BOOKS IN REVIEW
The Definitive Moreau
H.G. Wells. The Island
of Doctor Moreau: A Variorum Text .Robert M. Philmus, ed. Athens:
University of Georgia Press, 1993. xlviii+239. $40.00.
Patrick Parrinder once compared the job of editing a Wells text to the act of walking
through a minefield (121). If so, then Robert M. Philmus has emerged remarkably intact
from his long walk through The Island of Doctor Moreau. Unlike Harry Geduld's
useful but undefinitive The Definitive Time Machine (1987), Philmus's variorum Moreau
is the real thing: an authoritative critical text, exhaustively researched and
scrupulously edited.1 It is the first of its kind for a Wells novel, or any
work of SF for that matter, and it is an essential purchase for anyone seriously
interested in Wells, SF, or the Fin de Siècle.
1. The need for an authoritative text of Moreau is pressing
on several accounts. First, Wells's literary stock has been quietly on the rise for some
time now. As we move toward the next turn-of-the-century, there is a culminating interest
in the last, and Wells is a crucial figure in this transition. Secondly, recent critical
theory and practice finds fertile ground in Wells's scientific romances of the 1890s, for
many of the same reasons that Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has stirred new
interest (cf. Veeder). Of the romances, The Time Machine has previously received
most attention, but for those of us interested in decoding "body language," The
Island of Doctor Moreau is even more fascinating for the ways in which issues of
gender and class intersect in the image of the body in pain. Along with The Invisible
Man (another body-in-pain book), Moreau is arguably the most intensely
physical and visual of Wells's early work--the centerpiece of his red, black, and white
period. It deserves the careful treatment Philmus has given it.2
2.0. Some years ago, David Lake argued for the Atlantic Edition (1924,
hereafter AtEd) as authoritative in indicating "Wells's final intentions."3Philmus
begins by breaking this rule, for a number of good reasons. He uses as his basic copy-text
the first American edition of Moreau(1896), published by Stone and Kimball
(S&K).4 Philmus argues that AtEd qualifies as a corrupt text: it was
apparently based on the 1913 Heinemann edition (H13), which multiplied the typographical
errors of the first Heinenmann edition (WH). Moreover, the particular copy of H13 which
served as the basis for AtEd contained emendations written in a hand other than Wells's
(Dorothy Richardson's?); although Wells himself presumably authorized all these changes,
they do not include some alterations made in the Colonial Edition (CE), which are in
Wells's own hand. Far more importantly, Philmus argues against the assumption of Lake and
others that "last is best." Philmus stresses that the 1924 Wells who edited AtEd was out
of touch and "alienated" from the 1896 Wells who wrote Moreau.5
Having eliminated AtEd as a possible copy-text, Philmus is left with a choice between
WH and S&K. He argues back and forth at some length, trying to establish which is the
last revised; but the evidence is ambiguous. Philmus's aesthetic instincts draw him toward
S&K as the "subtler rendering," and he ultimately chooses it as his copy-text.6However,
he is unwilling to abandon WH altogether--hence his variorum approach.7
2.1. In addition to the variorum text itself, the footnotes to that
text, Philmus's Introduction, endnotes, and annotations--there are eight separate
appendices. The first and most important of these contains a transcription of the 112-page
surviving fragment of Wells's first draft of Moreau (circa 1894, hereafter
First Moreau"), annotated, with Wells's emendations and deletions supplied in
footnotes. This draft material, housed in the Illinois Wells collection, has never before
been published, and access to it alone is worth the price of the book for anyone seriously
interested in Wells.
Of the remaining seven appendices, three are devoted to specialized textual matters
which complete Philmus's variorum scheme.8 Appendices 5 and 6 provide material
which helps place Moreau in proper intellectual context. Especially useful is an
annotated first draft of the essay, "Human Evolution, an Artificial Process" (published
in 1896 but probably written earlier), in which Wells discusses the internal conflict
between "natural man" ("the culminating ape") and "artificial man" ("the creature
of tradition, suggestion, and reasoned thought").9 The final two sections
trace the influence of Moreau. In Appendix 7, "Moreau's Literary 'Children,'" Philmus summarizes and briefly analyzes the plots of 12 books which he deems
to have been directly shaped by Moreau, including Wells's own 1936 The
Croquet Player (but oddly not his 1928 Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island).
