Science Fiction Studies


#57 = Volume 19, Part 2 = July 1992

Robert M. Philmus

The Strange Case of Moreau Gets Stranger

A couple of years ago, under the heading of "Textual Authority: The Strange Case of The Island of Doctor Moreau" (SFS 17:64-70, #50, March 1990), I discussed, inter alia, what is undoubtedly the most extraordinary of Wells’s revisions of Moreau—and perhaps the most extraordinary of his "post-publication" revisions, period. I am referring to the particular copy of the "Colonial Edition" (which appeared towards the end of 1896, about six months after Heinemann’s first edition of Moreau) emended in Wells’s own hand and now in the Wells Collection at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. As indicated in my previous note, this copy (hereafter "CE") contains changes far more extensive than those to be found in the Atlantic Edition (the published English-language text which deviates the most from the original Heinemann version). Not only does CE conflate Moreau’s 22 chapters into 14 (retitling all but six of them); it also slates for deletion all but the last two paragraphs of the opening chapter (along with the entire Introduction).1

Wells made such changes using two different writing instruments, which surely correspond to two different revisionary moments; and until very recently, I was under the impression that the most extensive of those moments, so to speak, lay in the chronological vicinity of the Atlantic Edition. What changed my mind was the serendipitous discovery that CE served as the basis for the French translation of Moreau first published in the pages of the Mercure de France in 1900-01, issued in book form in the latter year by the Société de Mercure de France, and apparently still in print as a Livre de Poche.2

This Ile du Docteur Moreau was the work of Henry-D. Davray (1873-1944), an important commentator on the English-language literary scene as well as the translator of numerous fin-de-siècle and early 20th-century works. He was responsible, in whole or in part, for rendering into French 14 of the book-length works by Wells published between 1895 and 1910 (including two nonfiction titles) and five volumes of his short stories. Moreau was the third of Wells’s books to appear in Davray’s translation in the pages of the Mercure; preceding it were The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds.3

Davray’s published account of his dealings with Wells—this in a response to an attack by a fellow-translator on Davray’s rendering of Moreau in particular—does not establish CE’s exact date, but it does contain some surprising revelations. Writing in the Mercure de France of August 1905, Davray reports:4

The French translations of Wells’s works that the Mercure de France has published all present differences, sometimes very great ones, compared to the English text. These modifications, suppressions, and enlargements...are entirely owing to the author.

I read my first work by Wells, The Time Machine, more than a dozen years ago [Davray must mean: when it originally came out], during one of my numerous sojourns in London. Shortly thereafter, I made the acquaintance of its author, and subsequently I had frequent occasions to meet with him. Our relations became the most cordial and our close friendship has never abated. Through a continual correspondence and reciprocal visits several times a year, I keep abreast of his work while he collaborates, so to speak, on my translations by offering unceasing advice and clarifications. Thus he communicated to me the revised texts on which I worked. Besides, the author’s corrections improve greatly the text and the works [i.e., locally and overall] in the opinion of people who know them and are competent to judge.

One of the copies that we possess of The Island of Doctor Moreau (Heinemann edition) bears very important corrections that the author made in his own hand. Whenever the English publisher renounces the reprinting of this novel from the existing plates and consents to having it retypeset, it will be a text conforming to the French translation that the English will be reading. (p. 635; my translation)

[Les traductions françaises des ouvrages de Wells qu’a publiées le Mercure de France présentent toutes des différences parfois très grandes si on les compare au texte anglais. Ces modifications, suppressions et allongements...incombent entièrement à l’auteur.

