Reading Group #30 (The Island of Dr. Moreau)

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Reading Group #30 (The Island of Dr. Moreau)

Editado: Abr 11, 2012, 9:37pm

Hello all, for our next selection I would like to tackle our first longer-format work, which is H. G. Wells' short novel (and one of my absolute favorites) The Island of Dr. Moreau. It's only about 90-100 pages, which is a good length, I believe, to approach for our first group reading of a novel. Obviously we will take a bit longer with this one.

Here's a link for those without a copy:

Happy reading!

Abr 12, 2012, 5:40am

Felicitous timing! I've just bought a Kindle - WITH VERY MIXED FEELINGS - and I've been loading it up from Gutenberg.

I've been trying to read 'Udolpho' and Burke's 'Sublime and Beautiful' online (hey - I got the touchstones to work even on those contractions!) and getting really sore eyes - the hay-fever season isn't helping - and so I was thinking of getting the paperbacks but I've already got books stacked all over the place and I'm always losing the ones I'm currently reading and I don't know if I'll ever read them again anyway and there's the accumulative expense and if I bought a Kindle I didn't have to class the cost as 'book money' and I could save the real book money for buying fancy editions - alaudacoraxian logic! - or excuses, or something ...

So I shall download 'Dr Moreau', now.

Abr 12, 2012, 7:06am

Funny you should choose this one as I recently read it and the PG version as well. As I'm new, I'll leave opening the discussion to someone else.

Abr 12, 2012, 7:23am

Interesting how common the 'second-hand story' or 'story-within-a-story' format is in the Gothic - the tale found among a deceased person's papers especially so.

Abr 12, 2012, 8:12am


Feel free to jump in whenever you like! :)


I almost wrote that in my intro. Great observation. The 'found manuscript' thing is so pervasive it's nearly cliche.

Abr 12, 2012, 8:30am

#3 & #5 - Forgot to say 'welcome to the group, Bookmarque'!

Funnily, your username is so familiar to me that I could have sworn you were already a member. I must be bumping into you somewhere else - 'A Silly Book Game', perhaps?

Abr 12, 2012, 1:06pm

oh hey thanks, guys.
I've been actively on LT since 2006 so you've probably seen me around. I'm usually in The Green Dragon.

Editado: Abr 12, 2012, 2:01pm

And again a book I don't have!

I did see the first movie adaptation recently, Erle Kenton's Island of lost souls, with BELA LUGOSI, and a panther woman. Even Wells saw it. And hated it.

(P.S. Moi, I LOVED it.)

Abr 12, 2012, 1:55pm

I tried to find the Michael York film version from...the 1970s maybe? But it wasn't a free view from Amazon and it wasn't in the Netflix streaming section, so I couldn't watch it. Didn't see the horrendously received Marlon Brando version either so the book is all I have. With only one Wells behind me (Invisible Man) I was prepared to be surprised by him and I was again; this time in how absolutely compelling and suspenseful some of the scenes are.

Abr 12, 2012, 2:00pm

Wells is very readable, at least his sf stuff (which is all I read... tried Ann Veronica but didn't grab me). Concise, precise, quick style, and yet literate and evocative. I remember The Invisible Man surprised me with how cynical it was.

Btw, the first couple Invisible movies directed by James Whale are first water gems!

Abr 12, 2012, 2:04pm

Ms. Lola, totally with you on The Invisble Man films and Island of Lost Souls!!

Abr 12, 2012, 2:27pm

I think I'm right in saying that Island of Lost Souls hasn't been commercially available in the UK EVER - first DVD release due next month.

Oh - and a quick look at Jonathan Rigby's American Gothic confirms the director of The Invisible Man Returns was Joe May.

My unread Penguin paperback (2005) has been retrieved from the loft. I've got a book on the go at the moment, so I won't start reading straight away.

Abr 12, 2012, 5:24pm

I'm sure I've previously said this with regard to other authors, but I went through an H. G. Wells kick years ago and read lots of his stuff, but managed to miss this one - probably the local library didn't have it. I didn't know what I was missing - it's a cracker.

Once I got started on it, this evening, I couldn't help but abandon my other reading and read the whole thing straight through. I can't describe his writing better than Lola nailed it in #10, so I won't try, but I found it really gripping.

This thread hasn't been up any time so I won't talk about the plot, yet; but I'll just say that I found the ending quite unsettling and unexpected. It sort of threw me back onto the main story with renewed eyes; feeling I should, perhaps, read the whole thing again - or, of course, that I should have been reading it with more culturally- and politically-aware eyes in the first place.

