 1818 had partaken of the Roman rather than the Hellenic version of the myth of Prometheus; the animator of clay (plasticator) rather than the martyred champion who stole fire (pyrphoros).12 Frankenstein is a new "animator" for a new age, though reminiscent, in his ambition, of Faust and the tradition of the medieval alchemist. The clay in this case is animated by electricity, an idea derived from Mary Shelley's acquaintance with the theory and experimentation of Galvani and Volta. Wells takes the ruthless, single-minded quest of Dr. Frankenstein and recasts it for a generation weaned on the Darwinian revolution. He dispenses with the once popular notion of galvanism and concentrates on the biological sciences, thereby adapting existing materials and contributing to the evolution of a myth. With Dr. Moreau's amoral obsessions we can witness the clarity of the relationship and the continuity of the myth they share: "the study of Nature makes a man at last as remorseless as Nature" (p. 94).

Wells's use of the island setting has its origin, then, with Homer's island enchantress. Her palace, her courtyards and gardens, are replaced by a simple stone structure, an enclosure or compound which contains a laboratory with a locked door. Wells's fondness for closed environments and the skill with which he can exploit them for effects of suspense and terror are evident in a number of his short stories13 but it is in "Aepyornis Island" (1894) that he encircles his drama with the ocean for the first time, as he does with Moreau, published a little over a year later. This setting is the common ground on which Wells so successfully cross-fertilizes the scientific and the mythological, and his choice of insular environment for both the short story and the novel has special significance in the context of the nineteenth-century science already emphasized.

It might be said that the quest for the Blessed Isle, from Hesiod to Tennyson—"It may be that the gulf will wash us down, / It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles"—comes to a halt on the volcanic shores of the Galapagos Islands, that remote corner of the globe which provided for Darwin a redefinition of the species homo sapiens, man's links with the animal world and the laws which govern it. Freud offers a valuable perspective on the impact of Darwin on the psychological wholeness of man, in his essay, "One of the Difficulties of Psycho-Analysis" (1917). In it he describes the "cosmological," "biological," and "psychological" wounds inflicted on human identity by Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud himself, and the broad movements of thought these figures represent, the visions they illuminate, and the definitions of man they relentlessly suggest.14 Man's "self-love" staggers under the weight of dangerous knowledge: his notion of himself "at the centre of a circle," sovereign of the universe and of the earth, sovereign above the animals, and sure of the mastery of the ego "in its own house"—all in fragments, all ruthlessly qualified. Freud suggests, then, a modern world of shattered confidence, and it is Darwin who holds the key to one aspect of this process of psychological erosion. In this light the blessed isle, that locus amoenus, becomes an arena for struggle and survival; there is no more questing, only strife. A utopian dream suffers translation into a dystopian nightmare.

To Darwin, as to others before and after him, the first sighting of the Galapagos group brought to mind less than assuring associations: "The country was compared to what we might imagine the cultivated parts of the Infernal regions to be."15 Melville, who cruised among these islands in 1841 aboard the Acushnet, a few years after Darwin, describes their "Plutonian" landscape in his series of sketches, "The Encantadas," and declares, "in no world but a fallen one could such lands exist."16 Furthermore, he extends his hint of the region's mythic suggestiveness by bringing together a number of traditional responses to evil. The very islands themselves seem stricken and arrested, "caught in the air of spell-bound desertness," while the "dateless, indefinite endurance" of the giant tortoise suggests the powerful hand of some "penal, or malignant, or perhaps a downright diabolical enchanter." Melville sees, and senses, the underworld, the fall of man: "no voice, no low, no howl is heard; the chief sound of life here is a hiss." Both an animate and an inanimate creation seem caught in the spell of some Circe figure. These observations are found in the first two of Melville's sketches, while the remaining eight trace the island's human history, and it proves to be a singularly horrifying one: murder, piracy, insanity, and enslavement. The entire archipelago becomes a microcosm of man's darker nature.

The juxtaposition of scientific discovery and the fictional enlargement of geographical and historical fact, in both Melville's and Darwin's accounts of the Galapagos, offers a useful preface to Wells's island parables. For "Aepyornis Island" and The Island of Dr. Moreau take their essence, more obviously so than any other of his science-romances, from the juxtaposition of Wells's own popular scientific journalism17 and his natural flair for the fiction of adventure. Most commentaries on Moreau have adequately taken into account the connections between the novel and journalism, but there is one short piece, not identified as Wells's until 1961, which may be especially pertinent because it suggests why Wells chose his island setting so deliberately. It is in a Saturday Review article entitled, "The Influence of Islands on Variation," that Wells displays his keen awareness of the unique patterns of variation found in the island environment, and his knowledge of Darwin's fellow biographer, Alfred Russel Wallace, author of that classic treatise, Island Life: or the Phenomena and Causes of Insular Faunas and Floras including a Revision and Attempted Solution of the Problem of Geological Climates (1880). The "special point," Wells says of his little essay, "is to suggest that isolation on islands has played a larger part in the evolution of the animals and plants than is usually attributed to it."18 He leads a discussion of the "law of variation … [as] a prince consort of the reigning law of inheritance," and begins with the proposition that there are two cases where "the abeyance of usual conditions of environment results in great variation." The first is the domesticated environment provided for animals, and the second is island life. Following Wallace's classifications (Island Life, Pt. 2, chap. 11, ff.) Wells enumerates the three island types, "biologically speaking": the "recent continental" islands like Britain; the "ancient continental" type, like Madagascar, and finally, "there are oceanic islands, isolated peaks rising from the beds of deep oceans, with no particular connection, geological or zoological, with any mainland." Such an island is Dr. Moreau's, or Noble's Isle as Prendick's nephew identifies its ironic name on the British Navy charts he has consulted. In isolation of this kind, which has been brought about by sinking land masses, Wells continues, modification, variation, and the creation of new species would be greatly accelerated.

Such a theoretical exposition readily lends itself to the elaborations of fiction. In the vast duration of geological time this island had become part of the greater evolutionary process; in isolation and secrecy a small stage is set, in the present time, for these anonymous mechanisms to become the operation of one man. The drama enacted on this island's "biological station" (p. 32) demonstrates metaphorically Wells's vision of Creation and the Fall of Man, of the conflict between Morality, the "artificial factor," and the Paleolithic Savage. Prendick, through his experiences, is enabled to rediscover for himself the import of man's origin, and the essence of the species, homo sapiens. But there is no treatise to write to record this discovery, merely the transcript of a nightmare which proves his education was devastating in its thoroughness: the descent of man and the ascent of the beast. That Wells probably had in mind the Galapagos and their significance is hinted at in the map references provided by Prendick's nephew which give the exact location for the loss of the Lady Vain and the final rescue of the lone scientist by a brig en route to San Francisco from Apia. They place Noble's Isle, therefore, slightly to the south and west of the nearest land—those "enchanted isles." The setting is doubly appropriate for the story told: an island of the "oceanic" type, volcanic, and close to the Galapogeian archipelago. Thus Wells followed Darwin and Wallace in their emphasis on the importance of island life in an understanding of the basic principles of evolution, that "mystery of mysteries."

Sherwin Carlquist brings up to date Wallace's standard investigation of the subject in his own Island Life: A Natural History of the Islands of the World. He has this to say about the distinguishing characteristics of island ecosystems: "Isolation, ecological opportunity, and to a lesser extent climatic moderation have, over long periods of time, created remarkable designs. Untrammeled by the constant crosscurrents of migration, predation and competition, the smaller number of groups present on islands reveal patterns of evolution as in a laboratory. Islands are at the same time the experiment stations and the archives of evolution."19 Wells creates just such a vision of an ancient past and a projected future in Moreau ; with this dramatic juxtaposition of "archive" and "laboratory" at the core of the narrative, Wells adds the mythic elements of Circe and Prometheus and infuses the entire fable with images of metamorphosis, creation, and degeneration.

The demonstration of origin and the suggestion of a less than noble destiny are rehearsed in Wells's story, "Aepyornis Island." Using a fictional device familiar to readers of Kipling, he introduces us to a rough and somewhat insensitive cockney raconteur, who has the ear of a more sophisticated narrator. We learn of an expedition to recover the eggs of the Aepyornis or Elephant Bird, from Madagascar's southern coastal regions. Wells's island biology is accurate enough here; fragments of shell and even complete eggs from this recently extinct flightless bird are found precisely in this area. Wells leaves fact behind, however, when he isolates his modern man on a coral atoll off the Madagascan coast, after a shipwreck and the mutiny of his native bearers, alone with a live bird hatched from one of the eggs. The solitude which preys on him—"I tell you, Robinson Crusoe don't make near enough of his loneliness"20—is lessened by the companionship of the young bird, but "it was about the end of the second year our little Paradise went wrong." The small atoll becomes an arena for a conflict between two species, and the human representative is not loath to express his disquiet at the sudden reversal of supremacy: "A great gawky out-of-date bird! And me a human being—heir of the ages and all that."21 His struggle with the "damned anachronism" offers a change of perspective on man's sovereign position in nature and the fact of the collector's eventual victory, or survival, is no lasting comfort. Both man and bird match wits and strength on their tiny piece of land in the Indian Ocean; as the bird shows more and more the characteristics of human intelligence in its attempts to make this territory its own, so the human protagonist betrays increasingly his animal ancestry. The spectre of prehistory looms large and its present reality is stressed. The more complex island world depicted in his full-length novel of the following year enables Wells to develop this theme and illustrate a definitive reminder of human vulnerability, of man's insecure hold on the world of nature and on his own psyche.

This erosion of human centrality is tracked and recorded through the entirety of Moreau ; Wells's fictional strategy is to alert his readers at an early stage to patterns of change and metamorphosis. The Circe myth is thus enlarged; there is one group of spectacularly transformed creatures, but the victimization is eventually understood on a larger and more terrifying scale, until we recognize it as the basis of creation. This less than orthodox perspective on the descent of man should warn us of Wells's less than balanced use of his sources. Darwin, in The Descent of Man, had asserted: "Looking to the future generations, there is no cause to fear that the social instincts will grow weaker, and we may expect that virtuous habits will grow stronger, becoming perhaps fixed by inheritance. In this case the struggle between our higher and lower impulses will be less severe, and virtue will be triumphant."22 Wells, with exuberant iconoclasm, challenges this speculation in Moreau and prefers instead to rest his hypothesis on the warning which Darwin saves for the very last paragraph of his monumental work: "with all these exalted powers—Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin."23


The story begins with disaster. The open boat with its three men which survives the sinking of the Lady Vain is Wells's first image of enclosure, and Prendick's first experience of isolation. The "mild-tempered" narrator joins with one of his companions, Helmar, in an agreed plan to sacrifice one of their number, for sustenance, so that the other two may survive. The drawing of lots to determine the victim, and to secure the survivors, is a final and desperate attempt to deal rationally with the struggle for existence, yet, ironically, this gaming image suggests at the same time the fortuitous and the haphazard, the operating "principles" in the world of nature, in nature's creation and deprivation of life. Wells had concluded his article, "The Influence of Islands on Variation," with the illustration of the shuffling and dealing of a pack of cards to explain the relationship between the geological history of the globe and the plants and animals who succeed in establishing their "type" upon it. On the seventh day in the lifeboat a new and terrible world has dawned, one in which Prendick is prepared to participate. He is saved from committing cannibalism only by the fight which ensues between Helmar and the third sailor who fall overboard in their struggle, leaving Prendick alone. But he has already compromised his human identity long before the savage events on the island unfold.

Delirious and close to death, Prendick is eventually picked up by the Ipecacuanha, a grubby trading schooner carrying a cargo of wild animals and captained by a superannuated Noah, the red-haired Davis. The arrival of this "ocean menagerie" heralds another new world, one which continues to rehearse the final island experience. Wells presents, as the more common survival narratives do not, more than one "threshold"; a world outside the island is drawn first, a world in extremity. We approach the microcosm of Noble's Isle via the open boat from the Lady Vain and the refuse-strewn decks of the Ipecacuanha. This first rescue scarcely allows Prendick to regain his civilized identity. Davis, foul-mouthed and drunk, finds him an unwelcome additional passenger. Then there is Montgomery, oddly distant and morose, who proves to be in charge of the strange cargo. It is the latter who nurses Prendick back to recovery but refuses to accept gratitude, stressing the "accident" and "chance" of the event.

The hints of atavism and the relentless processes of change evident in the aftermath of the first disaster, the sinking of the Lady Vain, emerge again in this new setting. The blood which Prendick did not drink in the lifeboat becomes the "scarlet stuff, iced" (p. 7) on board the schooner, administered by Montgomery; it tastes like blood and restores him. He later wolfs down his first solid meal shutting out the "noise of the beast" (p. 10), the "savage anger" of the caged animals on the deck above him. Montgomery himself, whose lip drops, who slobbers when he speaks, and whose clothes, when borrowed by Prendick, reveal a figure "rather large, and long in his limbs" (p. 10), does not exhibit perfection of human form. What seems to defy all the rules of anthropomorphism, however, is M'ling, Montgomery's assistant, whose misshapen body inspires fear and hatred aboard ship and troubles the curiosity of the vessel's unscheduled passenger: "that black figure with its eyes of fire, struck down through all my adult thoughts and feelings, and for a moment the forgotten horrors of childhood came back to my mind" (pp. 21-22).

The gradual intrusion of a new and strange world is for Prendick a gradual change of consciousness, a remapping of mental territory. As his encounters with novel circumstances increase we see a steady encroachment of memory; there is more and more traffic between the "background" and "forefront" of his thoughts. Much in the way that an image of a barren island intrudes in the visual consciousness of the researcher in "The Remarkable Case of Davidson's Eyes" (1895) and blocks out normal perceptions, so Prendick seems to plumb levels of memory unknown to him or previously ignored by him. Part of this is the simple recollection of names and events from old newspaper stories (relating to the "Moreau Horrors"), but his response to M'ling, for example, at the schooner's rail, and his reaction to the Beast Folk once he is on the island, involve far deeper levels of memory. In sum, the entire period on the island, some eleven months, is for Prendick a ghastly experience in race memory. He dredges up, and faces, the "shadow" on his soul. The composition of his mental world had begun to change drastically from the third or fourth day of his isolation, and he never recovered his original mental framework. He descends and returns, witnessing change, suffering change, and the outcome is psychic desolation.

The capricious cruelty of the world which is gradually revealed to Prendick is sharply evidenced when both Moreau and Montgomery, and the ship's captain, refuse to take responsibility for him when the island is finally reached. Once again he is condemned to his "little hell," the open boat, now half-swamped and unprovisioned. "I prayed aloud to God that he would let me die" (p. 27), confesses the luckless Prendick. God does not answer, but Dr. Moreau does and denies the plea.

From the besotted and crude authority of Captain Davis the focus shifts to the white-haired, majestic command of Dr. Moreau, and from the chaos and disorder of Prendick's various shipboard experiences to the mystery of the island and its "inimical phenomena" (p. 85). Within moments of landing on the island's shores, the continuation of the story's mythic strategy is stressed with Montgomery's release of a cageful of rabbits: "Increase and multiply, my friends" (p. 33). This is a place where new life is born, where new patterns of existence are contrived.

Like its near neighbor, the Galapagos group, this island is volcanic in origin, and from the evidence of the fumaroles, the hot spring, the thin spire of smoke which is a permanent feature of the landscape, and the "faint quiver" of seismic activity, the island is still young, geologically speaking. The hint of a geological time-bomb pairs effectively with the omni-present biological threat, the triumph of the beast flesh. Wells does not indulge in the kind of dramatic demonstrations of volcanic power utilized in, for instance, Jules Verne's Mysterious Island or Fenimore Cooper's Crater.24 When the novel ends the island is still on the surface of the ocean, within the ken of the British Navy.

The island's geological age is used on one occasion as a reminder of biological time. The topography is only vaguely outlined; it is a low-lying, nondescript patch of land with only two important features, one man-made and one natural. Moreau's enclosure, where the maker pursues his craft, his "intellectual passion," is situated near the beach, while at the other end of the island there is a ravine peopled by a grotesque community of the half-made, crippled victims of the surgeon's knife. It is in the description of this sulphurous ravine that Wells allows the half-formed and retarded in nature, a dormant volcanic rift, to symbolize the abortive experimentation of Dr. Moreau, and, in consequence, the unfinished, "roughhewn" nature of man:

Presently we came to trees, all charred and brown, and so to a bare place covered with a yellow-white incrustation, across which a drifting smoke, pungent in whiffs to nose and eyes, went drifting. On our right, over a shoulder of bare rock, I saw the level of the sea. The path coiled down abruptly into a narrow ravine between two tumbled and knotty masses of blackish scoriae. Into this we plunged.

          (p. 69)

The scene is rich in literary and mythic analogy. Prendick is led down the path by his "ape-like companion" into "the central gloom," and a kind of Hades which bears comparison with Melville's descriptions of the Enchanted Isles, and reminds us also of Aeneas's descent into Hell. There is a moment of savage Swiftian humor when the creature articulates to the stupefied Prendick, "Home." The biologist from the halls of Gower Street "is aware of a disagreeable odour like that of a monkey's cage ill-cleaned," and if not to him then certainly to us the image of the Yahoo is implied.

The whole island, its structure and fauna, is primeval; it is the past but it is also the present, and it could be the future. The movement in time suggested is both backward and forward, and these journeys are made without the agency of a machine. The movement toward the future is encapsulated in the novel's fourteenth chapter, "Dr. Moreau Explains," based largely on Wells's article, "The Limits of Individual Plasticity," where biological and physiological metamorphosis is postulated. As he does in an earlier piece of journalism, "The Fallacies of Heredity," Wells makes a great deal of the "fanatical fatalism" to which generalizations about heredity may be pushed, and outlines the possibilities of manipulative surgery on the "raw material" of living beings and of "replacing old inherent instincts by new suggestions, grafting upon or replacing the inherited fixed ideas." In conclusion, Wells allows simply that the "artistic treatment of living things" is credible enough to be worthy of a place among "the things that may some day be."25 Dr. Moreau covers the same ground, but the ideas are colored and deepened, and made more terrifying. The shame that Prendick feels at their "mutual positions" should be viewed critically. This student of T. H. Huxley, a proponent of the theory that the "ethical progress of society depends, not on imitating the cosmic process still less in running away from it, but in combating it,"26 is pitted against a demonic figure, part enchanter, part alchemist, who is not troubled by ethics at all, and who identifies himself with the strife and cruelty of the cosmos, and with the "ways of this world's Maker … His laws" (p. 93).

Though it may be possible to see Prendick as a "humanistic intellectual"27 alone in a strange and hostile environment the vulnerability of all the protagonists is ultimately stressed. Prendick's susceptibility to baser instincts, his demonstration of the "artificiality" of his moral education, have already been illustrated. However godlike Moreau may appear, and it is necessary to recognize the allegorical role he plays,28 he does in this chapter confess to the degree of his failure as a "deity," as a creator of life. The ravine holds sixty or more of these failures and there have been, we are told, many more. Moreau knows that "in the seat of the emotions" there are things he cannot control: "cravings, instincts, desires that harm humanity, a strange hidden reservoir to burst suddenly and inundate the whole being of the creature with anger, hate or fear" (p. 98). In the latter part of his lengthy revelation of his past history, the nature and purpose of his life's work, periods of silence dot his monologue as the awareness of "the beast" dominates his thoughts (p. 99). We see him, suddenly and surprisingly, defensive, unsure, even puzzled. In the fluid, metamorphic world of this novel, no one stays the same, or can be clearly and consistently labeled in any tight allegorical scheme. Bernard Bergonzi correctly admits that Wells's attitude remains "calculatedly ambiguous."29 With "The Limits of Individual Plasticity" in mind can we attempt any kind of defense of Moreau's "sophistry"? Does Prendick's discipleship of Huxley's dual universe, of the primacy and viability of ethical progress, effectively lay a claim for moral championship in this debate? The guarded optimism of Wells's "Human Evolution: An Artificial Process," with its vision of possible emancipation from the "deity of Natural Selection," the steady training of man's artificial factor "against the currents and winds of the universe,"30 seems a far cry from the final pages of a novel which succeeds in demonstrating the endless conflict between the instinctual and artificial in man. To borrow a definition from Darko Suvin's analysis of The Time Machine, the "mutation of scientific into aesthetic cognition"31 involves a closing off of many of the intricacies of scientific debate in favor of a more dramatic and more accessible presentation. Though ambiguities do indeed cloud the novel, the final vision has a bleak simplicity and unity about it. Two facts remain: Moreau perishes, his experimentation having proved a failure, and he lies on the pyre white and awful like some fallen titan; and Prendick survives, but lives thereafter in solitude, a lost and crippled soul.

From the exposition of "Dr. Moreau Explains" to the novel's conclusion we follow a series of changes and regressions which prove only the proximity of modern man to the age of unpolished stone. As these events escalate we can only look back and view with scepticism the arguments of both men; Dr. Moreau's monologue and Prendick's response to it represent a kind of island of intellection amid a frightening and primitive world. The "wild luxuriance" of the jungle beyond the walls of the enclosure holds more fundamental secrets than those kept within. Moreau's aspirations and Prendick's moral protestations seem alike hollow and pretentious; both men are overtaken by forces more powerful than either of them.

While the focus shifts from Moreau back to Prendick we are told of another stage in the latter's deterioration; he becomes "habituated" to things which "had seemed unnatural and repulsive" (p. 106). However, he does hold back from an unfettered commitment to Moreau's New Jerusalem because he can see "no intelligible object" in his scientific quest (p. 123). Prendick would almost welcome the motivation of hate, but he sees only "carelessness," "wantonness," and "painful disorder" in Moreau's island kingdom. It is this vision which leaves the "permanent scars" on his mind. He recognizes how all the islanders, human and bestial, are "torn and crushed, ruthlessly, inevitably," in the wheels of a "vast pitiless mechanism" (p. 123). This recognition explains the demise of Dr. Moreau; his characterization shifts from deity to "mad doctor" in the tradition of Frankenstein, and he is "cut and shaped" along with everything else.

Moreau's death occurs in the eighth week of Prendick's virtual captivity. He is slain by the Puma Woman, the last "perfection" he attempted to create. The reluctant guest who had found allegiance impossible, either to Moreau or to Montgomery's "vicious sympathy" for the Beast Folk, but who had been identified by the Satyr as "one of the made," one who had been seen to bleed and weep, who had fled from the master's whip and revolver, now picks up those weapons and wields authority. He persuades the Beast Folk that Moreau has merely "changed his shape … his body" (p. 133), and has not relinquished ultimate command over them. In fact, Moreau has gone the way of all matter.

Habits, the habits of ten years, now begin to collapse, and Montgomery for one cannot endure this "jest" any longer. Like Prendick in the open boat, before and after the casual intervention of the Ipecacuanha, the former medical student is very close to a recognition of the universe as fundamentally absurd. He takes his leave, with the aid of alcohol, and makes sure that the vestiges of human habitation on the island, the enclosure and the boats, are consumed by fire. This symbolic purgation Prendick does not appreciate.

He is now once again pursuer and pursued in an island population which will gradually lose what little human attribute was gained on Moreau's operating slab. He might have "grasped the vacant sceptre of Moreau, and ruled over the Beast People," but his tendency to "solitary thought" prevails over "courage," and he instead fulfills the prophecy of the Ape-Man by becoming one of the made: "When I awoke it was dark about me. My arm ached in its bandages" (p. 152).

Accompanied by the Dog Man, a bizarre parody of Crusoe's Friday, for part of the time, Prendick tries to maintain his sanity and his safety. Wells returns us to an earlier phase of evolution, to a world of precise imperatives, unmasked and dominant. They have been there all the time, as the surviving lifeboat from the Lady Vain bore witness to, but on the wildness of the deserted island, their power becomes increasingly manifest. As Moreau's creatures kill one another off in a spasmodic, degenerating war, Prendick records the stages of the reversion which now overtakes human and animal life. Speech is the first mark of Moreau's artificially created nature to disappear; precise articulation disintegrates, finally, into "mere lumps of sound" (p. 160). Each day of those long ten months he goes in fear of new signs of "explosive animalism" among the Beast Folk, and, more significantly, his own decline: "I am told that even now my eyes have a strange brightness, a swift alertness of movement" (p. 163). A remarkable series of evolutionary changes, social and anatomical, in reverse, is compressed into this time period. Rather like the rapid cinematic images, changing as the years clock by, remarked by the Time Traveller perched on the saddle of his machine, life passes before Prendick: from biped to quadruped; from smooth skins to abundant hair; from clothing to nudity; from monogamy to promiscuity; from constructed shelters to the natural protection of nature, and so on. But unlike the Time Traveller Prendick is part of this speeding decline; he has not the means to escape. There is no marvel of technology between him and the phenomena of social and biological history. The Time Traveller does participate in a sense when he stops his headlong journey, but Prendick's participation in a devolving world never ceases.

His escape from this "archive of evolution" does come eventually, as aimlessly as every other event recorded in the narrative—a lifeboat from the Ipecacuanha with its cargo of dead—and the island's physical reality finally fades from his sight, but its metaphysical reality never does. Prendick's nightmares constitute a heightened awareness, too awful to bear in the society of men: "I could not persuade myself that the men and women I met were not also another, still passably human Beast People, animals half-wrought into the outward image of human souls, and that they would presently begin to revert …" (p. 170). The actuality of metamorphosis, as he witnessed it on the island, has passed from his vision, but the idea of it persists, and his perception of civilization is forever conditioned by that experience. Prendick's earlier failure to control a balance between the "forefront" and "background" of his thoughts returns again, and so he consults a mental specialist as do Mr. Blettsworthy in Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island (1928) and Dr. Finchatton in The Croquet Player (1936), men who experience similar visions of the "worm in the bud." But the only satisfactory solution for Prendick, and it is only partial, is a spatial one, which brings us back to our first definitions of the novel. All the dramatic revelations about the nature of homo sapiens take place in enclosed spaces, the lifeboat, the trading schooner, and the island, and so the little peace that Prendick can find, from his pervasive fear of "prowling women" and "gibing children," is not in London, "where the horror was wellnigh insupportable" (p. 171), but "near the broad, free downland … under the windswept sky." He seeks solace in Nature's open spaces. But this change of environment by no means allows him to recover the sense of his centrality, the integrity of his own being—this is irreparably lost—but it does reopen for him the totality of life's mystery. He lives, he stresses, in hope and solitude, but the solitude, so fearfully understood and experienced, must necessarily govern the hope. He does not return, as Moreau once taunted, to "collecting butterflies," but to astronomy and chemistry. These fields of knowledge give him the illusion of escape and hope. Like the man in Wells's "Rediscovery of the Unique," he has lit a match in the dark and "around him, in place of all the comfort and beauty he anticipated—darkness still."32 He suggests faith in science, a faith which his narrative has undermined. With the aid of Moreau's passion for furthering the frontiers of knowledge, Prendick has been made privy to the secrets of human origin, "the animal within us" (p. 172), and to the aimless drift of creation, be it past, present, or future.

In his science-romances Wells is stimulated by the accelerating spiral of discovery, in the biological sciences, and by the concomitant demonstrations of human vulnerability and alienation. So the match striker discovers that the mystery has widened, not narrowed. In The Island of Dr. Moreau Wells skillfully mines the resources of myth, adapts them for a new age, and above all, rediscovers the perfect topographical emblem for human isolation, the island, to show just how unspeakable life's adventure may well be. The "island with no name" is at once the world's beginning and the world's end.


1. Preface to Seven Famous Novels (New York: Knopf, 1934), p. vii.

2. Ibid.

3. This Introduction may be found in the original edition: The Island of Dr. Moreau (London: Heinemann, 1896), pp. v-vii. It is reprinted in accessible paperback reissues, such as Penguin in Britain and Berkley-Highland in America, but it does not appear in the Atlantic Edition.

4. Edward Shanks was the first critic to describe Wells as a "mythmaker," in "The Work of H. G. Wells," First Essays in Literature (1923; rpt. Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1968), pp. 148-71. Bernard Bergonzi acknowledges this essay and elaborates upon this aspect of Wells's work in The Early H. G. Wells: A Study of the Scientific Romances (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1961), pp. 18-20.

5. Warren W. Wagar, H. G. Wells and the World State (New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1961), p. 45.

6. Ingvald Raknem, H. G. Wells and His Critics (Trondheim: Universitets-forlaget, 1962), pp. 395-97.

7. H. G. Wells, General Introduction, The Atlantic Edition of the Works of H. G. Wells (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1924), p. xiii.

8. Bergonzi briefly discusses the "island myth," p. 100.

9. Patrick Parrinder, ed., H. G. Wells: The Critical Heritage (London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972), p. 45. The majority of those who reviewed Moreau denounced the author for his unhealthy obsessions and found the novel injurious to Wells's growing reputation.

10. Preface to Vol. II, Atlantic Edition, p. ix. Subsequent references to this text will be given parenthetically.

11. Preface to Seven Famous Novels, p. ix.

12. See M. K. Joseph's model introduction to Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1971), pp. vii-xv.

13. Three vivid examples would be: "In the Avu Observatory" (1894); "The Red Room" (1896); "The Magic Shop" (1903).

14. "One of the Difficulties of Psycho-Analysis," Character and Culture (New York: Collier, 1963), pp. 182-90.

15. Quoted by Loren Eiseley, Darwin's Century (New York: Anchor, 1961), p. 107.

16.Billy Budd, Sailor, and Other Stories (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin English Library, 1970), p. 133 ff.

17. The relevant articles are "The Rediscovery of the Unique" (1891); "The Fallacies of Heredity" (1894); "The Limits of Individual Plasticity" (1895); "Human Evolution: An Artificial Process" (1896). Except for the second piece they are all reprinted in H. G. Wells: Early Writings in Science and Science Fiction, ed. Robert Philmus and David Y. Hughes (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1975).

18.Saturday Review, 17 Aug. 1895, pp. 204-5. Consult also the annotated bibliography in Early Writings in Science and Science Fiction, p. 235.

19. (Garden City, New York: Natural History Press, 1965), p. 5.

20. "Aepyornis Island," Thirty Strange Stories (New York: Harpers, 1898), p. 27.

21. Ibid., p. 30.

22.The Origin of the Species and The Descent of Man (New York: Modern Library, n.d.), p. 494.

23. Ibid., p. 920.

24. In Cooper's island dystopia, published in 1847, the author reveals a debt to Lyell's Principles of Geology (1830-33) comparable to Wells's reliance on his sources in the biological sciences. See Thomas Philbrick's introduction to The Crater, or Vulcan's Peak (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 1962).

25. Philmus and Hughes, pp. 36-39.

26. T. H. Huxley, Evolution and Ethics (New York: Appleton, 1897), p. 83.

27.The Early H. G. Wells, p. 109.

28. In his preface to Moreau in the Atlantic Edition Wells calls his work a "theological grotesque." Apart from Moreau himself, his laboratory, the "House of Pain," takes on a special significance in the context of Wells's designation. The "house of endless paine" in Spenser's Faerie Queene (Bk. 1, Canto 5, l. 33) is the "dismal house of pain" in Paradise Lost (Bk. 2, l. 823) and it is, of course, Hell.

29.The Early H. G. Wells, p. 112.

30. This article appeared about six months after the publication of Moreau. See Philmus and Hughes, pp. 211-19.

31. "The Time Machine versus Utopia as a Structural Model for Science Fiction," Comparative Literature Studies, 10 (Dec. 1973), 341.

32. Philmus and Hughes, p. 31.

Robert M. Philmus (essay date March 1981)

SOURCE: Philmus, Robert M. "The Satiric Ambivalence of The Island of Doctor Moreau." Science-Fiction Studies 8, no. 1 (March 1981): 2-11.

[In the following essay, Philmus outlines the influence of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Frank Challice Constable's The Curse of the Intellect on Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau.]


The Island of Doctor Moreau is the most sustained, and also the most Swiftian, of all Wells's SF satires. The same cannot be said for the draft he had in hand by February of 1895.1 The spirit that presides over it is not Swift's but Stevenson's. As Wells originally conceived it, he clearly meant The Island of Doctor Moreau to be a gothic mystery on the model of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.2

In that early draft, Moreau himself, aboard his yacht The Dancing Faun, rescues Andrew Prendick from the dinghy of the wrecked Lady Vain. Restored to life by a kind of Frankensteinian miracle,3 Prendick for a time preoccupies himself with the question of where he is being taken. But "the mystery of the ship's destination" soon gives place to another. Almost from the moment he sets eyes on them, he notices that the crew of The Dancing Faun are in many ways "strange" and "singular."

It was nothing definite, a general impression which at first I could not analyse, that there was something wrong about them all. I could not tell whether it was some quality in their gestures, some oddness in their features or what. But assuredly they were all peculiar. And yet peculiar as these men were[,] there was a tantalizingly familiar quality about their very strangeness, a singular suggestion in the back of my mind that somewhere else, under quite other conditions, I had seen their faces before.4

He does not immediately understand why their appearance and behavior should inspire him with a vague feeling of horror and an indefinable sense of déjà vu. But he arrives on Moreau's out-of-the-way South Pacific island determined to find an explanation for that "puzzle" and satisfy his "growing curiosity."

