Vivisecting The Island Of Dr. Moreau

H.G. Wells

H G Wells     Herbert George Wells came into this world in the year 1866, September 21st to be exact. He came from humble beginnings, with a mother who was a lady’s maid and a father who was a shopkeeper and professional cricket player. Needless to say, Wells’ family was far from rich. Consequently, he often endured the hardships of poverty as a child. With his mother being a modern day house-maid, she took up a strict view of puritanical religion and forced it, with its ideas of condemnation for sinners to hell, upon Herbert as a child. With this scary idea of burning in hell vivid in Wells’s imagination, he quickly deserted the idea of God and religion claiming when he was twelve that “suddenly the light broke through to me and I knew this God was a lie.” (WellsExper) With financial burdens on his family due to his father’s inability to play cricket, Wells’s mother forced him into being a draper’s apprentice, which he sincerely hated (Online-Lit). After serving as a draper’s apprentice for a few years, he eventually quit because he could stand it no longer. He was fortunate to get a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in London in order to further his education .(Online-Lit)
Thomas Huxley

H.G. Wells life was basically transformed by the professor Thomas Huxley, whose views on Darwinian evolution shaped the foundation of Wells beliefs for the rest of his life. Wells even claims, “that year I spent in Huxley’s class, was beyond all question, the most educational year of my life.”(WellsExper) Although it would seem that H.G. Wells would go on the be a scientist, Professor Huxley retired after Herbert’s first year of college and he lost interest in science, becoming interested in literature instead. Literature did not seem to be a strength for him either, as he ended up failing out of the Normal School of Science after his third year. Wells struggled to make ends meet and the only teaching job he could find was at a boarding school in Wales that was rather inferior (Harris 19). While teaching he was accidentally hit by a student in a soccer game, which crushed his kidney and pulverized a blood vessel in his lung (Harris 19). While recovering from this accident, he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis and informed that he would soon be dead. He didn’t end up dying and through his recovery period he had the opportunity to read a large amount of literature from a library he had access to through his mothers work as a house maid (Harris 20). His exposure to old literature is what set the stage for his ideas of writing scientific literature in a literary prose. This writing style would be evident for the remainder of his life and secure his place in the pages of history. His first major success in science-fiction writing (not actually referred to as science-fiction at this point but actually scientific romantics), proceeded directly after his exposure to this literature. It was entitled, The Time Machine. This first work was an instant success and his writing career seemed to take off from there. His roots in the scientific community, as well as the involvement in the literary culture of his present day are what propagated the influential effect that his writings had on the public and on science as a whole (Harris 22). In this book in particular, Wells expresses both his views on evolution, as well as his ideas about the effectiveness and importance of vivisection. Although it may seem that through the eyes of Prendick, H.G. Wells was not in support of vivisection. In all actuality though, Prendick’s views can be seen as analogous to the ideas of the world view as a whole, while the ideas from Dr. Moreau reflect Wells personal feelings on the matter, as well as the work of Claude Bernard. Wells’s views on vivisection are slightly hard to decipher, but from his Text-Book of Biology the he published in 1893 you can see his hostility towards the enemies of vivisection (WellsText).

“ As a master of poker-faced fantastic narrative, Wells could start off with a serious discussion of a curious aspect of some contemporary scientific subject—for example the fourth dimension or the habits of deep-sea squid—and then modulate effortlessly into a tale of exciting events that might have seemed rather improbable if the read had not already been hooked by his sober, well informed presentation of scientific fact and theory.” – Mason Harris

The Island of Dr. Moreau novel begins as Edward Prendick finds himself shipwrecked. After days afloat upon the ocean, a ship, the Lady Vain, fortuitously approaches and he is saved by a doctor aboard named Montgomery. While aboard, he learns that their destination is a small island where Montgomery and his slew of strange animals will be docking. Upon arrival to the island, both the captain of the Lady Vain and Doctor Moreau, who we learn is Montgomery’s mentor on the island, refuse to take responsibility for Prendick. Consequently, he is forced back into the same life raft in which he had been previously rescued and the Lady Vain sails into the horizon. The islanders soon realize he has nowhere to go and take pity on him. Rescued, yet again, he is then officially introduced to Doctor Moreau and given a room in an outer portion of the inhabitants enclosure. Immediately, Prendick realizes that the inner door of his room is locked, preventing him from exploring further into the enclosure. This discovery leaves him curious and a bit unnerved.

