Science Fiction Studies

# 61 = Volume 20, Part 3 = November 1993





Nancy Steffen-Fluhr

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 "the 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 evolution.

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 Victorian masculinity.13

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 about that.


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 (cf Huntington).

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, really.

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 "supernumeraries" (xxii).


Crossley, Robert. "Parables for the Modern Researcher," The Malahat Review, 64:173-88, 1983.

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. 8906682). 149-68.

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. 10:11-19, 1987.

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 1992.

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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