His first real clue comes from Mrs Moreau, who inadvertently reveals the name of his rescuer and hence causes him to recall a pamphlet he had read on "The Moreau Horrors." Later the same day, the excruciating cries of the puma Moreau and Montgomery are working on confirm his recollection. Seeking to escape those painful sounds, he wanders down towards the Village. "A man with a wizened brown negroid face, surrounded by greyish whiskers,"5 stops him to ask if his "scars are healed?" Prendick is still "mystified" at this question when, upon entering the Village, "the most piggish looking man I have ever beheld" staggers up to him "in the maudlin stage of drunkenness" and besottedly whispers of a place "where they let you drink out of saucers" and "[w]here you can go on all fours."6 Prendick, in bewildered irritation, repeats this sotto voce invitation aloud, and immediately draws the attention of some "men in yellow," who take him and his "hog-faced acquaintance" into custody and haul them before a magistrate. Convinced that he has fallen into the hands of "dangerous lunatics," Prendick decides to humor the court by giving evidence against his befuddled companion, whom the Magistrate sentences to "[s]olitary confinement … until he had got one play by Shakespear & one book of the Bible by heart." "His lordship" pardons Prendick, whom Sturmins, the court clerk, accompanies back towards "the house of the pallisades." This Sturmins, the same "wizened" "individual" whose query about "scars" had earlier left Prendick at a loss, continues to puzzle him with similar questions—"until I saw the beginning of the truth" and "was … able to define the peculiar strangeness in the appearance of these islanders." Almost the instant Prendick articulates his hypothesis, Sturmins' behavior validates it. After refusing to follow him into what Sturmins calls "the House of Pain," he "ran into the dimness for some way[,] then with a whoop sprang up … to grip a creeper[,] swung by his arms to another & so, a black leaping object among the black foliage[,] vanished out of my sight." "A sense of perfect isolation"—indeed, of self-estrangement—momentarily takes hold of Prendick as he realizes the significance of what he has been witness to. "I seemed to soar out of my own existence as it were, into some incredible altitude above time & space, & the only thing that had any kindred with me was the glittering multitude of the stars."

Prendick now knows what Moreau has been up to and, to some extent at least, how he has accomplished his ends. Why he has sought to transform beasts into men is the burden of the chapter in which "Moreau Explains." The reasons the doctor coldly offers are in keeping with the glimpse Prendick has of him in his laboratory: "His hands & arms … covered with blood. An expression of diabolical rage" on his face.

Far from vindicating his experiments, everything Moreau says condemns him as being, in Montgomery's words, "simply the Devil":

It is cruel, it is abominable [Montgomery confesses] … to take these wretched animals & carve them into these caricatures of Gods [sic] image, to torture their minds into the travesty of rational creatures, to set all their instincts at war. They were brutes & balanced & happy as brutes. Why could not he leave them brutes?

A Miltonic Satan, blasphemously imitating the ways of God, and also a Frankensteinian Faust, the Mad Scientist, overreaching the bounds of human nature. Moreau appears deserving of the fate presumably in store for him once his creatures begin reasserting their horrific animality.7

As an exercise in detecting the bestial nature of man, this first extant draft of Moreau [The Island of Doctor Moreau ] owes much to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The resemblances, of course, reside in method and meaning, not incidental detail. Wells follows Stevenson in concentrating attention primarily on the solving of a mystery, and in the process of unriddling the identity of the islanders, reveals them to be caricatures of humanity: "half animal," self-divided (in Sturmins' words) between an instinct towards "vice" and an impulse to "reach upward to the stars." To be sure, the symbolism—the emblematic name of Moreau's yacht, the topography of an island whose active volcano dominates his mountain-fortress laboratory and the Village below, and above all, the stars that Prendick and Sturmins the "apeman" alike appeal to—ultimately has a Darwinistic import; and in other respects, too, the fable perhaps relies more on Darwinian theory than Stevenson's does.8 But the point it makes about the human species by its emphasis on man's bestial propensities represents a latter-day Calvinism of the Jekyll and Hyde sort.9

The mode of proceeding Wells adopts, however, is as inappropriate to his "invention" as it is suitable to Stevenson's. Narrative method and meaning co-determine one another in Jekyll and Hyde, but they have no such congruence in the early draft of Moreau. The process of discovering Jekyll and Hyde to be aspects of the same person has significance in itself and in relation to the outcome of that process;10 whereas in Wells's original fable, the results alone matter. The manner of disclosing them, far from having a meaningful function, actually works against cognitive intent and is otherwise self-defeating. Wells aims to reconcile the suspense proper to the "detective story" with the horror associated with the "thriller"; but in this case at least, that kind of suspense is incompatible with horror and both are at odds with a formal principle which demands that the "solution" to the mystery of the islanders, if it is to be at all creditable, must be evident to the reader before it is made explicit in the text. Accordingly, Wells all along stresses the appearance of animality in Moreau's creatures, often in terms as blatant as these:

Before the door a black woman sprawled & dozed in the sun with much of the abandon of a well fed dog. Suddenly she lifted up her head, yawning[,] & became aware of our approach. Forthwith she sprang to her feet. The transition from heedless indolence to sudden attention was remarkable. She looked keenly at us for a moment, especially I fancied at me, & then we went indoors.

It should be clear from this passage that Andrew Prendick is no credulous Gulliverian observer: that, unlike his namesake in the published version of Moreau, he is never really taken in by the islanders. Nor is a phrase like "well fed dog" necessary for justifying his suspicion that they are not the "passable human beings" he thinks most of them to be when he sees them "at … [a] distance." As perceived through his disingenuous eyes, Moreau's creatures never sustain an illusion of humanity. For that reason, no amazement attends the disclosure of their animal origins. But their supposed connection with homo sapiens likewise remains problematic. They do not seem passably human enough to embody the significance attributed to them—to warrant, for example, speaking of theirs as a "travesty of civilization."

In this respect, the mystery-solving verges on "naive allegory."11 At the same time, his formal principle prompts Wells to introduce characters having little or no business in the narrative, merely for gothic effect. Montgomery, the self-styled "Grand Vizier" of the island, mainly serves a choric function echoing Prendick's sentiments. The same is true of Mrs Moreau, an "exile from civilization" whose agitation over her husband's experiments impels her to form a sympathetic liaison with Prendick that threatens to become "Weena-esque"; while her son, an even more spectral presence, would be indistinguishable from the scenery were it not for his "remarkable passion for killing flies" and recounting nightmares about man-eating ogres. Though Wells intends them to be accessory to the horrific suspense he means to evoke, these supernumeraries contribute nothing to his purpose. Instead, they merely reinforce effects unavoidably consequent upon a mode of proceeding that violates the intrinsic spirit of his invention. Moreau's creatures inherently lend themselves to a satiric fiction; but in the manuscript draft Wells treats them with a measure of high seriousness, which inevitably turns them into the stuff of melodrama or farce.


The inspiration for how to go about revising Moreau may have occurred to Wells as a result of reading Frank Challice Constable's The Curse of Intellect (1895).12 Constable (1846-1937), a barrister who served for 20 years as public prosecutor for the Indian province of Sind, wrote the book shortly before retiring from that post and had it published under the name of "Macchiavelli Clout." The singularly uneuphonic pseudonym seems calculated to signal his theme: the conflict between natural innocence and the rational will to power.

Power, in fact, is the cognomen of the mesmerist who employs his hypnotic art to transform a (presumably rather large) "monkey" into the semblance of a civilized human being. The experimenter, actuated by the desire for "a new standpoint of criticism" outside the human species from which to determine what man is (pp. 15-16), devotes 26 years to educating this monkey to think and act humanly, and then takes his creature to England and introduces it into London society. The experiment, however, ends abruptly with the mysterious murder of a certain Lord Dase, an event that obliges Power to return his creature to Africa. Back in its native territory, the beast's antipathy to man gradually increases to an uncontrollable pitch, and finally it kills its maker.

In the antagonism that the beast develops for Reuben Power, Constable attempts to dramatize his theme. But the significance of the dramatization entirely depends on the beast's statement of its case, in an expository section that is in every sense central to the book. There the creature details its grievances against man. Power had taught it "to conquer nature" (p. 96) and "struggle on the side of intellect against instinct" (p. 99); and once the beast had learned to think and to read and write, "A strange period followed in which man was my God" (p. 100). The creature's newly acquired abilities, however, only aggravate its "feeling … of some indefinable loss" (p. 104): "I had been a happy, almost unconscious, part of one great whole. Now, that feeling was gone. Now with thought came pride, and with pride separation from, strife with, nature" (p. 97). Realizing that Power is to blame for its disease—that he has set it at war with itself—the creature turns misanthropic; and as its "hatred for the human beast grew, centring itself on Power" (p. 111), it becomes fearful that "I was catching some of man's meanness" (p. 114). "Intellect," the creature concludes, "is a cursed gift—a gift flowing from evil, destroying natural instinctive happiness, and introducing unnatural misery and unnatural immorality" (pp. 132-33). "By the very definition of instinct every creature under its government lives, normally, in the best possible agreement with circumstance; any such creature can be as little guilty of wickedness in any act as the earth itself" (p. 135). Human "reason," on the other hand,

has been developed under strife between man and man,—not the inexorable strife of nature, but competition deliberately set up by man using intellect. Had there been no such strife … man must always have remained what he originally was, a happy beast of instinct. And this human strife is, constitutes, evil.

          (p. 138)

The murder of Power is meant to confirm that assessment. As the act of a being whom he has made unnatural, it is the ultimate expression of disillusionment about "man's godlike greatness" on the part of a creature "confronted suddenly with the human beast as he is!" (p. 177).

The moral nearly reiterates the sentiments of Gulliver's Houyhnhnm master, who "looked upon us as a Sort of Animals to whose Share … some small Pittance of Reason had fallen, whereof we had made no other Use than by its Assistance to aggravate our natural Corruptions, and to acquire new ones which Nature had not given us."13 Though not at all to his advantage, Constable himself encourages the comparison by his ill-advised mention of Swift's book (p. 163). Yet for the most part he takes Jekyll and Hyde, not Gulliver's Travels, as the pattern for his fiction. The parallels, which extend beyond matters of literary execution to incidental detail,14 may be the result of deliberate calculation. Constable, who (as it were) identifies Jekyllian intellect rather than Hyde's instinctive animality as man's evil principle, perhaps meant them to indicate that The Curse of Intellect is to be understood as a rejoinder to Stevenson. But whatever his design may have been (if, indeed, he had one), he made the mistake Wells had committed in the original version of Moreau : not the mistake of apparently slavish imitation per se, but that of choosing a model which would not allow him to do justice to the imaginativeness and originality of his invention. The decision to borrow liberally from Jekyll and Hyde prevented Constable from exploiting the satiric possibilities of passing off a monkey as a noteworthy addition to London society and thus affording substance to what must otherwise seem little more than a sermon in fictional guise. That both guise and sermon come all too close to the vehicle and tenor of the early draft of Moreau would no doubt have given Wells pause. Yet the thing that most impressed him about Constable's book—and what probably caused him to reconsider his conception of Moreau —was the conspicuous absence from The Curse of Intellect of a double-edged Swiftian spirit.15


No similar objection can be levelled against the end-product of Wells's efforts at revising The Island of Doctor Moreau. Unmistakably, its inspiration is the final book of Gulliver's Travels. Its theme is not radically different from the one Wells began with. He is still dealing with what he elsewhere characterized as the uneasy balance between "the natural man," or "culminating ape," and "the artificial man, the highly plastic creature of tradition, suggestion, and reasoned thought."16 But to convey his idea, he no longer depends on the kind of moralizing that in his early draft makes it appear as an allegorical abstraction. The antimony now informs a satiric fable, the subtle complexity of which arises from the dynamics of a vision of humanity that is not really explicable in the static terms of ahistorical generalizations about the essential Jekyll-and-Hyde-like duality of the individual. Wells's satiric emphasis on man as a superficially civilized animal is Swiftian; but so is his satiric method, the shifts in perspective which give his vision a stereoscopic quality. In effect, he "darwinizes" the Yahoos and Houyhnhnms. The beast man evolved from and the more nearly rational creature he may evolve into become the temporal boundaries of Moreau 's universe, whose conceptual possibilities Wells plays off against one another in order to explore the nature of the human species as it is at present.

In the final version of Moreau, Wells retains his original account of the wreck of the Lady Vain and its aftermath. But the effect is no longer merely horrific. The story of how Prendick and two other survivors, adrift in a dinghy for eight days, famished, and dying of thirst, at length agree upon a plan for human sacrifice, illustrates the feral instincts which privation can elicit in man. Equally significant is the fact that Prendick, the last to go along with their scheme for abandoning civilized restraint, alone escapes the fate that befalls his two companions when they attempt to carry out their murderous designs upon one another.

The immediately subsequent chapters, detailing what happens to Prendick before he arrives on Moreau's island, likewise serve by way of a prologue to the satire that follows, by exhibiting in particular the bestiality of which the human species is gratuitously capable. Not long after his rescue, Prendick regains consciousness. He also regains his strength, thanks to Montgomery, who has him drink something "that tasted like blood" (2:7).17 But the doings on board the rescue ship do not help Prendick recover his psychological balance after an ordeal that had impelled him towards cannibalism. Indeed, they justify the name Ipecacuanha. The cruelty of the sailors and the brutishness of their captain have a kind of purgative effect: their actions eliminate any clear distinction between man and beast. Prendick thus arrives on Moreau's island having already lost any firm sense of the norms of civilized human behavior.

Everything that Prendick has undergone or been witness to in making the transition to a place ironically bearing the Rousseauesque designation Noble's Isle prepares him to misapprehend what he finds there. Leaving the compound, where Moreau and Montgomery have locked him out of their laboratory, he wanders off among the Beast Folk and presently forms a horrific idea about them. Their demeanor and carriage impress on him feelings both of "utter strangeness" and of "the strangest familiarity" (9:50). Because they generally walk erect, have the use of speech, and swathe themselves in rags of clothing, he supposes them to be human in origin. But while he recognizes "the rough humanity of [their] bodily form" (9:50), he also detects in each "the mark of the beast," something suggestive of the hog, the dog, the leopard, or some other animal (9:51). Putting these discrepant observations of his together, he comes to the conclusion that the creatures have been victims of a hideous experiment. Moreau, he imagines, has been—and still is—"animalising … men" by means of vivisection (12:73).

Edward Prendick, with his Gulliverian credulousness, here fulfills a satiric intent inaccessible to his earlier namesake, suspiciously bent on solving a mystery. The former's lurid interpretation, though it turns out to be erroneous, calls attention to the Beast People as "grotesque caricatures of humanity" (12:73). That is, it emphasizes the similarities between them and civilized man. The acquired habits that differentiate him from beast—or from savage—find a parodic equivalent in their customs and rituals. Following Swift's example, Wells ridicules man's pretentions to civility by reducing its outward signs to an absurdly primi- tive form. The Law that Moreau's creatures chant, for instance, mechanically codifies and rigidly expresses the kind of religio-moral precepts and beliefs that society invokes to curb "the natural man." In content and purpose, it is a cretinized Decalogue. By translating the Decalogue into a series of elementary injunctions—"Not to go on all-Fours," etc.—and palpable threats—"His is the House of Pain," etc. (12:72-73)—Wells points to simple-minded fear and superstition as the factors motivating man to repress his innate brutishness.18 At the same time, the fact that the Beast People are obviously uncomfortable with the Law and with all of the other accessories of civilized behavior exposes the artificiality of human "tradition, suggestion, and reasoned thought." Indeed, the civilizing practices that man has adopted in the course of his evolution as a social being appear at this stage of the fiction to do little more than disguise his true—that is, biologically original—nature.

The chapter (14) in which Moreau explains to Prendick the how and why of his experiments adds a new dimension to the satire. In part, it reveals the absurdity of trying to reconcile Darwinian theory with the concepts of traditional theology. Moreau, by using the techniques of surgery and hypnotism to transform beasts into human-like beings, replaces Darwinian Nature. To be sure, the workings of natural evolution are not really purposive; but the sort of randomness to which they are subject likewise enters into his obsessive project in artificial evolution. (In response to Prendick's query as to "why he had taken the human form as a model," Moreau "confesse[s] that he had chosen [it] by chance" [14:91].) The experimenter with living tissue is thus the Shaping God of Evolution. But as Creator and Law-Giver, the ancient and white-haired doctor is also the Jehovah of the Pentateuch. (Concerning his first effort at man-making, he tells Prendick: "All week, night and day, I moulded him [i.e., a gorilla]," and on the seventh day "I rested" [14:95, 96].) This synthesis of theology and science, however, has disastrous consequences, especially for theology. As the deity presiding over evolution, Moreau dismisses the problem of why evil exists in the world by saying that he has "never troubled about the ethics of the matter" (14:94). Compelled to be "as remorseless as Nature," he remains deaf to the suffering of his creatures. Nor can the pain they must endure in the process of (artificial) evolution be explained theologically except by postulating an (at best) apathetic God. Certainly there is no accounting for that pain in any morally acceptable terms. It cannot even be justified as a means to an end: first, because the end proposed is never (to be) achieved; and secondly, because "the material [that] … has dripped into the huts yonder" (14:94) is all too often a dead end in itself.

Pain, in Moreau's view, characterizes a passing evolutionary phase. Plants and possibly "the lower animals" do not feel it; and "it gets needless," he argues, as life progresses to the stage where reason supersedes it.19 His obsession—to sculpt a being which would act purely from rational motives—springs out of his belief that pain as an actuating force behind human behavior is "the mark of the beast" in man (14:93). But Prendick, who shows himself inclined to judge by appearances, takes a different position. He regards expressions of pain and its concomitant, fear, as humanizing traits. As he holds the Leopard Man at bay, for example, he remarks: "seeing the creature there is a perfectly animal attitude…. its imperfectly human face distorted with terror, I realised again the fact of its humanity" (16:120). Of course, this stance of Prendick's is by no means totally incompatible with Moreau's. The two agree that pain is the link between man and beast. But Moreau goes on to stress the need for man to sever that connection, to overcome his susceptibility to pain and thereby transcend his animal nature. Nor is this to say that his disagreement with Prendick is merely a matter of emphasis. It is also a matter of outlook; and as such, it signals an ambivalence that (typically in Wells's SF) otherwise manifests itself in Moreau on a much larger scale.

In discussing with Prendick the theory underlying his experiments, Moreau directs the reader to the issue of what the human species might become. His disquisition, that is, introduces a shift in satiric focus, a shift that unmistakably declares itself almost the moment the doctor is killed by his last victim, the puma. Hitherto, Wells had concentrated satiric attention on "the artificial man," whose civilized habits he had ridiculed as being at best superficial—indeed, as being virtually tantamount to hypocrisy. But with Moreau's death, the satire turns against "the natural man." Man's civilized habits emerge at this point as civilizing traits: they represent a fragile protection against his potential bestiality. Just how necessary that protection is becomes clear once the Beast People begin freely reasserting their animal impulses. As their regression follows its inevitable course, the brutal rule of survival—of kill or be killed—usurps the place of Moreau's Law (to the undermining of which Prendick has been a contributor). At the same time, the Beast Folk lose all but the slightest vestiges of what had earlier been the ironic signs of their humanity.

Prendick slowly reverts to a kind of animal savagery as well. His first step backward is to cut himself off from the one other human being remaining on the island: Montgomery. His justification for doing so—"I felt that for Montgomery there was no help: that he was in truth half akin to these Beast Folk" (19:141)—reveals that Prendick, though by now an initiate into Moreau's secret, still imagines his nature to be essentially different from that of the rest of the inhabitants of Noble's Isle. However, the murder of Montgomery and the burning of the compound oblige Prendick to live among Moreau's creatures: and as they revert to type, he himself acquires a bestial aspect. ("I … must have undergone strange change, [he recalls] … I am told that even now my eyes have a strange brightness, a swift alertness of movement" [21:162-63].)

After he contrives to escape from "the painful disorder" of the island (16:123), the persuasion that had overwhelmed Gulliver takes hold of him: "I felt no desire to return to mankind" (22:169). But while he and Gulliver share the same response, and for a similar reason, their dread of being exposed to the brutishness of men derives from opposite experiences. Gulliver, having spent most of his Fourth Voyage among the Houyhnhnms, disdains men for their contrast to those perfectly rational creatures. Prendick, after a sojourn of almost a year among the Yahoos (as it were), comes to fear man's similarity to them. The sight of other men often reminds him of the Beast People, and he is frequently haunted by the nightmarish idea "that presently the degradation of the Islanders will be played over again on a larger scale" (22:171). But he takes comfort from the rather naive belief—hardly grounded in his own experiences or behavior—that all this is "an illusion, that these seeming men and women about me are … men and women for ever, perfectly reasonable creatures full of human desires and tender solicitude" (22:171). Less ironic, and also far more significant from the standpoint of Wells's inquiry into the limits of human plasticity, is the fact that Prendick looks to the stars for solace. For in them, as symbols of the future and of "the vast and eternal laws of matter" (22:172), resides the hope that man may become something other than the clothed and gabbling but mentally intractable ape Moreau discovers him still to be.20


An earlier version of section 3 of this essay appeared in The Survey of Science Fiction Literature, ed. Frank Magill (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1979), 3:1079-83.

1. The manuscript is now in the Wells Collection of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to whose Rare Book Librarian, N. Frederick Nash, I am grateful for permission to cite passages from it in this essay. I am also deeply indebted to David Y. Hughes for his extreme generosity in sharing with me both his copies of materials from the Wells Collection and his discoveries about them.

The materials directly pertinent to Moreau come in three formats: (M1) the manuscript pages already mentioned, which Wells had numbered; (M2) unnumbered manuscript pages; and (T) typescript pages intercalated with the latter. (M2) and (T) together correspond almost exactly to the version of The Island of Doctor Moreau brought out by Heinemann in June of 1896. (M1) is an earlier draft, but it cannot have been Wells's first. Collected in four fascicles, the last two of which bear the date "Feb 1895," this is certainly the version Wells refers to in an undated letter to A. T. Simmons wherein he writes:

Moreau is still unfinished. After you left I began the beggar again from the very first page and set him up quite different and much better. Since then I've hacked him about a good deal. He's far from shipshape yet. About the middle of Feb. I discovered I was likely to become bankrupt so Ive [sic] had a spurt at odd articles again. Made Grant Allen howl in the Saturday over his blessed Woman Who Did—my first novel review.

          (From the Wells Collection)

Wells's allusion to his piece on The Woman Who Did in the Saturday Review for March 9, 1895 establishes the terminus a quo for his undertaking a final revision of his manuscript. By about that time. The Curse of Intellect may have come to his attention: the brief notice of the book attributed to him did not appear until April 6th (see note 15 below), but the Saturday Review had carried an advertisement for the novel two weeks earlier, on March 23, 1895. In any event, even if Constable's example did not influence Wells's rethinking of his own gothic mystery, the comparison is still instructive for clarifying how Wells might have come to the realization that Jekyll and Hyde was unsuitable as the model for Moreau.

2. In response to Mrs Moreau's request that he tell her "what new books had excited attention" in London, Prendick singles out Jekyll and Hyde (1886) and "unravel[s] the personality of Doctor Jekyll" for her edification.

3. Wells deleted the name "Frankenstein" twice at the point when Moreau informs Prendick "that you were dead, to all intents and purposes, when I picked you up" and "are now alive & vigorous …" thanks to the doctor's "considerable amount of medical knowledge."

4. This and other quotations for which no page references are given come from the manuscript draft of Moreau in the University of Illinois Wells Collection (see note 1 above).

5. Not here, but elsewhere in his early draft, Wells's corrections show that he made some effort to avoid expressions that could be taken as racist slurs. Several times, for example, he has crossed out the phrase "yellow men" and replaced it with "men in yellow."

6. This episode, wherein Wells exhibits the bestiality of Moreau's creatures first in the drunkenness of the "hoggish man," helps to establish the significance of the schooner captain's inebriety and Montgomery's "bank holiday" in the published version of Moreau.

7. Presumption is called for here inasmuch as the manuscript draft in the Wells Collection does not seem to be complete (and may not have gone much beyond the point at which my detailed summary stops).

8. See pp. 98-99 of my book Into the Unknown: The Evolution of Science Fiction from Francis Godwin to H. G. Wells (Berkeley & Los Angeles: California UP, 1970).

9. The justification for my speaking of Wells's Calvinism in regard to the early draft of Moreau comes from a review-article of his entitled "Bio-Optimism" (Nature, 52 [Aug. 29, 1895]:411), wherein he adopts the phrase "the Calvinism of [Darwinian] science." (The full text is reprinted in H. G. Wells: Early Writings in Science and Science Fiction, ed. Robert M. Philmus and David Y. Hughes [Berkeley, Los Angeles, & London: California UP, 1975)], pp. 206-10. This volume is subsequently cited as EW.) Wells's lifelong and ambivalent preoccupation with religion—perhaps an inheritance from his mother—deserves a more thorough investigation than it has received up to now.

10. The significance of objective (Utterson's) versus subjective (Lanyon's) points of view in relation to the meaning of Jekyll's own statement of his case is a matter I discuss in Into the Unknown, pp. 96-98.

11. I use this term in Northrop Frye's sense: "an allegory which is simply discursive writing with an illustrative image or two stuck into it" (Anatomy of Criticism [Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957], p. 91).

12. The page numbers in parentheses following quotations from Constable's book refer to the (first) English edition (Edinburgh & London: William Blackwell, 1895).

13.Gulliver's Travels, ed. Herbert Davis, in vol. 11 of The Prose Writings of Jonathan Swift (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1965), p. 259.

The early draft of Moreau contains two possible echoes of the Travels. At one point, "his lordship" interrupts Prendick's testimony to aver, "There is no such place as England as everyone knows"—words reminiscent of the Houyhnhnm's assertion: "it was impossible that there could be a Country beyond the Sea" (GT, ed. cit., p. 235). Later on, Prendick's statement that "ancient gossip … seemed to be [Mrs Moreau's] conception of the proper use of her gift of speech" bears some verbal resemblance to the Houyhnhnms' belief that "the Use of Speech was to make us understand one another, and to receive Information of Facts" (GT, p. 240). These similarities, of course, are hardly sufficient for proving that Wells all along had Gulliver's Travels in the back of his mind as the model for The Island of Doctor Moreau: at most, they give further indication of the "early, profound and lifelong admiration for Swift" that he confesses to in his Preface to The Scientific Romances (London: Victor Gollancz, 1933, p. viii).

14. The beast's murder of Lord Dase and finally of his creator have obvious counterparts in Jekyll and Hyde; and Constable likewise follows Stevenson in the tripartite division of his narrative.

15. Wells makes this point in a brief, unsigned notice of The Curse of Intellect in the Saturday Review, 79 (Apr. 6, 1895):422.

16. These phrases come from the passage in "Human Evolution, an Artificial Process" where Wells is explaining what "I have tried to convey in my Island of Doctor Moreau." The essay appeared six months after Moreau's publication (Fortnightly Review, n.s. 60 [Oct., 1896]:590-95; see EW, pp. 211-19).

17. Quotations from The Island of Doctor Moreau conform to the text to be found in vol. 2 of the Atlantic Edition of Wells's works (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1925). The numbers in parentheses refer to the chapter: page(s) of that volume.

18. The fact that these details of Moreau's Law do not appear in his earliest surviving draft makes it reasonable to suppose that Kipling's Jungle Book (1894) had some influence on that aspect of Wells's fiction.

19. Moreau's argument here is similar to one that Wells himself presents for the "evolution 3of life4 from the automatic to the spiritual" in "The Province of Pain" (Science and Art, 8 3Feb., 18944:58-59; see EW, pp. 194-99).

20. From The Time Machine (1894-95) through Star Begotten (1937), the stars remain Wells's symbol of man's evolutionary prospects and aspirations. The point has been given some consideration in Patrick Parrinder's H. G. Wells (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1970; rpt. NY: Capricorn Books, 1977), pp. 21, 28, and in EW p. 182.

Robert M. Philmus (essay date March 1990)

SOURCE: Philmus, Robert M. "Textual Authority: The Strange Case of The Island of Doctor Moreau." Science-Fiction Studies 17, no. 1 (March 1990): 64-70.

[In the following essay, Philmus examines the grammatical and structural differences between the five authorized versions of The Island of Doctor Moreau.]

Students of SF do not, as a rule, pay much attention to the history and authority of the editions they rely upon. Establishing the text, in the bibliographer's sense of that phrase, hardly occupies the place in SF studies that it has, say, for Shakespearians. Yet an uncritical faith in the reliability of whatever edition happens to be at hand has no more justification in regard to SF than it has for any other literary product.

Against such insouciance, consider the monitory example of The Einstein Intersection (1966). Word has it that a copy-editor at Ace was so taken by one of Delany's pages (of chapter epigraphs) that he rushed to another office to share it with a colleague. It never made its way back into the manuscript; and consequently that page is absent from all US editions of Delany's book up until the Bantam reissue of 1981.1

Other cases can entail even greater perils for the would-be interpreter. Here no less formidable a reader than F. O. Mathiessen unwittingly provided perhaps the most notorious classic instance in the annals of literary criticism when he invested considerable symbolic meaning in a phrase which proved to be a compositor's error: properly deciphered, the "soiled fish" which he made so much of on the basis of some published text of Moby-Dick (it does not matter which; all of them were corrupt) turned out to be "coiled rope" in Melville's manuscript. How many similar examples SF criticism may offer is hard to say, given our general ignorance of such matters of textual history. But even so, it is not difficult to find parallels to Mathiesson's mistake, particularly in criticism dealing with translations. More than one interpreter, for example, has discovered significance in certain details of the English version of Lem's Solaris (1961) which are not to be found in the Polish original.2

Aside from being a possible source of embarrassment, the problems of textual authority in SF can be fully as vexing as those in any other area of literature. As likely as not, any book-length work of SF, especially if written more than 20 years ago, had a prior existence in print as a magazine serial, which the author then expanded and otherwise revised for separate publication. This, moreover, generally holds true worldwide, not just for Anglo-American SF; and by the same token, it is a phenomenon dating back at least to the 1890s, not the 1930s. Chances are, then, that we must decide between two or more different versions of a text; and this is no easy matter when we consider that any one (or all) of them may be in significant part the result of something other than strict artistic, or literary, necessity—may, for example, be the dictate of a Campbellian editor or of the need to fill out an installment or a given number of book pages.

No doubt the most troublesome SF titles from a bibliographical standpoint are those of H. G. Wells. This is especially true of his early "scientific romances," nearly all of which came out in at least four different printed versions between their first date of publication and 1928. Nor can we necessarily dismiss any one of those versions as being entirely unauthorized. On the contrary, the internal evidence alone is generally quite sufficient to prove that Wells had some hand in each of them. To make matters worse, the extant manuscript drafts usually represent an indeterminate number of compositional stages, none of which would wholly correspond to any one serial or book version even if the draft (as we now have it) were not fragmentary (with its pages frequently in disorder).

The Island of Doctor Moreau is a relatively simple case in point. Unlike The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, or The First Men in the Moon, its textual history is fairly straightforward. Moreau was never serialized, and no extensive revision of it ever saw print. Figuring out how the various editions of Moreau correlate with one another and with the surviving manuscripts is therefore not nearly the headache that it is for the other three Wells titles just mentioned.3 Still (as we shall discover), the bibliographic materials pertinent to Moreau are intractably problematic in their own way.

Moreau is to be found in five different authorized editions: William Heinemann's (WH), Stone and Kimball's (S&K), the text of WH as reset by Heinemann in 1913 (H13), the Atlantic Edition of 1924 (AtEd), and the Essex Edition of 1927 (Essex).4 Such a list represents the five in their order of appearance. It also gives some idea of their genealogy: each edition, apart from S&K, fundamentally derives from its chronological predecessor.

The first of the bibliographical mysteries attaching to Moreau concerns how S&K enters into this scheme. Certainly that text has nothing to do with the subsequent lineage of Moreau editions. But chronological considerations do not rule out the possibility that S&K, too, has an ancestral connection with WH (which, according to its copyright page, was available by March of 1896, whereas S&K's colophon gives May of that year as the date for the printing of that first American edition). What makes this a genuine puzzle is the nature of S&K's deviations from WH, which are greater than those between any other published versions of Moreau. In addition to matters of paragraphing and punctuation, S&K differs from WH in respect not only to single words and phrases but whole sentences, and not merely in the placement of such (in two instances). Six of WH's sentences do not appear in WH; another two are peculiar to S&K (and its various reprints).5 Since the latest known manuscript contains none of the eight, the most likely explanation for them—as for other discrepancies between WH and S&K—is that Wells revised his penultimate draft on two separate occasions, using the two typescripts that he would have had at hand (one of them a carbon copy).6 But neither of those putative copy-texts is known to have survived; and in their absence, it may alternatively be argued that S&K is a redaction of WH—or vice-versa (despite the fact that WH was the first published Moreau, it more frequently departs from the latest extant draft than S&K does). The question of real priority, then, and with it that of S&K's relation to WH, remains wide open.

A second mystery centers upon AtEd, and has to do with an aspect of that edition's provenance. It is certain that AtEd basically derives from H13 (or the 1916 reprint thereof): not by reason of the fact that both omit Charles Prendick's "Introduction," but because AtEd reproduces some half-dozen or more of the compositorial errors which first occur in H13. It is also certain that AtEd was set from a particular copy of H13, one (henceforth designated H13*) containing various emendations to that printed text in a hand other than Wells's.7 This does not mean that their authority is in doubt: most of them are carryovers of alterations that Wells himself wrote into a copy (hereafter CE) of the "Colonial Edition" of Moreau (1896); and those which are not very likely had his approval, if indeed they were not made at his direction. The identity of the agent responsible for H13* is therefore significant primarily to the extent that it bears on the question of how H13* came to incorporate some of CE's changes but not nearly all (see below). What makes this even more perplexing is a related problem: that in a few instances AtEd adopts readings from CE not duplicated in, and hence (at least in effect) rejected by, H13*. (Wells may have reinstated these in the galleys for AtEd, which, however, seem to have disappeared.)

Another mystery about AtEd concerns the tenure of its revisions. Aside from some peculiarities in spelling, punctuation, and paragraph divisions, it differs from WH at just over a hundred points, virtually all of them involving rewording slated in CE and/or H13*. Yet in fully a third of these instances, the Essex reverts to WH's reading, which is then preserved in the Moreau of The Scientific Romances (1933). Why Wells would change his mind in the space of something under three years about emendments that he conceivably contemplated for more than two decades is hard to account for. That may, however, not be without precedent in the post-publication history of Moreau.

Among his five revisions of the book subsequent to original appearance, CE's is far and away the most substantial—and the most radical. For one thing, Wells deleted not only the "Introduction" but all of the opening chapter except the last two paragraphs. This remnant he ran together with the next two chapters, and thereafter conflated every two successive divisions into a single chapter except for those which in published versions bear numbers IV, IX, XIV, XVI, XIX, and XXII. He thereby reduced Moreau 's 22 chapters to 14, eight of which he renamed. The unit formed by running together what in all published ver- sions are chapters VII and VIII, for example, he titled "The Pointed Ear" (CE IV); old divisions X-XI he thought of calling "The Voice of the Man" before deciding on "The Second Flight" (CE VI); and "Doctor Moreau Explains," while retaining its integrity and literally pivotal place, became "Man making" (CE VIII). Besides reorganizing the fiction in that way, he also made 79 local revisions, 37 of which do not figure in AtEd. These preponderantly affect the first ten chapters; but the most intriguing of them, the rechristening of the Ipecacuanha as The Red Luck, figures in CE's penultimate as well as its opening chapter.

