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Old August 31st, 2010, 12:39 AM   #21

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Re: HG Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau


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And scribble comments in the margin.
A work isn't truly mine till I can do that!
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Old August 31st, 2010, 04:19 PM   #22

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Re: HG Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau


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The puma could very well be read as a sexual device. Especially if our template is Freudian. I use the word ‘template’ merely as a convenience, i.e. a teaching device, and not in a psychoanalytical sense. More in the mythological sense. It is my belief that myths can tell us as much about the psychic state as analysis. Take for example the opening with our hero ‘out to sea’ it’s not difficult to see that as representing the amniotic fluid that surrounds us at birth. We are told that one of the story elements of the mythological hero is a difficult birth. Like many myths Prendick’s story also begins with survival at sea and being cast upon an island.
I agree with Okamido, this is an interesting analysis. I guess I’m slightly less symbolically minded here: I took the opening to be a typical device of the romance writer. The protagonist must somehow be separated from the ‘real world’ (or from their normal existence) and somehow find their way to a fantastical location that is usually impossible to locate. Candide stumbled upon El Dorado; Nunez fell into the Country of the Blind by accident; now, Prendick floats adrift before being delivered to the island by hands other than his own. The island is as cut off from the rest of the world as is El Dorado or Country of the Blind and Prendick is not at liberty to simply leave. That the island is far removed from Prendick’s normative world is perhaps signified by the island’s name: Nobles Island (which has connotations of ‘no bless’ or unblessed).

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I don’t mean to suggest that Wells consciously crafted such symbolism. As with any writer worth their salt he has well honed instincts. And I would caution of making too much of symbolism.
Yeah, we should be careful not place too much store in symbolism, but then, it is really good fun playing with it.


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I must admit that I wasn’t looking forward to reading this. I expected a run of the mill adventure story. How wrong I was.

Now I must purchase a hard copy so that I can underline all the choice phrases. And scribble comments in the margin.

Thanks for taking this book down from the shelf.

I had initially placed The Time Machine into this slot but then exchanged them at the last minute thinking that many people had already read the earlier book and that Moreau just might raise more to discuss. I think it was the correct choice.

Nice post, Pedro!
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Old September 12th, 2010, 04:24 AM   #23
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Re: HG Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau


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The flaw in Moreau's work was that the dog retained his natural instinct of loyalty to man - a best friend, so to speak.
I meant to ask you this before, when I had just finished reading Moreau. Why do you think the above is a flaw in Moreau's work? Isn't loyalty conducive, or at any rate, a very desirable characteristic to have, in an animal that is being humanised? What's more human than loyalty and devotion, or if you choose to see it some other way, opportunism? If you are humanising someone you would want them to get rid of their animal instincts, but if they have something fundamentally 'human' about them already why would you want to change that? Or do you mean that because the aim of Moreau's work was to change the animal as it was, i.e. take away the animalism from the animals, in so doing it must also take away any human characteristics already present? That would indicate Moreau did not have much control on his work.

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Another thing that's just this moment struck me: just before the island paradise collapsed into chaos, Moreau had just created the only woman in the tale. Was the puma supposed to represent Eve?
That's the exact opposite of "feminist" reading! If that's indeed true what does that make Wells, a misogynist?

I admit it did not occur to me that the puma's being a female could be symbolic, but if I must read into it, I would attribute its gender to it being feline. The ferocity and unpredictability of cats is usually associated with females in many cultures. I have never seen a man likened to a cat, except when he is compared to a tiger or a lion, the biggest cats, and the trait in question in such cases is stealth and dominance. But puma, though technically a big cat, is the smallest of them. Its ferocity is bad enough for a human, but it's not as bad as that of a tiger, or a lion's for that matter, and it certainly is not the dominating animal in most of its habitats, unlike a tiger or a lion.

