While Wilde and Wells emphasize science as an underlying theme in their works, both authors use science to serve the bigger theme: gothic fiction, and to get the point across they use horror, suspense, and fear that is prevalent in the Victorian Age. In the Island of Dr.Moreau and in The Picture of Dorian Gray, both novels use different themes that are connected to the bigger theme of Gothic Horror. The term gothic novel typically refers to stories that combine elements from horror and romanticism, which often are represented in a psychological way. Gothic novels deal with supernatural events that are not easily explained and follow a plot of suspense and mystery. These novels written by Wilde and Wells perfectly represent the times they were written in- The Victorian Era. During the 18th and 19th Centuries there was a great sense of exploration and discovery in the fields of science, religion, and industry. These novels serve the purpose to explore the ideas that were common at the time. Therefore, both novels can be connected to the use of gothic horror in the Victorian Era.
An overlapping example between the two novels is the use of secrecy. In the Island of Dr. Moreau, it seems as everything is clouded in secrecy. The Island itself is a mystery. “Our establishment here contains a secret or so, is a kind of Bluebeard’s Chamber, in fact” (Wells 21). Here, there is a reference to a folktale where Bluebeard, a wealthy and powerful nobleman supposedly has many wives and, in each relationship, the wife suddenly disappears. In the Chamber, there is blood everywhere, the result of the murders, just as there appears to be plenty of blood on the island due to the different science experiments. The reference to Bluebeard’s chamber also foreshadows a bloody and horrific future death for Prendick. This foreshadowing is common in gothic novels, especially when the main character eventually dies an unexplained death. The weird scene portrayed by Wells can be connected to secrecy in the Picture of Dorian Gray. Just like the other novel, the main issue at hand is enthralled in secrecy. Dorian Gray is depicted as a beautiful young man with an ugly secret(GradesFixer). Dorian will retain the innocence of his youth but with every evil action he endures, his picture is degenerated. This secret of the picture is kept from other characters in the novel such as Sibyl Vane, James Vane, etc. Secrecy is also embedded in the romanticism displayed in the novel. The best example of secrecy is between the relationship of Dorian and Sibyl Vane. Here, Dorian falls in love not with her but rather the person she transforms in on stage. Before Sibyl reveals her true nature to Dorian, Dorian is intrigued and instantly falls in love with her and believes she is the direct product of a Shakespeare play. However, when she reveals her “secret”, her real identity to Dorian he is taken back. He says “You used to stir my imagination. Now you don’t even stir my curiosity” (Wilde 236). Dorian no longer has these fantasies about their relationship that was created by the secrecy of Sibyl’s true identity. Secrecy in death is a theme that coincides between the two novels(GradesFixer).In the Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorians ultimate downfall was when he kills himself. Trying to stab the painting to destruct his former sins and all his secret ones that outsiders do not know, the action backfired and killed Dorian. This can be seen as the “unveiling” of his secret as his soul and intentions are finally revealed after hiding behind the painting for so long. His death exposes everything that was previously concealed (Gradesfixer).Throughout the Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian is always trying to hide or secrete something. Whether it’s the picture, conservation that led to death of Sibyl Vane, murder of Basil, blackmailing Alan Campbell, or whatever the case may be, Dorian was always trying to conceal something from the rest of the world. After his death, it is still a mystery. No one will know the true reasons why or what the reason it was that Dorian killed himself, they just know he is dead. This secrecy is kept from the rest of the characters in the novel, which is different as in the Island of Dr.Moreau Prendick knows just as much as the audience reading. Secrecy motivates both novels and is a common theme in Victorian Society. Secrecy is crucial in novels of the Victorian Era as it can drive a plot through the readers desire to reveal the secrets it holds, and through narrative or characters strategies to reserve those secrets and maintain suspense.