All of this is especially baffling in view of CE's title-page. On it Wells inserted and then crossed out "Lest we forget, lest we forget," which is identified as coming from Kipling but not as being (the refrain) from that author's poem "Recessional" (1897). He also experimented with and then rejected various subtitles, probably in this order: (1) "A Satire," (2) "A Grotesque Romance," (3) "or Pain & Instinct," (4) "A Story with a Meaning," and (5) "A Satirical Grotesque"—all but the last of which look to be contemporaneous with one another. Finally, he altered his credits as they had appeared in WH and S&K, retaining "Author of The Time Machine, " but replacing The Wonderful Visit and The Stolen Bacillus with The War of the Worlds. To any work later than this last title these inscriptions contain no reference—which means that CE may date from as early as 1897.8

Why Wells would have rather drastically reworked Moreau within a year of its original publication is all but unfathomable. He would have had no practical occasion for doing so until H13 was in prospect (at the very earliest). But that reset edition (as we have noted) follows CE only in its removal of Moreau 's "Introduction." To be sure, the mystery about Wells's motive for CE becomes somewhat less strange when we observe that in altering the "Colonial" text Wells employed the two different writing instruments, which likely signal two distinct revisionary moments. Furthermore, one of those moments, besides including none of the changes to the title-page save the last of the proposed subtitles listed above, almost exclusively involves corrections which enter into AtEd, a fact which readily countenances our locating such revisions in the temporal vicinity of H13*'s. But at the same time as that hypothesis supplies an occasion for one of CE's revisionary moments (i.e., that AtEd was in view), it leaves unanswered the question of motive in regard to CE's (putatively) earlier revisions. It also exacerbates the problem of CE's relation to H13*, which adopts readings from CE regardless of whether they are in pencil or pen and cannot therefore be largely the result of some simple direction of Wells's to a transcriptionist.

Of course, it would be rather perverse to impugn the textual authority of every published version of Moreau on the grounds that none of them accords with CE in matters of chapter divisions and titles. On the other hand, the very existence of CE should give us pause concerning the notion of a "definitive" Moreau —and of many another work by Wells. AtEd, in view of its being based on H13's "corrupt" text and of the Essex's dismissal of a number of AtEd's signal features, no doubt has least claim to that title after H13 itself; but even so, an argument could be made for some of the changes in AtEd which the Essex repudiates (most notably, AtEd's—and H13*'s—substitution of "Ape Man" for WH's "Monkey Man," or S&K's "Monkey-man," in chapters XVIII and XXI).

Indeed, as often as not it is impossible to decide between or among variants. Take, for instance, the passage towards the end of Prendick's narrative where he tells of visiting "a mental specialist." S&K's version runs as follows:

I have confided my case to a strangely able man—a man who had known Moreau, and seemed half to credit my story; a mental specialist—and he has helped me mightily, though I do not expect that the terror of the island will ever altogether leave me. At most times it lies far in the back of my mind….

          (S&K 22:245)

In WH (22:216) and all other editions, there is not only a full stop after "mightily" but a new paragraph, beginning with "Though I do not expect …, at most times …" Even a reader who had a clear preference for one of these versions over the other would have a hard time making an unimpeachable case for its preferability. Furthermore, this example of variance, like numerous others, does not simply present us with two different texts of Moreau ; it also in effect offers—on the most basic interpretative level—two different readings of the same text. Such instances thus point to a motility of the printed word independent of that imparted by the commonly acknowledged relativity of our reading experience. Here, that is to say, the hermeneutic possibilities of a phrase or sentence come out of the juxtaposition of textual variants and are therefore not fundamentally contingent on a particular reader and/or the historical moment in which she or he is situated.

Moreau, then, is a case—unusual only in degree—where the question of textual authority does not admit of a solution that is both practicable and completely satisfactory. It is true that the odds of finding an acceptable edition among those having Wells's imprimatur are in our favor. But it is also true that in choosing any single candidate, we risk ignoring the continual revisionary process which is not merely a fact about Moreau 's textual history but a meaningful aspect of the text.


1. The fact of this discrepancy between the UK and early US editions of The Einstein Intersection is recorded by Lloyd Currey (Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors. A Bibliography of First Printings … [Boston, 1979], p. [140]), who (however) speaks of a missing chapter. I cannot remember whether I got the story of the errant page from Delany himself, from David Hartwell, or from Currey(!).

2. The most notorious instances where Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox took liberties with Lem's text concern some of the proper names in Solaris, particularly Snaut's (which those English translators render as Snow).

3. The relationship among the various manuscripts and published versions of The War of the Worlds, for example, is so byzantine that my colleague David Hughes, who has been working with them for 30 years now, despairs of collating them (though he gives a lucid account of the publishing history of the text in his "The Revisions of The War of the Worlds," Cahiers Victoriens & Edouardiens, no. 30 [Oct. 1989], pp. 141-50). He tells me that The First Men in the Moon is a comparable case.

4. WH and H13 have a London imprint; S&K's title-page gives New York as its place of publication; AtEd emanated from T. Fisher Unwin (London) and Charles Scribner (NY); and the 24-volume Essex Edition (whose Moreau is volume 14) was the responsibility of Ernest Benn (London).

Among paperback reprints which do not identify their copy-text, those relying on AtEd are the most easily identifiable: for lacking (inter alia) the endnote about "The Limits of Individual Plasticity." Texts which have that note but not C. E. Prendick's "Introduction" are most likely reissues of Essex (beginning with the Moreau of The Scientific Romances of H. G. Wells [Gollancz, 1933; US title: Seven Famous Novels by H. G. Wells—Knopf, 1934]). The first features distinguishing S&K from WH are to be found in the "Introduction": in the matter of dates, S&K reads "First" and "Fifth" rather than "1st" and "5th"; the sentence "No specimen was secured of these" is absent from its third paragraph; and S&K has "Bayna" instead of "Banya." For other information on reprints, see David Lake's "The Current Texts of Wells's Early SF Novels: Situation Unsatisfactory," The Wellsian, no. 11 (1988), pp. 6-8.

5. These and all other variants of any significance—not only between S&K and WH but among all authorized published versions—are spelled out in the footnotes to my variorum critical edition of Moreau, forthcoming from Indiana UP later this year.

6. The onetime existence of a carbon copy of the final typescript of Moreau is inferable both from the fact that such pages survive of earlier drafts and from Wells's repeated instruction (to Bertha Williams) to type up his holograph script "in duplicate." For a further discussion of this and other matters pertaining to the early manuscripts, see my "Revisions of Moreau," in the issue of Cahiers cited in note 3 above, pp. 117-40.

7. H13*, which is part of the University of Illinois Wells Collection, lacks all identifying front matter; but its pagination establishes it to be the text of WH as reset for Heinemann's 1913 reissue.

As to the question of whose hand inscribed alterations in it, the most likely candidate is Dorothy Richardson, who acted for roughly 20 years (until sometime in the mid-1920s) as Wells's personal proofreader: see Anthony West's H. G. Wells: Aspects of a Life (NY, 1984), pp. 241, 251.

8. Presumably the terminus a quo for the first of CE's revisionary moments is December 1897, when the last installment of The War of the Worlds came out in Pearson's Magazine and the book version (Heinemann's) was in preparation.

Steven Lehman (essay date March 1992)

SOURCE: Lehman, Steven. "The Motherless Child in Science Fiction: Frankenstein and Moreau." Science-Fiction Studies 19, no. 1 (March 1992): 49-57.

[In the following essay, Lehman compares the portrayal of scientific experimentation as a substitute for natural reproduction in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and The Island of Doctor Moreau.]

Mary Shelley muses in the Introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein about how "I, then a young girl, came to think of, and dilate upon, so very hideous an idea" (21). Recent scholarship has come to see Frankenstein as a "birth myth" or "fantasmagoria of the nursery" (Moers 92, 99). Ellen Moers and Marc Rubenstein have focussed convincingly on the psychology of the author while she was writing this book. Rubenstein claims that "the horror and retribution attached to the procreative act in the novel make plain the conflicted dimensions of her identification with her mother and with being a mother" (189). Mary Wollstonecraft died shortly after bringing William Godwin's daughter into the world, and Mary Godwin's own daughter by Percy Shelley died in infancy shortly before she embarked on the writing of Frankenstein. Not only did this infant embody the monstrosity of an untimely death, but she also represented socially legislated "monstrosity" by not enjoying legitimate status. Is it any wonder that a young woman adrift in the world, twice the victim of reproductive tragedy, would be seeking a kind of "maternal heartland" (Rubenstein 174) or would be moved to contemplate the horrifying void of its absence?

Frankenstein addresses this most central issue in human experience, as does the H. G. Wells classic The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Mary Shelley's grief over the death of her baby is refracted through the obsession of her "mad scientist" protagonist, Victor Frankenstein. That grief provides the sense of loss and lamentation underlying his megalomaniac hunger for power through procreative science. He says, for example: "I thought, that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in the process of time … renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption" (§4:39). Barbara Johnson accurately describes the victory of Victor Frankenstein as usurping the female role by "giving birth to a child." She goes on to say that Mary Shelley "transposed her own frustrated female pen envy into a tale of catastrophic male womb envy" (8). But Mary Shelley was encouraged on all sides to use her pen, to write, and to participate in the literary world. She could not have been especially frustrated along those lines. On the other hand, she was extremely frustrated, if not tortured, in her basic procreative connection. The two tragic events in her life to that point focussed her attention on the sources of human existence. They provided the anxiety and motivation which resulted in the literary accomplishment of Frankenstein. In Victor Frankenstein, Mary Shelley created a male character who yearned for the existential security of elemental procreative power in the same way that she herself did. The endurance of Frankenstein and its amplification to truly mythic status results from its articulating, "perhaps for the first time in Western literature, the most powerfully felt anxieties of pregnancy" (Mellor 41). The novel was inspired by Mary Shelley's anxieties over pregnancy: it addresses the narcissistic injury suffered by a young male regarding his incapacity for childbirth. Shelley experienced a tragic alienation from the essential sources of life which enabled her to identify, albeit for the most part unconsciously, with this basic male envy of the womb.1

This hypothesis provides another explanation for the profound ambivalence at the core of this novel, often explained in political terms (Suvin 115). The reader naturally has sympathy for the innocent victims of the monster's aggression. That aggression is caused, however, by a society which tortures the innocent and thus transforms them into monsters. Sometimes seen as political vacillation, this ambivalence is traceable to Mary's sensitivity to fundamental psychological dynamics. She was forced by fate to identify with the basic procreative frustrations of men, but she also felt the instinctive drive to become a mother and confirm the natural monopoly of her gender.

The overtly patriarchal orientation of our culture tends to obscure the importance of womb envy. The mystique of male superiority does not admit any kind of inferiority of its own with respect to the "weaker" sex. Though the main thrust of psychoanalysis need not ultimately be supportive of patriarchy, it exemplified in its origins a typical blindness. The preoccupation of Freud with penis envy in the psychological development of children is probably accurate in most respects. However, his writing on the subject shows significant lapses. For example, he refers to little girls as being "castrated" without putting the word in quotation marks—i.e., as if it were a fact. He fails to differentiate between actual castration and the childish fantasy of "castration" which may play a part in psychological development (cf Freud 201). This archetypal Freudian slip might well be taken as indicating a repressed wish for what it literally asserts. With consistent bias Freud largely ignored the other side of the coin. He neglected to explore thoroughly the possibility that little boys might experience a complementary envy of female equipment and of the capacity to give birth.

Male supremacists and some radical feminists seem to agree in a curious way on this issue: the idea of men's envying the essential reproductive power of the female makes no sense from either extreme point of view (van Leeuwin 323). Joanna Russ's denial of womb envy's having any significance in Frankenstein is a case in point. In her 1975 introduction to the Tales and Stories of Mary Shelley, Russ sets up a false dichotomy between Victor Frankenstein's infringing on the territory of God and his trespassing on that of women. She then arbitrarily eliminates the latter as a factor in understanding the novel (14).

A number of other recent interpretations of Frankenstein seem influenced by the need to read a contemporary political agenda into a novel written almost 200 years ago. In 1979, Gilbert and Gubar, Knoepflmacher, and Ellis published studies which all in their own ways see Frankenstein as an attack on the patriarchal family. Against this view, the entirely positive portrayal in the novel of Victor's father, Alphonse, the patriarch of the Frankenstein clan, constitutes a formidable prima facie case.

Another serious problem with each of these treatments is the gender of the protagonists. How are we to understand a feminist attack on patriarchy without a major female character? Kate Ellis attempts to respond to this point in the following way: "If we can imagine a novel in which a woman scientist creates a monster who returns to destroy her family, the relevance to women of the problem that Mary Shelley has imagined becomes more immediately apparent" (140). Considering the gender of a character as a variable detail in the writing, or interpretation, of a piece of literature is questionable. The obvious stress in Mary Shelley's childhood seems to have come from her stepmother in a fairly conventional way. It should not be ignored in this kind of discussion. Whatever critique of patriarchy does exist in Frankenstein is qualified by ambivalence. It is also a secondary thematic concern.

Hill and Vlasopolos take a psychoanalytic approach. They see incest as the mainspring of Frankenstein. This aspect of human relations is often found in the Gothic novel. However, Elizabeth can be seen as symbolizing Victor's mother only in a very limited sense; and his rejection of Elizabeth can be explained quite adequately otherwise in terms of sibling rivalry, especially since Elizabeth is responsible for his mother's death in a fairly direct way (Tropp 22). At the same time, there is the curious necessity of switching genders to extract the desired significance, to see the novel as primarily an expression of the author's incestuous fascination with her father, William Godwin.

Instead of switching genders, another relevant interpretation requires their amalgamation. Peter D. Scott suggested in his contribution to The Endurance of Frankenstein that "the novel describes Victor's fall as Androgyny Lost." Scott sees Mary Shelley as attacking excessive masculinity and "the one-sidedness of male exploratory reason" (190). William Veeder develops this idea at greater length in his critical and biographical study, Mary Shelly and Frankenstein. Citing also the attitude of Walton's sister towards Walton's explorations, he argues that Frankenstein condemns Promethean pursuits in general. Veeder sees both men as bifurcated solipsists destructive of human sensitivity who should become more androgynous (84). True, the excessive ambition of men and their insensitivity to human values are evils thematically attacked in Frankenstein. However, androgyny is a symptom of these evils, not their cure.

In addition to serving as the frame narrator of the novel, Walton is a foil to Frankenstein. He is stealing knowledge of the Arctic map from the gods in traditional Promethean fashion for the benefit of humanity (Poovey 132). He has accepted his limitations as a man and his male role on the fringes of domestic warmth. He accepts the failure of his Promethean quest, too, and shows sensitivity to his sister and crew by returning south. He has a crucial relationship with a significant female-other with whom he is sharing this experience. Her disquiet concerning his excursion (mentioned at the very beginning of the novel) seems hardly enough to discredit it. Without the affectionate sharing between Walton and Margaret, in fact, the story of Frankenstein would have been lost. It passes from Victor to Robert Walton to Margaret to the reader. Without Walton's Promethean pursuit into the far north, this chain of communication would not have existed. Hence, the legacy of the novel according to Veeder—that Promethean pursuits are evil—would not have survived.

Victor Frankenstein, by contrast, flees the affection of his "more than sister" and attempts to usurp her biological female function. He refuses to accept the limitations of his male identity. He is the Modern Prometheus who not only trespasses divine territory, but challenges the divinely ordained, natural procreative role of the female (Kiely 64). In fact, what could be more androgynous that a man having, or making, a baby? Veeder attempts to deal with this point by making a systematic distinction, without a difference, between androgyny and hermaphroditism (99). The amalgamation of gender, however—or the interchangeability of gender—by whatever name is not the solution to Frankenstein's problem. His problem—and it is the central thematic problem of the novel—is that modern science obviates the biological gender distinctions upon which our psychology and society have been built.

Male imperialism into the female domain of procreating life is the central concern of a recent book by Gena Corea titled The Mother Machine. After the female sex-cell was discovered in 1861 and men grasped that they were not the sole genetic parents, they "began recreating the myth of single parenthood by the male, not, this time, through religious or scientific theory, but through technology…. Soon the new reproductive technologies will enable them to actually take over the life-giving powers of women" (310). This takeover was imagined well before 1861 by a young woman whose personal tragedies had enabled her to identify with the "unnatural" male desire to make babies.

Scholars should be instructed by the popular wisdom here. Numerous references can be found in the literature on Frankenstein to the "mistake" of calling the monster by the name of his creator. But folk wisdom understands very well that the monster is the technologically developed child of Victor Frankenstein, and should therefore take the name of his only parent.

In 1955 Bruno Bettelheim published a study of womb envy as a counterbalance to the orthodox Freudian approach. He became interested in the subject while treating four children who were patients in a group home as they encountered puberty. They are analogous to the four young people living in Switzerland, not in number, but in a similar isolation from their respective cultures. Bettelheim observed in his group something comparable to the game of ghost stories which called Frankenstein into existence. Independent of any adult model or authority, Bettelheim's kids invented their own game, or puberty rite, which suggested to him the theory of womb envy he explains in Symbolic Wounds, Puberty Rites, and the Envious Male.2

His study addresses traditional androcentric bias and shows how "women's strivings and influence have affected social institutions which we still explain on a purely masculine basis" (58). Bettelheim calls into question Freud's view that society was "founded on the association of homicidal brothers" in rebellion against the primal father (121). He explains how initiation rites, such as circumcision and baptism, are compensating parodies of female fertility. They are male attempts to "take over, symbolically and collectively, the functions that women perform individually and naturally." They express "men's desire to detract from the importance of childbearing or to cancel their own obligations to women as the source of life" (118). He speculates that men have created the larger forms of society, in fact, to compensate for their collective sense of procreative inferiority (120).

Bettelheim argues that each sex "feels envy in regard to the sexual organs and functions of the other" (19). Women are free to express this envy; but men, because of the "patriarchal dominance which puts them on top, must repress the extent of their longing for the simplicities and indisputable potentialities of being a woman" (11). Perhaps the central meaning of Frankenstein has remained obscure because of this mystique of male superiority. At the same time, the Frankenstein myth continues to obsess us because it articulates basic feelings which are at the core of all human experience.

The story of Frankenstein may serve in our culture as an initiation into awareness of sexual identity. It encourages young men to indulge their envy of female procreative predominance, understand the punishment which awaits trespassing against natural and/or divine limitations in this regard, and renounce their competitive envy in favor of more constructive outlets for their energy. These outlets consist ideally of physical and intellectual labor in the service of family and community. That is, instead of competing with women on a biological playing-field that is not level, they compete with each other in Promethean service to the female who is the source of life. Unfortunately, of course, this ideal has seldom been achieved in reality.3

The thematic content of Frankenstein is not limited to adolescent learning about sexual identity. David Ketterer is correct to emphasize that "it asks questions about the nature of knowledge, its extent, its value, and its reliability. Basically Frankenstein is about the problematical nature of knowledge" (92).

Early in the history of psychoanalysis, Mary Chadwick argued that infantile sexual curiosity motivates and structures all subsequent learning by the individual. She refers in this connection to alchemical attempts to create the homunculus and notes that Paracelsus—a major inspiration for the young Victor Frankenstein—actually left behind a recipe for doing so when he died (65). Chadwick also cites examples of primitive art and myth which symbolize this genitally rooted curiosity by putting eyes on the ends of penises (62). Percy Shelley's famous hallucination provides a comparable image. The very night of the ghost-story challenge that was the inception of Frankenstein, he encountered the vision of a naked woman whose breasts featured eyes in place of nipples (Rossetti 128). Bettelheim seems to suggest that such a vision could be taken as a reversed gender version of the "seeing-penis."4 Purely as agents of species preservation, perhaps, men see with their penises and women with their breasts. In any case, these stark images represent the non-cognitive ways of knowing that each sex envies in the other.

The epistemological content of the Frankenstein myth is not only prefigured in Prometheus, but can also be previewed as mirror images in the Christ and Faustus traditions. As a revolutionary healer, Christ represents the positive aspect of Prometheus. Probably the negative Prometheus, or Faust aspect, is what Veeder senses being thematically rejected by Mary Shelley. All three heroes, at any rate, were punished for their possession of some kind of knowledge.

The theme was reworked in one more very effective version before the end of the 19th century. H. G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau inspired the same outrage upon publication as had Frankenstein, and for very similar reasons. Both depict the takeover of natural female function by crazed male science.

The ship that rescues the narrator at the start of Moreau [The Island of Doctor Moreau ] is called the Lady Vain. Female vanity might well be understood as rooted in women's function as the source of human life. It is after escaping female reproductive predominance, then, that Edward Prendick is "restored to life by a kind of Frankensteinian miracle" through the fortuitous appearance and intercession of Moreau's assistant.5

With difficulty Prendick is finally adopted into the bizarre domesticity which exists on Moreau's island. There are no women, so Dr Moreau and Montgomery play the role of parents to numerous beastlike beings. Prendick discovers gradually that this odd couple is attempting to create human beings from animals. Moreau is employing the latest vivisectionist techniques he has developed in order to bring forth the human form and consciousness out of more primitive biological material. At first, Dr Moreau experimented wildly with whatever forms his imagination could invent, but after creating a monstrous serpent which terrified everyone, he subsequently "stuck to the ideal of humanity—except for little things" (§14:78). Moreau's infringement on divine creative power, or nature in general, thus recedes in importance in favor of his focus on the fashioning of human beings without female participation. Pursuing this goal with increasingly relentless obsession and cruelty leads eventually to the destruction of his macabre home and family.

The thematic statement of Moreau clearly condemns the arrogant usurpation by men of the prerogatives of Mother Nature. Wells's private speculations, outside the commercial requirements of popular literature, were different. In two separate essays published before the novel, he expresses the attitude of the demonic Dr Moreau in positive terms. "The Limits of Individual Plasticity" (1895) shows real enthusiasm for the prospect of using vivisection to mold living creatures "into the most amazing forms" (39). And in "The Province of Pain" (1894), Wells discounts pain as a consideration in such protoplasmic sculpture because of a conviction that lower animals do not feel it as keenly as higher. He also defends Cesare Lombroso's suggestion "that women felt pain less acutely than men" (196).6

Despite the genius of H. G. Wells and his humanitarian commitment, he may be a good example of the gap often found between the ideal and the actual (Christian and Faustian?) performance of Prometheus. His often questioned attitude towards women might best be expressed by the narrator of Tono-Bungay, who devotes himself, instead, to the mistress of scientific truth: "she hides in strange places, she is attained by tortuous and laborious roads, but she is always there! Win her and she will not fail you; she is yours and mankind's forever. She is reality, the one reality I have found in this strange disorder of existence" (§3.3:346). Science, then, can provide a vessel for the germination of the future hopes of men without the emotional risks run in relationships with women. Unfortunately, scientific fact is hardly less mutable in the long run than feminine affection. Like love, the unpredictable tides of scientific innovation can be navigated only with humility.

Perhaps the ultimate disillusionment of Wells's evangelical zeal for science is foreshadowed by this early sympathy for Moreau's attitude. The difference between Victor Frankenstein and Dr Moreau is that the latter never doubts or expresses any regret for his actions. Although founded on doubt, one of the greatest threats to the future of modern science is the absolute hegemony of its rationalist agenda. The other main threat is the vilification of Promethean pursuits, the lack of courage to continually challenge our own ignorance. The Promethean audacity of exploratory logic—and action—is a valuable resource for humanity. However, its only measure of success is service. Moreau is a Faustian Prometheus of the Frankenstein type. He is not serving humanity by his solipsistic rebellion against the scientific status quo. The possibility of such service never occurs to him.

Modern reproductive technology has left both Frankenstein and Moreau far behind. The mapping of the human genome is proceeding at an accelerated pace made possible by the marriage of cytogenetics and cybernetics. Reproduction through direct intervention in the DNA blueprint has become conceivable. Science is making gender increasingly irrelevant, and the motherless child could well emerge soon from the disreputable speculations of SF into the reality of the future.7


1. Considering the intentional fallacy, even a direct statement from Mary Shelley herself might not constitute irrefutable proof of this hypothesis. Upon consideration, however, recognizing her feeling for male reproductive alienation does answer the question of how she came to write this horrific tale. It also points the way toward explaining the incredible endurance of Frankenstein in the western imagination (cf Levine & Knoepflmacher 13).

2. Upon commencing menstruation, the two girls of this group began trying to convince the boys to participate in their physical reality by cutting themselves in a "secret place." A compromise was finally reached whereby the boys would cut their fingers every month and then mix their blood with the menses (Bettelheim, Symbolic Wounds 55). Since the idea of this cutting originated with the girls, apart from any adult influence, Bettelheim suggests that Freud's primal father may not be the only, or primary, inspiration of circumcision and much else.

3. The Bettelheim hypothesis may be wrong, of course. Instead of being a normal phase of development, many or most males may never experience envy of the womb. In that case, womb envy would have to be seen as a strictly pathological phenomenon. Its prevalence in a particular culture, though, might still be a factor in promoting a widespread obsession with a novel like Frankenstein.

4. In discussing "Sleeping Beauty," Bettelheim writes that "complete selfhood comes only with having given life, and with nurturing the one whom one has brought into being: with the baby sucking from the mother's body" (Uses 235). The nurturing nipple is being proposed here as the ultimate means of self- and ultimately world-apprehension. Frankenstein addresses the difficulty which the childless person may experience, then, in perceiving the world to the fullest.

5. Robert M. Philmus points out that two explicit references to Frankenstein were deleted from this beginning passage of the original draft (9, note 3). Mary Shelley's masterpiece was apparently very much on Wells's mind as he embarked on his own project.

6. Wells contradicts Lombroso—and himself—in the final paragraphs of this essay (198). But his overall argument seems clearly in harmony with Lombroso and with the traditional view of woman as closer to nature, and the animal kingdom, than is the human male.

7. In fact, we have already progressed to this point in principle. The survival of the species has become more of a rational alternative than a natural instinct, whether we take a global view (nuclear and environmental doom) or restrict ourselves to the intensely personal. In the last scene of Frankenstein, the monster exclaims: "I, the miserable and abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on" (§24:204). The power to give birth so envied by many, or all, men implies the power not to give birth. Male impotence in the face of the accessibility of modern abortion technology is possibly the source of an even deeper existential dread (Chadwick 67). If it does not find relief through love and in service to the community, this angst will attempt to fill the abyss of its own irrelevance with more of the futile compensations which have brought the world to its present state.

Works Cited

Bettelheim, Bruno. Symbolic Wounds, Puberty Rites, and the Envious Male. NY, 1962.

———. The Uses of Enchantment. NY, 1975.

Chadwick, Mary. "Uber die Wurzel der Wissbegierde." International Zeitschrift fur Psychoanalyse 11:54-68, 1925.

Corea, Gena. The Mother Machine. NY, 1979.

Ellis, Kate. "Monsters in the Garden." Levine & Knoepflmacher. 123-42.

Freud, Sigmund. "Female Sexuality." Trans. James Strachey. Collected Papers. NY, 1959. 5:252-72.

Gilbert, Sandra M., & Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic. New Haven, 1979.

Johnson, Barbara. "My Mother, My Self." Diacritics 12:2-10, Summer 1982.

Kiely, Robert. The Romantic Novel in England. Cambridge, MA, 1972.

Ketterer, David. Frankenstein's Creation: The Book, the Monster, and Human Reality. Victoria, BC, 1979.

Knoepflmacher, U. C. "Thoughts on the Aggression of Daughters." Levine & Knoepflmacher, 88-122.

Levine, George, & U. C. Knoepflmacher, eds. The Endurance of Frankenstein. Berkeley, 1979.

Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. NY, 1988.

Moers, Ellen. Literary Women. London, 1976.

Philmus, Robert M. "The Satiric Ambivalence of The Island of Doctor Moreau." SFS 8:2-11, #23, March 1981.

Poovey, Mary. The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer. Chicago, 1984.

Rossetti, William Michael, ed. The Diary of John William Polidori. London, 1911.

Rubenstein, Marc. "The Search for the Mother in Frankenstein." Studies in Romanticism 15:165-94, Summer 1976.

Russ, Joanna. "Introduction" to Tales and Stories of Mary Shelley. Boston, 1979.

Scott, Peter Dale. "Vital Artifice." Levine. 172-202.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. NY: Bantam, 1981.

Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre. New Haven, 1979.

Tropp, Martin. Mary Shelley's Monster. Boston, 1977.

Van Leeuwin, Kato. "Pregnancy Envy in the Male." International Journal of Psychoanalysis 47:319-24, 1976.

Veeder, William. Mary Shelley and Frankenstein: The Fate of Androgyny. Chicago, 1986.

Wells, H. G. The Island of Doctor Moreau. NY: Signet, 1988.

———. "The Limits of Individual Plasticity" and "The Province of Pain." H. G. Wells: Early Writings in Science and Science Fiction. Ed. Robert M. Philmus & David Y. Hughes. Berkeley, 1975. 36-30 and 194-99.

———. Tono-Bungay. London: Macmillan, 1909.

Robert M. Philmus (essay date July 1992)

SOURCE: Philmus, Robert M. "The Strange Case of Moreau Gets Stranger." Science-Fiction Studies 19, no. 2 (July 1992): 248-50.

[In the following essay, Philmus contends that Henry-D. Davray's French translation of The Island of Doctor Moreau provides insight into Wells's later revisions of the text.]

A couple of years ago, under the heading of "Textual Authority: The Strange Case of The Island of Doctor Moreau " (SFS 17:64-70, #50, March 1990), I discussed, inter alia, what is undoubtedly the most extraordinary of Wells's revisions of Moreau [The Island of Doctor Moreau ]—and perhaps the most extraordinary of his "post-publication" revisions, period. I am referring to the particular copy of the "Colonial Edition" (which appeared towards the end of 1896, about six months after Heinemann's first edition of Moreau ) emended in Wells's own hand and now in the Wells Collection at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. As indicated in my previous note, this copy (hereafter "CE") contains changes far more extensive than those to be found in the Atlantic Edition (the published English-language text which deviates the most from the original Heinemann version). Not only does CE conflate Moreau 's 22 chapters into 14 (retitling all but six of them); it also slates for deletion all but the last two paragraphs of the opening chapter (along with the entire Introduction).1

Wells made such changes using two different writing instruments, which surely correspond to two different revisionary moments; and until very recently, I was under the impression that the most extensive of those moments, so to speak, lay in the chronological vicinity of the Atlantic Edition. What changed my mind was the serendipitous discovery that CE served as the basis for the French translation of Moreau first published in the pages of the Mercure de France in 1900-01, issued in book form in the latter year by the Société de Mercure de France, and apparently still in print as a Livre de Poche.2

This Ile du Docteur Moreau was the work of Henry-D. Davray (1873-1944), an important commentator on the English-language literary scene as well as the translator of numerous fin-de-siècle and early 20th-century works. He was responsible, in whole or in part, for rendering into French 14 of the book-length works by Wells published between 1895 and 1910 (including two nonfiction titles) and five volumes of his short stories. Moreau was the third of Wells's books to appear in Davray's translation in the pages of the Mercure; preceding it were The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. 3

Davray's published account of his dealings with Wells—this in a response to an attack by a fellow-translator on Davray's rendering of Moreau in particular—does not establish CE's exact date, but it does contain some surprising revelations. Writing in the Mercure de France of August 1905, Davray reports:4

The French translations of Wells's works that the Mercure de France has published all present differences, sometimes very great ones, compared to the English text. These modifications, suppressions, and enlargements … are entirely owing to the author.

I read my first work by Wells, The Time Machine, more than a dozen years ago [Davray must mean: when it originally came out], during one of my numerous sojourns in London. Shortly thereafter, I made the acquaintance of its author, and subsequently I had frequent occasions to meet with him. Our relations became the most cordial and our close friendship has never abated. Through a continual correspondence and reciprocal visits several times a year, I keep abreast of his work while he collaborates, so to speak, on my translations by offering unceasing advice and clarifications. Thus he communicated to me the revised texts on which I worked. Besides, the author's corrections improve greatly the text and the works [i.e., locally and overall] in the opinion of people who know them and are competent to judge.

One of the copies that we possess of The Island of Doctor Moreau (Heinemann edition) bears very important corrections that the author made in his own hand. Whenever the English publisher renounces the reprinting of this novel from the existing plates and consents to having it retypeset, it will be a text conforming to the French translation that the English will be reading.

          (p. 635; my translation)

[Les traductions françaises des ouvrages de Wells qu'a publiées le Mercure de France présentent toutes des différences parfois très grandes si on les compare au texte anglais. Ces modifications, suppressions et allongements … incombent entièrement à l'auteur.

Je lus le premier ouvrage de Wells, la Machine à explorer le Temps, il y a plus de douze ans, pendant un de mes nombreux séjours à Londres. Peu de temps après, je fis connaissance de l'auteur, et par la suite j'eus de fréquentes occasions de le rencontrer. Nos relations devinrent des plus cordiales et notre intime amitié, depuis lors, ne s'est jamais démentie. Par une correspondance continuelle, par des visites réciproques plusieurs fois par an, je reste au courant de ses travaux de même qu'il collabore, pour ainsi dire, par d'incessants avis et éclaircissements, à mes traductions. C'est ainsi qu'il m'a communiqué les textes remaniés sur lesquels j'ai travaillé. D'ailleurs, de l'avis des personnes qui les connaissent et qui sont compétentes pour en décider, les corrections de l'auteur améliorent grandement le texte et les oeuvres.

L'un des exemplaires que nous possédons de l'Ile du Docteur Moreau (édition Heinemann) porte les très importantes corrections que l'auteur y fit de sa main. Dès que l'éditeur anglais renoncera à réimprimer ce roman sur des clichés et consentira à le recomposer, c'est un texte conforme à la traduction française que les Anglais pourront lire.]