So... my point is? I'm a bit confused... I'm not entirely sold on the idea of the puma's gender being a symbol of sorts. What do you mean by "Moreau had just created the only woman in the tale", "and a new woman at that"?
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Old September 12th, 2010, 04:30 AM   #24
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Re: HG Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau


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Originally Posted by Pedro View Post
The puma could very well be read as a sexual device. Especially if our template is Freudian. I use the word ‘template’ merely as a convenience, i.e. a teaching device, and not in a psychoanalytical sense. More in the mythological sense. It is my belief that myths can tell us as much about the psychic state as analysis. Take for example the opening with our hero ‘out to sea’ it’s not difficult to see that as representing the amniotic fluid that surrounds us at birth. We are told that one of the story elements of the mythological hero is a difficult birth. Like many myths Prendick’s story also begins with survival at sea and being cast upon an island.

Is there an Oedipal element in Prendick competing with Dr. Moreau (a father figure) for the puma (the new eve/mother) ? Here as in the Oedipal myth the father is destroyed. Perhaps something can be made of that. I don’t mean to suggest that Wells consciously crafted such symbolism. As with any writer worth their salt he has well honed instincts. And I would caution of making too much of symbolism.
I know it's been a while, but if you don't mind would it be possible for you to expand on the above? I'm not sure I follow. How is the puma a sexual device?

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And I would caution of making too much of symbolism.
I agree.
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Old September 12th, 2010, 06:47 AM   #25

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Re: HG Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau


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Originally Posted by Rosicrucian View Post
I meant to ask you this before, when I had just finished reading Moreau. Why do you think the above is a flaw in Moreau's work? Isn't loyalty conducive, or at any rate, a very desirable characteristic to have, in an animal that is being humanised? What's more human than loyalty and devotion, or if you choose to see it some other way, opportunism? If you are humanising someone you would want them to get rid of their animal instincts, but if they have something fundamentally 'human' about them already why would you want to change that? Or do you mean that because the aim of Moreau's work was to change the animal as it was, i.e. take away the animalism from the animals, in so doing it must also take away any human characteristics already present? That would indicate Moreau did not have much control on his work.
I think, when discussing works of fiction, there are numerous possible interpretations available. We each read different elements, analogies, possibilities, symbols and so on and so forth into each story. My own reading is the one that I laid out in the introductory post above. I see Moreau as a godlike figure. Thus, I see Moreau attempting to create a human being - not a vivisected animal, but a human. There are plenty reasons for me thinking this. Chapter 14 (probably the most important chapter) explains Moreau's thinking in reasonable detail. There, Moreau explains:
"Then I took a gorilla I had; and upon that, working with infinite care and mastering difficulty after difficulty, I made my first man. All the week, night and day, I moulded him. ... He had heard some of the cries as the thing grew human, ... I taught him the rudiments of English; gave him ideas of counting; even made the thing read the alphabet.
...
I threatened him, told him the inhumanity of such a proceeding, aroused his sense of shame, ... "
Moreau clearly is making a human. There's 'first man' (Adam?), a week's work (seven days of the creation - loosely), language (one of the main aspects that define 'human' ... think about slaves who are not allowed to learn literacy), arithmetic (a sense of reason perhaps?), then shame. Moreau's creating Man. More correctly, he's re-creating. By his own admission, he wishes to ‘burn out all the animal’ and ‘make a rational creature of my own’. Then there’s the Laws that clearly set out how the beasts should act with human mannerisms – drink, don’t suck; walk on two legs, not four ... Moreau is ‘He who wounds’ ... ‘Are we not men?’ (It’s revealing that the animals are described as ‘men’ rather than ‘people’. Reeks of God and religion.

Now, that M'ling was created from a dog, but clearly retained a number of dog-like characteristics is, within my own reading, a flaw in Moreau's work. There is another example where M'ling flops on the floor by the door and starts panting like a dog. Elsewhere he’s given ‘glutinous accents’. He's loyal to Mongomery, but not loyal in the same respect that two friends are loyal to one and other, but in a more subservient manner ... like a master/slave or master/dog relationship. Had Moreau done better, M'ling would've been more independent as a person.

