Review: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is a novel by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, the author more well known for her breakout hit Mexican Gothic. Like Mexican Gothic, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is a different take and perspective on established literary tropes and stories. Though in this case the reference and allusion to literary history is far more transparent as it acts as a sort of sequel or retelling to The Island of Doctor Moreau, the classic science fiction novel by H.G. Wells. However, Moreno-Garcia alters the narrative, setting, and its focus to center a new voice and reinforce the themes of the original work with a more apparent and poignant comparison.

The original text was narrated and experienced through the eyes of Edward Pendrick, a man stranded on Dr. Moreau’s island by happenstance. From his perspective, we meet the titular physician and Montgomery, the doctor’s assistant and caretaker of the hybrids the doctor creates. As well, Pendrick meets the Beast Foks inhabitants of the island, a series of vivisected hybrids of humans mixed with animals. These creatures are the fruit of Moreau’s labors and experiments though he treats them as nothing more than nuisances and trophies to feed his own hubris and ambitions. Ultimately, the easy peace between Moreau, Montgomery, Pendrick, and the Beast Folk cannot stand and a conflict arises between them all resulting in the eventual death of everyone but Pendrick. His time with Moreau and the Beast Folk changes Pendrick and he leads a life of solitude away from civilization and society believing humanity to be no better than savage beasts playing at being human.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s story takes a departure from this plot. Dr. Moreau and Montgomery are still present but are given different personalities and characterizations from the original text. As well, there is no Pendrick, though Montgomery in this text takes a bit of that role on. Furthermore, the perspective and narration of the story changes from character to character and chapter to chapter. The biggest alterations however rely on the differing setting and the introduction of Carlota Moreau, the doctor’s daughter and a sort of replacement for the unnamed puma-woman hybrid from the original text. In this version, the “island” is not some undisclosed location but a region of Mexico in the Yucatan Peninsula that is also an area of major geopolitical strife and unrest between the upper class, Spaniard descendant mestizo landowners, the encroaching British empire trying to claim stakes in the Spanish area, the Indigenous peoples fighting for freedom, and the inhabitants and family of Dr. Moreau’s home.

In this version, Carlota Moreau is the main protagonist and instigator of conflict within the story’s plot. Carlota is the doctor’s biological daughter, but also the result of an experimental process of vivification and in vitro fertilization. She is also extremely naïve and sheltered like the young female characters of many romances. However, her childishness and naivety do not remain for long as the circumstances of her life and the conditions of her home force Carlota to grow and learn of the real world far faster than she would have preferred. Her choices and actions eventually result in the downfall of her home, the deaths of many innocent and cruel, and the loss of innocence, but they also lead to a new home and freedom for herself and the animal hybrids she calls family. In essence, the original themes of mankind’s inhumanity are more focused and better expounded on in this version than the original. The first story showed how beast like mankind can be because of its desire to control nature and show cruelty to the abhorrent in Moreau’s treatment of the Beast Folk and the Beast Folk’s willingness to revert back to feral states after Moreau’s death. However, this version does not allow for that separate an observation. Mankind’s cruelty and inhumanity is not demonstrated by treatment of Beast Folk but by the treatment of the Indigenous people of Mexico and those deemed lesser because of birth or skin complexion. Thus, the metaphor of Beast Folk is not necessary as mankind’s abject cruelty is shown through actual, factual historical demonstrations.

Yet, the resolution also differs. Carlota does not find peace in solitude and science as Pendrick did; instead she makes a home with the hybrids and Montgomery and welcomes the outcast and downtrodden for she intimately knows the comforts and necessity of community and family in whatever capacity it can be found. The world of Daughter of Doctor Moreau is no less cruel or unjust than its predecessor; it could be argued that it is even more so, but it is also far more hopeful and forgiving of its characters and their actions. Humanity is cruel, but not solely. There is potential for more if people are willing to try. And that is the inherent message that was missing from the original text and for which Moreno-Garcia’s surpasses it.

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