          (p. 635)

There is no known copy for any of the other titles Davray translated that is comparable to CE; nor was the promise of his last-quoted sentence fulfilled when Heinemann had Moreau reset for the 1913 reissue (though that edition did incorporate some of CE's verbal changes).

Nevertheless, at least part of Davray's testimony has just been confirmed. The University of Illinois is currently negotiating to acquire all or part of the considerable correspondence that he refers to above, comprising more than 150 in letters, perhaps all that Wells sent to him; and conceivably these will serve for ascertaining the precise date of the text Davray was using. Meanwhile, the one document in the Illinois Wells Collection that bears on CE's date is a missive to Wells from William Heinemann dated February 20, 1899. In it, that publisher refers to ongoing negotiations with Mercure for The Time Machine and Moreau —which makes it likely that Wells had by then completed his revisions of the latter.

In any event, Davray's translation leaves no room for doubt that CE represents a revisionary process that Wells had completed by early 1900 at the very latest. But that certainty only deepens the mystery of why Wells altered Moreau so radically within four years of its original appearance.

Since his conflations and excisions only minimally reduce Moreau 's length, it is not tenable to suppose that he was responding to restrictions on space in Mercure's pages. And while it is conceivable that he agreed to delete mention of the wreck of the Meduse on the grounds of its being an episode painful to French sensibilities, that hypothesis would not have dictated—and hence does not account for—the drastic outtakes from chapter one unless we further imagine that he suppressed any (overt) reference to cannibalism (while covertly preserving it in The Red Luck, as he renamed the Ipecacuanha) on his own initiative in response to those reviewers who had found Moreau too lurid. That idea, however, does not account for CE's other deviations from both the English and the American first editions.

Any such hypothesizing, moreover, is considerably complicated by the mystery attending Davray's testimony that CE was meant to replace all other English-language editions at the earliest opportunity. Assuming that Davray knew whereof he spoke, we may wonder why the text as reset by Heinemann in 1913 differs from that publisher's 1896 Moreau chiefly in its omission of Charles Prendick's Introduction.


1. For further details about CE, see "Textual Authority," 66-67; a full description will appear in Appendix 4 of my variorum critical edition of Moreau, which Georgia UP is supposed to release before the end of this year.

2. Davray's L'Ile du Docteur Moreau appeared in the Mercure de France in three installments: the first six chapters in volume 36 (Dec. 1900)-:577-639; the next four in volume 37 (Jan. 1901):99-154; and the final four in the February issue of the same volume, pp. 420-69. The text represents a French equivalent of CE in every respect except one: §8 is titled "Moreau Explique" (i.e., "Moreau Explains") rather than "Man making."

3.Mercure carried Davray's translation of The Time Machine (La machine à explorer le temps) in two monthly installments (December 1898-January 1899) and The War of the Worlds (La guerre des mondes) in four (December 1899-March 1900).

4. I am grateful to my colleague, Jean-Marc Gouanvic, for calling this document to my attention; to David Hughes for details about Heinemann's letter of February 1899; and to Roger Bozzetto for putting me on to Davray—albeit inadvertently—in the first place.

Roger Bozzetto (essay date March 1993)

SOURCE: Bozzetto, Roger. "Moreau's Tragi-Farcical Island." Science-Fiction Studies 20, no. 1 (March 1993): 34-44.

[In the following essay, Bozzetto views The Island of Doctor Moreau as a satire on British colonial attitudes and theological perspectives.]

In the Preface to his Scientific Romances, H. G. Wells counsels readers not to begin with The Island of Doctor Moreau. That work, he writes, is "rather painful" (SR [The Scientific Romances ] 240), for it was composed "under the influence of Swift's tradition" and is "consciously grim" (SR 243).1 In other words, this text occupies a distinct place in the Wellsian oeuvre by reason of the way that it "reflect[s] upon" the human scene (SR 242; see below).

Contemporary criticism of Moreau [The Island of Doctor Moreau ] has been at once fascinated and disconcerted by it. The only thing that all accounts in effect agree on is the difficulty of apprehending the author's intentions.2 This is evident from recent commentaries, which have interpreted Moreau's island as the fictive setting for either Darwinian hypotheses (Ponnau) or religious ones (Beauchamp) and as expressive either of a general iconoclasm (cf Patrick) or of a critique specific to science (Bowen).3 Some focus on the fiction's satiric aspect (cf Philmus), others on its satanic aura (Vissière). In the aggregate, then, these views convey Moreau 's hybrid quality, an aspect of the text perhaps most evident in the fact that the fiction situates itself in a literary tradition extending from Thomas More to Robert Louis Stevenson and comprising, inter alia, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, and even The Tempest.4 Uniting More's irony with a Swiftian sarcasm, Moreau offers a pessimistic, fin-de-siècle image of the hopes born of science,5 placing these in the framework of a new Genesis but looking at them, as it were, through the optics of Frankenstein or The Sorcerer's Apprentice.

Moreau also locates itself in the direct line of polemics concerning the right to colonize—and to "civilize" by force—entire peoples on the pretext of their being (technologically) "inferior." As such, the fiction "reflect[s] upon contemporary political and social discussions" (SR 242) that we most commonly associate with the Rudyard Kipling of the Jungle Books (1894-95) and of his poem on the "civilization" of the colonized, "The White Man's Burden" (1899).6

We should envision Moreau, then, in its diverse dimensions. The island on which it centers at first appears as a terrain for adventures; but these, while re- maining anchored in the reality of the represented world and sharing its solidity and coherence, take on an allegorical coloration as they put to work the elements of various myths. Wells thus utilizes his materials to compose what could be termed a tragical farce, one whose polemical vocation is beyond doubt.

1. The Island as Terrain of Adventure

The island is first presented as the horizon of a castaway. In effect we have a first-person narrative beginning in medias res, with the hero-narrator our only source of information concerning his adventures on the island. We see it through his eyes, apprehend it through his sensations, and experience it through his consciousness; and it is only through him that we know whatever we do know about what the Beast People and the two Whites (Moreau and Montgomery) do and say. But the narrator, Edward Prendick, does not come to the island directly. He first witnesses the wreck of the Lady Vain, the vessel on which he has been voyaging; then the dinghy in which he finds himself half-dead is taken in tow by the Ipecacuanha and its drunken captain, who disencumbers himself of that cargo in sight of what he calls an "infernal island" (IDM [The Island of Doctor Moreau ] §3:16). Only at that point does Prendick embark upon the island that "hasn't got a name" (§2:10), where Montgomery lives as an "outcast from civilisation" in consequence of having "lost [his] head for ten minutes on a foggy night" in London (§4:20). After the scenes of violence and despotism on the boat whose captain proclaims himself "the law and the prophets" (§3:16), the island appears to Prendick as a haven of peace: he sees "this little island" "hidden" "in the dimness" (§4:19) as a refuge. He tells of his approach to it, describing its coastline, bay, beach, coral reefs, and fumeroles, its lava and pumice. If a vague impression of malaise obtrudes itself at this point, its cause is not the island itself but its inhabitants, who prove to be "horrible caricatures of [their] Maker's image" (§17:124).

This unknown island hides a mysterious world. Yet what becomes for the narrator "the Island of Doctor Moreau" (§21:154) once "the Master" dies is situatable in real geographical terms, even though it is "off the track to anywhere" (§6:32). It is somewhere in the Pacific Ocean between Chile, to which Montgomery is returning, and Hawaii, towards which the Ipecacuanha is headed, or between Apia, Samoa's capital, and San Francisco, according to the route followed by the ship that picks up Prendick at the end. In short, the island is in the vicinity of the Galapagos Islands, where Charles Darwin conceived of The Origin of Species.7 Thus it does not have the abstractedness of More's Utopia or of almost all of the nations that Gulliver voyages to; for while lacking a name, its location is more or less ascertainable.

By the same token, the island has a presence—indeed, an intense materiality—throughout the story. Prendick will finally flee the island, leaving its shores behind him, little by little, just as he had approached them. But during his sojourn, he describes its appearance by day and by night as he traverses it and reveals it to us in the course of adventures which take various forms: of a sort of investigation, of panicked flight, of a hunt in which he is the big game, and finally of a hellish struggle in the aftermath of Moreau's demise. He shows us the island's stretches of beach and its recesses, the forests, ravine, and grottoes where strange people with curious rites dwell. He depicts for us the rapid progress of tropical twilight, the sudden advent of darkness and the dangers that come with it as night promotes the reascension among the inhabitants "civilized" by Moreau of the animality that his Law would proscribe. Through its continual material presence the island plays an important role. It makes a simple and naïve witness into a curious and horrified actor, a combatant, and a psychological exile. Meanwhile the text itself insists upon this aspect of insularity: the vocable island recurs some 30 times, accompanied by various qualifiers. The massive presence of the reality of the island thus provides a topographical grounding, a "realist" framework, reminiscent of the adventure stories of Jules Verne or Stevenson.

Yet entwined with this particular adventure-story is a mystery which in fact conceals an inquietude more profound than that which one senses not only in the inhabitants subject to the Law, but also in the two White demiurges. Things and events are agonizing on this island that Moreau characterizes as a "biological station" (§6:32): like "a kind of Bluebeard's Chamber" (§7:36), it hides a secret. For over ten years, this isle, which seems always to have been inhabited, has been occupied by Moreau and Montgomery. Both of them have been driven out of England: Moreau in consequence of his recklessness of the suffering he began inflicting on his experimental animals once he had "fallen under the overmastering spell of research" (§7:40), Montgomery for an indiscretion significant enough that he cannot envisage returning to England. The narrator makes us gradually penetrate this universe where his curiosity, like his false interpretations, tends to promote the breakdown of the artificial ecological order operative be- tween the Whites and the Beast People, between the actual human beings and those which appear as "grotesque human figures" (§9:49)—the only islanders remaining after the death of the first Kanaka servants.

After the deaths of Moreau and Montgomery, Prendick remains for ten months, the sole human being on the island. At this point his sense perceptions of the place recede before his reflections about it: the narrator, that is, effaces himself in favor of the philosophic commentator who is the island's prisoner. Correlatively, the interest in Prendick's adventures transfers itself to the meaning of Dr Moreau's project. Without losing that material presence which prompted Joseph Conrad to call Wells a "Realist of the Fantastic" (Jean-Aubry 1:259), the adventure story thereupon assumes an allegorical sense.

2. The Island as Allegorical Site

The fiction, by reason of the ideologically charged materials that it brews together, prompts a host of contrasting interpretations of it: as utopian, satiric, religious, or grotesque. Let us look into these.

Do we find ourselves within the framework of a utopia? Certainly not in the way we do with More's Utopia. That text is discursive much more than it is narrative; and its island becomes a place, cut off from History, where a Different Possibility can incarnate itself.8 Besides, we never see this island of More's. In addition, it is named after its absence—utopia signifying non-place. That is to say, it appears as an intellectual landscape within the framework of a speculation, resembling what Francis Bacon called the "experiencia litterata."9 In other respects, Utopia sustains a programmatic discourse, as does Moreau ; but in More this is omnipresent, whereas in Wells it occupies mainly chapter 14, "Doctor Moreau Explains." So, too, More presents us with an artificial island for experimenting on natural human beings; Wells with a natural island for experimenting on artificial human beings. And while More's humans are abstract, Moreau's animals are palpable, infused with the power of instinct, which ends by resurfacing.

Could Moreau then be a dystopia? Not really. For one thing, an island featured as such cannot be the site of a dystopia, premised as that is on a totalizing utopian project—i.e., one whose realization is supposed to entail the take-over of the whole world.10 In the dystopia, we witness a human revolt, involving the creation or rediscovery of subjectivity, in the face of an awareness that the utopia bases itself on a social lie. For the same reason, the dystopia is an act of aggression against the utopia, and specifically against its collectivist assumptions—an attack launched in the name of an individualism sustained by economic liberalism. Can we really transpose this thematic on Moreau ? Can the raising of consciousness in humans enslaved by a utopian system be compared to the resurgence of instinct in animals "civilized" by force? This is even less tenable once we note that this reaction on the part of the Beast People occurs on a large scale only after the death of Moreau calls the Law and its constraints into question.

An atypical and perhaps "satanic" utopia, Wells's text also fits into another tradition: that of the philosophical tale linked to an island. Like Robinson Crusoe, Montgomery attempted to transform the Beast People into docile Fridays. Like Gulliver after his fourth voyage, Prendick leaves his island only to find again in London an underlying animality in human faces, as well as simian chatter in the sermons of clergymen ("the preacher gibbered Big Thinks even as the Ape Man has done" [§22:172]).

Like Dr Frankenstein, Moreau plays sorcerer's apprentice.11 But why does this result in the "grotesque," when that is not the case with either Mary Shelley's Dr Frankenstein or with Swift or Defoe? The immediate answer may lie in part with the fact that those three precedessors of Wells's, following the model of the conte philosophique, designed their semi-didactic fictions to demonstrate clear theses—theses even clearer because, as in More, they remain abstract, or pure speculations. Wells's text, on the other hand, exhibits no such single-minded intent. It has Darwin's theory of evolution, especially as it contradicts religious creationism, as its scientific and philosophical basis; but Darwin remains largely in the background, as the point of departure of a fiction whose informing idea has to do with the plasticity of species. Yet—and this is what makes for Moreau 's ambiguity—Wells is not simply "pushing [that hypothesis] to the fictional limit" for the sake of extrapolatively proving it (Verdonck 62-63). In fact, the plot calls plasticity into question by depicting its double failure: first, with regard to the grotesque results Moreau obtains through the surgery combined with hypnosis; second—and more tellingly—because even those achievements turn out to be ephemeral. Moreau, who wished to be a demiurge, is killed by one of his own creatures; he wanted to be master of the Tables of the Law, which, however, is quickly forgotten once he disappears from the scene.

Yet, for all that, the divine Creation does not emerge as superior. Instead, it seems to be as much without meaning or purpose as the doctor's, thanks largely to the human animality which reappears constantly to the unblinking eyes of the narrator after Moreau's demise. Certainly Montgomery's pronouncement about "This silly ass of a world" (§19:137) applies as well to the world at large—and all the more so if we take it as an ironic echo of Miranda's affirmation in The Tempest upon discovering that there are men on her island: "O Brave New World." By the same token, his words may also serve to connect the satirical derision directed against humankind with that attaching to Moreau as "a theological grotesque" (Preface to the Atlantic Ed. of IDM ix).

The multiplicity of readings just indicated allows us to glimpse a richness of interpretative possibilities which reveal the presence of a figurative meaning that resists any reduction to univocal or unambiguous allegory.12 This in turn encourages us to consider Moreau as a fiction which creates a mythical space.

3. The Island as Mythical Space

It is appropriate to talk of mythical space, rather than of myth. Myth is in fact a figurative discourse in the form of a narrative, one which offers an answer to a fundamental human question. Accordingly, myth is constative, despite its fictional form. This is not generally the case with Wells's "scientific romances." While they clearly present themselves as fictions that encourage a figurative reading, they do not proceed by assertion or lend themselves to a dogmatic reading; instead they leave open the question they deal with, prompting reflection more than eliciting an answer. This has already been evident in the epilogue to The Time Machine, and will soon be so again in The War of the Worlds. As for Moreau, its satirical and iconoclastic tone is far from the assertive aspect of myth. Still, the fact that it refers to and borrows elements from many myths invites us to inquire whether Moreau constitutes a myth itself.

First of all, we might note that the time Prendick spends on the island is framed, as in many "heroic myths," by shipwreck and death. On the first dinghy, he sees his companions fight one another and die, and again two dead people (one of whom seems to have been the captain of the Ipecacuanha) pilot the boat which helps him to escape from the island and return to London. In both of these cases, as with the two white men on the island, Prendick remains each time the "living third," the sole surviving witness to the death of his companions, the chosen one, the spokesman. This repeated motif also places the narrative against an epic-motif background: the initiate returned from the land of the dead.

Furthermore, he has returned to civilization after having lived close to animality. He comes back from a beyond, which justifies his distanced testimony and his visions of humankind as still sunk in animality. This testimony of one who has been "beyond" is close to the narrative of Wells's Time Traveller (cf Ponnau 77, 86).

The encounter with animality is made through the intermediation of science, embodied by Moreau.13 But by playing the demiurge, Moreau gives a religious dimension to his actions. The island becomes, then, a laboratory version of Genesis, the text for its own purposes recapitulating in a burlesque manner the Creationist hypothesis, with Moreau in the role of God.14

The irony of the thing demands that this human achievement which results, from a Creationist perspective, in a "travesty of humanity" (§14:99), be connected with the evolutionist hypothesis.15 And, in fact, what Moreau is doing is playing at replacing evolution—and quite gratuitously, because he proceeds arbitrarily and in the absence of finality. The text, then, clearly offers us a double stratum, evincing elements of Judeo-Christian myth, but without in itself constituting a new myth.

In this way or any other, the recasting or bringing up to date of a myth is never, of course, gratuitous; it is always done within a contextual framework which tends to account for and clarify it. The reappearance, for example, of the myth of Prometheus and of his avatar Frankenstein in the 19th century is not due to chance. We should therefore ask in what manner the Wellsian variation on Genesis in conjunction with the utopian island is specific to the end of that century? In what way does it seem to respond also to a questioning of the presuppositions of the "civilization" of other peoples?

4. A Calling into Question of Colonial Myths?

Here we should examine the text on four points: the role of the captain of the Ipecacuanha, the elimination of the Kanakas, the presence of the Law, and the return to animality.

On the ship, the captain represents "the law and the prophets," as Moreau does on the island; he is in a way the counterpart of a divine or satanic Moreau.16 Now if the ship metaphorically represents humanity, as it has since at least The Ship of Fools, it is also—perhaps especially in the 19th century—a metaphor for civil society and its hierarchization. (Here we might think of Melville, in Typee as much as in Moby-Dick.) The Ipecacuanha, which according to Montgomery came "out of the land of born fools" (§2:8), is thus to be understood as a microcosm of a society founded on brutality and arbitrariness; and the captain, drunk, bestial, and arbitrary, is the obscene embodiment of the Law in Prendick's society of origin, England.

Moreau on his island operates somewhat like the captain: he tends to treat the Beast People as sub-human beings whom he brought into submission by force and would keep submissive by making them obey the laws that he arbitrarily imposes on them. Prendick certainly finds himself in between two mental universes, but both function according to the same system: that of a law which, serving the interests of one, has been raised up to a universal Law, as much on the island as on the ship.

On the island this Law is supposed to be that of civilization—i.e., it is the whole collection of rules and customs that allows the White Man to distinguish himself from the animal—supposedly; we saw one of the results with the captain—but also from other peoples. For otherwise there is no valid reason why the narrative requires the disappearance of the Kanakas. The island becomes a colony, territory that the White Man can appropriate and populate as he wishes. As Moreau puts it, "I remember the green stillness of the island and the empty ocean about us…. [T]he place seemed waiting for me" (§14:94; emphasis added). It was necessary, then, that the Kanakas be there in the beginning for the ancillary work; but as soon as the animals began to be "civilized"—that is to say, transformed, or for some, broken to the saddle, so to speak—the presence of Kanaka servants became superfluous. In a similar manner, the Europeans, after decimating and driving away the Indians, populated America with African slaves.17

From this perspective, it is possible to identify the satiric aspect of a Law inculcated through fear (the House of Pain), hypnotism, and repetition in the course of confirmation ceremonies (§16:115). The animals no longer follow their instincts or their habits: they have been not only transformed but transported to a terra incognita, there to be subjected to a life which is foreign to them and which runs contrary to all of their natural inclinations. They have, in short, been "civilized" as well as "humanized." But there is something distinctly farcical about this "civilization" which presents itself as the only way possible of "humanization," and not just because it contributes to the grotesqueness of the Beast People but because it entails a simple adherence to the rules of Victorian decorum (think of the prescribed monogamy, of "decency" being set forth as a necessity). Indeed, it is tellingly reminiscent of the behavior of the clergymen in the South Seas, if we are to believe the Melville of Typee and Omoo.

What we have here, as various commentators have remarked, is Wells's ironic revision of the man-cub Mowgli learning the Law in Kipling's first Jungle Book. The connection, however, goes further than literary parody. Kipling, after all, was not simply the marvellous storyteller; he also "sung the hymn of the dominant bourgeoisie, the war march of the white man round the world, the triumphant paean of commercialism and imperialism" (London 72). And it is this ideological stance which Wells concretizes in Moreau. There we find a farcical parody of the ambitions of "civilization," understood as involving the enslavement of other peoples in the name of the natural, almost divine, superiority of the White Man.18 The outcome is that as soon as Moreau dies, the Law—which is only a veneer, uninternalized by his "creatures" because it did not answer to any need—is lost. The Victorian and colonialist varnish peels away, and the animals' original customs, vital and authentic, reclaim their place and their rights. The myth of the "civilization" of barbaric peoples by European nations, and particularly by England within the framework of the Empire—a myth no doubt initiated by Robinson Crusoe—Wells here presents derisively as a farcical tragedy.

5. Conclusion

Like all important texts, Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau is immensely rich and gives rise to coherent yet multiple interpretations that are consequently irreducible to a simple allegorization. Here are some of its strata….

At first Wells wanted to write an adventure novel (he at one point titled the first part of his original, largely discarded, draft: The Mystery of the Island). It is certain that in the meantime he re-read Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, while taking an interest in the plasticity of species, perhaps with an eye to a problem which fascinated the paleontologists of the period: that of the "missing link."19 Furthermore, as Wells himself averred, he locates himself through his tone within a Swiftian perspective.

Towards what is the resultant satire directed?

Moreau is a kind of avatar of Prospero, but in a different context. We are no longer within the ambit of the Faustian enthusiasm of the Renaissance, but rather in that of a more somber and pessimistic fin-de-siècle mentality. Here science and ethics, as they bear on the notion of "civilization," diverge. This divergence, denied in the dominant Victorian discourse, especially underlies the cold sarcasm of Moreau as a "theological grotesque."

The Island of Doctor Moreau is also, and in the same sense, an ideological grotesque. It situates itself at the confluence of two realities: that of the development of science and technology and that of colonization—both of them linked within the mindset as well as the events of the time. This fostered two types of fiction: that of the eulogists of Empire, science, and "civilization," and that of writers like Wells, who in Moreau parodies those attitudes in the form of a farcical tragedy.


1. By way of explaining "consciously grim," Wells (after characterizing Moreau as "an exercise in youthful blasphemy") goes on to say: "Now and then … the universe projects itself towards me in a hideous grimace. It grimaced that time [i.e., in the writing of Moreau], and I did my best to express my vision of the aimless torture of creation" (243—this and other quotations from SR cite the text as reprinted in Parrinder & Philmus). That "vision" ties in with Moreau's project as Prendick comes to see it: "Had Moreau had any intelligible object I could have sympathised at least a little with him…. But he was so irresponsible, so utterly careless" (§16:123; this and other quotations from Moreau come from the Atlantic Edition). Wells reiterates Moreau's debt to Swift in the Atlantic Preface: "the influence of Swift is very apparent in it" (ix).

2. At least one early (anonymous) reviewer (for The Guardian) in effect made this point: "Sometimes one is inclined to think the intention of the author has been to satirise and rebuke the presumption of science; at other times his object seems to be to parody the work of the Creator of the human race and cast contempt upon the dealings of God with His creatures" (Parrinder, ed. 53).

3. "Most utopias have been more significant and influential in their normative and iconoclastic functions than as ideals and models" (Patrick 157).

4. I am not alone in seeing Moreau's connections with The Tempest and Gulliver's Travels: cf Philmus (1993) xxiii, and also xxvii where he contends that Wells "darwinizes" Swift's Yahoos.

5. The relationship between The Time Machine and Moreau and fin-de-siècle ideology (as aesthetic) has been discussed by Bergonzi in both his essay and book cited below.

6. Bergonzi (1961) talks about Moreau vis-à-vis Kipling (103). We might add that it is possible to see in the destruction of Moreau's "biological station" (as synechdoche for "advanced civilization") a premonition of the violence that would later bring about decolonialization.

7. All of this is not, of course, a matter of/for deduction in the first (English and American) editions of Moreau, wherein Charles Prendick gives the coordinates for the island (and names it as Noble's Isle) in his "Introduction."

8. Utopus, it will be remembered, chooses a quasiisland to transform into an island, a place cut off from the rest of the Earth and hence, symbolically, from History.

9. In De dignitate et augmentis scientarum (1623), Bacon proposes eight ways, all of which he calls "experientia litterata," or "Learned Experiences"—guided experiments, really (i.e., mastered in their conceptualization)—for manipulating/ordering empirically-acquired knowledge: Variation, Production, Translation, Inversion, etc. (see Spedding, ed., 413ff.).

10. It is advisable, I think, to differentiate the pure dystopian form of the 1984 type from "satiric utopias" (which are in fact satiric Arcadias) such as one finds in Swift (or in Moreau, for that matter). See my "La subversion …," 159-60.

11. In the first version of Moreau (for which see Appendix 1 of Philmus's edition), the doctor, Frankenstein-like, resuscitates a Prendick who is almost dead; and later Prendick discusses Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with a Mrs Moreau.

12. In his Preface to the Atlantic Edition, Wells declares that Moreau "embodies" "the internal conflict between instinct and injunction," but "apart from this embodiment … [the story] has no allegorical quality" (ix).

13. Moreau's transformation of animals recasts the myth of Circe, whose son (Comus) is expressly referred to in chapter 7. See Loing 200ff., and also Philmus (1993) 94, n. 38.

14. This is the context for understanding certain passages in Moreau which directly echo the Bible—particularly those appearing in the chapter (14) wherein Prendick interviews Old Moreau, previously described as a "dark figure" with an "awful white face" (§12:77) in his laboratory. There, inter alia, the doctor says (of his attempt to make "my first man"): "All the week, night and day, I moulded him [a gorilla]," and thereafter "I rested" (§14:95, 96). He also mentions a certain unsuccessful experiment whose result is reminiscent of the Serpent that brings Death into Paradise (see §14:97). Also in evidence, though less significant, are the textual evocations of the New Testament—e.g., Prendick's insistence (for purposes of continuing to control the Beast People) that Moreau "is not dead. Even now he watches us" (§21:157).

15. In a way, Moreau's "creation" is not Darwinian: it is owing, not to the "survival of the fittest," but to an exercise of technically superior will. Furthermore, Moreau as creator is at once "as remorseless as Nature" (§14:94) and also an "esthete of science" (as Ponnau remarks: 84). Finally, we may wonder whether Wells is treating in his own fashion the problem of the Missing Link that so fascinated biologists of the time. Moreau, after all, is a close contemporary of, say, Austin Bierbower's From Monkey to Man; or, The Society of the Tiercery Age. A Story of the Missing Link, Showing the First Steps of Industry (1894); and let's remember also that Rosny the Elder dealt with the same problem, albeit from a quite different perspective, in Les Profondeurs de Kyamo (1896).

16. Loing (190ff.) implies that Moreau is at one and the same time Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the Devil and the Good Lord.

17. Philmus offers a slightly different account in his 1981 essay. Wells began writing a "gothic mystery" on the model of Jekyll and Hyde, but then read Frank Challice Constable's The Curse of Intellect (1895), the story of an educated monkey that revolts against and kills its master. Wells thereupon recast his fiction to depict the conflict between instinct and education (as Wells himself says in slightly other words in the passage quoted in note 12 above).

18. Prendick himself does not appear totally as a representative of this (active) "superior civilization": he is a kind of intellectual, a "belle âme," who rather than acting, reports and reflects upon what he sees … and largely remains terrorized, almost up until the very last paragraph of the book.

19. See n. 15 above.

Works Cited

Bacon, Francis. De dignitate et augmentis scientarum [1623]. See Spedding.

Beauchamp, Gordon. "The Island of Dr. Moreau as Theological Grotesque." Papers in Language and Literature 15:408-17, 1979.

Bergonzi, Bernard. The Early H. G. Wells: A Study of the Scientific Romances. Manchester, UK, 1961.

———. "The Time Machine: An Ironic Myth." Critical Quarterly 2:293-305, 1960.

Bowen, Roger. "Science, Myth, and Fiction in H. G. Wells's Island of Dr Moreau." Studies in the Novel 8:318-35, 1976.

Bozzetto, Roger. "La subversion de l'utopie par le récit." Autrement dire 1/2. Nancy, FR, 1987. 155-68.

Jean-Aubry, G[eorges]. Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters. 2 vols. Garden City, NY, 1927.

Loing, Bernard. H. G. Wells à l'oeuvre: les débuts d'un écrivain (1894-1900). Paris, 1984.

London, Jack. "These Bones Shall Rise Again." No Mentor But Myself: A Collection of Articles, & c. Ed. Dale L. Walker. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1979. 65-72.

Parrinder, Patrick, ed. H. G. Wells: The Critical Heritage. London & Boston, 1972.

Parrinder, Patrick & Robert M. Philmus, eds. H. G. Wells's Literary Criticism. Brighton, UK: Harvester Press, and Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble, 1980.

Patrick, J. Max. "Iconoclasm, the Complement of Utopianism." SFS 3:157-61, #9, July 1976.

Philmus, Robert M. "The Satiric Ambivalence of The Island of Doctor Moreau," SFS 8:2-11, #23, March 1981.

Philmus, Robert M., ed. The Island of Doctor Moreau. A Variorum Text. Athens, GA & London: University of Georgia Press, 1993.

Ponnau, Gwenhaël. "La preuve par deux du darwinisme." Europe #681 2:76-88, Jan.-Feb. 1966.

Spedding, James, et al. The Works of Francis Bacon, vol. 4. London: Longman, 1860.

Verdonck, Eric. "L'Ile du docteur Moreau, ou l'hypothèse de ‘la plasticité des espèces’ examinée." Cahiers de l'imaginaire #15/16:59-67, 1985.

Vissière, J. L. "L'Utopie satanique: L'Ile du docteur Moreau." Europe #681 2:65-69, Jan.-Feb. 1966.

Wells, H. G. The Island of Doctor Moreau. The Atlantic Edition, vol. 2. London: T. Fisher Unwin, and NY: Chas. Scribner's, 1924.

———. "Preface to The Scientific Romances …" In Parrinder & Philmus, eds., 240-45.

Nancy Steffen-Fluhr (essay date July 1993)

SOURCE: Steffen-Fluhr, Nancy. "The Definitive Moreau." Science-Fiction Studies 20, no. 2 (July 1993): 433-39.

[In the following essay, Steffen-Fluhr characterizes The Island of Doctor Moreau: A Variorum Text, edited by Robert M. Philmus, as a well-researched and definitive text, yet overly academic and devoid of fresh critical insights.]

Patrick Parrinder once compared the job of editing a Wells text to the act of walking through a minefield (121). If so, then Robert M. Philmus has emerged remarkably intact from his long walk through The Island of Doctor Moreau. Unlike Harry Geduld's useful but undefinitive The Definitive Time Machine (1987), Philmus's variorum Moreau is the real thing: an authoritative critical text, exhaustively researched and scrupulously edited.1 It is the first of its kind for a Wells novel, or any work of SF for that matter, and it is an essential purchase for anyone seriously interested in Wells, SF, or the Fin de Siècle.


The need for an authoritative text of Moreau is pressing on several accounts. First, Wells's literary stock has been quietly on the rise for some time now. As we move toward the next turn-of-the-century, there is a culminating interest in the last, and Wells is a crucial figure in this transition. Secondly, recent critical theory and practice finds fertile ground in Wells's scientific romances of the 1890s, for many of the same reasons that Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has stirred new interest (cf Veeder). Of the romances, The Time Machine has previously received most attention, but for those of us interested in decoding "body language," The Island of Doctor Moreau is even more fascinating for the ways in which issues of gender and class intersect in the image of the body in pain. Along with The Invisible Man (another body-in-pain book), Moreau is arguably the most intensely physical and visual of Wells's early work—the centerpiece of his red, black, and white period. It deserves the careful treatment Philmus has given it.2


Some years ago, David Lake argued for the Atlantic Edition (1924, hereafter AtEd) as authoritative in indicating "Wells's final intentions."3 Philmus begins by breaking this rule, for a number of good reasons. He uses as his basic copy-text the first American edition of Moreau (1896), published by Stone and Kimball (S&K).4 Philmus argues that AtEd qualifies as a corrupt text: it was apparently based on the 1913 Heinemann edition (H13), which multiplied the typographical errors of the first Heinemann edition (WH). Moreover, the particular copy of H13 which served as the basis for AtEd contained emendations written in a hand other than Wells's (Dorothy Richardson's?); although Wells himself presumably authorized all these changes, they do not include some alterations made in the Colonial Edition (CE), which are in Wells's own hand. Far more importantly, Philmus argues against the assumption of Lake and others that "last is best." Philmus stresses that the 1924 Wells who edited AtEd was out of touch and "alienated" from the 1896 Wells who wrote Moreau. 5

Having eliminated AtEd as a possible copy-text, Philmus is left with a choice between WH and S&K. He argues back and forth at some length, trying to establish which is the last revised; but the evidence is ambiguous. Philmus's aesthetic instincts draw him toward S&K as the "subtler rendering," and he ultimately chooses it as his copy-text.6 However, he is unwilling to abandon WH altogether—hence his variorum approach.7


In addition to the variorum text itself, the footnotes to that text, Philmus's Introduction, endnotes, and annotations—there are eight separate appendices. The first and most important of these contains a transcription of the 112-page surviving fragment of Wells's first draft of Moreau (circa 1894, hereafter "the First Moreau"), annotated, with Wells's emendations and deletions supplied in footnotes. This draft material, housed in the Illinois Wells collection, has never before been published, and access to it alone is worth the price of the book for anyone seriously interested in Wells.