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I admit it did not occur to me that the puma's being a female could be symbolic, but if I must read into it, I would attribute its gender to it being feline. The ferocity and unpredictability of cats is usually associated with females in many cultures. I have never seen a man likened to a cat, except when he is compared to a tiger or a lion, the biggest cats, and the trait in question in such cases is stealth and dominance. But puma, though technically a big cat, is the smallest of them. Its ferocity is bad enough for a human, but it's not as bad as that of a tiger, or a lion's for that matter, and it certainly is not the dominating animal in most of its habitats, unlike a tiger or a lion.

So... my point is? I'm a bit confused... I'm not entirely sold on the idea of the puma's gender being a symbol of sorts. What do you mean by "Moreau had just created the only woman in the tale", "and a new woman at that"?
Sure. But then, read within the above ‘creationist’ framework, the Puma’s femininity fits as well. We could look to the Leopard Man, another feline, but quite male. I would also suggest that the gender of the puma is unimportant – unless it is being used to make a point. Otherwise, it doesn’t really matter that the puma is a woman and she becomes just another monstrous creation. But that’s not the case here: the puma is in the tale for almost as long as Prendick (she arrives on the island at the same moment and he imagines feline creatures when he returns to London), and we are constantly reminded of it's gender. There's also the prostitute comparison. We can find references to her femininity at every point she enters the story. At one such point she is referred to as a ‘virago’, at another, her cries become more human the more they are evinced. It is also telling that this female – the first ‘female’ – is essentially the ruination of the island ‘utopia’. There are clear parallels to Eve and the Garden of Eden – female weakness, female unpredictability, female whatever ... I think that’s the imagery that Wells is putting before us.

(As an aside, it’s telling perhaps that Wells and his lover Rebecca West had cat name for each other. He was ‘Jaguar’ whilst she was ‘Panther’. I don’t remember either of those animals being on the island ... perhaps their omission was deliberate? Who knows!)

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Originally Posted by Rosicrucian View Post
What do you mean by ... "and a new woman at that"?
For HG Wells, ‘new woman’ would’ve meant that liberated female that threatened British society at the start of the twentieth century. This was a woman unfettered and unrestrained by society, free to act like a man (I suppose), a woman who was sexually emancipated. It might be the case that Wells is pointing out that this unrestrained ‘beast’ would lead to the ruination of society (as they knew it). Once this sexually free and intelligent woman broke her bonds, things would turn out nasty. That’s not a feminist reading either, eh?

Last edited by avon; September 12th, 2010 at 07:02 AM. Reason: Typos
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Old September 12th, 2010, 06:54 AM   #26

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Re: HG Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau


I hadn't thought of that. I will now. Nice response Avon. Thanks Rosicrucian.
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Old September 12th, 2010, 08:00 AM   #27

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Re: HG Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau


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For HG Wells, ‘new woman’ would’ve meant that liberated female that threatened British society at the start of the twentieth century. This was a woman unfettered and unrestrained by society, free to act like a man (I suppose), a woman who was sexually emancipated. It might be the case that Wells is pointing out that this unrestrained ‘beast’ would lead to the ruination of society (as they knew it). Once this sexually free and intelligent woman broke her bonds, things would turn out nasty. That’s not a feminist reading either, eh?
I am not sure about this Avon (unless I am reading you incorrectly). Wells was an avid feminist and believer in sexual liberation for women so it seems slightly odd that he would mean for it to be interpreted in this manner. Perhaps he was advocating the creation of the "new woman", rather than warning of its consequence?

Check out Ann Veronica
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Old September 12th, 2010, 08:14 AM   #28

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Re: HG Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau


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I am not sure about this Avon (unless I am reading you incorrectly). Wells was an avid feminist and believer in sexual liberation for women so it seems slightly odd that he would mean for it to be interpreted in this manner. Perhaps he was advocating the creation of the "new woman", rather than warning of its consequence?