Je lus le premier ouvrage de Wells, la Machine à explorer le Temps, il y a plus de douze ans, pendant un de mes nombreux séjours à Londres. Peu de temps après, je fis connaissance de l’auteur, et par la suite j’eus de fréquentes occasions de le rencontrer. Nos relations devinrent des plus cordiales et notre intime amitié, depuis lors, ne s’est jamais démentie. Par une correspondance continuelle, par des visites réciproques plusieurs fois par an, je reste au courant de ses travaux de même qu’il collabore, pour ainsi dire, par d’incessants avis et éclaircissements, à mes traductions. C’est ainsi qu’il m’a communiqué les textes remaniés sur lesquels j’ai travaillé. D’ailleurs, de l’avis des personnes qui les connaissent et qui sont compétentes pour en décider, les corrections de l’auteur améliorent grandement le texte et les oeuvres.

L’un des exemplaires que nous possédons de l’Ile du Docteur Moreau (édition Heinemann) porte les très importantes corrections que l’auteur y fit de sa main. Dès que l’éditeur anglais renoncera à réimprimer ce roman sur des clichés et consentira à le recomposer, c’est un texte conforme à la traduction française que les Anglais pourront lire. (p. 635)]

There is no known copy for any of the other titles Davray translated that is comparable to CE; nor was the promise of his last-quoted sentence fulfilled when Heinemann had Moreau reset for the 1913 reissue (though that edition did incorporate some of CE’s verbal changes).

Nevertheless, at least part of Davray’s testimony has just been confirmed. The University of Illinois is currently negotiating to acquire all or part of the considerable correspondence that he refers to above, comprising more than 150 in letters, perhaps all that Wells sent to him; and conceivably these will serve for ascertaining the precise date of the text Davray was using. Meanwhile, the one document in the Illinois Wells Collection that bears on CE’s date is a missive to Wells from William Heinemann dated February 20, 1899. In it, that publisher refers to ongoing negotiations with Mercure for The Time Machine and Moreau—which makes it likely that Wells had by then completed his revisions of the latter.

In any event, Davray’s translation leaves no room for doubt that CE represents a revisionary process that Wells had completed by early 1900 at the very latest. But that certainty only deepens the mystery of why Wells altered Moreau so radically within four years of its original appearance.

Since his conflations and excisions only minimally reduce Moreau’s length, it is not tenable to suppose that he was responding to restrictions on space in Mercure’s pages. And while it is conceivable that he agreed to delete mention of the wreck of the Meduse on the grounds of its being an episode painful to French sensibilities, that hypothesis would not have dictated—and hence does not account for—the drastic outtakes from chapter one unless we further imagine that he suppressed any (overt) reference to cannibalism (while covertly preserving it in The Red Luck, as he renamed the Ipecacuanha) on his own initiative in response to those reviewers who had found Moreau too lurid. That idea, however, does not account for CE’s other deviations from both the English and the American first editions.

Any such hypothesizing, moreover, is considerably complicated by the mystery attending Davray’s testimony that CE was meant to replace all other English-language editions at the earliest opportunity. Assuming that Davray knew whereof he spoke, we may wonder why the text as reset by Heinemann in 1913 differs from that publisher’s 1896 Moreau chiefly in its omission of Charles Prendick’s Introduction.


1. For further details about CE, see "Textual Authority," 66-67; a full description will appear in Appendix 4 of my variorum critical edition of Moreau, which Georgia UP is supposed to release before the end of this year.

2. Davray’s L’Ile du Docteur Moreau appeared in the Mercure de France in three installments: the first six chapters in volume 36 (Dec. 1900):577-639; the next four in volume 37 (Jan. 1901): 99-154; and the final four in the February issue of the same volume, pp. 420-69. The text represents a French equivalent of CE in every respect except one: §8 is titled "Moreau Explique" (i.e., "Moreau Explains") rather than "Man making."

3. Mercure carried Davray’s translation of The Time Machine (La machine à explorer le temps) in two monthly installments (December 1898-January 1899) and The War of the Worlds (La guerre des mondes) in four (December 1899-March 1900).

4. I am grateful to my colleague, Jean-Marc Gouanvic, for calling this document to my attention; to David Hughes for details about Heinemann’s letter of February 1899; and to Roger Bozzetto for putting me on to Davray—albeit inadvertently—in the first place.

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