        The next morning on the island, Prendick is awakened by the cries a creature being tortured. The pain and suffering that Prendick hears in those cries forces him as far away from the enclosure as possible. Deep into the jungle and quite distanced from the disturbing noise, he begins to observe creatures that resemble humans but have an uncanny animalistic quality as well. Prendick returns to the enclosure and confronts Montgomery about the unnatural creatures he has witnessed.

        The next day, Prendick awakens and discovers that the inner door of his room has been left unlocked. He enters the room only to find the mysterious creature, who is now in a half-human/ half-animal form lying heavily-bandaged on the table. Prendick’s first conclusion is that Moreau is vivisecting humans and further speculates that he is to be the next victim of Moreau’s research. Running for his life into the jungle, he soon meets up with many of these half-human/ half-animal creatures. He learns of the strange law that governs all of their lives and is soon interrupted by Moreau and Montgomery. He to the jungle hiding as best he can from whom he believes to be a crazed scientist performing experiments on humans. Moreau and Montgomery again catch up with him and explain the creatures, or Beast Men, to him. Prendick learns that the animals have been vivisected to resemble humans, not vice versa, and returns with them to the enclosure to learn of Moreau’s past and motivation for experimentation.

Some time passes on the island until one day, while out, Montgomery and Prendick come upon a half-eaten rabbit. This finding is very worrisome to the men because Moreau’s law strictly prohibits these types of actions of beast men. A meeting is soon called in which all of the creatures assemble to discuss this offense. Leopard Man is identified as the culprit in the slaughtering of the rabbits and escapes into the jungle where he is ultimately hunted down and shot by Prendick. This angers Moreau, nonetheless Prendick feels he made the right decision by not allowing Moreau to take him back and try to operate and remove the animal instinct that the Leopard Man exhibited.

Time passes by quickly and one dreadful day the puma that Moreau had been working on, breaks free from its restraints and flees into the jungle. Moreau runs frantically after his latest creation in hopes of catching the beast, but is soon found dead in the jungle alongside the puma man.

After the death of Moreau, Montgomery becomes irrational and speculates in his drunken state that the only way to fully turn the into men is to let them drink as men drink. He leaves the enclosure to find the Beasts while Prendick stays behind. Later that night, Prendick is awoken by a noise outside. When he leaves the enclosure he sees that the Beast Men and Montgomery have built a bonfire on the beach and have then proceeded to get into a drunken fight. As Prendick rushes to the scene, Montgomery dies right before his eyes. He is now alone on the island with the Beast Men.

For a while, Prendick lives on the island with the Beast Men who slowly begin to revert back to their animalistic ways. Not satisfied this way of living, or confident that the Lady Vain will return for him, he formulates a plan to build a raft and sail away from the island and its strange inhabitants. While doing this, a small boat carrying only two dead men, drifts onto the beach. He prepares himself to leave the awful island of Dr. Moreau and sails the next day.

The story ends as Prendick is picked up a mere three days later. Prendick’s account of the island and chronicle of the previous year lead everyone to believe he has gone mad. Trying to prevent being charged with insanity, he tries to forget the horrid year he spent on the Island of Dr. Moreau and lives the rest of his life in a state of complacency.

Vivisection instruments

Vivisection is essentially the experimental surgical processes that are usually performed on living creators, especially on animals. The term “vivisection” is derived from Latin; “vivus” (alive) and “sectio” (cutting), thus is vivisection.

