Cross-posted at Slaves of Golconda
I was talking to my father the other day about invention. From the beginning of history, people conducted their lives in similar ways. For thousands of years, news traveled the same way, wars were fought the same way, food was cooked the same way. Then in the mid-1800s, the world changed. People went to sleep one dreamfilled night in what could have been 1625 and awoke to a world that they didn't recognize. Trains, the telegraph and later indoor electricity. The Victorians were on the doorstep of the modern world. They were the first through the door. And the advent of modern science was the umbrella that covered their contemporary lives.
Yes, Darwin changed the way people thought of humans and therefore thought of themselves. His studies allowed for people to begin experiencing life like never before. Dimensions to worlds unknown opened up. Seances and spiritualism became common. Victorians were expanding their spiritual and religious realm. If what they thought about themselves had been altered by science, then maybe what they thought or knew of the dead and the soul, was different as well.
But it was writers like H.G. Wells, that uncovered hidden truths in them all. Writers like Wells made readers and the public rethink what it was to be human. Not just how they thought, but how the felt. The emotional turmoil pervading society had to be a sort of shell shock. If humans came from apes, then what does that do to our sense of who we think we are? Do we feel like humans? What does that even mean? Or could we be nothing more than wild creatures that wear clothing? What truly distinguishes us from 'them.'
Reading The Island of Dr. Moreau, these were the questions I was dealing with, repeatedly returning to. Rationalization is not the only thing that seperates us. Neither is knowledge or conscience. It must be all.
The narrator of Moreau, Prendick writes, Yet I felt an absolute assurance in my own mind that the Hyena-Swine was implicated in the rabbit-killing. A strange persuasion came upon me that, save for the grossness of the line, the grotesqueness of the forms, I had there before me the whole balance of human life in miniature, the whole interplay of instinct, reason, and fate in its simplest form.
These animal-human hybrids are humans in Prendick's estimation. Their ability to reason has changed them and has made them all too human like. However, I wonder if it was their strange mutation into human like beings that gave them reason or if they had always had reason and were now only able to communicate it. I fall into believing the latter in this case. Moreau had partly succeeded in his dungeon of science.
Prendick's experience on the lost island of mutation and vivisection, changed his way of feeling. It certainly changed the way he thought and what he thought about. Everything he thought he knew before, was turned upside down. He was left grasping.
I fell indeed into a morbid state, deep and enduring, alien to fear, which has left permanent scars upon my mind. I must confess I lost faith in the sanity of the world when I saw it suffering the painful disorder of this island.
A blind fate, a vast pitiless mechanism, seemed to cut and shape the fabric of existence, and I, Moreau (by his passion for research), Montgomery (by his passion for drink), the Beast People, with their instincts and mental restrictions, were torn and crushed, ruthlessly, inevitably, amid the infinite complexity of its incessant wheels. But this condition did not come all at once...I think indeed that I anticipate a little in speaking of it now.
This sentiment still reverberates today. I hear it echoed in Ginsberg's infamous first lines of Howl: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix. There's something primitive in Ginsberg's feeling of desolation and I sense the same in Prendick's lament.
As a society, we cope with watershed changes in a myriad of ways, but we have to deal with them nonetheless. But what does it mean to feel this way? Can we always change things for the better? Should we leave life, science, nature, better left untouched? I don't know.
I leave Dr. Moreau with more questions than answers...but I prefer literature that way. It is the discoveries I make on my own that validate my experiences.