The Island of Doctor Moreau (H.G. Wells)

Wells wrote this book long before genetics was understood to any degree, and so the science of creating humanoid beast-men is predicated on vivisection and surgical manipulation, but of course the book is now read in light of genetic research and as a cautionary tale. However, the true brilliance of this novel is to not to caution but rather to refuse the notion of man as a spiritual animal. Moreau's dissatisfaction with his failures is an aesthetic dissatisfaction. It has nothing to do with the animals being unable, intrinsically, to “become” human, or science's inability to master nature — the issue is only that Moreau has not perfected his art. When Prendick returns to civilization, he sees the same animalistic traits in the people of London that he saw on the island, and becomes an isolate, seeing beauty only (ironically) in scientific study.

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Jonathan Ball is a writer, filmmaker, and scholar living at www.jonathanball.com.

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