“It is a clumsy and misleading name for experimentation on animals for the sake of the knowledge to be gained thereby. It is clumsy and misleading because it means literally cutting up alive and trails with it to most uninstructed minds a suggestion of highly sensitive creatures, bound and helpless, being slowly anatomized to death.” (Wells 221-30) experimental surgeries are performed on living creatures with ambition to discover a new cure for disease, or with intentions to benefit those of the human race in some way. Ethical concerns of its practice have been largely debated for centuries, even to this day. In most cases, vivisectionists inflicted great pain on their fully awakened specimen(s) and many people view this as cruel and inhumane in nature.


Applications of Vivisection time, the fight against sickness and disease has continued incessantly. Medical research has proven to be essential, rather than relying on miracle or chance, in achieving optimum human recovery, health, and wellness. To do this, it is necessary to study the human body’s cells, tissues, organs, and how all of these parts work and interact with one another first. At the same time, the elucidation of the mechanism and cause of the disease is required to be examined. Consequently, these two factors have spurned further developed of medical technologies and pharmaceutical drugs. This is further complicated as we have a moral and scientific  obligation to determine whether or not side effects will develop and diminish or eliminate these possibilities to the best of our abilities

1683333Studies using humans as test subjects are quite restricted. So, unavoidably researchers will seek to sacrifice animals for testing purposes and vivisection. It is similar to why we would use an animal as food, in the way humans live at the expense of animals. studies are very useful in the study of medicine. The main reason for the pursuit of knowledge obtained from animals is so that it can also be applied to human beings for our benefit. example, during the 20th century, reduction of child mortality and life expectancy have improved significantly. Over various fields of medicine, the treatment of vitamin deficiency, bacterial infection antibiotic treatment, management of diabetes, discovery of insulin, vaccination for smallpox, diphtheria, measles, etc. have been improved. The development of new drugs, anesthesia, cancer treatment, heart disease, development of pacemakers, management of high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, organ transplants, care of Parkinson’s disease, and treatment for AIDS and viral diseases. There are too many to list in this short blog.  Advances in medicine and medical care have had numerous breakthroughs and it may not be an exaggeration to say that there is no medical treatment that has not been based on animal experimentation in some form.


Claude Bernard
Charles Bernard

Claude Bernard was a French Physiologist who made several very important discoveries in the field of experimental medicine and physiology. The reason he is extremely relevant in association with The Island of Doctor Moreau, is because of his use of vivisection. His practice of vivisection without the use of anesthetics is essentially depicted as the role of Dr. Moreau in this fictional story. Bernard was persecuted and often times ridiculed for the practice of vivisection, nonetheless he stuck to his guns by always using scientific research and medical discoveries of importance for justification of the testing on live animals. Claude clearly states in his work, An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine, “without this mode of investigation, neither physiology or scientific medicine is possible; to learn how man and animals live, we cannot avoid seeing great numbers of them die, because the mechanisms of life can be unveiled and proved only by knowledge of the mechanisms of death.” (Bernard) Bernard’s passion for scientific research was fueled by finding answers to questions about different mysteries of our everyday life. Claude’s fascination with experimental medicine led to many personal discoveries including the idea of milieu interieur (principle grounds for homeostasis), the importance of the pancreas to the  digestive system, and glycogen production in the liver (Wiki).

“A physiologist is not a man of fashion, he is a man of science, absorbed by the scientific idea which he pursues: he no longer hears the cry of animals, he no longer sees the blood that flows, he sees only his idea and perceives only organisms concealing problems which he intends to solve. “ ~ Claude Bernard

Louis Pasteur
Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur, the famous biologist famous for creating the germ theory, was also an avid vivisectionist. In order to test his antiseptic agents and disinfectants on currently infected tissue, he would often times inflict wounds and surgical lesions on animals. Pasteur was also a good friend of Claude Bernard, and in association the two came up with the idea of Pasteurization, which is used to kill microorganisms in food. Although friends, Pasteur and Bernard varied in the way they practiced vivisection. Pasteur was much more partial to the ethical treatment of the animals, always recommending anesthesia to ease the suffering of subjects if possible (Franco 253) Pasteur was still criticized by anti-vivisectionists, but it was much less than the criticism Bernard received from his vivisections without anesthetics.

