British author H. G. Wells was a scholar, an anthropologist, a visionary and a futurist. His works are spectacularly witty theories on technologial and scientific advancements – and usually include very disturbing messages concerning possible conscequences.
The Island of Doctor Moreau is in large part a study on the moral boundaries of science: The arguably mad name character performs unscrupulous experiments throughout the book. As the distinctions between humans and animals are dangerously blurred, horrific realities in regards to violence and ruthlessness unravel.
Consequentially, horror ensues.
Wells‘ subject matter of vivisection seems very cruel and unusual, but this plot hasn’t randomly popped up: The story war written as a reflexion of the 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act. Doctor Moreau, residing on his private island, is performing operations and alterations on live animals – acts deemed illegal by the aforementioned law.
Firstly, the story raises the question of the means, ends, utilitarism and justification of scientific experiments. Thus prompting the philosophical discussion of consciousness, pain and emotions in animals – a description made even more disturbing by the comparison with 21st century status quo and what used to be the norm in Wells‘ time.
The question of extenuating circumstances arises: Does the fact that Moreau conducts his experiments on an isolated island and in complete secrecy, prompting no one to join or imitate his excursions, redeem his actions in the slightest?
Can it be argued that by humanizing his animals, Moreau – as he himself rationalizes his experiments – actually raises their status on the evolutionary ladder, or are his acts wholly unnatural and despicable, and he a monster among monsters?
Wells chose the right path of perspective with the narrating character of Prendick, who has no part in the experiments but is thrust onto the island as a shipwreck survivor – an everyman, so to say. And yet, even Prendick describes the lasting cries of animals in pain merely as ‘singularly irritating’, whereas he is much more alarmed by the fact that he might be hearing human cries in Moreau’s operation room.
Having already given high praise to the horrors and suspense in The War of the Worlds, I was prepared to experience similar sensations while reading this admittedly rather peculiar story. In comparison, though, the latter did not reach the places WotW touches on the scale of terror. Moreau is rather a text for external reflection and group discussion. It does not suck the reader in as War does with its individual, internal impact.
The philosophical complexity of this plot gains on – and possibly even surpasses – Wells‘ extraterrestrial dystopia with ease.
The Island of Doctor Moreau is, nevertheless, quite the unnerving novel. As is the case in his other works, Wells handles the suspense of his plot masterfully and carefully tends to the scientific end of the rather grotesque story so that it pertains a sense of realism throughout.
Additionally: Whilst comparing both plots, it is curiously so that both novels serve a very poetic justice to the oppressors in the end of the story. This most satisfying detail helps to better digest the very real contents of Wells‘ macabre fantasies.
I remain fascinated by Wells‘ works and will most certainly go on to read his other texts.
Have you read anything by H. G. Wells, seen a movie based on the books, or heard a rather controversial tidbit? If so, I would love to have you down in the comment section.
‘Never mind the dog’: Experimental Subjects in H. G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau and Wilkie Collins’ Heart and Science. (Wilkie Collins Society)
Literary Escapades. H. G. Wells: ‚The War of the Worlds‘ (sandrafalke.com)
Title: The Island of Doctor Moreau
Author: H. G. Wells
Erscheinungsdatum: 2017 (orig. 1896)
Verlag: Collins Classics