On that last note, I suppose I should say that I did note the slightly startling little flashes of racism and mysogyny; but they're a little too knotty a problem for me this late in the evening so I'll leave them for another post.

Abr 13, 2012, 6:26pm


'I should have been reading it with more culturally- and politically-aware eyes in the first place.'

If you get a chance, check out my review for Moreau. I tried to examine some of this stuff. (Whether I made any real point or just parroted others is up for debate, however. :P

Abr 13, 2012, 9:52pm

#14 - Great review, as always - I'd actually read it some time ago, but, not having read the book at that point, it hadn't stuck in my mind.

I've actually just written a substantial post and then deleted it. The more I think about it, the more questions crop up, and the more I feel I need another read-through. I suspect that any 'messages' in there are going to prove as difficult to pin down as with 'Rappaccini's Daughter'.

A couple of questions:

Why is the exact nature of the 'Sayer of the Law' never given? Did Wells mean anything by the omission?

Is it just my particular bad dreams, or is Wells deliberately presenting large chunks of the story as quite literally nightmare-like?

On my comment (#13) on racism and mysogyny: from a brief read-up online, Wells seems to have been, by the standards of his day, anything but a racist and mysogynist. Yet he cannot escape late nineteenth-century attitudes. When Moreau 'humanises' a gorilla, what he gets is 'a fair specimen of the negroid type'; when his creatures start to revert back to the animal, it is the females who are the first to'disregard the injunction of decency' - the former might be rooted in 19thC scientific theory but the latter clearly roots right back to apples and serpents. We mustn't take him out of his context, of course.

Abr 18, 2012, 6:02pm

I'm in the midst of trying to get my thoughts in order on this one, and to try to say something not already covered by Margaret Atwood's excellent introduction (to the latest Penguin edition).

Here are some initial ideas:

Swiftian satire - like Gulliver's Travels; specific targets religion, colonialism (Montgomery, Prendick "go native" - like the beast-men; the beast men "go native" - revert to animals).

Language and structure/pace like a modern thriller ("modern" in the sense of "belonging, roughly, to the first half of the last century: a thriller like The Thirty-Nine Steps or Rogue Male). Not "gothic" in language or approach at all.

One foot in the 18th century Enlightenment, the other in the 20th Century of the modern thriller: therefore, although a Romance (Atwood explains why, and the difference between a Romance and a Novel), not gothic?

And, The Tempest: Moreau = Prospero; but also, Montgomery = Trinculo/Stefano and M'ling=Caliban?

Abr 18, 2012, 7:24pm


... "go native" - revert to animals ... - Reading it immediately brought to mind Lord of the Flies and Heart of Darkness - but I'm a long way from getting my thoughts together on that.

Language and structure/pace like a modern thriller - I quite see your point on that - I called it 'gripping' above and it really carried me along with it. At the same time, I think I'd classify the 'nightmare' quality I mentioned in #15 as Gothic - I'm thinking of particularly of the scene where the hero's taking part in the hunt, yet doesn't quite know if something running alongside is actually hunting him, and of the earlier parts where he's unsettled that the 'humans' round him have some element of wrongness that he can't quite pin down.

And, The Tempest ... - Doh! That never even crossed my mind - and I've just re-read The Tempest looking for possible significance for Rappaccini's Daughter. It's obvious once you mention it, of course.

Abr 21, 2012, 1:32pm

I tried to put my thoughts in better order, but I've just had some further ones, instead...

At the beginning of her introduction to the most recent Penguin edition, Margaret Atwood quotes Jorge Luis Borges on The Island of Doctor Moreau: ‘an atrocious miracle’; and of Wells’s early tales more generally ‘I think they will be incorporated, like the fables of Theseus or Ahasuerus, into the general memory of the species and even transcend the fame of their creator or the extinction of the language in which they were written’.

I can believe this extravagant claim of the tales that came before and after Moreau? - without The Time Machine and The War Of The Worlds would stories of - the very idea of - time travel and alien invasion have become commonplaces? Certainly, without H. G. Wells there would have been no Doctor Who (and they repaid him with the story Timelash (1985)!).

But what about the ‘atrocious miracle’, Moreau? Is the one big central idea as mythic and powerful? (Or, for that matter, as powerful as the ideas behind the roughly contemporary tales Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray or Dracula?)