Evolution of Mario
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

Evolution is a major theme presented in this book. The idea of evolution dates back to the ancient Greeks, however, during the time that this book was written, two ideas regarding evolution were prominent. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was a French naturalist that believed that evolution was driven on a need-based system. example, if a giraffe’s neck were not long enough to reach certain leaves, then it would stretch out its neck, which would cause its neck to elongate. The giraffe would have a longer neck after stretching it, and that trait would be passed on to its offspring. Lamarck also believed that evolution has led up to humans. Lamarck’s ideas influenced people for years, and were widely accepted until the 1950’s.'s%20Finches.gif
Darwin’s Finches

Charles Darwin’s idea of Natural Selection also changed how people viewed evolution. Darwin developed his theory of Natural Selection while on a voyage on the HMS Beagle. While on the voyage, he observed several species of finches on the Galapagos Islands. Darwin noticed that the finches had different types of beaks. He also observed that each beak type was specialized for a certain type of environment. The observations that he made on the island helped him develop this theory of natural selection. Natural selection is the process by which animals that are more acclimated to an environment are able to reproduce more. Darwin also believed that the finches he observed all evolved from a common ancestor. Darwin constructed a tree in which branches on tree represented species that we see today, and the nodes on the tree represented extinct species.

Today, evolution is described as the changes in allele frequencies overtime in a population. Evolution is a very slow process, and many factors affect the outcome of evolution (Britannica). Although Lamarck and Darwin were not entirely accurate with their ideas of evolution, their research laid down the foundation for future scientists.  The animals that we see today are the product of millions of years of evolution. Every animal that we see today is here because they have adaptations and behaviors that allow it to be successful in its environment. In the book, Dr. Moreau takes certain animals and vivisects them. Moreau changes the animals both physically and mentally. He changes the animals to give them a more human-like appearance, and also changes them mentality so that they also act more human. Essentially Dr. Moreau was attempting to undo what millions of years of evolution had created.  Moreau was unsuccessful in his attempts to alter the behavior of the animals because the animals eventually returned to their animalistic ways.  Moreau had a very similar view as Lamarck in regards to evolution.  Moreau believed that humans were at the top of the taxonomic chain, and that all other animals were evolving to be more human like.

The book illustrates a very extreme example of humans attempting to alter what evolution had created, however, humans attempt to modify and change organisms more often than one thinks. For example, all the dog breeds we see today are the outcome of humans artificially selecting for certain traits. H.G Wells does an excellent job of illustrating how humans can take things to an extreme in order to go against nature.


 Darwin’s Influence
Chuck Darwin

Darwin’s life work, On the Origin of Species, was first released in the 1850’s. Within decades, much of the scientific community had accepted his paper as being the best explanation for the observations made about the world around them. H.G. Wells, was no exception. Wells main scientific character, Dr. Moreau practiced vivisection. This had been a common practice since “the dawn of medicine”(Franco239). Prior to Darwin’s work, there had been no great notion that humans were the most sophisticated of the animals. Instead, people saw animals and humans as two very distinctly different groups. It was fairly easy to justify medical testing on a live animal, rather than a live human, since the animals were in no way related to us. Along with the acceptance of Darwinian theory, many people began to sympathize with the animals that were being used in scientific tests.  “In 1875, the first animal protection society with the specific aim of abolishing animal experiments was founded: the Victoria Street Society for the Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection. “(Franco251)These groups would pop up throughout Europe and even in America. Wells held a certain compassion for animals as well as a drive for scientific knowledge, which allowed him to agree with vivisection but with the use of anesthetics. Even though heredity and adaptations had come to light in the scientific consciousness, genetics and chromosomes were still behind the veil of ignorance. The inter-relatedness of the species, as outlined by Darwin, gave Wells enough ammunition to lead readers to the conclusion, that if left unchecked, the process of vivisection could easily produce creatures that were both human and animal. Wells addressed the societal tendencies of such a population in the book, but did not go as far as to speculate, literally or figuratively, whether these new altered traits would be passed on to offspring.