Of the remaining seven appendices, three are devoted to specialized textual matters which complete Philmus's variorum scheme.8 Appendices 5 and 6 provide material which helps place Moreau in proper intellectual context. Especially useful is an annotated first draft of the essay, "Human Evolution, an Artificial Process" (published in 1896 but probably written earlier), in which Wells discusses the internal conflict between "natural man" ("the culminating ape") and "artificial man" ("the creature of tradition, suggestion, and reasoned thought").9 The final two sections trace the influence of Moreau. In Appendix 7, "Moreau's Literary ‘Children,’" Philmus summarizes and briefly analyzes the plots of 12 books which he deems to have been directly shaped by Moreau, including Wells's own 1936 The Croquet Player (but oddly not his 1928 Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island ). Appendix 8 provides plot summaries and analyses of one stage and five film adaptations of Moreau. The book concludes with a Selective Bibliography.


I have two principal reservations about Philmus's volume: first, that its design does not always reflect a clear answer to the question "who will read/buy this book?" and, secondly, that the interpretation of the novel it provides breaks no new critical ground. The latter problem may be a function of the former.

In deciding how to present Moreau, Philmus most often seems to assume a reader who is rather like himself, a professional scholar and a fellow Wellsian—someone concerned with precise textual accuracy, a collector of lore. His use of a variorum format, for instance, serves the needs of this audience very well. It permits the reader to make minute textual comparisons without continually having to flip to the end of the book. It builds up a thick description of Wells's composition process, in ‘real time,’ as it were. The needs of the general reader are less well served by this format, however. The constant footnoting required, combined with equally frequent endnote numbering, creates a speckled page which may be distracting to the uninitiated. Indeed, the entire textual apparatus, admirable for its scholarly completeness, may seem a bit formidable to those who are simply trying to read the novel. Such readers might have preferred a format similar to that used in the Cambridge Edition of D. H. Lawrence's work which results in a cleaner page, without significant compromise of textual authority.10

The annotations themselves serve both audiences quite well; one is free to browse as much or as little as one likes. There are gems which will give special pleasure to committed Wellsians—Philmus's identification of "Caplatzi's" as an emporium purveying technical and scientific equipment, for instance (91); but there is much general background information as well—the meaning of "Comus rout," "Mahomet's houris," etc. The annotations also allow Philmus an opportunity to enrich his interpretation of the novel's themes, as in his discussion of the name "Lady Vain" (89).

Appendix 7, "Moreau's Literary Children," is a labor of love which obviously took much time and effort to produce; however, it will appeal primarily to the collector of Wellsiana. Most of the titles are "recherché" and long out of print. The general reader might have preferred more material by and about Wells—a reprint of his 1894 essay "The Province of Pain," for instance. Appendix 8, "Stage and Screen Adaptations" has broader appeal and provides Philmus with greater opportunity for interpretive play, especially since the films tend to foreground elements of the feminine and the sexual which have been suppressed in Wells's text.

Philmus seems to have made few concessions to the undergraduate student reader; there is no time-line, for instance, and no base-level discussion of the crucial source texts (Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Origin of Species, etc). Both his prose style and his cultural assumptions seem pitched to a general reader who is, again, rather like Philmus himself, lacking only his specialized knowledge. Perhaps he has simply written off the undergraduate market; at $40, this volume is much too expensive to serve as a teaching text anyway—although, as I have suggested, it is something of a bargain as scholarly books go, especially since the inclusion of the First Moreau saves future Wellsians the cost of a plane trip to Illinois.


Graduate students and younger academics may have quite a different set of problems with Philmus's text—or, rather, with his interpretive introduction and annotations. If the variorum format has been designed to meet the needs of the specialist, Philmus's "Introducing Moreau" seems to have been designed for the general (albeit educated) reader. It provides a sensible, always serviceable analysis of Wells's overt themes, in the context of his intellectual life and times; however, for those of us who are interested in the psychodynamics of Horror and the Uncanny, in the complexities of "body language" and the construction of late Victorian masculinities, Philmus's reading may feel somewhat flat and lacking in nuance.

Philmus sees Moreau primarily as a Swiftian satire which conveys Wells's shifting ambivalence about civilization and its discontents. For Wells, civilized behavior was at once a mask, a thin, hypocritical veneer covering ancient, animalistic passions, and yet also a saving bulwark against the destructive force of those passions—the "artificial factor" which allows hope that human beings might survive and progress into something higher and finer, or at least something less driven. The bipartite structure of the novel mirrors the bipartite structure of Wells's thoughts on the puzzle of human evolution.

Philmus spends considerable time demonstrating how this final Swiftian satire emerged from the gothic horror story which constituted the First Moreau —a horror story clearly influenced by Mary Shelley, Poe, and, most of all perhaps, R. L. Stevenson, whose 1886 Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde served Wells as something of an Ur text.11 I have little quarrel with anything Philmus says; yet I am frustrated by the things he does not say. The textual materials he has provided (especially his transcription of the First Moreau ) suggest, at least to me, a rich network of connections and meanings which he does not fully explore.

This is not to say that Philmus's introduction is lacking in insight. For example, he begins very perceptively by stressing that this book about bodies and body problems was written by a young man whose own body was apparently failing him. Philmus opens this door to interpretation only to close it, however. He does not consistently read the body language in Wells's text(s) or make longitudinal connections between the bodies in this text and in other of Wells's 1890s SF. He sees certain satiric similarities between the Morlocks, the Beast People, and the Martians, but does not discuss the Invisible Man at all (despite the recurrent image of the crying, bandage-swathed body, to mention but one similarity [cf Crossley, 182]).

The very skills and habits of mind which make Philmus such a great editor may render him naturally cautious when it comes to analysis. He is reluctant to speculate about matters he cannot document.12 Also, Philmus likes Wells, thinks that what he had to say is important. Philmus's Wells is not "the best and wisest man I have ever known," a figure which pops up frequently in back numbers of The Wellsian. He is a more complex being than that; but he is basically all right—resilient, more ironic and self-deprecating than self-pitying. He is not simply a problematic specimen of late Victorian masculinity.13

In this regard, it is significant that Philmus does not mention any of the recent and very interesting "body work" on Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (cf Veeder), or, for that matter, any of the equally interesting work on Shelley's Frankenstein. One of the most useful features of Philmus's volume is that his transcription of the First Moreau establishes beyond doubt that these two texts were very much on Wells's mind when he began composing Moreau, much more so, perhaps, than Gulliver's Travels. Philmus pays attention to these sources, most usefully to the theme of the usurping male man-maker. His argument is limited, however, by what I at least believe to be a somewhat simplistic reading of Dr Jekyll as an exercise in "latter-day Calvinism" (xxi). As Jerrold Hogle and others have suggested, Dr Jekyll is not simply about bipolar self-division but about complex rituals of male rivalry and complicity designed to reinforce bipolar thinking and thus to reinforce the boundaries which exile the feminine from the male self (cf Veeder). That is, like Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll is about the ways in which men make men, about fantasized causa sui projects in which women have no part. (Thus does Jekyll give birth to Hyde out of his own pain-wracked body.) It seems to me that these very same patterns are at work in Wells's Moreau which, especially in its final draft, concerns a community of Monks of Science quite similar in its conflicts and complicities to the all-male world of Stevenson's book.14 This connection needs to be more fully explored, not merely for what is says about Wells's corpus but for what it says about the body in the late Victorian text in general (cf Hurley and Showalter).

If Philmus has not supplied us with all the answers to the puzzles of the gendered body presented in Wells's text, he has, at the very least, provided us with a greatly enriched stratum of material to mine. In this sense, and in many others, his Moreau, despite all my carping, is definitive. That is, it establishes a textual base on which the next hundred years of Wellsian scholarship will be built … presuming that Humanity has another 100 years left for Big Thinks. Wells himself was never quite sure about that.


1. For a critique of Geduld, see Lake, "Undefinitive Wells."

2. At present, Philmus's edition aside, there are four Moreaus in print in the US, although only two of them seem to be "in stock": an Airmont paperback ("indefinitely out of stock"), which follows the 1927 "Essex edition" (a corrected reprint of AtEd); a Signet Classic (Penguin) paperback; an $18 cloth volume from Bentley which reprints the 1933 Duffield and Green edition (itself probably a reprint of S&K); and a $33 hardbound from Buccaneer Books ("out of stock"), provenance unknown. According to David Lake, the Penguin reprint contains "a repulsive hoard of errors" (5). Philmus notes that nearly one-third of the changes made in the "Essex Edition" go back to WH (66). None of these editions are annotated.

3. "The golden rule for new editions: always take the Atlantic Edition itself as copy-text—not a reprint, however good"—with The Scientific Romances (SR, 1933) as a source of emendations (5). The Scientific Romances (Gollancz, 1933) is a corrected reprint of the Atlantic Edition. In his war of the words with Harry Geduld over Geduld's definitive/undefinitive Time Machine, Lake seems to back off from this position a bit. Cf Lake's response to Geduld's letter, SFS 16:403-04, #49, Nov 1989.

4. Footnotes record variants found in William Heinemann's original 1896 English edition (WH), the reset Heinemann edition of 1913 (Hl3), AtEd, early manuscript drafts of Moreau in the University of Illinois Wells Collection (MS), alterations handwritten into Wells's copy of the 1896 Heinemann "Colonial Edition" (CE), and alterations handwritten into Wells's copy of H13 (Hl3*).

5. There are a number of significant instances of this process at work in AtEd. For example, AtEd omits the "Introduction" by Prendick's nephew; Philmus, following S&K, restores it. Lake has argued that the "Introduction" serves no useful function and "should be eliminated, in accord with Wells's final intention" (7). However, Philmus's decision seems the wiser on interpretive grounds, and not merely because he is following S&K. For one thing, the suggestion of a narrative frame serves to link Moreau to several texts Wells had in mind while composing it: Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Gulliver's Travels, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Moreover, the "Introduction" also helps to establish Prendick's subsequent story as the testimony of a survivor, which, in turn, is implicitly linked to Wells's own story of survival. In eliminating the nephew's "Introduction" from AtEd, Wells was, consciously or not, covering his tracks, both literary and emotional. He does much the same thing in his own, strangely brief introduction to Moreau in AtEd. There are many other changes in AtEd which, while less obvious than the elimination of the "Introduction," have the cumulative effect of draining away the novel's emotional color. For example, Wells changed the title of Chapter 5 from "The Man Who Had Nowhere to Go" to "The Landing on the Island." The original is more rhythmic and emotionally evocative—more uncanny. It echoes the Chapter 2 title, "The Man Who Was Going Nowhere," stressing Prendick's entrapment, helplessness, and essential passivity—all important motifs in Moreau and other of Wells's scientific romances (cf Weeks). Clearly, by the time he came to edit AtEd, Wells had lost touch with his own emotional and artistic logic: the logic of indirection (cf Huntington).

6. … for this reason—and because "it is the version least frequently reprinted and hence may serve to defamiliarize the fiction so as to allow readers already acquainted with it to see it anew" (xxxv).

7. "Ideally, then, we should have before us a text wherein WH and S&K are juxtaposed—which, practicably, means a variorum edition" (xxxv).

8. Appendix 2 discusses the probable stages in which Wells composed Moreau and provides precise transcriptions of the relevant post-first draft MS fragments; Appendix 3 catalogues additional variants between the MS fragments and the published text; Appendix 4 records the rather extensive handwritten alterations which Wells made in his copy of CE—some of which are substantive and bear on interpretation (e.g., Wells's proposed changing of ship names from Ipecacuanha to Red Luck).

9. Also reprinted are a letter in the Saturday Review in which Wells defends the notion that hybrids such as those Moreau creates are actually possible and an exchange between Wells and F. H. Perry Coste on heredity and "plasticity."

10. In these editions, the text is printed without footnotes, save for faint stars which indicate that there is an explanatory note available. The explanatory notes appendix and a separate appendix containing all textual variants are both keyed to line numbers printed in the right margin of the text (5, 10, 15, etc).

11. In the First Moreau, Prendick and Mrs Moreau discuss Stevenson's novel or (in a cancelled variant) Shelley's Frankenstein (§3:115). Sig- nificantly, Stevenson died in the very year in which Wells began composing Moreau.

12. Concerning the problematic area of sexism, Philmus's aim is to place Wells's views in historical context. For example, Philmus argues that, despite the violent and bloody scene which Prendick sees when he opens the door to Moreau's "Blue-Beard's chamber," Wells was no "sadistic male chauvinist" (xxv). Indeed, Philmus sees Wells as somewhat more sensitive than his male contemporaries to women's issues, even latently pro-feminist. Here he cites Lansbury and, with even greater stress, Wells's Ann Veronica which he reads as a wholly sympathetic portrait of a young woman's "struggles to extricate herself from a suffocating male-dominated world" (xxv). Many feminists would disagree with this reading, however—especially given the novel's condescending caricatures of the Suffragists (cf Murphy and Scott).

13. This orientation moves Philmus periodically to defend Wells, as one might defend a friend—especially against charges of racism and sexism. For example, he notes that in his revision of Moreau Wells repeatedly replaces the racist phrase "yellow men" with the more purely descriptive "men in yellow" (xxii). In rebuttal, one might note that Wells is not similarly revisionary about his anti-semitism. In both drafts, he compares the Beast People to Jews, merely replacing the phrase "the lower kind of Jew" (§2:112) with the phrase "the coarser Hebrew type" (16:56). Not much of an improvement, really.

14. In Wells's revision of the First Moreau, the Doctor's wife and son disappear, pushed down into the subtext, as it were. Philmus perceptively notices this process (xxv) but does not fully trace its implications for the psychological structure of the published novel. He sees this excision primarily as a tactically wise elimination of "supernumeraries" (xxii).

Works Cited

Crossley, Robert. "Parables for the Modern Researcher," The Malahat Review, 64:173-88, 1983.

Hogle, Jerrold E. "The Struggle for a Dichotomy: Abjection in Jekyll and His Interpreters." Veeder (q.v.). 161-207.

Huntington, John, The Logic of Fantasy: H. G. Wells and Science Fiction. NY: Columbia UP, 1982.

Hurley, Kelly. The Novel of the Gothic Body: Deviance, Abjection, and Late-Victorian Popular Fiction. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1988 (dissertation order no. 8906682). 149-68.

Lake, David. "The Current Texts of Wells's Early SF Novels: Situation Unsatisfactory" (Part I). The Wellsian, n.s. 11:3-12, 1988.

———. "Undefinitive Wells," SFS 15:369-73, #46, Nov 1988.

Lansbury, Coral. The Old Brown Dog: Women, Workers and Vivisection in Edwardian England. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

Lodge, David. The Novelist at the Crossroads and Other Essays on Fiction and Criticism. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1971. 206-20.

Murphy, Cliona, "H. G. Wells and Votes for Women," The Wellsian, n.s. 10:11-19, 1987.

Parrinder, Patrick. "Disagreeing Over The Definitive Time Machine, Again," SFS 17:121, #50, March 1990.

Philmus, Robert. "Revisions of Moreau." Calliers Victorians & Edouardiens 30: 117-40, 1989.

———. "Textual Authority: The Strange Case of The Island of Doctor Moreau." SFS 17:64-70, #50, March 1990.

———. "The Strange Case of Moreau Gets Stranger," SFS 19:248-50, #57, July 1992.

Scott, Bonnie Kime, "Uncle Wells on Women: A Revisionary Reading of the Social Romances." H. G. Wells under Revision. Ed. Patrick Parrinder and Christopher Rolfe. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna UP, 1990, 108-20.

Showalter, Elaine. Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle. NY: Viking, 1990. 178-79.

Veeder, William, and Gordon Hirsch, eds. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde after One Hundred Years. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Darren Harris-Fain (review date spring 1994)

SOURCE: Harris-Fain, Darren. Review of The Island of Doctor Moreau: A Variorum Edition, by H. G. Wells, edited by Robert M. Philmus. Extrapolation 35, no. 1 (spring 1994): 80-2.

[In the following review, Harris-Fain focuses on the comprehensive notes and appendices included in The Island of Doctor Moreau: A Variorum Edition.]

At present, science fiction scholarship is a tenuous field at best, often misunderstood and unsupported by colleagues who, for all the recent challenges to the literary canon, fail to see any value in the endeavor. It is encouraging, then, to look at the work of scholars like Robert M. Philmus, work that has enriched our understanding and appreciation of a literature we love and that lends credibility to the study of science fiction. In particular, Philmus's variorum edition of The Island of Doctor Moreau is a shining example of the quality of work that can and should be done in the field.

The significance of this book, according to Philmus and his publisher, is that it is the first variorum edition of any work by H. G. Wells or, for that matter, any work of SF. It's doubtful that, say, Slan or The Skylark of Space merits this kind of treatment, but the absence of previous scholarship of this sort for Wells is both striking and deplorable, an indication of the relative neglect Wells has undeservedly received.

Philmus's claim for the book as the first of its kind in this area is a bit of a slam at the edition of The Time Machine that appeared in 1987, although he graciously thanks its editor in the acknowledgments, among others. There is a difference between the two books, however; this is altogether a different kind of beast. As a variorum edition, Philmus's book provides a text of Wells's powerful, resonant novel that represents the most authoritative version scholarship could possibly produce. Through a scrupulously detailed history of the novel's inception and publication, Philmus's introduction fully describes the differences in Wells's manuscripts and the corrections he made in the various proofs and published editions. An authoritative text of Moreau [The Island of Doctor Moreau ], he argues, would logically entail a variorum edition due to the complexity of the novel's history and the competing claims to authority of its different versions. The result here is a painstakingly reconstructed text, with variants and rationales for editorial decisions described in copious but relatively unobtrusive footnotes. The authority of this particular text is by no means absolute, as Philmus explains, but this is as close as we are ever likely to get, and scholars will have to reckon with it in making interpretive claims about Moreau.

Were this the extent of Philmus's contribution, it would be enough to commend the book. Fortunately, there's more. In addition to its skillful recounting of the stages of Wells's novel, the introduction provides much of interest beyond the editorial work that, as such work should, lays the foundation for literary criticism. These include compelling links between certain facts of Wells's life (especially his illnesses) and his early fiction; a good overview of scholarship on Wells; an excellent examination of possible influences, intellectual and literary, on Moreau ; and several insightful interpretations of the novel's themes. While the minutiae concerning textual variants and the accompanying apparatus may be somewhat dry for all but the most assiduous of Wells scholars, such passages demonstrate that well-reasoned and well-researched textual editing can establish the basis for persuasive criticism.

Nor is everything pertaining to the textual development of Moreau entirely isolated ipso facto from interpretive matters, for, as Philmus points out in the introduction, an analysis of alternations in "matters of content … point[s] to meaningful aspects of the text that might otherwise escape our attention" (xxiii). For instance, Wells's observations on colonialism, his linking of alcohol use and bestiality, and constructions of gender in this work are all highlighted by examining original manuscripts and revisions he made at various points in the text's development. Additionally, by studying Wells at work one can see that, while he worked quickly, he also revised extensively, at least in his early scientific romances.

Added to all of this helpful material are endnotes annotating the more obscure references in Moreau and eight appendices, including a transcription of the first manuscript (one of whose more interesting features is the existence of a Mrs. Moreau and son!) and other manuscript data. A transcription of a draft of a scientific essay by Wells bearing on the composition of Moreau differing from its publication in the Fortnightly Review is here as well. Of interest also is the appendix listing works, "Moreau's Literary ‘Children,’" influenced by Wells's novel, many of them quite obscure.

Philmus is to be praised for bringing together so much work in such a compact and accessible volume. His previous contributions to SF scholarship in general, and Wellsian scholarship in particular, are substantial, as seen in his many writings on Wells and SF included in the selected bibliography on Moreau that ends the book. Recently retired but still active with Science-Fiction Studies, Philmus here delivers a fitting capstone to his career, though of course one hopes it is by no means his last offering to the field. As with his earlier scholarship, he has provided a valuable contribution to an area of study that needs intelligent work. In SF there is a hard enough time keeping books in print, let alone being able to establish dependable texts for them. For this reason, the University of Georgia Press is also to be commended for publishing such a book in such a professional and attractive format. If they were to follow with a paperback version that would increase the book's availability to students and its use as a classroom text, this would certainly be the best of all possible worlds.

Alex MacDonald (essay date fall 1996)

SOURCE: MacDonald, Alex. "‘Passionate Intensity’ in Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau and Yeats's ‘The Second Coming’: Constructing an Echo." ANQ 9, no. 4 (fall 1996): 40-3.

[In the following essay, MacDonald details the symbolic depiction of cultural disorder in William Butler Yeats's poem "The Second Coming" and Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau.]

The words "passionate intensity" seem to belong to Yeats because of his publication in 1919 of these famous lines:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
          (Yeats 187)

However, twenty-three years earlier, in 1896, the expression appeared in The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells. Edward Prendick lands on an island where the notorious vivisectionist, Doctor Moreau, conducts experiments upon animals. After many frightening experiences, Prendick throws open a door and sees "something bound painfully upon a framework, scarred, red and bandaged." Moreau appears and lifts Prendick as though he were a little child. Prendick says: "I fell at full length upon the floor, and the door slammed and shut out the passionate intensity of his face" (55-56). How to explain the echo of Wells's novel in Yeats's poem is an interesting question, but, as always in such cases, the significance of the echo is not its mere existence but what it means, or what we think it means.

A case for conscious borrowing by Yeats would have to be based upon direct evidence of some kind. Although Yeats and Wells seem to have been very casually acquainted (Pritchett 348), I have not found evidence that Yeats owned a copy of Wells's novel, that he read it, or that he knew of the passage from some other source. That does not mean, of course, that Yeats did not know the novel.

The case for unconscious influence is based on the familiar idea of defense mechanisms. M. H. Abrams summarizes Harold Bloom's suggestion that a later author is in the ambivalent position of son to father. The influence occurs, but the writer "unconsciously safeguards his own sense of autonomy and priority by reading a parent-poem ‘defensively,’ in such a way as to distort it beyond his own conscious recognition" (213). This is a sensible explanation of the common phenomenon of forgetting or transforming influences, and perhaps it applies to Yeats in this case.

In support of the view that there was at least an unconscious influence are many similarities between the novel and the poem, including the animal and animal-human imagery, the sense of blind historical forces working, as Prendick says, like a "vast pitiless mechanism" (104), and the coming of anarchy. Eventually Moreau's poor creatures escape confinement, falcons who cannot hear their falconer, and go "rushing about mad" (109). They kill Moreau, their creator, a god who gave them their "law"—fixed ideas to counter their natural instincts. Their reversion to bestiality suggests Yeats's rough beast and the disorder it heralds. Prendick, lacking "all conviction," reproaches himself for not taking control of the island and for letting his courage "ebb away in solitary thought" (127). His final retreat to an isolated house is an attempt to escape from the realization that the civilized world is really not civilized at all. There is so much in both works that suggests the existential crisis of the early twentieth century, such overlap in ideas and atmosphere, that the argument for influence can seem compelling.

However, work by scholars on other possible sources, and on Yeats's process of composition, tends to dilute the case for influence. T. R. Henn suggests that Yeats was echoing lines from Shelley's Prometheus Unbound: "The good want power, but to weep barren tears, / The powerful goodness want" (144), a suggestion supported by A. Norman Jeffares (242). Geoffrey Thurley relates the lines to the anticipation of an age of disorder in Wordsworth's Prelude X (120-21). A number of possible influences, for the passage if not for the particular expression, has the effect of reducing the apparent significance of any one influence.

Accounts of the process of composition of "The Second Coming" weaken the case for influence in a different way, by suggesting how Yeats may have arrived at the expression independently. Yeats first used the word "intensity," crossed it out, then settled upon "passionate intensity." From the second section of the poem he discarded some lines that used the word "intensity" in a less interesting way: "Scarce have the words been spoken / and a new intensity rent as it were cloth / Before the dark was cut as with a knife" (Stallworthy 22). This suggests that Yeats developed some lines of what Ezra Pound called work of "second intensity" (31) and refined them toward their final expression independent of any outside influences. However, the possibility that Yeats was influenced by Wells is certainly not disproved by these other possibilities, no more than it is proved by similarities in the two texts.

If Yeats did not read Wells's novel and if the expression was not transmitted via other works, then this was not a case of influence but of coincidence. There are only so many ways to express ideas, and for two writers to hit upon the same words to express a similar theme is not all that surprising. However, Graham Hough seemed to recognize the interestingness of this particular echo when he wrote an imaginary dialogue between the rationalist and the mythologist after the deaths of Wells and Yeats:


… if Homo Sapiens is such a fool that he cannot realise even now what is before him, he is not worth pity. Those who see will not or cannot act: those who act are the blind and the greedy, the intriguers and the thugs.


The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.


Who said that?


I, years ago.


You were right.


I do not know whether Hough consciously had Moreau in mind, whether the expression "passionate intensity" in both sources might have connected the two works in his subconscious mind and prompted the idea for this imaginary dialogue, or whether this is simply another coincidence.

Computer scanning of texts would undoubtedly reveal that such echoes, or coincidences, are much more common than might be thought from the isolated examples we happen to notice. Another example is Thoreau's famous statement that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," in a passage in Walden (1854) in which prison is mentioned (4-5). This is echoed by some words of Pip's in Great Expectations (1860-61): "‘I wonder who's put into prison ships, and why they're put there?’ said [Pip] in a general way, and with quiet desperation" (46). In this case, the expression is attributed in the quotations dictionaries to Thoreau, probably because he used it first and because the context in Walden is broader and closer to the epigrammatic.

The repetition of "passionate intensity" could be, therefore, a conscious echo, an unconscious echo, a drawing by all concerned upon some archetypal "passionate intensity" in the "Spiritus Mundi," or a coincidence that I happened to recognize, or to construct, because it resonated with something in my own psyche. Whatever the explanation for the echo, it draws our attention to one of the critical moral problems of this century. Both the novel and the poem use the expression to define those who are evil or who lack moral convictions to prevent them from doing evil. Specifically, Moreau is the "mad scientist" who misuses the Promethean fire and whose fanatical curiosity leads him to commit atrocities. His character exemplifies the destructive power of human intelligence without values and ideals. Both works can now be understood as foreshadowing the rise of fascism, which promised order at the cost of humanity. The sphinx-like beast of Yeats's poem evokes fear of a new world of savagery, regression, and disorder, and it threatens the vision, as does Moreau, of a utopia of abundance based on the wise application of human intelligence to solving problems. This positive vision, the mirror-image of the negative vision of the poem, is suggested in Yeats's long note to the poem, in which the word "intensity" is used in the positive context of the "Beatific Vision" (Variorum Edition 824). Both works imply the contrary to their bleak visions, that the "passionate intensity" for good, by appropriate means, is what is needed, rather than complicity or apathetic despair.


I thank my colleague, Professor Samira McCarthy, for reading a draft of this article and making useful suggestions for its improvement.

Works Cited

Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 1957. 5th ed. Fort Worth: Holt, 1988.

Barlett, John. Familiar Quotations. 1855. Eds. Emily Morison Beck et al. 15th ed. Boston: Little, Brown, 1980.

Bloom, Harold. Poetry and Repression, Revisionism from Blake to Stevens. New Haven: Yale UP, 1976.

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. 1860-62. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1965.

Henn, T. R. The Lonely Tower. Studies in the Poetry of W. B. Yeats. 1950. London: Methuen, 1965.

Hough, Graham. The Last Romantics. 1947. London: Methuen, 1961.

Jeffares, A. Norman. A Commentary on the Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats. London: Macmillan, 1969.

The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. 1941. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1979.

Pound, Ezra. "Vorticism." The Imagist Poem. Ed. William Pratt. New York: Dutton, 1963.

Pritchett, V. S. "Encounters with Yeats." W. B. Yeats, Interviews and Recollections. Vol. 2. Ed. E. H. Mikhail. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1977.

Stallworthy, Jon. Between the Lines: W. B. Yeats' Poetry in the Making. Oxford: Clarendon, 1963.

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden and Civil Disobedience. 1854, 1849. Ed. Sherman Paul. Boston: Houghton, Riverside Editions, 1960.

Thurley, Geoffrey. The Turbulent Dream. Passion and Politics in the Poetry of W. B. Yeats. St. Lucia: U of Queensland P, 1983.

Wells, H. G. The Island of Doctor Moreau. 1896. London: Pan Books, 1975.

Yeats, W. B. "The Second Coming." 1919. The Poems, Revised. The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats. Vol. 1. 1983. Ed. Richard J. Finneran. New York: MacMillan, 1989.

———. The Variorum Edition of the Poems of W. B. Yeats. Eds. Peter Allt and Russell K. Alspach. New York: Macmillan, 1957.

David Y. Hughes (essay date March 1997)

SOURCE: Hughes, David Y. "The Doctor Vivisected." Science-Fiction Studies 24, no. 1 (March 1997): 109-18.

[In the following essay, Hughes refutes Leon Stover's assessment of The Island of Doctor Moreau as a veiled endorsement of Wells's personal political beliefs.]

H. G. Wells's Island of Doctor Moreau under the editorship of Leon Stover is a new wine in the old bottle. Why not? Science fiction is supposed to induce cognitive estrangement. Stover is an anthropologist and historian, not by training a literary critic, and he sees [The Island of Doctor Moreau ] as a doctrinal work of the first order. Coming in from that angle, little traversed at any time since the revival of Wells studies some 35 years ago,1 the novelty of Stover's findings is threefold, and agree with him or not, one cannot but welcome his battling spirit—while enduring his reckless and tendentious scholarship. His entire editing apparatus is polemical: the 40-page introduction, the 195 notes (some very long), and the 10 appendices (themselves annotated). First, he proposes, as I believe no one else has, that Wells created Doctor Moreau as "a Carlyle-type hero," whose methods are finally recognized by the narrator, Prendick, "as the only possible way to save civilization from dooming itself" (169 n157). Concomitantly, he treats the book itself as an explosive political masterwork embodying a totalitarian methodology which he dubs "Wellsism." Lastly, absent much work by Wells before Moreau, for the most part Stover reads "Wellsism" back into it from the future, both from Wells's later writings and from the historical march of totalitarianism in the half century until his death in 1946. All this being controversial, I shall be laying out Stover's case and from time to time arguing against it while equally reviewing it in terms of scholarship. In physical arrangement, the book itself does not separate out Moreau as hero from the "Wellsism" that envelops him, nor does it separately treat the anchoring of "Wellsism" largely in the future. These are my divisions, for convenience.

1. Doctor Moreau, Old-Fashioned, Unreconstructed Hero.

Stover's "Introduction" is divided into sections and furnishes several vignettes of Moreau that establish him as a figure of commanding determination, self-discipline, intellectual passion, and devotion to a high ideal. In "Pig Philosophy," Moreau and Wells are dissociated from Bentham's piggish pleasure principle, and they and their contempt for "the province of pain"2 are allied with the principled anti-Benthamite positions of Mill and Carlyle. In "Vivisection Morality," the steely resolve of Moreau is said to be Wells's retort on Wilkie Collins's squeamish vivisector, Doctor Benjulia, who sets his animals free, unable to endure their pain, and then dies of an overdose of an opiate. An appendix contains the relevant Collins passage, from the antivivisectionist novel, Heart and Science. But most interesting is "The Sphinx of Sin." Stover's frontispiece is a reproduction of Gustave Moreau's "Oedipus and the Sphinx." In this striking physical and psychological depiction, Oedipus figures as sheer intellectual force opposing the lure of monstrous bestiality, eye to eye. The message is clear that the artist's namesake, Doctor Moreau, performs his purposive surgeries in the same spirit; and his likeness to the Oedipus is one more illustration of the selfless heroism of his intellectual passion. The painting must have been known to Wells, Stover asserts, because he had an interest in art, the work was widely reproduced, and it had become a literary icon. The "Oedipus and the Sphinx" connection is illuminating and would remain so even if one were minded to call it coincidence or Zeitgeist.

Further, Moreau has two personas. He "is at once a conscious agent of directed evolution in his personal drama ["the nobility of his vivisection work" (20)], and a personification of the cosmic process in his allegorical role" (137 n102). Through the combining of these personas, his prowess is redoubled, representing both the sweep of the natural processes he personifies and the "strange colourless delight of [the] intellectual desires" (§14) that drive him to study, harness, and direct these processes. As for Wells, he, too, is heroic in expressing through Moreau in both these personas—daringly and in bold relief—his conviction that "Darwin's bio-optimism was false," unless and until "natural selection" should give way to human guidance through the agency of science (24).

It is above all through Prendick, the narrator, that Stover claims the heroism of Moreau. If I gave his edition a subtitle, it would be "The Education of Edward Prendick," while for his companion edition of The Time Machine I might recommend "The Ineducability of Hillyer." In the latter volume, Stover observes that in the end Hillyer, the narrator, "exposes himself as a sentimental humanist who finds nothing of value in his friend's cautionary tale."3 But the example of Prendick is the reverse. The following sketch cannot do justice to Stover's many, long, reciprocating annotations but supplies the main lines. Prendick's initial status as science amateur (butterfly collector) qualifies him as a naif, especially since superficially he resembles Moreau. He did some scientific work (under Huxley); he accepts the "orthodoxy" (90 n40) that there is "nothing so horrible in vivisection" (§7); and, like Moreau, he scorns Montgomery's weaknesses of drink and of friendliness towards the Beast Folk. But Moreau is an ascetic whose life is research, and Prendick is a dilettante and preachy abstainer whose "pig philosophy" teaches moderation to maximize pleasure. Moreover, events have conspired to unsettle him even before he reaches Moreau's island. To his terror, among other cruelties at sea, he faced and escaped a sort of casual vivisection by cannibalism, and at first the happenstance of that experience appears to him to be replicated in the wantonness of Moreau's surgeries (25, 201 n185).

So much most readers would agree to. But a time comes when, according to Stover, Prendick goes over to Moreau. Prendick, "the novel's humanistic foil" (85 n32), looking back as the lone survivor at the end of the book, has abandoned his "liberal humanitarianism" (180 n164), swayed, as far as his passive nature permits, by the memory of "the heroic charisma" of "Jehova-like Moreau" (189 n173; 176 n161), who "represents vanguard over-man" (159 n144). Having lost his Christian faith when he was forced to fabricate the dead Moreau's resurrection to keep the Beast Folk in check, he now recalls Moreau's "veil-piercing discipline" of science (196 n180), the agent of "psychotherapeutic education" (204 n189), and concludes that Moreau's power to inflict cruelty "as a therapeutic good is [a power] worthy of worship" (169 n157). Indeed, even before Moreau's death, it has come to Prendick (in Stover's words) that the "scheme of things [on the island], its ‘painful disorder’ [§16], … had a normal constituency in the likes of Montgomery and the Beast People (symbolic for the whole lot of human beasts), not to mention himself before he came to recognize in Moreau a paragon of genuine sanity…." So, according to this, the sanity of Moreau exempts him (and Prendick, who recognizes it) from the "painful disorder" that afflicts the general run of "human beasts."

