Saturday, March 15, 2014


I recently reread Wells' 1896 book THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU, which many know best from its three major film adaptations, as well as about two dozen knockoff horror-films, mostly from the Philippines.

What I found most interesting is that in Chapter 14, that little old beast-maker Moreau relates his theory of human morality to the viewpoint character:

"Very much indeed of what we call moral education is such an artificial modification and perversion of instinct; pugnacity is trained into courageous self-sacrifice, and suppressed sexuality into religious emotiom."

What interests me is that this sounds like the standard Freudian theory of sublimation; of repressing normal instincts in order to become a member of an ordered society.  Yet though Freud had published some papers by 1896, he certainly was not the household word he had become in the early 20th century.  Freud's first major book, INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS, was not published until 1899.

Since I don't think of Wells himself as a particularly original philosopher, it's arguable that he was transmitting then-current empirical thoughts about the sublimation of instincts.  I'm not sufficiently versed in the philosophies of the 18th and 19th centuries, though, so I don't know to whom Wells might have been indebted for this idea of "suppressed sexuality."  But of course today, everyone thinks of the idea as having been articulated by Sigmund Freud.

Slightly later in this chapter, Wells relates that his animal-men, though they show signs of regressing to brute status, also show more positive signs.  "There is a kind of upward striving in them, part vanity, part waste sexual emotion, part waste curiosity."  I must assume that this materialistic outlook-- which views the so-called "higher emotions" as evolving from lower ones-- also probably stemmed from currents in empirical thought at the time, though of course one can probably find evidence of it as far back as the Cynics of Classical Greece.

On an unrelated note, in the book Moreau is undone-- and killed-- by one of his most involved experiments.  A puma, subjected to Moreau's transformation experiments, breaks free and in the ensuing melee kills Moreau even as Moreau slays the beast-- which happens to be a female, his own "Bride of Frankenstein."  Various film adaptations, particularly the 1932 ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, put forth the idea of Moreau attempting to mate a "panther-woman" to a male visitor.  No element of miscegenation arises in the novel, but it's an interesting correspondence that the creature who kills Moreau is a panther-like female.

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