Throughout the novel, the use of misshapen and monstrous objects draws a comparison between the two novels and leads to a more suspenseful theme. In the Picture of Dorian Gray the picture seems to be monstrous and with corruption. “Beneath its purple pall, the face painted on the canvas could go bestial, sodden, and unclean” (Wilde 124). Dorian is depicted as a monstrous person, who at times could go bestial and crazy. The painting contains the truth of Dorian and is binded to his soul. Dorian starts off as an uncorrupted, innoncent, and beautiful person, but as the novel goes on he is turned into a monster. As his sins and crimes reflect the painting and eventually leads to his downfall. Hour by hour, and week by week, the thing upon the canvas was growing old. It might escape the hideousness of sin, but the hideousness of age was in store for it. The cheeks would become hollow or flaccid. Yellow crow’s feet would creep round the fading eyes and make them horrible. The hair would lose its brightness, the mouth would gape or droop, would be foolish or gross, as the mouths of old men are. There would be the wrinkled throat, the cold, blue-veined hands, the twisted body, that he remembered in the grandfather who had been so stern to him in his boyhood(Shmoop Quote). The picture had to be concealed. There was no help for it. On the outside, his secrets and stuff are not revealed and he does not seem like a monster to society. Everything is hidden inside the painting and not revealed. Because of his social status and amazing looks, he is able to preserve the true meaning behind the picture. The tipping point that made Dorian the monster he truly is, is when he killed Basil. When Basil confronts Dorian about the rumors and speculations that have to deal with his reputation, Dorian shows the painting to Basil. Basil is thunderstruck and taken away by the horrid portrait. Dorian becomes so angry and turns into the evil monster he is and stabs Basil. Wilde uses a different approach to convey his suspenseful and horror scenes. He uses the picture to show the evilness and corruption. Then he tops it off with horrific scenes such as the killing of Basil, suicide of Dorian, and decomposition of Basils body by Alan Campbell. The use of monstrous creatures and people is also evident by Wells. Wells, instead of using a portrait, literally uses monstrous animals and people in his novel. One account of these animals states “all of which were prognathous, malformed about the ears, with large and protuberant noses, very furry or bristly hair, and often strangely placed eyes” (Wells 62). These animals described are the Beast-Folk. They are half-human, half-animal prototypes that Dr. Moreau has created. The vivisections that Dr.Moreau performs on these humans and monsters are grotesque and evil, and challenge scientific methods of the Victorian Age such as Darwinism. Parallels can be drawn between the work of Wells and Wilde. The challenging of Victorian society morals, values, and use of monsters reflect ideas prevalent in society at the time. I believe that by the authors are trying to iterate the fact that evilness and monsters were a common theme that people were interested in at the same. Jekyll and Hide was the first to set the stage, and other novels followed. I believe that the two accounts and depictions of monsters differ for their own reasons. Wilde depicts Dorian as a monster as he is corrupt, evil, but is keeping the secret behind the painting. At the time it was written I believe it represents the changing of social classes, moral ethics, and different stereotypes at the same. However, in the Island of the Doctor Moreau, the combination of animal and humans and scientific basis represents Gothic fiction novels, and science at the point in time. The scientific experiments and combination of animals and humans was not new, but not common. Jekyll and Hyde was the first novel to use it, but it was a familiar new concept to write about. Scientific exploration was a huge basis for Wells writing. He wrote this in partly to challenge Darwinism and new advances of the time. By writing about monstrous creatures and half human-half human, it would serve to challenge the evolutionary theories Darwin instituted.
This leads into the next prevalent theme of gothic fiction that is in the novel: Secularization. By definition, secularization was a period when the disciplines and institutions of modern science were founded and cultural authority shifted from traditional authority of religion to explanation through the scientific exposition of natural laws. This theory was further developed by Charles Darwin, arguably the most influential person of the Victorian Era. Also, in secularization, there was a deep religious revival time. I believe that in the Picture of Dorian Gray, it contradicts the secularization of the time period. Lord Henry states “All influence is immoral, immoral from the scientific point of view. To influence a person is to give one’s soul”. Everything in Dorian Gray seems to point to contradict religious views and moral virtues of the time. In Island of Dr.Moreau, it also challenges scientific advances of the period. By moreau doing vivisections,he challenges Darwin, and also religious views on modifying persons and their physical states.
Horror is the greatest theme in both novels. Both have bloody scenes, suspenseful scenes, weird creatures/monsters. In the Picture of Dorian Gray, it is riddled with horror. “The surface seemed to be quite undisturbed… horror had come. (Wilde pg 115), is describing the death of Basil. To bring even more horror to the story, Dorian hides the crime with the help of Alan Campbell by decomposing the body. In the Island of Dr.Moreau, Wells wishes to delve into the horrors of the scientific age. Doctor Moreau has set himself up as a literal God above the bestial creatures he experiments upon. He has even handed down a series of Laws in a parody of God speaking down to Moses. The horror involved is to show the gruesome events that take place on the island. “A horrible fancy came into my head that Moreau after animalizing these men had infected their dwarfed brains with a kind of deification of himself.” (Wells 129) The island is full of horror.
After the horror, there seems to be a resolution where the main characters are sent into a state of social isolation. Dorian leaves reality, and doesn’t appear again until he is 38 years old. He ruined a bunch of peoples lives in society, and is so caught up with the guilt if the painting he plunges into isolation. He is also hiding to escape the rumors and tendencies of the upper class people in society who have rumors and speculations about the things Dorian has done. Prendick is similar to Dorian, and has isolated himself from society. He returns to London, and is still plagued by the screams and cries of the beasts on the island. He is scared to death of the stuff he had seen on the island, and has come to the conclusion that in some way or another, all men are like the Beast-Folk.
Lastly, there is an emphasis on the fear of dying. I believe that Prendick was scared of dying. He couldve easily died by the Beast-Folk or committed suicide. Instead, he waited it out and escaped the island. Dorian is truly scared of dying. He is frightened of James Vane. He does not want to have the same ending that Sibyl had and to commit suicide. However, trying to stab the painting to become a normal person and escape the sins and corruptions, he kills himself not knowing it is actually his soul in the painting.
Gothic fiction is certainly tied to the Picture of Dorian and Gray and Island of Dr. Moreau. Both use gothic horror to showcase Victorian society. At a time of new science, innovation, and religious enlightening, these novels serve to challenge these ideas, and also reflect them in a positive way. Although the two novels are written by different authors and about different subjects, they are connected through gothic fiction, specifically gothic horror.