One is grateful for this unusually extended treatment of Prendick as a full-fledged fictional character. However, the passage Stover is annotating exactly inverts his reading of it, for Prendick's statement exempts no one from irrational impulsions, let alone elevates Moreau as a paragon of sanity:

I must confess I lost faith in the sanity of the world when I saw it suffering the painful disorder of this island. A blind fate, a vast pitiless mechanism, seemed to cut and shape the fabric of existence, and 1, Moreau (by his passion for research), Montgomery (by his passion for drink), the Beast People, with their instincts and mental restrictions, were torn and crushed, ruthlessly, inevitably, amid the infinite complexity of its incessant wheels.


Nothing later relieves this absolute loss of faith. Prendick merely remarks that he thinks he anticipates "a little" by mentioning it before narrating the deaths of Moreau and Montgomery and the reversion of the Beast Folk.4 There is no recovery, either, on his return to England. He withdraws from "the confusion of cities and multitudes," concluding that "whatever is more than animal within us must find its solace and its hope" in the study of "the vast eternal laws of matter" (§22). Never much more than a spectator anyway, now, hoping to escape the entanglements by which "the sanity of the world" is "torn and crushed," he renounces society and any stake in it.

While on the subject of Prendick and of Stover's misconstruing of the text, two other difficulties come up, both involving, as it happens, the use, misuse, or disregard of R. M. Philmus's variorum Moreau. So determined is Stover to render Prendick Moreau's mouthpiece (only lacking Moreau's will to action) that he ignores or plays tricks with available textual materials. R. D. Mullen's review of Stover's Time Machine establishes that his editing is slipshod and intellectually dishonest.5 These strictures emphatically apply to the Moreau, and the two examples I give here and one or two later must stand in for a long list. Stover repeatedly pronounces Wells a punctilious artist. Thus, Moreau "is a masterpiece of artistic integrity, whose every detail is worth close attention. What French critics call méthode de texte is applied here …" (ix). Very well. In a running discussion of fire and cookery carried over seven footnotes,6 Stover ponders the contradiction that Prendick initially says the Beast Folk are without fire (§12), then that they cook (§13), and finally that they have lost the art of fire (§21). From this incoherence, he reasons that Prendick, at first observing accurately, then imagines a mastery that never exists and a fall that never takes place. In short, Prendick suffers an hallucinatory sense that the Beast Folk are more human than they really are and later that their fall is greater than it really is (i.e., in §21, "The Reversion of the Beast Folk"). What Stover fails to take into account is that although in the Heinemann first edition (his copytext), Prendick tells Moreau, "They talk, build houses, cook," in the alternative American first edition (the Philmus copytext), he says simply, "They talk, build houses."With that, psychological elaboration becomes gratuitous.7 The obvious explanation is that Wells corrected the discrepancy once and missed it in the other instance (working with different proofs or different copies of typescript). No need to consult Prendick's mental state. But it may be relevant that in the earliest surviving draft of Moreau (in Philmus), though the action breaks off before the "Reversion," the villagers are introduced as easily the masters of cookery, and a slide back toward beasthood would be tellingly marked by loss of the art of fire.

A more attentive and less conjectural use of an unacknowledged textual emendation would have headed off the other elaboration, too. In the last chapter, Prendick, in the dingy of the lpecacuanha, is rescued by a ship from Western Samoa bound for San Francisco. Eleven months earlier the lpecacuanha had left him on Noble's Isle, and now he has the dingy, which has somehow come drifting back, though the ship itself in the meantime has disappeared, "sailing to its unknown fate from Banka" (as Stover's text of Prendick's nephew's "Introduction" has it). Amplifying, Stover writes:

Samoa lies exactly midway between Banka and Noble's Isle, the two islands linked in symbolic significance by visits of the lpecacuanha. Such a geographical point of origin for the vessel that got Prendick returned home seems to suggest the limits of his philosophical arrival point: halfway between Moreau's understanding of the world and his own inability to act on it. Does this read too much into a detail of incidental significance? Yes it does, from the viewpoint of the modern novel, whose aesthetic is grounded in the proliferation of incidental and meaningless details for the sake of realism. But in the Victorian thesis novel, especially as practiced by H. G. Wells, every detail contributes to a closed universe of integral meaning.

          (203-04 n187)

But Stover has emended his copytext. Instead of "Banka," Heinemann has "Banya" (the American first edition has "Bayna"), but no such name is on the map of the South Seas; in fact, "Banka" is a conjecture silently adopted by Stover from R. M. Philmus. So no mortal but Wells could have appreciated the midwayness of Prendick's rescue—or its symbolism, cloudy at best—until Philmus revealed the coordinates of the lpecacuanha's last port of call by rectifying the spelling, enabling Stover to read Wells's mind.

Thus, in matters large and small, Stover is a ruthless synthesizer. He forces the claim for Moreau's heroism and Prendick's discipleship, just as he forces these textual details. Wells is not so determinate. In the end, he and the reader share the relief provided by the aesthetic closure of Prendick's retreat from terror into quietism, but the cognitive import is equivocal, for the problem of moral action raised by the novel is left hanging. Stover says that in "H. G. Wells, every detail contributes to a closed universe of integral meaning," but Wells said:

I suggest a concrete image for the whole world of a man's thought and knowledge. Imagine a large, clear jelly, in which at all angles and in all states of simplicity or contortion his ideas are imbedded. They are all valid and possible ideas as they lie, none in reality incompatible with any…. But our Instrument, our process of thinking, like a drawing before the discovery of perspective … appears capable only of dealing with or reasoning about ideas by projecting them on the same plane. It will be obvious that a great many things may very well exist together in a solid jelly, which would be overlapping and incompatible and mutually destructive, when projected together upon one plane.8

This image may be "closed" (jelled) but it is by no means "integral," as Stover would have it. Besides, the passage dates from 1903. In the 1890s, however, the incompatibles harbored in Wells's fictions were not embedded but rather held in suspension, uncrystallized. The cognitive glue of Moreau —the idea of natural history captured by science using natural history (both of these personified in the Doctor himself)—is compromised by successive infusions of the visceral element, the bloodiness. Considered in terms of the lifelong development of "the whole world of [Wells's] thought and knowledge," Prendick's final trauma and passivity mark a resting phase or halfway shelter. Soon, Wells would move on to the utopian discipline of his New Republicans and Samurai. Even so, he retained always a responsive eye for life's striving sufferers. Generically, they were such as the Beast Folk, and individually they would be Kipps and Polly.

2. "Wellsism."

Wells coined this term, says Stover, and he apparently used it twice, and only in the unlikely locus of his posthumous H. G. Wells in Love, but both uses (one I cannot find where specified or elsewhere) are casual and informal. The term is really Stover's, although he never defines it explicitly, preferring almost always to attach it to some Welisian phrase of his choice; but the connotations are soon clear, together with Stover's opprobrium. That is, though Moreau is heroic, he is at the same time the instrument of pernicious "Wellsism"; so the first step of analysis must be to separate them. Only once do I find Stover doing so, in that case using sanity as his yardstick. Doctor Moreau is eminently sane, no Frankenstein he. No, "who is mad is not Moreau but Wells, he and all the other nineteenth century utopia makers" (128 n85). True, Moreau is felonious—a fugitive for prior vivisectionist activity—and indeed he is certainly wicked. According to Stover, he blackmails Montgomery for homosexuality, he murdered one of his original Kanaka helpers, and he offers to murder Prendick should he continue to make himself inconvenient (34, 131 n89 n91). But then, says Stover, wickedness, far from madness, "is just the quality needed in Wellsian ‘makers and rebels’" (132 n91). All of Wells's work is a "pedagogy of violence" (51) and "a propagandist ‘Literature of Power,’" and "The Island of Doctor Moreau is manifestly a part of that literature" (140 n108).

What is a literature of power? First of all, it is a scientifically oriented literature: "Moreau [is] done with the very same aesthetic sensitivity against which its masterful novelistic artistry is mobilized" (128 n85). Wells is not on the side of the liberal arts in the battle of "the two cultures," but on the side of science.9 In a crucial unit of his Introduction, "Chance, Waste, and Pain," Stover locates Wells's preferred model of human destiny in Winwood Reade's Martyrdom of Man in opposition to T. H. Huxley's "Evolution and Ethics." This of course flies in the face of longstanding critical acceptance of Wells's many acknowledgments of his debt to Huxley.10 But Stover argues that Huxley could have had no deep influence. After all, he was sceptical of the very possibility of moral progress in the human animal because he regarded it as split between an ethical self and a savage self and doubted whether the ethical self could prevail. This sentiment actually moves Huxley into alliance with the viewpoint of humane letters. So Wells admired Huxley as teacher of the origins of the savage self, but he chose Reade, who promised the death of that self through the operations of science learned from the operations of nature. One day, said Reade, science will enable us to transcend the "vile bodies which degrade us every day to a level with the beasts" (21). This antihumane prophecy, taken up by Wells, in a nutshell justifies the mission and fate of Moreau and pinpoints the basic thrust of "Wellsism." Moreau is an early martyr to the advent of the debestialized, unitary human being who will one day spring from the labors (or loins) of experimental science. Moreau is the strong sane hero working the will of science on his titular island (also known as "Noble's Isle"—a name, says Stover, which is doubtless Wells's ironic nod to the Noble Savage of romantic myth and equally his sincere acknowledgment of the actual uplifting of the Beast Folk) (20).

The literature of power is politically oriented, too. Here are three characterizations of "Wellsism," all I have found in Stover's own words, though they define only by example or implication:

a Darwinian synthesis [of biological evolution and cultural, nongenetic evolution of humanity] … informs Wellsism and its program of applied natural history.


In the past I have been attacked as Hitlerian for indiscreetly pointing out the genocidal propensities of Wellsism and of utopism in general.


Not a philosophy, Wellsism is activism….

          (140 n108)

Each of these in its context relates to the interest aroused during the 1890s and after in the potential for eugenic "improvement" of populations. Stover is adamant that the real agenda of Wells, in the words of his title of 1904, is a science and a politics addressed to Mankind in the Making. In that context, making humanized animals may be seen as analogous to socializing and educating human animals, both procedures being highly invasive. Besides, Moreau's explanation of his aims keeps veering towards a literal conflation of humanizing and superhumanizing. He laments that his techniques cannot touch "something in the seat of the emotions: [c]ravings, instincts, desires that harm humanity" (§14), and Stover not unreasonably comments: "The clearest possible indicator that Moreau aims to reform human nature" (146 n119).

With some justice, too, in the context of eugenics, Stover conjoins "Wellsism" both with repressive statist ideologies of the 20th century and with their spiritual begetters, from Plato to Comte. These links could not have been perceived originally. But he is true to his stated aim of explaining "what the novel signified to contemporary readers when it first came out" (ix) when he discusses the teachings of Carlyle, who was prominent still and much admired by Wells in his college days. Carlyle (though surely in the camp of humane letters) comes in with regard to "Wellsism" on account of his disdain of "pig philosophy" (its Benthamite associations of pleasure-pain, mentioned earlier) and for his celebration of the hero in history, the leader who intuitively shapes destiny towards a New Jerusalem.11 Thus, Moreau is "one of Carlyle's epoch-making strong men of genius" (119 n76), and somehow he combines this charisma with the technocratic statist mentality. Stover's other chief contemporary connection is Wells himself. Of 10 appendices, 9 reveal him from 1893 to 1897 defending Moreau or otherwise revolving ideas related to it,12 and clearly the curve of his thought moved from physical to mental/moral to pedagogical considerations: from the physiology of pain in Text-Book of Biology (1893) to the concept of sin in "Human Evolution, An Artificial Process" (1896), and at last, in "Morals and Civilization" (1897), to the "dream of a real and conscious apparatus of education and moral suggestion … shaping the minds and acts and destinies of men." This last came more than two years after the inception of Moreau and the year after its publication, but at the very least it facilitates Stover's "take" that the Wells who created Moreau's House of Pain already viewed it as "a prototypical schoolroom" (135 n97).

3. The Viewback from the Future.

The question here concerns Stover's methodology and its grounds. I shall concentrate almost exclusively on one exemplary footnote, #107, the first half of which typifies method and the second half, grounds. Stover begins abruptly, but his readers by now are familiar with his mode of discourse. Moreau says, "I am a religious man, Prendick" (§14), and the following is the first half of the annotation:

While science is the "religion of the future" (1917b:76), it is for now the "religious aspect of socialist propaganda" (1906d:408). In Wellsism, "God is the collective mind and purpose of the human race" (1917b:61). The New Puritans who worship Him are the "scientific atheists" (69) of a "world theocracy" (97), and the "world state is God's church." But He is not the God of humanity itself. "The spirit of man is jealous, aggressive and patizan. Humanity has greed and competition in grain" (1919:214), and against that God is opposed; His coming kingdom will bring about "the end of common humanity" (1937b:201). Unlike other religions, that of the modern state is "objective" (1931a:34), and "God is no abstraction…. He is as real as a bayonet thrust" (1917b:56)—or the cut of a surgeon's knife in the House of Pain.

          (139-40 n107)13

Stover says he writes "for educational purposes," for the college classroom (ix). But whatever his message, obviously no student encountering pages of apparatus like this has time or resources—even if Stover's style encouraged curiosity—to check into the works cited or the dicta rendered. Nor need I. The passage speaks for itself. The form is self-certifying. The switchbacking dates scattered parenthetically over the decades testify that after Moreau Wells never had a new idea but noised the old ones abroad (like one of his trumpet-Selenites). Stover wears a reader down and never lets up. Even at the end of Moreau comes a final pedagogical manipulation. In a tailpiece, "Epilogue: The Coming Terror"—cited, incredibly, as "the novel's Epilogue" (10 n)—Stover remedies a deficiency of Wells by moralizing the tale. "[T]o be a sincere revolutionary," he writes, "one must have the nerve of Doctor Moreau, and to say with H. G. Wells [but really with the narrator of Tono-Bungay ], ‘I don't like things so human’" (210).

In the second half of note #107 (here slightly condensed), the grounds of Stover's method become apparent. He views Moreau as propaganda for socialism of great power and beauty, and its author as a primary ideological warrior at the edge of the 20th century. From that vantage, he discovers the significance of the book in Wells's later explicit avowals of statist measures and in the drift of politics towards totalitarianism between the wars and Wells's reactions to that drift:

Moreau's experimental object is the reform of common humanity in line with that socialist theory advocated in "Morals and Civilization" [1897]…. With the advent of the Soviet Union, [Wells] saw in its great social experiment and its world revolutionary designs not only a realization of that theory; he saw "God, the Captain of the World Republic" ruling there as "a personification of [Stalin's] Five Year Plan." His deity, "a thoroughly hard leader," is at last embodied in Stalin himself (1934:574-76). Moreau's failed experiments finally have paid off, and "the salvation of mankind from misery and sin" (Appendix Illa) is at hand; the Wellsian "gospel of discipline and education" preached in the novel (Appendix Illb) has triumphed. [The two Appendices contain essays by Wells in 1896 and 1897.]

(139-40 n107; in "[Stalin's]" the brackets are Stover's)

Here, the irony at the expense of Wells's infatuation with the deity embodied in Stalin is misplaced, badly misplaced, and betrays Stover's own determination to hunt down Moreau in everything Wells later wrote. Nothing of the sort is in Experiment in Autobiography. Wells states that his phrase, "God, the Captain of the World Republic," used some 20 years earlier in Mr. Britling Sees It Through, was never meant in an orthodox way but more "like a personification of, let us say, the Five Year Plan. A communist might have accepted him ["God the Captain of the World Republic," "the deity," "the thoroughly hard leader"] as a metaphor." In 1934, Wells simply updates what a communist might have thought of this deity in 1915 had there been any communists in power then. Besides, he explains, he has long since given up his theological phase, anyway.

Here, then, are Stover's grounds. Who imagines Wells's deity personified by Stalin is not Wells but Stover; he, not Wells, thinks Wells thinks "Moreau's failed experiments finally have paid off." Years ago, Stover wrote an intriguing science fiction novel, The Shaving of Karl Marx (1982)14 about Lenin, Wells, and Wells's first five scientific romances. In the novel, not-yet-Lenin (still merely the nobleman Ulyanov) in Wells's Sandgate home in 1902 imbibes lectures by Wells on the scientific romances. A fine Wellsian framing "editor" (some years in 1982's future) publishes letters by Tersoff, fugitive White Russian suspected of killing pinko colleagues out of professional jealousy and therefore, in full flight, unable to transmit evidence found in Lenin's copy of Wells's Russia in the Shadows. Tersoff is colorful, telegraphic, and narrates in the historical present, with dialogue. Sitting as pupil, not-yet-Lenin learns chapter by chapter how each scientific romance is a political handbook, and he quickly emerges equipped to become the autocrat in the Kremlin. Much of the Moreau dialogue reappears in essence in the edition I am now reviewing, including the doctrine of the "Overman, the first of a coming line of agents exterior to nature," who will end "Nature's criminal, non-directional way" and "take control, and save mankind." Thus, by the end of the book, "the future chairman [Lenin] upstaged by the party theoretician [Wells]" renounces his devotion to the rule of the proletariat (political pap) and embraces "cabbage soup statism," when "the whole of society will have become a single office and a single factory" under "the Party brain" of "the Central Committee."15

The fiction that The Island of Doctor Moreau is not fiction makes good science fiction and bad criticism. In his edition of The Time Machine, Stover affirms that the end of humanity's dreams in the year thirty million ("The Further Vision") is implicitly averted in the film Things to Come by the conquest of space, accomplishable only by virtue of the kind of leadership that "subdues the destructive follies of self-interest appealed to in the democratic socialism of Karl Marx, mankind's chief enemy, from which Wellsism is the only saving doctrine." Then Stover adds: "Contemporary readers of The Time Machine, of course, were unable to foresee the doctrinal meaning Wells later attached to ‘The Further Vision.’"16 Had he approached The Island of Doctor Moreau as an imaginative and fluid work of art to which some of Wells's later didactic writings may be considered doctrinal attachments, then the work in itself would have been the focus of his study—though certainly not in literary terms—and would have escaped classification solely as a pregnant guide to "Wellsism" in the twentieth century.


1. Stover's nearest kin among previous critics is W. Warren Wagar in H. G. Wells and the World State (New Haven: Yale U Press, 1961), in that both approach Wells's writings as living political documents.

2. This Wells essay of 1894, which contributes significantly to the chapter, "Doctor Moreau Explains," is among Stover's appendices.

3. Leon Stover, The Time Machine: An Invention: A Critical Text of the 1895 London First Edition, with an Introduction and Appendices (Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1996), 16.

4. Indeed, Stover thinks what Prendick here "anticipate[s]" is his "affirmation of all this in the final chapter" (169 n157). If so, the lack of faith in Moreau must remain.

5. R. D. Mullen, "Scholarship and the Riddle of the Sphinx," SFS 23:368-70, #70, November 1996.

6. 116 n70, 128 n86, 149 n125, 153 n137, 160 n146, 193 n177, 204 n188.

7. Which edition is "authoritative" is unclear. Stover uses Heinemann because it has the "Introduction" by Prendick's nephew. Philmus is based on Stone and Kimball, the American first. Stover (1) says that for "the verbal changes in the different revisions, there is no substitute for the monumental variorum text collated by Philmus."

8. "The Scepticism of the Instrument." Wells addressed the Oxford Philosophical Society on Nov. 8, 1903, and I quote from the text in A Modern Utopia (London: Chapman & Hall, 1905), 389-90.

9. Stover, Time Machine, 12-17.

10. Wells acknowledges Huxley early and late. As to Reade, David Smith notes that Wells's correspondence of the later 1880s shows him rereading The Martyrdom of Man, which became his historiographical model for The Outline of History (the preface to which so far as I know contains Wells's first public mention of Reade). See H. G. Wells: Desperately Mortal (New Haven: Yale UP, 1986), 14.

11. Recalling his efforts in 1886-87 "to get hold of all that was implicit in the idea of Socialism," Wells observes that he "discovered the heady brew of Carlyle's French Revolution." Experiment in Autobiography (NY: The Macmillan Company, 1934), 194-95.

12. The 10th appendix is the Wilkie Collins excerpt.

13. In order of citation, the texts are God the Invisible King (3 times), Faults of the Fabian, The Undying Fire, Star-Begotten, What are we to do with our Lives?

14. Leon Stover, The Shaving of Karl Marx (Lake Forest, IL: The Chiron Press, 1982). For Wells lovers, part of the fun is that Stover never lets out that the title is Wells's after a fashion. In Russia in the Shadows, in Vol. 26 of the "Atlantic Edition" of The Works of H. G. Wells (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1926), 543, Wells writes that in Russia "I found the omnipresent images of that beard more and more irritating. A gnawing desire grew upon me to see Karl Marx shaved. Some day, if I am spared, I will take up shears and a razor against ‘Das Kapital’; I will write ‘The Shaving of Karl Marx.’"

15. Stover, Shaving of Karl Marx, 43, 45, 51, 112, 115.

16. Stover, Time Machine, 15.

Ian F. Roberts (essay date July 2001)

SOURCE: Roberts, Ian F. "Maupertuis: Doppelgänger of Doctor Moreau." Science-Fiction Studies 28, no. 2 (July 2001): 261-74.

[In the following essay, Roberts surveys the commonly proposed inspirations for the character of Doctor Moreau and declares the scientist and philosopher Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis as the most likely source.]

No less than seven possible sources for H. G. Wells's character Doctor Moreau have been proposed. These include the author Oscar Wilde, the fictional character Nathan Benjulia, the vivisector Emanuel Klein, the painter Gustave Moreau, the scientific writer Jacques Joseph Moreau of Tours, and the theologians Jean Ignace Moreau and Louis Moreau. None, how- ever, are particularly convincing models. Thus, while Martin T. Willis has confidently concluded in a recent article that "[i]t was [Thomas] Edison who inspired H. G. Wells in creating the Time Traveller" (286), no such confident assertions about the existence of an inspiration for Doctor Moreau are warranted. Indeed, evidence in support of any previously proposed candidate as a source of inspiration for Wells's second major character is dishearteningly scant.

Wells has been taken to suggest that Oscar Wilde was the inspiration for Moreau, having himself mentioned "a scandalous trial" and "the graceless and pitiful downfall of a man of genius" to which the story was, in part, a response (Preface ix). "But," as Robert Philmus points out, "even if Moreau [The Island of Doctor Moreau ] had not been well under way at the time of Wilde's ‘downfall,’ that writer surely bears no comparison with Moreau apart from being a victim of ostracism" ("Introducing" xliii). E. D. Mackerness suggests that Wells may have drawn inspiration from Nathan Benjulia, a character in a Wilkie Collins novel. As Mackerness explains, "this is suggested by one sentence in particular," in which a limping dog is mentioned as having been released from Benjulia's laboratory (1). This "one sentence" calls to mind the incident in which a flayed dog escapes from Moreau's house, establishing Benjulia as a possible, though I think hardly probable, model for Moreau. Similarly, Coral Lansbury points out that both Benjulia and Moreau are suggestive of "the archvivisector" Emanuel Klein, but she offers no arguments in support of a direct influence on Wells (130). What, then, of the remaining four candidates?

The fourth suggested candidate is the painter Gustave Moreau (1826-1898). Insofar as this Moreau is best known for a work depicting Oedipus and the Sphinx, Nancy Steffen-Fluhr writes that "it is a lovely coincidence (if, indeed, it is a coincidence) that Wells gave the name ‘Moreau’ to the one figure in his work" who creates beast-human, and therefore Sphinx-like, creatures (327). Despite the fact that a Sphinx figures prominently in The Time Machine, and that, as Philmus has noted, "Moreau" can be taken to have a meaning akin to "Morlock" in French ("Introducing" xviii-xix), there appears no reason to consider such seemingly random similarities as anything more than coincidental. Leon Stover's discussion of Gustave Moreau as a possible source for Wells's character is also unconvincing. Stover asserts that Wells's knowledge of the painting referred to by Steffen-Fluhr is "impossible to doubt" (36), but fails to give any reason for his certainty other than the fact that Wells had written art criticism. Stover also points to a vague reference by Wells to a sphinx as "[a]ttesting to his knowledge of this painting" (38). Once again, however, Stover provides no compelling reason to consider this reference as anything more than coincidental.

Robert Philmus writes that Jacques Joseph Moreau of Tours (1804-1884) "might seem to be the most likely of any real-life models for Wells's Moreau" ("Introducing" xli). However, this identification seems to rest on little or nothing more than the "blurring of the boundary between human and nonhuman life" implied by a comment in an obscure treatise of 1840 to the effect that the intellectual faculties of humans differ from those of brutes only in degree (xlii). Hence, this rather vague similarity between the two Moreaus offers evidence more of Philmus's thorough scholarship than of a likely influence on Wells. Associations of Jacques Joseph with Wells's Doctor are also made by Elaine Showalter, though with no further evidence (178). Rounding out the list of proposed suspects are the theologians Jean Ignace Moreau (1807-1881), who Philmus readily admits "was doubtlessly almost as obscure in his time as now" (xviii), and Louis Moreau, whose "candidacy … as the prototype for Wells's fictional scientist" Philmus justly considers to be "at best ironic" (xlii), in view of the sharp philosophical differences between the two.1

I repeat, in the absence of more extensive and substantive evidence, none of these seven proposed figures are convincing progenitors of Wells's character. If the above catalogue of possible models for Moreau demonstrates anything, it is that in all probability no conclusive determination of Moreau's origin can be made. It is quite possible that there was no single, specific, historical inspiration for Doctor Moreau. Wells's fictional character may, of course, be a "grafting" together of bits and pieces from numerous personages or be a projection of essentially impersonal concepts. There can be no doubt that, at one level, Moreau is symbolic of certain abstractions—of natural selection, of science, and of God. Nonetheless, Moreau is also a reasonably well individualized character. And, since even an imagination as powerful as Wells's cannot create a Moreau ex nihilo, the "[t]ouches of prosaic detail" that Wells describes as "imperative" to the writer of fantasy must therefore derive from some tangible sources (Seven Famous Novels viii). Though the establishment of a particular inspiration for Wells's character may never be con- clusive, the contemplation of such sources acts to further "make the stories reflect upon contemporary political and social discussions" (viii). Thus, the consideration of parallels between historical figures and Wells's doctor remains a worthwhile, not to mention intriguing, component of interpretation and appreciation—whether or not any such figure served as a conscious model.

Consequently, while it is not my intention to demonstrate conclusively that a particular person was the real-life model for Wells's character, I do aim to show that, as far as potential models are concerned, there is one for whom there is far more diverse and striking evidence than for any others who have yet been proposed. This historical precursor is the French scientist and philosopher Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis (1698-1759). I hope to demonstrate that the number and nature of correspondences between Maupertuis and Wells's fictional character are of critical interest in their own right, regardless of the question of influence. Nevertheless, in view of both the quantity and quality of similarities between this figure and Wells's doctor, it is impossible not to wonder whether a conscious influence existed.

At the very least, Maupertuis stands his own ground as a likely model for Doctor Moreau when compared to the candidates discussed above. There is no reason, for example, to assume that someone who was long dead would be any less likely to have influenced Wells than a contemporary figure; to take a living or recently deceased personage as a model for Moreau would increase the risk of a too easy identification by readers and a subsequent compression of the novel's symbolic richness to the two-dimensional level of mere allegory. Hence, it is precisely the historical and cultural distance of Maupertuis from Wells's own time and place that make him more conducive as a point of imaginative departure. Moreover, for an author such as Wells, whose imagination and writings probe all of history and extend to the ends of time, the fact that Maupertuis was not an immediate contemporary would seem a most trivial matter. But what reason is there to believe that Wells might have known about Maupertuis? And, even assuming such knowledge, what is there about Maupertuis in particular that might have attracted Wells's attention?

In the absence of any direct reference, there remain several reasons to suspect that Wells knew of Maupertuis. First, Maupertuis is reasonably well known as a scientific thinker even today, recognized for his biological theories, his principle of least action, and his support of Newton. In his own time, Maupertuis was elected to the Paris Academy of Sciences in 1723 and to the Royal Society in 1728. He was also appointed president of the Berlin Academy of Sciences in 1746 (Beeson 7, 11). Certainly, Maupertuis is of greater renown than most of the previously suggested models for Doctor Moreau. Especially given Wells's interest in evolution and entropy, it is difficult to imagine that such a historically, philosophically, and scientifically knowledgeable man as Wells would not be at least somewhat familiar with Maupertuis. In addition, Wells may have been indirectly introduced to Maupertuis through both Voltaire and T. H. Huxley.

As Anthony West testifies, Wells's "two most keenly felt literary admirations … were for Swift and Voltaire" (218). And Voltaire's acerbic satires of Maupertuis in the Histoire du Docteur Akakia (1752) and Micromégas (1752) unintentionally served to embalm as well as to embarrass the object of their scorn, since even those who might otherwise never hear of Maupertuis are obliged to learn of him in the course of appreciating Voltaire's ridicule. That Huxley was also aware of Maupertuis's thought is clear from mention of him in "Evolution and Biology." As part of a consideration of early evolutionary thought, Huxley refers to Maupertuis's "hypothesis as to the causes of variation, which he thinks may be sufficient to account for the origin of all animals from a single pair" (209). Having gained the attention of two of Wells's most respected intellectuals, it is not unlikely that Maupertuis would garner the attention of Wells also.

Given that Wells might well have known of Maupertuis, there are also several reasons to suspect that Wells would have considered him a figure of special interest. In addition to various similarities that Maupertuis bears to Doctor Moreau, he also bears interesting similarities to Wells himself, and these might well have prompted Wells's curiosity. Maupertuis's Lettre sur le progrès des sciences (1751) recommends a wide range of areas for future scientific research, including proposals for the exploration of both land and sea, the division of astronomical observation among various nations, the establishment of a city in which Latin alone would be used as the international language (2:407-13), and what David Beeson describes as "the blood-chilling idea" that certain medical treatments "should be tested on criminals condemned to death by torment, who have nothing to lose" (236-37). However much Maupertuis's occasionally gruesome fascination with research aligns him with Dr. Moreau, the boldness and foresight of Maupertuis's predictions of and suggestions for future scientific progress make him no less reminiscent of Wells. Indeed, in an article on Maupertuis published in 1941, Jerome Fee first suggests an intellectual kinship between the two, describing the "highly imaginative speculations" of Maupertuis as being "written, perhaps, in the spirit of H. G. Wells" (501). The influence, in fact, was quite possibly the reverse.

Another point of similarity between Maupertuis and Wells is the catholicity and integrality of their interests. As Beeson explains, Maupertuis argued "that advances in knowledge come from the comparison of ideas with each other" and repeatedly advocated "the pursuit of a synthesis of human knowledge, breaking down the distinction between the arts and sciences" (162). Well before intense specialization had led to the estrangement of the sciences and the humanities, Maupertuis shared the desire of the encyclopedists to unify disparate realms of knowledge into a productive whole. Similarly, Roslynn Haynes writes that Wells's "methods and techniques are … of particular interest in a generation that has intended to accept unquestioningly allegations of the immense difficulty, if not the impossibility, of adequate conversation between the ‘two cultures’" (7). That Maupertuis shared the same ideal may well, again, have recommended him to Wells's notice.

Though my purpose so far has simply been to suggest that some more or less direct influence on Wells is within the realm of possibility, more significant and striking are the similarities between Maupertuis and Doctor Moreau. Like the similarity of spirit between Maupertuis and Wells, the suggestiveness of Maupertuis as a parallel to Doctor Moreau has also been noticed by one previous author. Writing thirty-five years after Fee, Harcourt Brown comments in a footnote to a chapter on the scientist-philosopher: "Maupertuis' suggestion that princely menageries could be turned to scientific uses by experiments in cross-breeding different species and by grafting limbs and organs, much as botanists create monstrous trees by trimming and implanting scions, points in the direction of H. G. Wells's grim fantasy of 1896, titled, perhaps significantly, The Island of Dr Moreau " (203). As I hope to show, however, the parallels between Maupertuis and Doctor Moreau, and their significance for Wells's novel, go far beyond this focus on grafting and the use of the name Moreau in the work's title, as noteworthy as these similarities are by themselves. Even in the absence of further information, I would argue that Maupertuis can already boast of resembling Moreau at least as much as any other previously suggested predecessor. But the resemblance does not stop here.

A proud and independent scientist known to have traveled to remote islands and to have suffered shipwreck, Maupertuis lived a life rich in material suggestive of Prendick's shipwreck and experiences on Moreau's island. Maupertuis traveled to England in 1728, where he became a confirmed advocate of Newtonian mechanics. As Bentley Glass writes, "[u]pon his return to France, at a time when Newton's theory of gravitation was still violently opposed … Maupertuis became the open defender and expounder of the new scientific doctrines, just as Huxley over a century later sprang to the defense of Darwinism" ("Pioneer" 52). Indeed, in 1736 Maupertuis proposed and led an expedition to Lapland in order to accurately measure the length of a degree along the meridian of longitude in order to vindicate Newton's theory of gravity by confirming that the Earth is flattened at the poles. Even the isolation of a remote island and the drama of shipwreck so important to Wells's novel are suggested by the details of Maupertuis's expedition, for not only did Maupertuis intend to use the many islands in the Gulf of Bothnia as a base for his triangulations, before discovering that they were too low to offer proper visibility, but he was also temporarily shipwrecked in the Baltic during his return journey (Jones 19).