I ask because such a powerful idea tends to ‘float free’ of its source; at the very least you should pick up, by a sort of cultural osmosis, ‘an idea of the idea’ (I’m sure that could be said more elegantly!) before reading the source novel.

I probably learned of The Island of Doctor Moreau back in 1977, at the time of the Michael York/ Burt Lancaster film version. The impression I got was that it was about medical science turning animals into men, and if not actually anti-vivisection in viewpoint at least arguing for compassion in such undertakings.

However, what comes up in reviews and discussions is a more complex picture:
It’s (in part) a Swiftian satire and its target is British society;
And/or the target is colonialism;
And it’s a fable that mocks Religion: there are parallels that can be made with Genesis, the Fall; the Christian God; perhaps also the Trinity (Atwood identifies the Trinity with Moreau, Montgomery, and M’ling); maybe how religions begin (Prendick telling the Beast Men that the dead Moreau is in the sky, now, and is still watching them and will return), maybe one of the targets is organised religion (the Sayer of the Law etc.) rather than religion or religious feelings per se. Wells did, later in life, call the book ‘an exercise in youthful blasphemy’.
And/or it’s a fable about Darwinism. What Moreau does with surgery, evolution and time did to us: our forbears were beasts and we are beast-men.
Allied to this, it carries on Wells’s preoccupations about Class and how this could tie up with Darwinism (the Eloi and Morlocks in the Time Machine are descended from the upper class and the working class. One thinks of the connotations of the word ‘breeding’. Prendick is an independently wealthy gentlemen. He is also not quite up to the role of hero, neither mentally nor physically strong enough)
It’s (in part) a fast-moving thriller.

Part of the problem, if it is a problem, is that the book has been somewhat overtaken by events. Medical science has both made Moreau’s surgical methods seem crude and clarified the way Wells skated over the issues surrounding the beast men’s mental capacity. The 20th century did see Prendick’s fear of vivisected men come horribly and tragically true.

This has not prevented commentators calling Moreau Wells’s best book. Here’s an interesting comment from Gene Wolfe in Horror: 100 Best Books, which sees a virtue in the ambiguity:

‘Are you religious? Here is what happened in Eden after Adam and Eve had gone. Are you scientific? Peep into this telescope, this microscope, and behold the emptiness and horror of the universe in your own reflected face.’

Editado: Maio 4, 2012, 7:10am

#16 - May I ask a favour, houseful? Would you mind casting your eye over this -,,214205_1_0,00.html - and telling me if it's Margaret Atwood's complete introduction?

ETA - The reason I ask is that, according to the details on Amazon, Ms Atwood's introduction is fifteen pages long and that I linked doesn't look like fifteen pages' worth.

Maio 4, 2012, 1:56pm

> 19

It's all there.

Maio 5, 2012, 6:18am

#20 - Thanks, houseful.

Jun 16, 2012, 12:16pm

Wow! I've really let this stagnate...sorry about that everybody! But it's time for a new selection. It's been a while since we looked at 'source material' for the Gothic, and one thing we haven't explored yet is The Arabian Nights. As an Arab, I've spent a lot of time exploring my relationship with the Nights (and trying to understand if there is one, once all orientalism is set aside). That said, the tale of 'The City of Brass' has some seriously Gothic conventions. It would be interesting to discuss this alongside our Vathek thread. New thread is posted, with a link to Burton's translation (feel free to castigate me for selecting his, but I think, within this context, it's probably the best to use).

Editado: Mar 21, 2019, 8:35am

I have read the book, and seen the film with Val Kilmer, but have not yet read this thread or done much research. The scandal behind the film swayed me from giving it much thought until now. Back to the source material I go...
(audio; Librivox, going chapter by chapter helps with efficient time management opportunities)
Part 1 = 28m35s
Part 2 = 27m51s
Part 3 = 38m35s
Part 4 = 38m41s
Part 5 = 37m50s
Part 6 = 39m
Part 7 = 48m20s
Part 8 = 35m08s
All the same reader! (rare event) Total run time: 4h54m

online text, for convenience, to read alongside the audio version; (22 chapters)