Check out Ann Veronica

On the surface, yes; but then, Moreau was written in 1896 whilst Ann Veronica wasn't written until 1909. People and times change in the course of 15 years. It's worthwhile remembering that Wells married his cousin in 1891; left her in 1893 to live with one of his students, Amy Catherine Robbins; got divorced in 1895 and immediately married Robbins. 1896, he writes Moreau. This man isn't yet liberated from Victorian custom. He married his cousin!!! I don't yet see him as the strident feminist at this point in his career ... though I'd be open to contrary arguments.
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Old September 12th, 2010, 10:46 AM   #29
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Re: HG Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau


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Originally Posted by avon View Post
I think, when discussing works of fiction, there are numerous possible interpretations available. We each read different elements, analogies, possibilities, symbols and so on and so forth into each story.
Couldn't agree more. But with me these endless interpretations usually begin with a second read. The first time around I'm too busy getting mesmerised, for that feeling you get on reading a great book for the first time is unparalleled, and usually only focus on the technical aspects such as the richness of the language, the flow of the words, the characterisation, the story, and so on. I have only read Moreau once and that could be the reason my understanding of it is not as deep as it could get. I'm afraid I don't usually see the larger picture straightaway.

Quote:
My own reading is the one that I laid out in the introductory post above. I see Moreau as a godlike figure. Thus, I see Moreau attempting to create a human being - not a vivisected animal, but a human. There are plenty reasons for me thinking this. Chapter 14 (probably the most important chapter) explains Moreau's thinking in reasonable detail. There, Moreau explains:
"Then I took a gorilla I had; and upon that, working with infinite care and mastering difficulty after difficulty, I made my first man. All the week, night and day, I moulded him. ... He had heard some of the cries as the thing grew human, ... I taught him the rudiments of English; gave him ideas of counting; even made the thing read the alphabet.
...
I threatened him, told him the inhumanity of such a proceeding, aroused his sense of shame, ... "
Moreau clearly is making a human. There's 'first man' (Adam?), a week's work (seven days of the creation - loosely), language (one of the main aspects that define 'human' ... think about slaves who are not allowed to learn literacy), arithmetic (a sense of reason perhaps?), then shame. Moreau's creating Man. More correctly, he's re-creating. By his own admission, he wishes to ‘burn out all the animal’ and ‘make a rational creature of my own’. Then there’s the Laws that clearly set out how the beasts should act with human mannerisms – drink, don’t suck; walk on two legs, not four ... Moreau is ‘He who wounds’ ... ‘Are we not men?’ (It’s revealing that the animals are described as ‘men’ rather than ‘people’. Reeks of God and religion.

Now, that M'ling was created from a dog, but clearly retained a number of dog-like characteristics is, within my own reading, a flaw in Moreau's work. There is another example where M'ling flops on the floor by the door and starts panting like a dog. Elsewhere he’s given ‘glutinous accents’. He's loyal to Mongomery, but not loyal in the same respect that two friends are loyal to one and other, but in a more subservient manner ... like a master/slave or master/dog relationship. Had Moreau done better, M'ling would've been more independent as a person.
That's a very compelling argument and for the time being at least I do not have much to say against it.

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It is also telling that this female – the first ‘female’ – is essentially the ruination of the island ‘utopia’. There are clear parallels to Eve and the Garden of Eden – female weakness, female unpredictability, female whatever ... I think that’s the imagery that Wells is putting before us.
You said to Cicero that though there were other females on the land the puma was essentially the first "woman". I guess the "female" underlined above is a slip and you meant woman, so I'll go with that. "essentially the ruination of the island ‘utopia’". Whose utopia? Only Moreau's, it was hell for everyone else. Unlike Eve, the puma acted in self defence; any other animal would have done the same. Some may have well tried but only the puma succeeded in breaking free. So the puma's action does not classify as "female weakness" or "female unpredictability". It's also an accident that the puma's escaping the room designated as the laboratory resulted in Moreau's death, thereby ending the experiments effectively. But I do agree about Moreau playing god and like the mythological god himself, a female resisting and ultimately thwarting his idea of control. That way it is very like Eve but unlike that story this one has a positive spin overall for the puma's escape meant other animals could go back to being animals, breaking the hold of one many's tyranny. Any allusions to the "new woman" could also be seen in this same positive light, that the breaking free of women is nigh and that such an event could break the tyrannical hold of religion and/or traditions on the society.