Appendix 8 provides plot summaries and analyses of one stage and five film adaptations of Moreau.
The book concludes with a Selective Bibliography.
3.0. I have two principal reservations about Philmus's volume: first,
that its design does not always reflect a clear answer to the question "who will read/buy
this book?" and, secondly, that the interpretation of the novel it provides breaks no new
critical ground. The latter problem may be a function of the former.
In deciding how to present Moreau, Philmus most often seems to assume a reader who is
rather like himself, a professional scholar and a fellow Wellsian--someone concerned with
precise textual accuracy, a collector of lore. His use of a variorum format, for instance,
serves the needs of this audience very well. It permits the reader to make minute textual
comparisons without continually having to flip to the end of the book. It builds up a
thick description of Wells's composition process, in 'real time,' as it were. The needs of
the general reader are less well served by this format, however. The constant footnoting
required, combined with equally frequent endnote numbering, creates a speckled page which
may be distracting to the uninitiated. Indeed, the entire textual apparatus, admirable for
its scholarly completeness, may seem a bit formidable to those who are simply trying to
read the novel. Such readers might have preferred a format similar to that used in the
Cambridge Edition of D.H. Lawrence's work which results in a cleaner page, without
significant compromise of textual authority.10
The annotations themselves serve both audiences quite well; one is free to browse as
much or as little as one likes. There are gems which will give special pleasure to
committed Wellsians--Philmus's identification of "Caplatzi's" as an emporium
purveying technical and scientific equipment, for instance (91); but there is
much general background information as well--the meaning of "Comus rout," "Mahomet's houris," etc.
The annotations also allow Philmus an opportunity to enrich his interpretation of the
novel's themes, as in his discussion of the name "Lady Vain" (89).
Appendix 7, "Moreau's Literary Children," is a labor of love which obviously
took much time and effort to produce; however, it will appeal primarily to the collector
of Wellsiana. Most of the titles are "recherché" and long out of print. The general
reader might have preferred more material by and about Wells--a reprint of his 1894 essay
"The Province of Pain," for instance. Appendix 8, "Stage and Screen Adaptations" has
broader appeal and provides Philmus with greater opportunity for interpretive play,
especially since the films tend to foreground elements of the feminine and the sexual
which have been suppressed in Wells's text.
Philmus seems to have made few concessions to the undergraduate student reader; there
is no time-line, for instance, and no base-level discussion of the crucial source texts (Frankenstein,
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Origin of Species, etc). Both his prose style and his
cultural assumptions seem pitched to a general reader who is, again, rather like Philmus
himself, lacking only his specialized knowledge. Perhaps he has simply written off the
undergraduate market; at $40, this volume is much too expensive to serve as a teaching
text anyway--although, as I have suggested, it is something of a bargain as scholarly
books go, especially since the inclusion of the First Moreau saves future
Wellsians the cost of a plane trip to Illinois.
3.2. Graduate students and younger academics may have quite a
different set of problems with Philmus's text--or, rather, with his interpretive
introduction and annotations. If the variorum format has been designed to meet the needs
of the specialist, Philmus's "Introducing Moreau" seems to have been designed
for the general (albeit educated) reader. It provides a sensible, always serviceable
analysis of Wells's overt themes, in the context of his intellectual life and times;
however, for those of us who are interested in the psychodynamics of Horror and the
Uncanny, in the complexities of "body language" and the construction of late Victorian
masculinities, Philmus's reading may feel somewhat flat and lacking in nuance.
