Course Hero Logo

The Island of Dr. Moreau | Study Guide

H. G. Wells

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "The Island of Dr. Moreau Study Guide." Course Hero. 15 Nov. 2019. Web. 20 Mar. 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2019, November 15). The Island of Dr. Moreau Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2019)



Course Hero. "The Island of Dr. Moreau Study Guide." November 15, 2019. Accessed March 20, 2023.


Course Hero, "The Island of Dr. Moreau Study Guide," November 15, 2019, accessed March 20, 2023,

The Island of Dr. Moreau | Context


H.G. Wells and Uplift

H.G. Wells was either the first or among the first to explore science fiction themes that have since emerged as full-blown subgenres. Among his genre-defining themes are time travel (1895's The Time Machine), alien invasion (1898's The War of the Worlds), space travel (1901's First Men in the Moon), and what has come to be called uplift science fiction (The Island of Doctor Moreau, 1896).

The term uplift was popularized by contemporary science fiction writer David Brin (b. 1950). In the novels that make up his Uplift series, a future human race seeks social growth and stability by uplifting, or raising the mental capacity of, "lower" animals to human level. In Brin's series, the uplifting is done through genetic engineering, whereas Wells's Doctor Moreau relies on vivisection to create his hybrid beasts, although the distinction may be more one of refined technology. Another difference is that the morality Doctor Moreau attempts to impart onto his subjects is very human. Brin's uplifters, on the other hand, imbue standards into their "clients" that are based upon respect for the environment and for other species.

Other writers have explored the notion of uplifting from different perspectives and to different literary ends. Authors incorporating such themes into their works include Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov (1891–1940), who in his 1925 novella The Heart of a Dog satirized Soviet society with an uplifted dog named Sharik. He got into trouble with the government for his efforts. In the late 1930s, American author L. Sprague de Camp (1907–2000) published the Johnny Black series about an uplifted bear in the pulp magazine Astounding Science Fiction. In children's book publishing, American novelist and journalist Robert C. O'Brien published Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH in 1971. The tale features scientifically uplifted rats—the NIMH of the title stands for the National Institute of Mental Health, where the rats' intelligence has been increased through experiments—who come to the aid of a mouse widow and her family. It won the 1972 Newbery Medal, given by the American Library Association to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. The uplift trope has also been popularized in television and film, including the Warner Brothers animated series Pinky and the Brain (1995–98) and the Planet of the Apes (1968+) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014+) film franchises.

Evolution and the Human-Animal Boundary

Wells wrote The Island of Doctor Moreau nearly 40 years after British scientist Charles Darwin (1809–82) published his 1859 work On the Origin of Species. Darwin's book, which explained his theory of natural selection, had generated decades of controversy by then. Natural selection argues that the traits in a species that best help it to survive are those that are passed on to successive generations. As part of his argument, Darwin said that the patterns he observes within species would not be present if "we look at each species as a special act of creation." The notion that human beings were something other than unique creations of God triggered, as University of California, Riverside science-fiction scholar Sherryl Vint put it, "a moment of incredible disruption for Victorian society [1837–1901]."

With the acceptance of Darwin's theories among scientists, the once-clear line between animal and human nature became blurred. With that blurring came new moral questions: Was vivisection, the performance of experimental or investigative surgery on living animals, ever acceptable? Was it justified by the aim of improving the quality of human life? Or was experimental surgery on living creatures of any sort subject to the same moral considerations as it is on humans? Vint articulates the central paradox when she writes, "[Animals] must be sufficiently different from humans for it to be morally defensible to torment them for research ... At the same time, however, they must be sufficiently similar to humans for the research results to be deemed pertinent to human health."

The Island of Doctor Moreau is, on one level, an exploration of this issue. Wells wrote the book at age 29, and it seems to read as a condemnation of vivisection. Later in his life, however, he praised the vivisection experiments of psychologist Ivan Pavlov (1849–1936), who removed the jaws of dogs to better examine their salivary glands. He also, on more than one occasion, heaped ridicule on anti-vivisectionists such as Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950). It seems possible that Wells approved of vivisection in some cases and condemned it in others. If so, his viewpoint was similar to that of Darwin and of many medical ethicists today.

Anti-Vivisection in the Late 1800s

Vivisection was very much on the British public's mind in the last quarter of the 19th century. H.G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau, although first published in 1896, is set in the year 1887. In the novel, Moreau is said to have been "howled out of [Britain]" 10 years previously by the public outcry over a pamphlet detailing his scientific experiments on animals. That would place his expulsion at around 1877. Not coincidentally—Wells infuses an impressive degree of real-life detail into his fiction—that was one year after Britain's first anti-vivisection law, the 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act, was passed by Parliament.

The act came about as a result of pressure on the government. The first animal experimentation laboratories had been established in the 1860s, and their number increased through the 1870s. An activist named Frances Power Cobbe (1822–1904) founded the Society for Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection in 1875 and spearheaded the efforts that led to the passage of the Cruelty to Animals Act. The act was the first in the world to regulate how live animals were used and treated in scientific research. Inspired by Cobbe's success, two Philadelphia women, Caroline Earle White (1833–1916) and Mary Frances Lovell (1844–1932) established the American Anti-Vivisection Society in 1883.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Island of Dr. Moreau? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!