Utopia’s the Thing: An Analysis of Utopian Programme and Impulse in H.G. Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau
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This chapter concerns H.G. Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) and the utopian impulse, the impulse towards a better world. Clearly, Moreau is not a utopia. But it articulates and reveals—in a unique and slightly perverse way—an interplay of the different facets and qualities and possibilities of the utopian impulse that are too often concealed in a more traditional utopian text. This is because it deals directly with the process of bringing reality to utopian ideals rather than reading like a guided tour of the finished product. The obscuring of the utopian process—the actual getting from here to there—is a notorious feature of literary utopias, but then to take them at face value, as practical-political blueprints, would be to miss their clear critical intention. As Tom Moylan puts it: ‘Utopia negates the contradictions in a social system by forging visions of what is not yet realised … in generating such figures of hope, utopia contributes to the open space of opposition.’1 This does leave a lacuna, however, where some interrogation of the process of constructing the utopian subject should be.2 In the epigraph from More’s Utopia above, for example, is elided the whole practical reality of that process, and so too the actual means of shaping social or political progress. And it’s precisely the mechanisms of this process that are exposed in The Island of Doctor Moreau.