Modern Day Implications for The Island of Doctor Moreau

In the time of publication, vivisection had been around long enough that people had begun to disapprove and often times were outraged at the barbarity of it. This novel and its implications along with vivisection informed the public of some of its down sides, as well as its good things. Only two years after the publication of The Island of Doctor Moreau, Anti-vivisection movements like that of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection began, and this book no doubt played some role in helping to shape the argument for different negative reasons for vivisection (Conceptual). Vivisection is often times still used today in Physiology classes to understand how different hormones cause changes in the heart rate as well as different functions of living tissue. Although we cannot say that this book directly has had an impact, the process of vivisection outlined from the work of vivisectionists like Claude Bernard no doubt laid the foundations for our modern day plastic surgery and different body altering surgeries that many people around the world undergo today.

Concerning the ideas of Darwinian evolution, this book caused backlash with its groundbreaking idea that man and animals derive from a common ancestor, they may potentially be given human traits through surgical processes. The ideas laid out through  Dr. Moreau, concerning the lack of differences between animals and humans, have been used in many arguments regarding the theory of evolution and is still used today in those same arguments. The idea that animals and humans are one-in-the-same both helped and damaged the concept of the antivivisectionist movement. It campaigned to the argument of antivivisectionist in the aspect that since we are no different from the animals it would be logically unethical to perform vivisection. Vivisectionists touted the idea of equality of origin making the research directly helpful/applicable to human advancement in medicine.



Works Cited

Wells,H.G., “Popular Feeling and the Advancement of Science. Anti-Vivisection.” The Way the World Is Going: Guesses and Forecasts of the Years Ahead. London: Ernest Benn, 1928. 221-30

Franco, Nuno Henrique,” Animal Experiments in Biomedical Research: A Historical Perspective. Animals, University of Porto, Rua do Campo Alegre, 2013

Wells,H.G., Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain (since 1866). 2 Vols. London: Gollancz and Cresset Press, 1934

“Introduction.” The Island of Doctor Moreau Edited by Mason Harris. Ed. Mason Harris. Toronto: Broadview Editions, 2009. Page 19-22.

Wells,H.G., Text-Book of Biology [University Correspondence College Tutorial Series]. 2 vols. Intro. G.B. Howes. London: W.B. Clive & Co., University Correspondence College Press, 1893

Bernard, Claude, An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine. Paris [1865]. Trans. Henry Copley Green. New York: Dover 1957

“evolution.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 18 Jun. 2014.



7 thoughts on “Vivisecting The Island Of Dr. Moreau”

  1. It was a pretty good book and I liked your paper. The focus on vivisection was nice because I’m not very informed of that subject. I however, don’t really have any questions.

  2. Very interesting book. In the story, I noticed that the only females that were portrayed were Beast Folk. They also only get a few lines. One question/potential discussion topic for this book is: Why do you think there are no major female characters?

  3. The book was interesting how ever it was very gruesome. something that I would want to know would be, what do you think would have happened if Moreau hadn’t died? Do you think he would have continued to work until he reached his goal of the perfect animal to human.

  4. I thought the blog was well put together and I enjoyed the in-class presentation. The only question I would have is why did Bernard not use anesthetics? Was he afraid it would affect his experiments or did he just not care about the animals?

  5. Overall I thought the paper was very good and liked the descriptions of the sciences and how they pertained to the novel. My question is why vivisection? Was there anything particular that set Wells off on vivisection. In the biography it is mentioned that his views on it as well as the world views are presented, but could he not have picked another facet of science?

  6. Nice post, I enjoyed it quite a bit. My question pertains to the ethics that are brought up in the book: do you think the emotions sympathy and/or empathy have held humans back from reaching their full potential?

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