Philmus sees Moreau primarily as a Swiftian satire which conveys Wells's
shifting ambivalence about civilization and its discontents. For Wells, civilized behavior
was at once a mask, a thin, hypocritical veneer covering ancient, animalistic passions,
and yet also a saving bulwark against the destructive force of those passions--the
"artificial factor" which allows hope that human beings might survive and progress into
something higher and finer, or at least something less driven. The bipartite structure of
the novel mirrors the bipartite structure of Wells's thoughts on the puzzle of human
Philmus spends considerable time demonstrating how this final Swiftian satire emerged
from the gothic horror story which constituted the First Moreau--a horror story
clearly influenced by Mary Shelley, Poe, and, most of all perhaps, R.L. Stevenson, whose
1886 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde served Wells as something of an Ur text.11
I have little quarrel with anything Philmus says; yet I am frustrated by the things he
does not say. The textual materials he has provided (especially his transcription of the
First Moreau) suggest, at least to me, a rich network of connections and meanings
which he does not fully explore.
This is not to say that Philmus's introduction is lacking in insight. For example, he
begins very perceptively by stressing that this book about bodies and body problems was
written by a young man whose own body was apparently failing him. Philmus opens this door
to interpretation only to close it, however. He does not consistently read the body
language in Wells's text(s) or make longitudinal connections between the bodies in this
text and in other of Wells's 1890s SF. He sees certain satiric similarities between the
Morlocks, the Beast People, and the Martians, but does not discuss the Invisible Man at
all (despite the recurrent image of the crying, bandage-swathed body, to mention but one
similarity [cf. Crossley, 182]).
The very skills and habits of mind which make Philmus such a great editor may render
him naturally cautious when it comes to analysis. He is reluctant to speculate about
matters he cannot document.12 Also, Philmus likes Wells, thinks that what he
had to say is important. Philmus's Wells is not "the best and wisest man I have ever
known," a figure which pops up frequently in back numbers of The Wellsian. He is
a more complex being than that; but he is basically all right--resilient, more ironic and
self-deprecating than self-pitying. He is not simply a problematic specimen of late
In this regard, it is significant that Philmus does not mention any of the recent and
very interesting "body work" on Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (cf Veeder),
or, for that matter, any of the equally interesting work on Shelley's Frankenstein.
One of the most useful features of Philmus's volume is that his transcription of the First
Moreau establishes beyond doubt that these two texts were very much on Wells's
mind when he began composing Moreau, much more so, perhaps, than Gulliver's
Travels. Philmus pays attention to these sources, most usefully to the theme of the
usurping male man-maker. His argument is limited, however, by what I at least believe to
be a somewhat simplistic reading of Dr. Jekyll as an exercise in "latter-day
Calvinism" (xxi). As Jerrold Hogle and others have suggested, Dr Jekyll is not
simply about bipolar self-division but about complex rituals of male rivalry and
complicity designed to reinforce bipolar thinking and thus to reinforce the boundaries
which exile the feminine from the male self (cf Veeder). That is, like Frankenstein,
Dr. Jekyll is about the ways in which men make men, about fantasized causa sui
projects in which women have no part. (Thus does Jekyll give birth to Hyde out of his own
pain-wracked body.) It seems to me that these very same patterns are at work in Wells's Moreau
which, especially in its final draft, concerns a community of Monks of Science quite
similar in its conflicts and complicities to the all-male world of Stevenson's book.14
This connection needs to be more fully explored, not merely for what is says about Wells's
corpus but for what it says about the body in the late Victorian text in general (cf.
Hurley and Showalter).
If Philmus has not supplied us with all the answers to the puzzles of the gendered body
presented in Wells's text, he has, at the very least, provided us with a greatly enriched
stratum of material to mine. In this sense, and in many others, his Moreau,
despite all my carping, is definitive. That is, it establishes a textual base on
which the next hundred years of Wellsian scholarship will be built....presuming that
Humanity has another 100 years left for Big Thinks. Wells himself was never quite sure
1. For a critique of Geduld, see Lake, "Undefinitive Wells."
2. At present, Philmus's edition aside, there are four Moreaus in print in the
US, although only two of them seem to be "in stock": an Airmont paperback
("indefinitely out of stock"), which follows the 1927 "Essex edition" (a corrected
reprint of AtEd); a Signet Classic (Penguin) paperback; an $18 cloth volume from Bentley
which reprints the 1933 Duffield and Green edition (itself probably a reprint of S&K);
and a $33 hardbound from Buccaneer Books ("out of stock"), provenance unknown. According
to David Lake, the Penguin reprint contains "a repulsive hoard of errors" (5). Philmus
notes that nearly one-third of the changes made in the "Essex Edition" go back to WH
(66). None of these editions are annotated.