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(As an aside, it’s telling perhaps that Wells and his lover Rebecca West had cat name for each other. He was ‘Jaguar’ whilst she was ‘Panther’. I don’t remember either of those animals being on the island ... perhaps their omission was deliberate? Who knows!)
This is not important, but the story does contain a leopard-man, and a panther is essentially a leopard, a black leopard. And Wells sounds quite randy.

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For HG Wells, ‘new woman’ would’ve meant that liberated female that threatened British society at the start of the twentieth century. This was a woman unfettered and unrestrained by society, free to act like a man (I suppose), a woman who was sexually emancipated. It might be the case that Wells is pointing out that this unrestrained ‘beast’ would lead to the ruination of society (as they knew it). Once this sexually free and intelligent woman broke her bonds, things would turn out nasty. That’s not a feminist reading either, eh?
I guess not!

It's funny how those fears of the imagined effects of female emancipation turned out to be silly and overly exaggerated over the years. But I do see your point.
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Old September 12th, 2010, 11:48 AM   #30

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Re: HG Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau


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Originally Posted by Rosicrucian View Post
Couldn't agree more. But with me these endless interpretations usually begin with a second read. The first time around I'm too busy getting mesmerised, for that feeling you get on reading a great book for the first time is unparalleled, and usually only focus on the technical aspects such as the richness of the language, the flow of the words, the characterisation, the story, and so on. I have only read Moreau once and that could be the reason my understanding of it is not as deep as it could get. I'm afraid I don't usually see the larger picture straightaway.
My reading experience tends to be different, but I can broadly sympathise with what you’re saying. One of the most beneficial aspects of this Book Discussion Forum project is that I am committed to reading a book and then giving a comment. Often, as is the case with this thread, I am committed to writing the introduction – so it has to be a decent effort – and that probably focuses my attention in a very positive way. I have to sit and actually think about the book. So, perhaps the act of organised writing is what works best for myself.

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You said to Cicero that though there were other females on the land the puma was essentially the first "woman". I guess the "female" underlined above is a slip and you meant woman, so I'll go with that.
Yup. Absolutely a slip. My apologies.

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"essentially the ruination of the island ‘utopia’". Whose utopia? Only Moreau's, it was hell for everyone else.
The little quotation marks around ‘utopia’ signify a degree of tongue-in-cheek, a touch of irony. So, yeah, I agree.

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Unlike Eve, the puma acted in self defence; any other animal would have done the same. Some may have well tried but only the puma succeeded in breaking free. So the puma's action does not classify as "female weakness" or "female unpredictability". It's also an accident that the puma's escaping the room designated as the laboratory resulted in Moreau's death, thereby ending the experiments effectively. But I do agree about Moreau playing god and like the mythological god himself, a female resisting and ultimately thwarting his idea of control. That way it is very like Eve but unlike that story this one has a positive spin overall for the puma's escape meant other animals could go back to being animals, breaking the hold of one man's tyranny. Any allusions to the "new woman" could also be seen in this same positive light, that the breaking free of women is nigh and that such an event could break the tyrannical hold of religion and/or traditions on the society.
Yup, I could go with that. This would also fit with Okamido’s caveat about Wells being a feminist.

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It's funny how those fears of the imagined effects of female emancipation turned out to be silly and overly exaggerated over the years. But I do see your point.
Fears frequently are later found to be unfounded. British society – I guess like most societies – balked at many possible ‘great reform’ moments. There is always an element who worry about progress and take psychological refuge in conservativism. Every time someone suggested widening the enfranchised, people who also ready had the vote got scared.
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