This is considered 'speculative fiction' on the UofA ebook archive site, along with;
The Wonderful Visit (1895)
The Time Machine (1896)
The Invisible Man (1897)
The War of the Worlds (1898)
When the Sleeper Wakes (1899)
The First Men in the Moon (1901)
The Sea Lady: A Tissue of Moonshine (1902)
The Food of the Gods and How it Came to Earth (1904)
In The Days of the Comet (1906)
The War in the Air (1908)
The World Set Free (1914)
Men Like Gods (1923)
The Dream (1924)
The Shape of Things to Come (1933)
Star-Begotten (1937)
The Holy Terror (1939)

Several other short story collections exist. Here is a brief bio to acclimatize myself before revisiting his work;
"English novelist and social commentator, chiefly known as a founder of the science fiction genre. His early novels, called "scientific romances", invented a number of themes now classic in science fiction in such works as The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds and are often thought of as being influenced by the works of Jules Verne. He also wrote other, non-fantastic novels which have received critical acclaim, including the satire on Edwardian advertising Tono-Bungay and Kipps. Wells also wrote non-fiction. His classic two-volume work The Outline of History (1920) set a new standard and direction for popularised scholarship."

Mar 21, 2019, 11:08am

>23 frahealee: - The scandal behind the film ...

So I thought 'What scandal is that, then?' and went to look it up on IMDb. And after half-hours random wanderings on there, I find that Richard Stanley has a film of Lovecraft's The Colour Out of Space in post-production. And it's starring Nicolas Cage. The mind boggles but I've got to see it.

Editado: Mar 21, 2019, 12:34pm

>24 alaudacorax: Funny that. My morning's research offshoots included The Wicker Man, the 1973 version and Cage's. I will make sure to read the story before the film emerges. One of my favourite motivators!

The scandal, or better yet, upheaval, was from Val Kilmer's perspective, when he discovered news of his own divorce while filming. Also, that Brando was unmanageable, Thewlis frustrated, the director bonkers, who threatened to never work with Kilmer again (fine by him!). I read yesterday that Peter Lorre was wanted for a role in a film by the director of M but refused to even consider it, 23 years after the fact, because he'd been so ill used. I don't blame him. The film I think, was a train theme with Glenn Ford and Gloria Graham. I watched it not knowing what it was, then researched it later.

I also watched this, which incorporates the 'gaslighting' phenomenon. So of course, now I must watch the 1944 film with ever-galante Charles Boyer. Psychology never had it so good, such an essential and convincing example of the lengths to which some very patient charming maniacs will subscribe. It gives me shivers, for all the gullible ducks. =(

I knew nothing of Leslie Howard's son Ronald, and I find I enjoy him immensely, much more than his papa! Watson is a good sport, stripping down for time in the tub in one of these episode! Ah, the classics.

Editado: Set 8, 2019, 4:04pm

This made me laugh this morning, such a timely fluke. Joely Richardson will be a character portrayal to behold! It seems somehow appropriate to follow Lovecraft's The Colour Out of Space with The Island of Doctor Moreau by Wells, as both stories feature hideous/grotesque creatures, both affected by their unique circumstances.

It leaves me with the same sense of vague sadness as Flowers For Algernon, rather than with the anticipated stoked fire of fury. The eternal debate of 'just because we can, doesn't mean we should'.

Out 8, 2020, 4:19pm

Testing. Sorry for temporarily reincarnating the topic.

Mar 9, 4:27pm

Reading through these old threads is rather wonderful and quite educational. It almost takes away my annoyance at wondering how I got here in the first place.

Mar 9, 4:38pm

>28 alaudacorax:

I remember! I was searching LT for info on Rogue Male, and that brought me here. I heard a reading of a small portion on BBC Radio 4 Ex, and was quite impressed. I'd actually got it into my head that 'rogue male' was quite a modern phrase and was quite surprised to find the book dated to 1939 (such a significant year), and had to look into it.

Mar 9, 5:07pm

>29 alaudacorax:
I still haven't - even nine years later - read all that many thrillers from the first half of the 20th century, so I didn't have many examples I could reach for when I made that comment that brought you here.

However, Rogue Male is one that I studied in school (in, I believe, a slightly bowdlerised version). But years before that, I had caught just the beginning of the Peter O'Toole television version before being sent to bed. So I was left with the image of his Nazi captors stubbing out a cigarette on his eye similarly burned onto my mind's eye.

Mar 9, 6:57pm

>30 housefulofpaper:

So odd, I haven't seen that film either, even though I've always been vaguely aware of both it and the book. Possibly I vaguely thought they were some sort of rushed-out 'Day of the Jackal' clones—that seems to be in the depths of my memory, somewhere.