3. "The golden rule for new editions: always take the Atlantic Edition itself as
copy-text--not a reprint, however good"--with The Scientific Romances (SR, 1933)
as a source of emendations (5). The Scientific Romances (Gollancz, 1933) is a
corrected reprint of the Atlantic Edition. In his war of the words with Harry Geduld over
Geduld's definitive/undefinitive Time Machine, Lake seems to back off from this
position a bit. Cf Lake's response to Geduld's letter, SFS 16:403-04, #49, Nov 1989.
4. Footnotes record variants found in William Heinemann's original 1896 English edition
(WH), the reset Heinemann edition of 1913 (Hl3), AtEd, early manuscript drafts of Moreau
in the University of Illinois Wells Collection (MS), alterations handwritten into Wells's
copy of the 1896 Heinemann "Colonial Edition" (CE), and alterations handwritten into Wells's copy of H13 (Hl3*).
5. There are a number of significant instances of this process at work in AtEd. For
example, AtEd omits the "Introduction" by Prendick's nephew; Philmus, following S&K,
restores it. Lake has argued that the "Introduction" serves no useful function and
"should be eliminated, in accord with Wells's final intention" (7). However, Philmus's
decision seems the wiser on interpretive grounds, and not merely because he is following
S&K. For one thing, the suggestion of a narrative frame serves to link Moreau
to several texts Wells had in mind while composing it: Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde, Gulliver's Travels, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Moreover, the
"Introduction" also helps to establish Prendick's subsequent story as the testimony of a
survivor, which, in turn, is implicitly linked to Wells's own story of survival. In
eliminating the nephew's "Introduction" from AtEd, Wells was, consciously or not,
covering his tracks, both literary and emotional. He does much the same thing in his own,
strangely brief introduction to Moreau in AtEd. There are many other changes in AtEd
which, while less obvious than the elimination of the "Introduction," have the
cumulative effect of draining away the novel's emotional color. For example, Wells changed
the title of Chapter 5 from "The Man Who Had Nowhere to Go" to "The Landing on the
Island." The original is more rhythmic and emotionally evocative--more uncanny. It echoes
the Chapter 2 title, "The Man Who Was Going Nowhere," stressing Prendick's entrapment,
helplessness, and essential passivity--all important motifs in Moreau and other
of Wells's scientific romances (cf Weeks). Clearly, by the time he came to edit AtEd,
Wells had lost touch with his own emotional and artistic logic: the logic of indirection
6. ...for this reason--and because "it is the version least frequently reprinted and
hence may serve to defamiliarize the fiction so as to allow readers already acquainted
with it to see it anew" (xxxv).
7. "Ideally, then, we should have before us a text wherein WH and S&K are
juxtaposed--which, practicably, means a variorum edition" (xxxv).
8. Appendix 2 discusses the probable stages in which Wells composed Moreau and
provides precise transcriptions of the relevant post-first draft MS fragments; Appendix 3
catalogues additional variants between the MS fragments and the published text; Appendix 4
records the rather extensive handwritten alterations which Wells made in his copy of
CE--some of which are substantive and bear on interpretation (e.g., Wells's proposed
changing of ship names from Ipecacuanha to Red Luck).
9. Also reprinted are a letter in the Saturday Review in which Wells defends
the notion that hybrids such as those Moreau creates are actually possible and an exchange
between Wells and F.H. Perry Coste on heredity and "plasticity."