Maupertuis also foreshadows Moreau as a skillful surgeon with unorthodox ideas about humans' relationship to animals and about pain and suffering. For example, Beeson points out that Maupertuis's "Observations et expériences sur une espèce de salamandre" (1727) show him as "capable of very delicate dissection" (63). Moreover, "Maupertuis did not feel in the least obliged to accept received wisdom, but questioned the most time-honoured opinions: he even carried out some (rather unpleasant) experiments on salamanders to expose the myth of their incombustibility" (64). No less the iconoclast in his Lettres philosophiques (1749; 2nd ed. 1752), "Maupertuis argues that it is only by virtue of a perceived analogy between himself and other men that he can conclude that other men have souls, and … he points out that exactly the same analogy would suggest that animals too have souls" (Beeson 231; Maupertuis 2:242-52). Despite the fact that Maupertuis uses this ascription of souls to animals to argue that, as Beeson puts it, "men have no right to cause unnecessary suffering to any other sentient being," Maupertuis's own brother, "Moreau de Saint-Ellier, … apparently engaged in vivisection" (231-32). Maupertuis's theo- retical, as opposed to sympathetic, attitude toward pain hauntingly evokes Doctor Moreau's comment: "Sympathetic pain—all I know of it I remember as a thing I used to suffer from years ago" (§14:48).2

Further paralleling Doctor Moreau's analytic and quantitative approach to the question of pain, Maupertuis goes on, in his Essai de philosophie morale (1749), to base his ethical philosophy on a hedonic calculus by which the duration and intensity of pleasure and pain can be roughly measured (1:193-97). More to the point, Maupertuis's praise of the stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius and his endorsement of indifference to suffering are suggestive of Moreau's comment to Prendick that "it is just this question of pain that parts us. So long as visible or audible pain turns you sick; so long as your own pains drive you, so long as pain underlies your propositions about sin—so long, I tell you, are you an animal …" (§14:48). Like Doctor Moreau, then, Maupertuis ironically suggests that, if anything distinguishes humans from beasts, it is a philosophical insouciance toward suffering.

Maupertuis's prescient and lifelong study of biology also makes him a particularly apt model for Doctor Moreau, especially given the importance of evolutionary thought to Wells and his work. After his earlier work on salamanders and scorpions, Maupertuis next turned to biological speculation in his Dissertation physique à l'occasion du nègre blanc (1744), later revised into the more complete Vénus physique of 1745. In the latter work, Maupertuis puts forth his iconoclastic ideas concerning sexual reproduction. He rejected the notion of pre-existence, arguing that both the male and female parent contribute equally in the generation of offspring. According to Maupertuis, the material inherited by the embryo from each parent is attracted by affinity to its correct position in the formation of organs. This explanation not only provided a relatively straightforward explanation for occasional deformities, but, as Beeson points out, it also "accounts for hybridization: a mule may have the head of a horse and the ears of an ass, because an organ supplied by one parent attracted those provided by another" (Beeson 176; Maupertuis 2:70). In hybrids, however, the conflation of materials from different species results in a confusion of hereditary material and in sterility (2:71-74). Hence, Maupertuis shows not only a general interest in biology, but a particular interest in the "morbid growths" (Moreau §7:21) and hybrids that later occupy his fictional protégé.

In other ways as well, Maupertuis, like Moreau, is "a prominent and masterful physiologist, well-known in scientific circles for his extraordinary imagination" (§7:21). In Vénus physique, Maupertuis develops a theory of heredity to account for the great variation between living creatures and the rise of new species. Maupertuis considers geographical distribution and climactic conditions in this rise of new organisms, but emphasizes the role played by chance and atavism in mutations. Beeson explains that, for Maupertuis, while the seminal material for an embryo "is chiefly made up of elements supplied by the parents themselves, … there are also elements derived from earlier ancestors. If there is a lack of appropriate elements from the parents to form a particular part of the embryo, these other elements may be used." Either through accident or ancestral reversion, then, "[t]he individual with the new characteristics then becomes the first member of a different strain" (178-79). Hence, Maupertuis clearly supports both biparental heredity and a transformist evolutionary theory well before the time of Mendel and Darwin.

Just as Maupertuis need not have been a direct influence on Wells's novel for the resemblances between Maupertuis and Moreau to be appreciated, so Maupertuis need not have contributed to Darwin's Origin of Species for the similarities between certain ideas of Maupertuis and Darwin to be readily apparent. As Beeson argues, Maupertuis is not "a precursor either of genetics or of evolutionary theory" in any immediate or strong sense because his theories are not "fully developed" and he is not mentioned by either Mendel or Darwin (2). Yet in no way does this diminish the fact that, in hindsight, Maupertuis's transformist ideas are strikingly evocative of Darwinian evolution. This is especially the case insofar as Maupertuis shows not only a general interest in the transformation of one species into anther, but particularly emphasizes the concepts of chance and atavism that later occupy Wells in The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Even more remarkable than the seeming modernity of Maupertuis's evolutionary thought, however, is the strong parallel between his fascination with the number of digits on both animals and humans and that of Wells in The Island of Doctor Moreau. Maupertuis returns to the subject of sexual reproduction in his Lettre philosophiques, this time for the purpose of examining sexdigitism, or polydactyly. Maupertuis not only considers the phenomenon in both humans and animals, but he uses statistical probability to establish sexdigitism as a hereditary trait (2:306-12). Indeed, Maupertuis "was the first person to apply the laws of probability to the study of heredity, and he was led by the facts he uncovered to develop a theory of heredity that forecasts the theory of genes in astonishing detail" (Glass, "A Forgotten Genius" 103). But, quite aside from their inherent interest as a precursor of later evolutionary thought, Maupertuis's investigations even provide material for the imagery of Wells's novel. On first encountering the Ape-man, for example, Prendick comments of the simian creature: "He seemed puzzled at something. His eyes came back to my hands. He held his own hand out and counted his digits slowly, ‘One, two, three, four, five—eigh?’" Prendick then comments: "I did not grasp his meaning then; afterwards I was to find that a great proportion of these Beast People had malformed hands, lacking sometimes even three digits" (§11:35). Three more times in the story the Ape-man gabbles of Prendick's being "a five-man, like me" (§12:37, §12:39, §16:57). Finally, Prendick complains that the "Ape-man … assumed, on the strength of his five digits, that he was my equal, and was forever jabbering at me…." (§21:81).3 Such a marked interest in digits on the part of both Maupertuis and Wells is, to say the least, peculiar.

Indeed, the sheer number of references to hands throughout Wells's novel is surprising. As Doctor Moreau attempts to explain his experiments, Prendick specifically notices Moreau's "white, dexterous-looking fingers" (§14:45). Prendick's observation points to the contrast between Moreau and the "clumsy-handed men" who have preceded him in biological research (§14:46). Despite his dexterity in vivisection, however, Moreau admits that "often there is trouble with the hands and claws—painful things, that I dare not shape too freely" (§14:51). Not only is Moreau's "the Hand that makes," "the Hand that wounds," and "the Hand that heals," but when the Ape-man's speech becomes unintelligible, he is "branded in the hand" (§12:38-39). In an early draft of the story, one of the Beast People's hands is "chopped off" in punishment for killing a rabbit (Philmus, "Annotations" 97-98), and when Moreau's body is discovered, "[o]ne hand was almost severed at the wrist …" (§18:69). Prendick himself becomes "single-handed" as a result of a broken arm (§20:74), and comments after his experiences that there are "things that I would cheerfully give my right hand to forget" (§21:80). Wells's many references to the number of creatures' digits, and to hands generally, invite one to consider the possibility of a connection to the unusual biological speculations of Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis.

Still more notable likenesses between Maupertuis and Moreau are reflected in their abodes, their experiments, and their interest in animals. Samuel Formey, the secretary of the Berlin Academy of Sciences and a contemporary of Maupertuis, writes that "[t]he house of M. de Maupertuis was a veritable menagerie, filled with animals of every species who failed to maintain the proprieties…. It was sometimes dangerous to pass by the run of these animals, by whom some had been attacked. I was especially afraid of the Iceland dogs. M. de Maupertuis amused himself above all by mating different races together; and he showed with complaisance the products of these matings …" (qtd. in Glass, "Beginnings of Genetics" 205). In his Lettres, Maupertuis himself writes of these breeding experiments involving Icelandic hounds, showing an interest both in perpetuating unusual colorations and in the appearance of supernumerary digits among the creatures (2:310-12). The similarity of Maupertuis's house and amusements to Moreau's "enclosure" and experiments could hardly be more striking. But even Maupertuis's close association with hounds is retained by Doctor Moreau. The first animals sighted by Prendick when he first beholds the deck of the Ipecacuanha are Moreau's staghounds, and these creatures are frequently at Moreau's side. As Moreau's launch approaches Prendick's dinghy, Prendick notes that Moreau is "sitting cramped up with the dogs" and that "he looked down at the staghound that sat between his knees" when the two men's eyes meet (§6:16-17). After landing on the island, Prendick describes Moreau as "holding in a tumult of six dogs" (§6:18). Later, the hounds lead Moreau in his pursuit of Prendrick, who describes the doctor as "holding the leaping staghound back" (§12:40). Finally, even in death "Moreau lay beside … the staghounds" (§19:72). Thus, it seems that Maupertuis's hounds, too, have strong fictional parallels.

In addition to Maupertuis's biological ideas, his contribution to what would become thermodynamics is also of great relevance to Wells and to The Island of Doctor Moreau. In his "Sur les loix du mouvement et du repos dèduites des attributs de Dieu" (1746), Maupertuis set forth the "principle of least action," and it is for this principle that Maupertuis is perhaps best known. Here, Maupertuis argued that the quantity of action involved in any change in nature is always the least possible (Glass, "Maupertuis" 187). This least action or "extremal" principle is an early expression of the second law of thermodynamics, and Maupertuis's general concept was later taken up and given more precise formulation by Leonhard Eu- ler (1707-83), Joseph Lagrange (1736-1813), Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot (1769-1832), Rudolf Julius Emmanuel Clausius (1822-88), William Thomson (1824-1907), and Hermann Von Helmhotz (1821-94). In 1865, Clausius proposed the name "entropy" for the amount of a system's energy unavailable for work as a result of disorder or chaos, thus leading to the modern formulation of the second law of thermodynamics, which states that in any closed system entropy can only increase. In the 1850s both Thomson and Helmholtz had already drawn cosmological conclusions from the second law, to the effect that the Earth and, indeed, the entire universe must eventually lose its usable thermal energy and suffer a "heat death" (Jammer 115). The importance of the second law of thermodynamics and the concept of entropy to The Time Machine has been widely recognized. The connection of entropy to Maupertuis's ideas, however, and its significance in The Island of Doctor Moreau, has yet to be properly appreciated.4

Not only does the concept of entropy derive its impetus from Maupertuis, but the mutual expression of the elements of entropic and evolutionary thought in Maupertuis's work strongly foreshadows the later connection of entropy and evolution in Wells's writing. In the nineteenth century, it was Helmholtz who first specifically suggested the applicability of entropy to biological processes, and the discussion of the second law became intertwined with the debate between mechanists and vitalists. Discussion of entropy was further entangled in the controversy over Darwinism, relating as it did to the age of the Earth and the debate between proponents of uniformitarianism and catastrophism (Jammer 114-18). Hence, both entropy and evolution were soon linked in discussions of the past and future development of life and the universe. It is therefore appropriate that the entropic and evolutionary themes are developed in tandem in both The Time Machine and The Island of Doctor Moreau.

That conjunction of evolution and entropy in Wells's works is especially significant in light of Wells's belief in the "entire parity" of degeneration and evolution and his disdain for the glibly "optimistic evolution" popular in the nineteenth century ("Zoological" ["Zoological Retrogression" ] 158-59); the cold and bleak "winding down" of the universe predicted by the second law of thermodynamics nicely coincides with Wells's belief that "degradation" is the "essential complement" to any "advance in biological phenomena" (158). Likewise, Maupertuis's theory of evolution also contains a recognition of biological degeneration, as he made clear near the end of Vénus physique: "Ce qu'il y a de sûr, c'est que toutes les variétés qui pourroient caractériser des especes nouvelles d'animaux & de plantes, tendent à s'éteindre: ce font des écartes de la Nature, dans lesquels elle ne persévere que par l'art ou par le régime. Ses ouvrages tendent toujours à reprendre le dessus" [One thing is certain, which is that all variations that may characterize new species of animals and plants tend to degenerate: they are the caprices of Nature, which do not persevere except through art or discipline. Her original works always tend to regain the upper hand] (2:124). Consequently, Maupertuis not only advocated a theory of evolution consistent with reversion and degeneration, but he advocated an incipient theory of entropy as well—both ideas of the most vital interest to Wells. The very coexistence of evolutionary and entropic concepts in Maupertuis's thought is premonitory of their conjunction in Wells's own mind and work.

Significantly, such a combination of entropic and evolutionary themes and imagery are to be found in The Island of Doctor Moreau no less than in The Time Machine. Philmus has perceptively noted, for example, that the wording and imagery of two passages in Moreau are reminiscent of the Time Traveler's description of the dying Earth of the far future ("Annotations" 93, 98). Likewise, Philmus points out that "Prendick's first (sensory) impressions of the Beast People's abode recall the Time Traveller's vis-à-vis the Underworld of the Morlocks" ("Annotations" 94). Certainly, the "little sloth-like creature" that Prendick discovers in the "absolutely dark" chasm of the Beast People after "something cold" (§12:36) touches his hand is as much an embodiment of the entropy motif as are the Morlocks. Yet allusions to entropy in Moreau extend far beyond these similarities to Wells's earlier work. The very island itself, of volcanic origin and with "a spire of vapour that was for ever streaming from the fumaroles" (§21:79), is symbolic of gradual cooling and "heat death." As Prendick explains, these fumaroles, "and a hot spring, were the only vestiges of the forces that had long since originated it" (§15:53). Similarly, the increasing chaos and disorder symptomatic of entropy are reflected in Prendick's "realization of the unspeakable aimlessness of things upon the island" (§16:63). Prendick himself falls "into a morbid state, deep and enduring," after witnessing the "painful disorder" of the place (§16:64). And, as Prendick kneels over the dying Montgomery beside the ashes of a bonfire, the mortally injured man murmurs: "‘The last … the last of this silly universe. What a mess—’" (§19:74). Prendick then reports: "My heart went cold" (§19:74).

As the story ends, references to entropic coldness and disorder become even more prominent, and as the "slow and inevitable" reversion of the Beast People takes place, "the carelessness and disorganization increased from day to day…." (§21:82). Prendick once again feels "something cold" touch his skin and is confronted by the sloth-creature (§21:83), before finding that the "other creatures had lost the art of fire" (§21:84). Prendick then sights a small boat on an "aimless course," but he is prevented from swimming out to it by "a cold, vague fear" (§21:85). After discovering that the two men inside the boat "had been dead so long that they fell to pieces," Prendick escapes from the island with rabbits killed using his "last three cartridges" (§21:85). Here, Prendick's dwindling cartridges serve a function analogous to the Time Traveler's dwindling matches, symbolizing the ineluctable loss of usable energy, warmth, and light as entropy increases.5 "Alone with the night and silence," Prendick then "drift[s]" to his rescue (§22:86). In the story's final irony, Prendick seeks solace "in the vast and eternal laws of matter," unaware that it is precisely one of these laws—the second law of thermodynamics—that has determined the course of events (§22:87). For both Wells and Maupertuis, far from being "the slaves of no fantastic Law—beings altogether different from the Beast Folk" (§22:87), we are all subject to the "slow and inevitable" (§21:82) laws of evolution and entropy.

Beeson points out that Maupertuis's role in the development of ideas leading to thermodynamics was "merely to sketch out the guiding lines of the [least action] principle" and that his "contribution has been overshadowed by those who followed him shortly after" (2). This does not, however, change the fact that Maupertuis's name is indissolubly bound to this body of ideas, nor does it alter the fact that Maupertuis was unique in the way his thought combined speculation on this subject with an interest in the transformation of species. And, while later thinkers are, of course, more closely associated with our current conceptions of thermodynamics and evolution, none share nearly as many common characteristics with Moreau as does Maupertuis. Interestingly, these commonalities include religious as well as scientific outlooks.

Even in his unconventional theology, Maupertuis presages Moreau, and the ironies implicit in Maupertuis's thought are made thematically manifest through Wells's Doctor. Maupertuis's affirmation of religious belief and association of the principle of least action with God, for instance, are analogous to Moreau's affirmation: "I am a religious man, Prendick," and his claim that, "[i]t may be, I fancy, that I have seen more of the ways of this world's Maker than you—for I have sought his laws" (§14:48). Likewise, Maupertuis's contradictory emphasis on the role of chance in evolution and simultaneous faith in divine providence is analogous to the contradictory way in which, as Philmus points out, chance "identifies Moreau with a nature which works blindly through Natural Selection," while Moreau simultaneously "functions as God over his Creation" ("Annotations" 96). What is more, his averred piety notwithstanding, Maupertuis's championing of the implacable and remorseless laws of Newtonian mechanics associates him, like Moreau, with the "vast and pitiless Mechanism" (§16:64) of the universe, the study of which, Moreau explains, "makes a man at last as remorseless as Nature" (§14:49). Both Maupertuis and Moreau, then, through their seemingly inconsistent stitching together of blindly mechanistic and teleological spiritual beliefs, unwittingly demonstrate the degree to which the laws of nature are painfully at odds with the ways of God—at least as He is conventionally conceived.

Finally, rather like Moreau, Maupertuis endured obloquy and exile. In 1751, a fellow member of the Berlin Academy named Samuel Köenig accused Maupertuis's principle of least action not only of being erroneous but also having been stolen from Leibniz. Köenig's motivation for this attack is unclear, and his evidence in support of the charge was highly suspect. The following year, the Academy ruled that the evidence for Köenig's accusation had been forged, and expelled him from the organization. Nonetheless, Voltaire, perhaps jealous of Maupertuis's having championed Newton before him, made of the controversy an opportunity to satirically savage Maupertuis in the Histoire du Docteur Akakia and Micromégas. As Aram Vartanian has convincingly argued, Voltaire's animosity toward his former friend Maupertuis in the "affaire Köenig" probably originated as much in his resistance to the increasingly experimental orientation of science that Maupertuis seemed to represent as in any personal rivalry (256-57). Regardless of the cause of Köenig's and Voltaire's attacks, however, their cumulative effect was to seriously damage Maupertuis's reputation and to increase the sense of ostracism he had felt since his return from Lapland. Crushed, Maupertuis withdrew for a time to the sea-bound city of Saint-Malo on the coast of France (Glass, "Maupertuis" 188). It is difficult to read of the pointless and destructive events surrounding Maupertuis's life at this time without thinking of the "scandalous trial" and "graceless and pitiful downfall of a man of genius" referred to by Wells ("Preface" ix).

Whether Wells knew of Maupertuis or not, no exceptional acuity is required to appreciate the harmonious resonances struck by the latter's similarities to Doctor Moreau. Such features as Moreau de Maupertuis's name, his surgical and breeding experiments with animals, his beliefs concerning pain and the relationship between animals and humans, his interest in evolution and hybridity, his association with polydactyly and hounds, his proposal of the least action principle, his unconventional religiosity, his ostracism and exile, and his relative renown combine to give him a far greater resemblance to Wells's titular character than is demonstrated by any other historical predecessor so far considered by scholars. Indeed, when Maupertuis is placed in the lineup alongside other figures for whom a likeness to Moreau has been claimed, one may well feel, in the words of Prendick, "convinced that this must be the same man. Everything pointed to it" (§7:22).


1. In addition to Philmus's invaluable variorum text, the paperback editions edited by Patrick Parrinder and Brian Aldiss also deserve mention.

2. As appendix six of Philmus's variorum text makes clear, vivisection was a matter of some concern at the time the novel was written. That many were reading materials on the subject, both popular and scientific in nature, further increases the relevance of Maupertuis to contemporary debates.

3. Interestingly, Wells also uses a reference to digits in The Time Machine. As Philmus explains, "[i]n an episode appearing in the New Review but deleted subsequently," the Time Traveler sees "a species more degraded than the Morlocks. Of this creature … the Traveller reports: ‘I was surprised to see the thing had five feeble digits to both its fore and hind feet—the fore feet, indeed, were almost as human as the fore feet of a frog….’" ("Logic" 58-59).

4. On entropy in The Time Machine, see especially McCarthy and Palumbo. On entropy more generally, see Adams and Laughlin, Lewicki, and Zencey.

5. See also Prendick's references to "a revolver with two empty chambers" (74), "half a dozen cartridges" (75), and the lack of "sufficient cartridges" (84).

Works Cited

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Fee, Jerome. "Maupertuis, and the Principle of Least Action." Scientific Monthly 52 (1941): 496-503.

Glass, Bentley. "Maupertuis, Pierre Louis Moreau de." Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Ed. Charles Coulston Gillispie. Vol. 9. New York: Scribner's, 1980. 186-89.

———. "Maupertuis and the Beginnings of Genetics." Quarterly Review of Biology 22 (1947): 196-210.

———. "Maupertuis, a Forgotten Genius." Scientific American (October 1955): 100-10.

———. "Maupertuis, Pioneer of Genetics and Evolution." Forerunners of Darwin: 1745-1859. Eds. Bentley Glass, Owsei Temkin, and William L. Strauss, Jr. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1968. 51-83.

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Huxley, Thomas Henry. "Evolution in Biology." Collected Essays. Vol. 2. New York: Appleton, 1894. 187-226.

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Mackerness, E. D. "Nathan Benjulia, a Prototype of Dr. Moreau?" Wellsian 2 (1978): 1-5.

Maupertuis, Pierre Louis Moreau de. Ouvres de Maupertuis: Nouvelle édition corrigée & augmentée. Lyon, 1768. Facsim. ed. 4 vols. Introduction, bibliographie, et histoire du texte par Giorgio Tonelli. Olms: Hildesheim, 1974.

McCarthy, Patrick A. "Heart of Darkness and the Early Novels of H. G. Wells: Evolution, Anarchy, Entropy." Journal of Modern Literature 13.1 (1986): 37-60.

Palumbo, Donald E. "The Politics of Entropy: Revolution vs. Evolution in George Pal's 1960 Film Version of H. G. Wells's The Time Machine." Modes of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Twelfth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. Eds. Robert A. Latham and Robert A. Collins. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995. 204-11.

Philmus, Robert M. "Annotations." H. G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau: A Variorum Text. Ed. Robert M. Philmus. Athens, U of Georgia P, 1993. 89-99.

———. "Introducing Moreau." H. G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau: A Variorum Text. Ed. Robert M. Philmus. Athens, U of Georgia P, 1993. xi-xlviii.

———. "The Logic of ‘Prophecy’ in The Time Machine." H. G. Wells: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Bernard Bergonzi. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1976. 56-68.

Steffen-Fluhr, Nancy. "Paper Tiger: Women and H. G. Wells." SFS 12.3 (Nov. 1985): 311-29.

Showalter, Elaine. Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle. New York: Viking, 1990.

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Vartanian, Aram. "Voltaire's Quarrel with Maupertuis: Satire and Science." L'Esprit Créateur 7 (1967): 252-58.

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———. The Island of Doctor Moreau: A Variorum Text. Ed. Robert M. Philmus. Athens, U of Georgia P, 1993.

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———. Seven Famous Novels by H. G. Wells. New York: Knopf, 1934.

———. The Time Machine and The Island of Doctor Moreau. Ed. Patrick Parrinder. New York: Oxford UP, 1996.

———. "Zoological Retrogression." H. G. Wells: Early Writings in Science and Science Fiction. Eds. Robert M. Philmus and David Y. Hughes. Berkeley: U of California P, 1975. 158-68.

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Willis, Martin T. "Edison as Time Traveler: H. G. Wells's Inspiration for his First Scientific Character." SFS 26.2 (July 1999): 284-94.

Zencey, Eric. "Some Brief Speculations on the Popularity of Entropy as Metaphor." North American Review 271.3 (1986): 7-10.

Iuliu Ratiu (review date winter 2004)

SOURCE: Ratiu, Iuliu. Review of The Island of Dr. Moreau, by H. G. Wells, introduction by Darren Harris-Fain. Extrapolation 45, no. 4 (winter 2004): 462-63.

[In the following review, Ratiu characterizes The Island of Dr. Moreau as "a landmark in a very powerful and compelling tradition of literary works dealing with as varied themes as monster birth, utopia and colonialism."]

We should not be surprised that the current debate concerning stem-cell research, with its moral and scientific controversies, is a reiteration of a similar debate concerning vivisection in Victorian England. Further, since Darwin's evolution theory continues to be unsettling, dangerous and despicable for many of us, I suggest we let science follow its way and concentrate on literature, where story itself offers bitter vivisection of our innermost fears, beliefs and hopes, especially within this ever daunting genre of science-fiction.

When Charles Edward Prendick decides to publish his uncle's account of a sojourn on a Pacific island, he prepares the reader for his "vivisection" in two important ways. First, he warns them that the account (in a verbal format) was so strange that his uncle was considered demented and his narrative rendered as coming from a "curious lapse of memory consequent upon physical and mental stress." Second, he documents his uncle's story with unquestionable facts. That is, his uncle Edward Prendick indeed was shipwrecked from Lady Vain and lived on an island which was later identified as a small uninhibited volcanic islet by the name of Noble's Isle. Then he concludes, "my uncle passed out of human knowledge about latitude 5° S. and longitude 105° E., and reappeared in the same part of the ocean after a space of eleven months. In some way he must have lived during the interval." The life during the interval is skillfully presented in H. G. Wells's scientific romance The Island of Dr. Moreau. In a short page-turning reading session, full of suspense, gothic irony and horror, the reader is confronted with a private gentleman's experience on an island-lab where a demoniac scientist (Dr. Moreau) with the help of his assistant (Montgomery) tries to transform animals into human beings by vivisective surgery. As it is, the story might be considered Wells's take on the missing link predicament, but, as it soon turns out, Dr. Moreau's experiments fail, leaving the author and the reader to reflect on the sad but true idea that while animals can never be humanized, human beings can always go back to animalistic instincts. Moreover, it is Wells's critique of the epoch's projections involving reason, God and nature and his parody of knowledge (Lady Vain) and science (Noble's Isle) offers a tentative and didactic effort of defining the limits as well as limitations of humanity and its civilizing powers.

Apart from being a good and resourceful read, both morally and leisurely entertaining the reader, The Island of Dr. Moreau is a landmark in a very powerful and compelling tradition of literary works dealing with as varied themes as monster birth, utopia and colonialism. In his Introduction to the New Edition Darren Harris-Fain, who holds a Ph.D. in English from Kent State University and is currently an associate professor of English at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio, traces both the origins and filiations of Wells's novel. Thus, a Swiftian influence on Wells's work is of no surprise since the author himself "both admired Swift's gift for satire and his desire to expose human folly in hopes of improving society," although the novel's echoes include writers like Shakespeare, Milton, Defoe, Mary Shelly and Stevenson. Further, Harris-Fain is prompt enough to guide the readers' attention toward Wells's satirical view of the Romantic idea of nature as represented by writers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau or Rudyard Kipling.

As for the filiations traced by Harris-Fain, they are as varied as the themes presented in the novel, ranging from stage and screen adaptations to points of departure for both fiction and science-fiction writers, such as Joseph Nesvadba, Michael Bishop, Brian W. Aldis, Gene Wolfe, who revised and expanded Wells's novel, or Cordwainer Smith, David Brin, Margaret Atwood, Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill, who freely echoed the novel. Nevertheless, the novel's reprint is an invitation to reading and meditation. Man's dual nature involves both superior wisdom and inferior instincts. We might not live in a Victorian age anymore, but we are constantly faced with moral debates concerning science, religion and progress. And literature can help us out. The Island of Dr. Moreau stands as example, and it is useful that Harris-Fain has produced this popular edition at this time.

Nicholas Ruddick (review date July 2005)

SOURCE: Ruddick, Nicholas. "Annotations, Appendices, Adaptations: Recent Work on H. G. Wells's Scientific Romances." Science-Fiction Studies 32, no. 2 (July 2005): 316-22.

[In the following review, Ruddick finds both Thomas C. Renzi's book H. G. Wells: Six Scientific Romances Adapted for Film and the Broadview Literary Texts edition of The War of the Worlds scholarly and insightful, but judges the 2004 edition of The Island of Doctor Moreau insufficiently supplemented.]

Not so long ago it was possible to publish annotated, supplemented editions of well-known works of popular fiction entitled The Definitive … or The Essential…. Instead of being chastised for hubris, the editors were often praised for their daring in treating non-canonical works such as Dracula (1897) as though they were worthy of being read carefully. If a Definitive Dracula was in hardcover and had an unsmilingly pedantic apparatus, the intended readership was a handful of academic specialists; if it was in paperback, well illustrated, and slightly facetious in editorial tone, the targeted market was the horde of wannabe vampires with their insatiable thirst to absorb everything about the subject of their obsessions.

More recently, the canon having been thoroughly subverted, works previously considered cultish were accorded the full classic textbook treatment. Instead of The Compleat Frankenstein, we now had Frankenstein: The Critical Edition, containing everything that specialists supposed that undergraduates might need to fully appreciate the invigorating current theoretical debate about the newly discovered masterwork. However, a smallish independent Canadian publisher, Broadview Press, had done some careful thinking about the undergraduate textbook market. Broadview saw that the texts of classic novels out of copyright were freely downloadable from the Internet, so that to stay profitable book publishers would have to "add more value" than ever. Yet it was neither pedagogically sound nor good economic sense to end-load university editions of classic fiction with a dozen contemporary critical essays. Most undergraduates aren't equipped to read contemporary criticism (until they've taken enough "theory" courses), critical fashions change quickly, and living critics have to be paid. Broadview also saw that instructors of period classes would assign non-canonical fiction—espe- cially readable novels that provide an entrée into the mentality of a particular period, as Frankenstein does to High Romanticism—if students were provided with useful supplementary information about the text's relation to its age.

So was born the Broadview Literary Texts series (recently rechristened simply Broadview Editions), in which illumination of literary-historical context is the main aim, not "definitiveness" or exploration of the spectrum of critical approaches. The Broadview Editions are in trade paperback, their covers sporting striking black and white photographs that often have a pleasingly uncanny relation to the text. Each work is fully annotated, with notes conveniently at the foot of the page. They are prefaced by introductions that tend to deal with such literary-historical issues as how the author came to write the work. But the most valuable parts of many Broadview Editions are the Appendices, which consist of readings that contextualize the work at the time of its first publication—e.g., extracts from writers who influenced the author, authorial correspondence, contemporary reviews. When well done, the Broadview Edition treatment adds genuine value to the text, and is fairly affordable thanks to a low Canadian dollar.

I will belatedly declare my own interest: in 2001 I edited The Time Machine in the Broadview series. This was their first H. G. Wells title, and has since been followed by Martin A. Danahay's The War of the Worlds, in which my precedent is kindly acknowledged (7). In fact, the very small overlap in the content of our respective Appendices suggests that, though only two and a half years separated the publication of these two best-known and most influential of Wells's scientific romances, there was a great difference in their compositional context. The Time Machine: An Invention (1895) was the product of years of hard reading and thinking by a young writer struggling with how best to achieve his aim of cutting his smug late Victorian contemporaries down to size by placing their mayfly existences in the temporal frame opened up by evolutionary thought. But Wells in 1895 was in poor health, had small means of support, and was in the kind of marital imbroglio that would have led to total social ostracism had his public profile not been almost entirely obscure. The Time Machine, alarming in its confident prediction of human extinction and impudent in its compression of thirty million years of cosmic future history, had been hurried into existence probably to pay off an unsympathetic landlady, its brilliant originality blinding almost everyone but the author to its shortcomings. (He had planned a much more grandiose work, something on the lines of The Outline of History [1920], and in 1931 would dismiss The Time Machine as "a very undergraduate performance.")

When The War of The Worlds was published in January 1898, Wells was famous, respectably remarried, and wealthy. If The Time Machine had been his first real book, The War of the Worlds was something like his eleventh, though he was already so prolific that it is hard to keep track with any exactitude. The War of the Worlds was not begotten from years of agonizing about human destiny, but from a chance remark that Frank Wells made to H. G. as the brothers were walking through well-manicured and unutterably self-satisfied Surrey: "Suppose some beings from another planet were to drop out of the sky suddenly … and begin laying about them here!" (193). It was a thought that must have instantly appealed to a clever, angry, déclassé young man of Swiftian disposition. (Given a comic twist, it foreshadows innumerable sketches by the young Wells's temperamental heirs, the Monty Python team.) And though Wells lived to see the breakdown of the rigid social order of his youth, vicious condescension to those of the lower orders who dared publish a book was still common in 1898. Danahay appends a review of The War of the Worlds in the august Athenaeum in which the author is castigated for his regrettable wallowing in the "cheap emotions of a few bank clerks and newspaper louts" (232) as they stream from Martian-controlled London. But then how could a cockney upstart know how to flee for one's life in a gentlemanly manner?

Danahay's apparatus is up with the best in the Broadview series in its ability to contextualize effectively. For example, Appendix G, "Mars in 1898" (243-47) perfectly complements the section on the same subject in the editor's Introduction (23-24). Its first excerpt (243-44) is from the actual article from Nature in August 1894 about the "great light" on Mars cited by the narrator in chapter 1 of the novel (43). This shows us both how up-to-date Wells was with his scientific reading and how indebted to Nature's South Kensington point of view. The second (244-47) is a section from Percival Lowell's Mars (1895), and this suggests how confidently Wells was able to create convincing Martians by extrapolating from some of the distinguished astronomer's speculations while ignoring others as irrelevant or wrong. According to Lowell, Mars was an "older" planet than Earth (246) by the then prevalent nebular hypothesis; Wells mentions this "fact" in each of the first three paragraphs of The War of the Worlds (41-42). For Lowell, "evolution on [Mars's] surface must be similarly advanced" (246); Wells, approaching the issue from a Huxleyan perspective, saw that "older" also implied that Martian life-forms might have grown more degenerate, its atmosphere less hospitable than Earth's. Lowell's "planet-wide" Martian system of canals presupposes an advanced technology at the behest of a will unweakened by terrestrial-style factional politics (246-47); and so emerge Wells's Martians with their "intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic" regarding "this earth with envious eyes" (41). On the other hand, Wells saw that Lowell's idea that Martians would be "twenty-seven times as strong as we" (246) thanks to their lower gravity was totally misleading when it came to describing how Martians might move unaided on Earth.

Appendix F, "Invasion Narratives," is useful, though perhaps a short sample from Chesney's seminal The Battle of Dorking (1871) (see p. 22 of the novel) might also have been included. Given the very detailed Working-area setting of The War of the Worlds, it's useful to have the topographical Appendix H, though the excellent map from Black's Guide to Surrey (250) should probably have been given a full page. The final Appendix (253-61), which reproduces contemporary photos of Victorian military equipment mentioned in the novel, such as field artillery and ironclad warships, is a particular boon. Wells's subversive delight while writing The War of the Worlds is evident from a letter in Appendix C: "I'm doing the dearest little serial … in which I completely wreck and destroy Working—killing my neighbours in painful and eccentric ways, then proceed … to London, which I sack, selecting South Kensington for feats of peculiar atrocity" (221). One can recapture something of this delight by gazing at the photo of dragoons (259) and imagining a Martian war machine suddenly heaving into view behind those mustachioed and stiffly mounted warriors in their brilliant scarlet tunics (259).

Yet for all its local color, The War of the Worlds is thematically an elaborate variant of The Time Machine. The Martians are ex-human beings who, a million years ahead of us in some ways, have also been subject to a million years of "Zoological Retrogression" (see 195-97). (Wells's Huxleyan 1891 article of this title is probably the most important key to his thought in the 1890s.) In The Time Machine the Time Traveller's home suburb of Richmond is disturbingly estranged via time travel (though Wells did not greatly emphasize this at the time). In The War of the Worlds the space aliens that briefly conquer and transform the Home Counties are really time travelers exiled from the far future who are determined to reconstruct their alien environment on Earth at the expense of their "primitive" ancestors, the Victorians. As the latter diverged into Eloi and Morlocks, so the originally human Martians long ago split into two species, one mentally advanced but physically degenerate, the other still humanoid but mentally vacant, useful only to provide living blood as nutriment for the vampiric sexless brains of these Men of the Year Million (see 203-06).

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), which the older Wells called his "exercise in youthful blasphemy" (vii), is his darkest and most Swiftian work. It alone of Wells's scientific romances is on the same level of literary achievement as The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. Indeed it seems in some ways to be the most vital of the triad today, partly because its motifs haven't been quite so overworked by popular culture. Time machines have long been used in science fiction merely to evoke sophomoric temporal paradoxes, while an invasion of Earth by slobbering alien super-brains is a scenario best left to The Simpsons. But Moreau 's [The Island of Doctor Moreau ] more mundane motifs don't overshadow its still timely themes: the scientist who in playing God loses his humanity; the man who denies his fellowship with animals by acts of endless cruelty to them thereby only further reveals the beast in himself. And perhaps fortuitously Moreau speaks to the canard du jour of "intelligent design," that crude attempt to smuggle God in disguise into the Darwin Hotel. If He really exists, then from a terrestrial perspective most of the inferential evidence points toward a White-Bearded Designer who resembles that cruel vivisectionist Moreau, with the whole biosphere his House of Pain. Darren Harris-Fain has written a useful short introduction to a new edition of The Island of Dr. Moreau from Barnes and Noble, in which he cites some of the recent revisions of the Moreau material, from Josef Nesvadba's "Dr. Moreau's Other Island" (1971) to Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake (2003). But this edition has no apparatus, and although the low price makes it appealing for current course adoption, one is advised to wait for the Broadview Edition before augmenting one's own or one's library's collection.

Thomas C. Renzi's H. G. Wells: Six Scientific Romances Adapted for Film was first published in 1992. That edition contained an introduction dealing with Wells's association with film and six chapters, each dealing with the most important film adaptations of The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man (1897), The War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon (1901), and The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth (1904). Appendices analyzed the two movie adaptations for which Wells got the screenplay credit: Things to Come (1936) from his utopian future-history The Shape of Things to Come (1933); and The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1937) from his 1897 short story of the same name. Now Renzi has updated and expanded his book—though as the page size has been enlarged and the font size reduced, the second edition has slightly fewer pages than the first—retaining the previous text and structure but adding analyses of a number of recent Wellsian adaptations. He includes new sections on Simon Wells's The Time Machine (2002), John Frankenheimer's The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), Paul Verhoeven's Hollow Man (2000) (based very roughly on The Invisible Man), and three recent revisions of The War of the Worlds: Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! (1996), Roland Emmerich's Independence Day (1996), and M. Night Shyamalan's Signs (2002). The new edition has a slightly improved index, while gone are the handful of black and white illustrations in the first edition.

Before turning to the new material, I should point out that Renzi's first edition was a very good book, though perhaps it did not get the attention it deserved in sf circles. It was not reviewed in SFS, while a more recent book on the same subject, Don G. Smith's H. G. Wells on Film: The Utopian Nightmare (2002) does not even mention Renzi in the bibliography. Yet Renzi's book is superior to Smith's in almost every way. Renzi has a detailed knowledge of Wells's fiction, an excellent eye for visual detail, and an engaging style. He also has a very clear idea of what makes a successful novel-to-film adaptation, applying to this end a theory by Geoffrey Wagner that has the advantages of flexibility and freedom from the prejudice that almost inevitably creeps into adaptation studies, depending upon whether one is promoting literary or film values. According to Wagner's theory there are three main ways of transferring fiction into film, each with a decreasing level of what might be called fidelity to the original: transposition, commentary, and analogy (see xvii). Renzi is careful to iterate, though, that "fidelity" is an inappropriately loaded word given that literature and film are different media with their own differing methods for achieving aesthetic success (33). He proposes that most Wells film adaptations are commentaries, "clearly recognizable as Wells's stories but altered according to a ‘reemphasized’ central idea" (xviii). Once their category of adaptation has been established, the movies should be evaluated according to filmic, not literary, criteria.

Renzi's eye for detail and mastery of appropriate analytical tools are equally impressive when dealing with text or mise-en-scène. He understands the advantages that Wells got from using a frame narrator in The Time Machine ; he convinces us that part of the success of George Pal's 1960 adaptation is to use Filby analogously as a "frame character" (2). He explains why Pal chose to depict a time machine resembling Santa Claus's sleigh (45). The revolving disk at the back of this time machine is a motif that subtly echoes other temporally-charged cyclical images in Pal's movie, combining to give the film the unity and coherence of a work of art in the visual and kinetic mode. On the other hand, Renzi claims that no film could probably capture certain subtleties peculiar to the literary mode, such as the trickster aspects of the time traveller suggested by the doubled narrative (9) or the emotional effect evoked by the use of the past perfect verb in the last sentence of The War of the Worlds (192). Indeed, Renzi knows Wells thoroughly enough to quote "The Chronic Argonauts" (1888) (85) and to note how the griffin motif thematically connects The Time Machine and The Invisible Man (95). He demonstrates the estimable quality of Erle Kenton's Island of Lost Souls (1933) by focusing on the ripples in the swimming pool scene (63-64). Perhaps his tour de force is his unpacking of the "feet of clay" imagery in Nathan Juran's surprisingly ambitious First Men in the Moon (1964) (153 ff).

Renzi's flexibility is perhaps best seen in his approach to Byron Haskin's The War of the Worlds (1953). Haskin's film is full of "innovative ideas" (112) that make it largely independent of Wells's novel in plot terms. There is also a real and stark ideological difference between novel and film that sometimes passes unnoticed by critics distracted by minor details such as the transposition of the setting from Surrey to California. Wells's Martians are wiped out as a result of their lack of immunity to microbes that they had long ago purged from their own planet, so humanity is "saved" by Darwinian natural selection, whereby a species adapts to the terrestrial biosphere or perishes: "by the toll of a billion deaths has man bought his birthright in the earth" (Danahay 182). Haskin's Californians, on the other hand, are "saved by the littlest things, which God in His wisdom had put upon this Earth" (qtd. Renzi 121). It's easy to chastise Haskin for his betrayal of Wells's agnostic vision; but Renzi shows how the movie, given the context of its appearance at the height of a Cold War struggle against godless communism (120- 22), is a coherent and reasonably effective development of its own premises.

On the other hand, Renzi is no apologist for Wellsian mediocrity, nor has he any patience for bad film-making pure and simple. He concedes that The Food of the Gods is "not among Wells's best novels," and Bert Gordon's Village of the Giants (1965) and The Food of the Gods (1976) are "slipshod, amateurish … filled with incoherence and triviality" (169). Renzi hilariously demonstrates Gordon's "glaring ineptitude" as a screenwriter (184) and mocks the risible special effect of the giant wasp that makes the victim look "as if he is being attacked by a child's knapsack" (184). Indeed, Gordon's movies are so bad that Renzi, far from suggesting that they actually seem quite good if viewed with a postmodern ironic eye, accuses Gordon of deliberate incompetence, a posture that "seems a masochist's excuse for neglecting craftsmanship or for coping with the fear of failure" (170).

When Simon Wells's new film of The Time Machine appeared, I was teaching the novel in an sf course. Many of my students came to class disgusted with the thematic disparity between the novel and the movie and eager to hear an outraged rant from me. They were a little shocked when I told them that I'd actually enjoyed the film. Of course, its boy-meets-girl-who-is-accidentally-killed-so-boy-invents-time-machine-to-return-to-past-to-rescue-girl scenario was not quite what Wells had in mind, but the movie was consistently absorbing, and not just because of its excellent special effects. Renzi clarified for me why Simon Wells's adaptation is a better than average "commentary" on his great-grandfather's novel. Above all, it must be understood that Simon Wells owes more to preceding adaptations (especially Pal's) than to the novel, because a good director must be aware primarily of the filmic tradition. So, rather than waste time protesting "changes to the original," one might analyze the effectiveness of comparable narrative functions. George Pal used the crude "talking rings" as a device to inform the audience about the course of future history; Simon Wells updates and improves this function as the memorable "photonic Vox" (played by Orlando Jones). Yet while Renzi celebrates Simon Wells's special effects as "a marvelous achievement" (43), he also notes the "credibility gaps" of seismic proportions (37) that damage the coherence of the narrative, e.g., the Morlock attacks in daylight, and their pointless theft of the watch (38). And Simon Wells failed to learn from Pal in one important respect: the lack of voice-over, especially during the time-travel sequences, makes it hard for the audience to identify with the protagonist (39). Renzi also argues persuasively that the deleted introductory scene included in the DVD's special features should have been retained in the final cut (39-41).

Renzi is less generous about other recent Wellsian adaptations. He notes that while Frankenheimer's recent attempt to film Moreau is not the "gross and repulsive failure" (72) that most reviews claimed it to be, it is seriously marred by the "bizarre" performances of Marlon Brando as Moreau and Val Kilmer as Montgomery (76). Interestingly, Renzi thinks that Frankenheimer's tonal ineptitude may well have been caused by his misguided attempt to pay homage to James Whale's mainly excellent The Invisible Man (1933), in which horror and humor are much more effectively integrated. (79). Of recent Wellsian adaptations, Hollow Man appeals to the audience's basest fantasies (108). Independence Day, though shallow, has good special effects and an entertaining narrative, and unlike Haskin, Emmerich finds salvation not in God but in human ingenuity and individualism (135). Signs is actually closer in spirit to The War of the Worlds ; Renzi disapproves of it not for its religiosity but for its "pacing deficit" (141).

I don't agree with all of Renzi's judgments. He thinks William Harrigan as Dr. Kemp in Whale's The Invisible Man "expertly portrays the sneaky, sleazy coward" (87); I think the performance is an object lesson in bad acting. And Renzi is not nearly as harsh as he should be on the execrable Mars Attacks! (132). But the new edition of his book is a further improvement on what was already one of the best books on Wells's scientific romances, one that offers Wellsians a good excuse to update their DVD collection, and one that would serve as an ideal textbook in college courses on novel-to-film adaptation.

Penelope Quade (essay date summer 2007)

SOURCE: Quade, Penelope. "Taming the Beast in the Name of the Father: The Island of Dr. Moreau and Wells's Critique of Society's Religious Molding." Extrapolation 48, no. 2 (summer 2007): 292-301.

[In the following essay, Quade offers a critical reading of The Island of Dr. Moreau, viewing the text as Wells's social commentary on mankind's tendency to blindly accept religious truths without questioning.]

When H. G. Wells first published The Island of Dr. Moreau in 1896, its success was surprisingly dismal compared to his previous books. According to Bernard Bergonzi, critics were unable to get past the novel's "blatant sensationalism" and "consider [the novel's] literary merits" (97). H. G. Wells, however, did not put much credence in his reviewers' disparaging comments and went on to commend only one critic's remarks saying "The Guardian critic seemed to be the only one who read it aright, and who therefore succeeded in giving a really intelligent notice of it" (qtd. in Bergonzi 98). The unnamed columnist from the Guardian gave a rather interesting assessment of Wells's novel:

Sometimes one is inclined to think the intention of the author has been to satirize and rebuke the presumption of science; at other times his object seems to be to parody the work of the Creator of the human race and cast contempt upon the dealings of God with His creatures. This is the suggestion of the exceedingly clever and realistic scenes in which the humanized beasts recite the Law their human maker has given them, and show very plainly how impossible it is to them to keep that law

          (qtd. in Bergonzi 98-9)

Wells's acknowledgement of this review as an insightful interpretation of his work has set scholars to the difficult task of deciphering the underlying meanings of the religious aspects in the text.

In characterizing The Island of Dr. Moreau in 1924, H. G. Wells labeled his own novel as a "theological grotesque" (Bergonzi 99), and critics have latched onto these very words to develop interpretations of what they perceive to be a satiric parody of God and His creation. Gorman Beauchamp, for instance, claims Wells has created a direct link between God and Moreau revealing God "as the archetypal ‘mad scientist’—amorally experimenting with creation, ineptly bungling the attempt at a wholly rational being, callously abandoning his failures to inhabit the island of this world, neither rational enough nor animal enough to find peace" (411). Beauchamp's contention is that Wells's novel is a direct attack upon God as an uncaring and irresponsible creator. According to Mark Hillegas, "this reading of the novel is consistent, too, with the interpretation, frequent since the earliest reviews, of Dr. Moreau as a caricature—most often a ‘blasphemous’ caricature—of God" (37).

Bergonzi asserts a slightly different claim that moves away from the idea of Moreau representing the Judeo-Christian God and says that the god Moreau symbolizes is a "sort of arbitrary and impersonal power that might be conceived of as lying behind the evolutionary process" (qtd. in Hillegas 37). Since The Island of Dr. Moreau was written and published amid the earliest debates about Darwin's theory of evolution and the survival of the fittest, Bergonzi's interpretation seems reasonable, especially considering Wells's own interest and connection with Darwinian thoughts—he studied directly under T. H. Huxley, who was a major defender of the idea that man evolved from beasts.

What intrigue me most about Wells's novel are the religious details that he has expertly woven throughout the whole text. While I agree this novel is a religious attack, I do not believe it is attacking God, the Creator. Rather, The Island of Dr. Moreau is Wells's critique of the institutions of religion that have attempted to control and civilize human beings by forcing them with fear of eternal damnation to adhere to a code of ethics contrary to the naturalistic laws of evolution, and therefore contrary to humankind's natural instinct.

Wells and Religion

In discussing his own religious beliefs, Wells describes a dream in which he envisions God punishing a sinner by slowly roasting him over an open fire and says that "I saw no Devil in the vision, my mind in its simplicity went straight to the responsible fountain head. That dream pursued me into the day time. Never had I hated God so intensely. And then suddenly the light broke through to me and I knew this God was a lie" (qtd. in Beauchamp 412). Wells often expressed skepticism at the idea of an omnipotent being, and in his autobiography he depicts the type of god in which his faith could potentially lie:

I could invent a heartening God but not a palliating God. At his best my deity was far less like the Heavenly Father of a devout Catholic or a devout Moslem or Jew than he was like a personification of, let us say, the Five Year Plan. A communist might have accepted him as a metaphor. No mystic could have used him because of the complete lack of miraculous aid or distinctive and flattering personal response.


Wells seems quite confident expressing his opinions concerning God and indicates no doubts over his theological beliefs. As a matter of fact, he speaks in a jesting manner lacking reverence and does not show the slightest sign of fear that he might be wrong and spend all eternity roasting in the fires of Hell. Rather, he seems to be mocking the idea of believing in an omnipotent God. Wells was not shy about sharing his opinions of religion and its effects on human behavior and the tendencies of people to blindly adhere to their beliefs:

I was perhaps too aware of the numbers of fine-minded people who were still clinging not so much to religion as to the comfort of religious habits and phrases. Some lingering quality of childish dependence in them answered to this lapse toward a "sustaining faith" in myself. What we have here is really a falling back of the mind towards immaturity under the stress of dismay and anxiety. It is a very good thing at times to hear such words as "Let not your Heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid" spoken as if with authority. It is a good thing to imagine the still companionship of an understanding Presence on a sleepless night. Then one can get to sleep again with something of the reassurance of a child in its cot.

          (EA [Experiment in Autobiography ] 575)

Wells perceives religion and the faith to which people cling so dearly to be a security blanket for the naïve to clench in their fists. Wells seems to be saying the belief in a religion is a weakness, that it takes an enlightened, not childish, mind to move beyond the necessity of believing in a higher power. According to Wells, this is what gives strength to the evils of the religious institutions and the morality they profess. Wells's own skeptical take on morality is that it "is the padding of suggested emotions and habits, by which the round Palæolithic man is fitted into the square hole of the civilised state" ("Morals and Civilization" 254). Morality then is not "natural" for human beings. Wells goes on to say:

Now it is scarcely necessary to say that, in accordance with this view, there is no morality in the absolute. It is relative to the state, the civilisation, the corporate existence to which man beast has become adapted on the one hand, and to the inherent possibilities of the man on the other. And that data or morality must vary with the state, social environment rather, in which the man exists; the alternative judgments of right and wrong in action, that is, must vary.


Wells sees "morality" as simply the current agreed-upon trend the majority of society has come to accept. It is behavior decreed not by a higher, divine power on its beloved beings but rather an arbitrary association of those in power—namely, the Church. Morality, as Wells describes it, exists solely for the purpose of controlling the masses, keeping their feral characteristics at bay, and preventing them from rising up against those in power. Bearing Wells's own detached beliefs in an all-powerful divinity in mind, it seems strange that he would write an entire novel centered on the idea of a cruel, unjust, unkind, and irresponsible god in which he does not believe. One could argue Wells might be trying to open the eyes of the blind, in a sense, to the folly of having faith in a spiritual being.

If we re-examine the premise The Island of Dr. Moreau is based upon, another possibility becomes strikingly clear. Dr. Moreau has been labeled as the "blasphemous caricature" of God because of his sadistic experiments in which he hopes to transform wild beasts into rational human beings. However, Moreau does not create life, as God did in the Garden of Eden; he simply attempts to manipulate pre-existing life to create order out of chaos. He is not capable of breathing life into inanimate materials and does not try to do such things. He is a vivisectionist working on living animals, what he perceives to be unfinished projects, and attempts to mold them into creatures that resemble and behave as humans who he can control. Dr. Moreau cannot be God because he is not capable of creating life; therefore, the argument that Wells wrote Moreau in God's image is somewhat flawed.

Thou Shall Not … Are We Not Men?

One of the most significant elements of control on Dr. Moreau's island is the Law that he has indoctrinated the beasts with following their transformations. During a discussion with Montgomery, Prendick inquires how Moreau manages to prevent the animals from banding together to overtake Montgomery and Moreau. The beasts are significantly more powerful than either man and could easily wage a winning battle against the two with little fear of resistance. Montgomery's first response is that the animals lack the mental capacity for successfully orchestrating a mutiny against the two men, but he goes on to talk about "a set of propositions" the beasts are forbidden to break without enduring significant consequences (139).

The Law is applied to all the Beast People, and, as is restated time and time again, those who deviate from the Law are punished, "none escape" (122). While taking refuge in the beasts' den from the puma's torturous yowling audible from his quarters, Prendick witnesses a recital of the Law and finds himself participating in the ceremonial chanting. He describes an eerie scene of Moreau's deformed beasts swaying to and fro while incessantly chanting the Law:

The dark hut, these grotesque dim figures, just flecked here and there by a glimmer of light, and all of them swaying in unison and chanting:

‘Not to go on all-Fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men?’

‘Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men?’

‘Not to eat Flesh nor Fish; that is the Law. Are we not Men?’

‘Not to claw Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men?’

‘Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?’


All of the laws imposed upon the Beast People require that they abandon their instinctive, animalistic behavior to feign a more human and controllable nature. The actions these laws forbid are all normal for a wild beast to exhibit, yet in the faith that worships Moreau, they constitute a severe sin.

A striking parallel can be seen between Moreau's Law and the Ten Commandments which govern the Judeo-Christian faith, and it seems overtly obvious Wells's text makes this connection blatantly apparent. As tradition tells us, when Moses finally descended Mt. Sinai with the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, he beheld a ghastly sight of the newly emancipated Israelites fornicating, murdering one another, and worshiping a golden idol they had molded from the spoils of Egypt. Moses' wrath overcame him, and he cast down the tablets into the mass of sinners who were not worthy of the laws God had delivered unto them. Many of the deviants perished, and Moses ascended Mt. Sinai once again, with his fury abated, to retrieve a second set of stone tablets that he would later deliver to the Israelites as the cornerstone for their religion.

The Commandments the Israelites lived their lives by bear a striking resemblance to Moreau's Law. Commandments four through ten all deal with the ways in which one is supposed to conduct themselves within the confines of society:

"Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you."

"You shall not kill."

"You shall not commit adultery."

"You shall not steal."

"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."

"You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, not his male or female slave, or his ox or ass, or anything else that belongs to him."

          (Exod. 20.12-17)

These laws, like the ones Moreau imposed on his creatures, dictate proper social code within a civilized society. In an era when Darwin first presented his ideas of evolution and the survival of the fittest, these commandments would be considered contrary to the survival instincts at play in human beings. Of course, if man behaved in concordance with the Commandments naturally, without discipline, there would be no fundamental need for these laws and very few would deviate from the accepted code of ethics. However, history has shown this not to be the case, which leads one naturally to the conclusion that the Ten Commandments limit a human's natural instinct, like Moreau's Law that controls his beasts.

In a naturalistic sense where man is fighting for his survival above those in direct competition with him, the Ten Commandments make as little sense as the Law Wells lays out for the beasts in The Island of Dr. Moreau. If a man can kill those closest in power to him to establish himself as the dominant male, he will guarantee his own survival in concordance with the rules of evolution. In the natural world, one that is not governed by proper society, the weaker animals submit to the strongest or are served up for the next meal. They take their place in line as their bodies and abilities decree, but in the Judeo-Christian faith everyone is equally fit for survival, and it is the responsibility of the strongest to see to the weaker members of society. Perhaps this is what is involved in being a human being, but Wells's text shows us that what may appear to be human and act human will not always necessarily be human or remain human once the true self is given the opportunity to flourish and take over that which has been constricted by an unnatural mold.

Humans are, according to Wells, constantly battling internally between adhering to the moral rules placed upon them and reverting back to the basic instincts that carried humankind through the evolutionary process. He wrote:

[T]he average man of our society is now intrinsically what he was in Palæolithic times regarding his psychology, and particularly his disposition to rages and controversy, his love of hunting and violent exercise, and his powerful sexual desires. At present normally a man's worldly interests, his welfare, and that of his family, necessitate a constant conflict to keep these dispositions under. A decent citizen is always controlling and disciplining the impulses to anger, forcing himself to monotonous work, and resisting the seductions of the sporting instinct and a wayward imagination.

          (qtd. in Beauchamp 410)

Wells questions the validity of a system that would require its citizens to fight what has taken thousands, if not millions, of years to develop as natural behavior. The Beast People on Moreau's island are forced to act in accordance with a law they cannot possibly be true to simply because of their animalistic nature. Similarly, Wells's text alludes to the Judeo-Christians who are forced to go against their instinctive behaviors or face severe consequences enacted by the Church.

His Is the Hand

Part of the process of transforming Dr. Moreau's dismembered beasts into a civilized society and maintaining control over a potentially dangerous conglomeration of disgruntled test-subjects is placing himself on a pedestal for all his "creation" to worship. Once they have completed their devotion to the Law, the Beast People begin reciting a litany of praise for Dr. Moreau claiming:

His is the House of Pain.
His is the Hand that makes.
His is the Hand that wounds.
His is the Hand that heals.

Moreau sets himself up as a god in the eyes of those he has sculpted into twisted distortions of humanity and lords himself over them as not only their creator but one capable of causing great pain and even destruction to those who sin against his Law. The House of Pain Moreau constructed can be likened to the Hell into which Judeo-Christians believe they would be cast for committing sins or even the Purgatory where one must "pay" for their sins before being worthy of entering through the gates of Heaven.

On the surface, it appears Wells is attacking God's cruel and unforgiving tendencies; however, knowing that Moreau instituted his own divinity as a method of controlling beasts that are more powerful than he is limits Wells's attack to possessors of power who could potentially be overthrown by an uprising of the masses. Totally understanding the philosophy of the beasts' instinct to survive, Moreau has instilled in them a deep-seated fear of one who could deliver their destruction and consequently maintains unjustified control over them.

Once Dr. Moreau sets himself up as a divine power in the eyes of the beasts, his safety is guaranteed until a puma in mid-transformation breaks free from her captivity and rushes into the jungle with Moreau chasing after her. She has not been told who Moreau is; she does not comprehend the sin she commits in attacking him, an attack that eventually leads to his death. With Moreau and Montgomery dead and the House of Pain destroyed by Prendick's carelessness, Prendick quickly begins to realize the danger of his situation when the Beast People come to express their comprehension of the freedom they have gained from Moreau's death and the destruction of the House of Pain: "‘He is dead, he is dead, the Master is dead,’ said the voice of the Ape Man to the right of me. ‘The House of Pain—there is no House of Pain’" (169). Without the Master to deliver punishment on those who deviate from the Law and the destruction of the House of Pain, the Beast People are allowed to return to their instinctive behavior that obeys the rules of evolution, not those of an arbitrary, falsely constructed religion. Understanding the danger he is in, Prendick fabricates a story to keep the beasts inline:

‘He is not dead,’ said I, in a loud voice. ‘Even now he watches us.’ … ‘The House of Pain is gone,’ said I. ‘It will come again. The Master you cannot see. Yet even now he listens above you.’ … ‘The Master and the House of Pain will come again. Woe be to him who breaks the Law!’


Wells mimics the Christian belief that Jesus will return to bring his faithful into eternal bliss and banish all sinners to Hell. In a genius move to protect his own life, Prendick is able to maintain the fear the beasts have of Moreau and the House of Pain despite their destruction. Wells has taken the key elements of the Christian faith and twisted them into a farce; the beasts obediently await their messiah who will return to rebuild his temple. The important thing to remember here is that Wells is not attacking Moreau for failing to return to the beasts as Prendick says he will; Wells is attacking Prendick for making up such a lie to placate the beasts and keep them under his control. Wells questions the basis most organized religions have of a higher power waiting to descend and deliver its faithful into an eternal bliss as a reward for their unwavering devotion. He proposes the possibility that this whole idea is made up by those determined to maintain their stronghold over the weak that trust them.

Perhaps Wells is mocking a naïve belief by which the faithful govern their lives. Most people function with the underlying conviction that a higher power is watching them and recording all their good deeds and grievous sins. Wells is questioning this belief, viewing it more as a control device instituted by those in power, like Dr. Moreau and Prendick, to maintain their position at the top.

Tree of Knowledge, Flesh nor Fish

Wells sets up The Island of Dr. Moreau on a tropical island in the Pacific Ocean that mimics the lush surroundings of the Garden of Eden. Moreau's island is the seat of his creation much the way Eden is believed among Judeo-Christians to be the seat of human life. Adam and Eve were given free reign over the whole Garden with the exception of one rule: they were forbidden to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God put the tree in the garden so that Adam and Eve would have the free will to either obey his law and live as God's blessed children in a sin-free environment or choose the path of knowledge and death. Similarly, the Beast People are forbidden to eat flesh of animals or fish because Moreau is convinced the carnivorous hunger inherent in each wild animal will eventually die if the body is able to forget the taste of blood. Of course, once the beasts begin eating the rabbits on the island there is no turning back, they will never forget their beastly hunger for blood, which can be likened to Eve's insatiable hunger for knowledge and her desire to share said knowledge with Adam which leads humankind into a lifetime of pain, suffering, and death.

Wells questions the purpose of denying an organism the ability to satiate its cravings—for flesh or knowledge—and puts a magnifying glass over the knowledgeable who restrict the activity of the ignorant subjects beneath them. For example, the rabbits on the island that eventually tempt a beast beyond control are there for the appetites of Montgomery and Moreau, and it is Montgomery who eventually tempts his beast servant by ordering him to prepare a rabbit for his dinner: "I did a foolish thing the other day. That servant of mine … I showed him how to skin and cook a rabbit. It's odd … I saw him licking his hands … It never occurred to me" (144). Montgomery plays the role of the tempting serpent to this beast, the same way Eve is tempted in the Garden with thoughts of knowledge and power. Knowledge seems to be the enemy here, condemning humans to an eternity of toil and the beasts to their inevitable reversion to wild animals.

Moreau and Montgomery believe this knowledge of the taste of blood must be controlled to maintain the beasts' human sanity. Yet, they allow themselves to taste the flesh and blood of animals, something that constitutes a great sin against the Law for the Beast People. Wells has set up hypocrisy on Dr. Moreau's island in which the privileged are allowed the taste of knowledge, much the same way Eve was prohibited to taste the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge despite God's omniscience. Wells seems to be questioning the manipulation of knowledge. If the Beast People are prohibited from tasting flesh and blood, it would seem to follow the same rules, if they are the rules of civilized society, would apply to those in power as well. Wells could be pointing a finger at God, questioning His right as an omniscient being to keep His creations in an ignorant state. However, knowing his skeptical stance on the existence of God and the validity of the Church, it seems more likely he is questioning what knowledge those in power have kept from the faithful. For example, what lies written on the scrolls the Church does not allow to be included in Scripture or why celebrations are spoken in a language none of the followers understand.

Cutting Things Apart and Putting Them Back Together

In a society so thoroughly indoctrinated with a spiritual outlook on life, Wells takes a scalpel to the faith we have in our religious institutions and requires a deeper introspection to see if what we really believe is consistent with what the Church is telling us we ought to believe. In The Island of Dr. Moreau, he is cautioning his readers not to be so naïve as to take everything the Church and those in power of the Church have told us to be true. Wells encourages a thorough questioning of everything to guarantee we are becoming the people nature made us to be and not allowing ourselves to be cut apart and sewn back together into a grotesque distortion of what we once were. While Wells was not loyal to the thought of a divine, omniscient God, he was passionate about man being true to his natural self and not allowing religion or society to determine who he should be.

Concluding his essay on morality and civilization, Wells put forth this question to his readers: "Are we not, at the present time, on a level of intellectual and moral attainment sufficiently high to permit of the formulation of a moral code, without irrelevant reference, upon which educated people can agree?" (264). Wells does not ask for a complete reversion to our animalistic behaviors as seen in the end of The Island of Dr. Moreau, but he does require the opportunity for all educated human beings to speak up and decide on a code of ethics that will be based on humanity rather than the acquisition of power.

Works Cited

Beauchamp, Gorman. "The Island of Dr. Moreau as Theological Grotesque." Papers on Language and Literature. 15.4 (Fall 1979): 408-17.

Bergonzi, Bernard. The Early H. G. Wells: A Study of the Scientific Romances. Manchester: The University Press, 1961.

Hillegas, Mark R. The Future as Nightmare: H. G. Wells and the Anti-utopians. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

The New American Bible. Saint Joseph ed. New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co, 1992.

Wells, H. G. Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain (Since 1866). New York: The Macmillan Company, 1934.

———. The Island of Dr. Moreau. H. G. Wells: The Science Fiction Volume 1. London: Phoenix Press, 2002. 70-178.

———. "Morals and Civilization." The Island of Dr. Moreau: A Critical Text of the 1896 London First Edition, with an Introduction and Appendices. Ed. Leon Stover. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 1996. 252-264.



Batra, Nandita. "Jungle People and Beast Folk: Darwinian and Imperial Discourse in Two Fables of the Fin-de-Siècle." Bestia 8 (2001-2002): 165-73.

Compares Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book with Wells's Island of Dr. Moreau.

Glendening, John. "‘Green Confusion’: Evolution and Entanglement in H. G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau." Victorian Literature and Culture 30, no. 2 (2002): 571-97.

Links The Island of Doctor Moreau with evolutionary theory.

Kirby, David A. "Are We Not Men? The Horror of Eugenics in The Island of Dr. Moreau." Paradoxa 17 (2002): 93-108.

Underscores notions of biological determinism in The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Krumm, Pascale. "The Island of Dr. Moreau, or the Case of Devolution." Foundation 28, no. 75 (spring 1999): 51-62.

Analyzes Darwinian elements of The Island of Dr. Moreau.

McLean, Steven. "Animals, Language and Degeneration in H. G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau." Undying Fire 1 (2002): 43-50.

Explores the role of animals in The Island of Dr. Moreau.

Additional coverage of Wells's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 18; Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 3; British Writers, Vol. 6; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 64; Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, 1914-1945; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 110, 121; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 34, 70, 156, 178; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors, Novelists; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3; Exploring Short Stories; Literary Movements for Students, Vol. 2; Literature and Its Times, Vol. 3; Literature Resource Center; Major 20th-Century Writers, Eds. 1, 2; Major 21st-Century Writers, Ed. 2005; Modern British Literature, Ed. 2; Novels for Students, Vols. 17, 20; Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2; Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Ed. 2; St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers; St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, Ed. 4; St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers; Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Writers; Science Fiction Writers Eds. 1, 2; Short Stories for Students, Vol. 3; Short Story Criticism, Vols. 6, 70; Something about the Author, Vol. 20; Supernatural Fiction Writers; Twayne's English Authors; Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vols. 6, 12, 19, 133; World Literature and Its Times, Ed. 4; World Literature Criticism, Ed. 6; and Writers for Children.