10. In these editions, the text is printed without footnotes, save for faint stars
which indicate that there is an explanatory note available. The explanatory notes appendix
and a separate appendix containing all textual variants are both keyed to line numbers
printed in the right margin of the text (5, 10, 15, etc).
11. In the First Moreau, Prendick and Mrs. Moreau discuss Stevenson's novel or
(in a cancelled variant) Shelley's Frankenstein (3:115). Significantly, Stevenson
died in the very year in which Wells began composing Moreau.
12. Concerning the problematic area of sexism, Philmus's aim is to place Wells's views
in historical context. For example, Philmus argues that, despite the violent and bloody
scene which Prendick sees when he opens the door to Moreau's "Blue-Beard's chamber,"
Wells was no "sadistic male chauvinist" (xxv). Indeed, Philmus sees Wells as somewhat
more sensitive than his male contemporaries to women's issues, even latently pro-feminist.
Here he cites Lansbury and, with even greater stress, Wells's Ann Veronica which
he reads as a wholly sympathetic portrait of a young woman's "struggles to extricate
herself from a suffocating maledominated world" (xxv). Many feminists would disagree with
this reading, however--especially given the novel's condescending caricatures of the
Suffragists (cf. Murphy and Scott).
13. This orientation moves Philmus periodically to defend Wells, as one might defend a
friend--especially against charges of racism and sexism. For example, he notes that in his
revision of Moreau Wells repeatedly replaces the racist phrase "yellow men"
with the more purely descriptive "men in yellow" (xxii). In rebuttal, one might note
that Wells is not similarly revisionary about his anti-semitism. In both drafts, he
compares the Beast People to Jews, merely replacing the phrase "the lower kind of Jew"
(2:112) with the phrase "the coarser Hebrew type" (16:56). Not much of an improvement,
14. In Wells's revision of the First Moreau, the Doctor's wife and son
disappear, pushed down into the subtext, as it were. Philmus perceptively notices this
process (xxv) but does not fully trace its implications for the psychological structure of
the published novel. He sees this excision primarily as a tactically wise elimination of
Crossley, Robert. "Parables for the Modern Researcher," The Malahat Review,
Hogle, Jerrold E. "The Struggle for a Dichotomy: Abjection in
Jekyll and His Interpreters." Veeder (q.v.). 161-207.
Huntington, John, The Logic of Fantasy: H.G. Wells and Science Fiction. NY:
Columbia UP, 1982.
Hurley, Kelly. The Novel of the Gothic Body: Deviance, Abjection, and
Late-Victorian Popular Fiction. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1988 (dissertation order no.
Lake, David. "The Current Texts of Wells's Early SF Novels: Situation Unsatisfactory"
(Part I). The Wellsian, n.s. 11:3-12, 1988.
----------. "Undefinitive Wells," SFS 15:369-73, #46, Nov 1988.
Lansbury, Coral. The Old Brown Dog: Women, Workers and Vivisection in Edwardian
England. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.
Lodge, David. The Novelist at the Crossroads and Other Essays on Fiction and
Criticism. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1971. 206-20.
Murphy, Cliona, "H.G. Wells and Votes for Women," The Wellsian, n.s.
Parrinder, Patrick. "Disagreeing Over The Definitive Time Machine,
Again," SFS 17: 121, #50, March 1990.
Philmus, Robert. "Revisions of Moreau." Calliers Victorians & Edouardiens
30: 117-40, 1989.
----------. "Textual Authority: The Strange Case of The Island of Doctor Moreau."
SFS 17:64-70, #50, March 1990.
----------. "The Strange Case of Moreau Gets Stranger," SFS 19:248-50, #57, July
Scott, Bonnie Kime, "Uncle Wells on Women: A Revisionary
Reading of the Social Romances." H.G. Wells under Revision. Ed. Patrick Parrinder and Christopher
Rolfe. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna UP, 1990, 108-20.
Showalter, Elaine. Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle.
NY: Viking, 1990. 178-79.
Veeder, William, and Gordon Hirsch, eds. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde after One Hundred
Years. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1988.
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