‘ARE WE NOT MEN?’ THE ARTIFICIAL CREATION OF HUMAN BEINGS IN THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU, SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN AND GOETHE’S FAUST II

Siv Frøydis Berg

Abstract


Abstract. This article examines The Island of Doctor Moreau in the light of a specific cultural and literary tradition – in the context of stories of human-made artificial human beings, and especially with reference to two important forerunners to H. G. Wells’s novel: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818) and the second act of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust II (1832). Both these stories explore the possibilities of using organic-biological matter as raw material for artificial creation, by means of science and without divine assistance. Both stories were written in a pre-Darwinian time, in the context of the battle of ideas between materialism and vitalism. Frankenstein was seen to promote a materialistic and ungodly worldview, whereas the creation of Homunculus was taken as a powerful defence of vitalism. Seventy years later, when Wells wrote his novel, the episteme had changed, and evolutionary ideas were garnering much attention, in all their complexity and scope. More broadly, the article explores the more philosophical, existential and religious questions: where does human consciousness reside? What is a human being? Can human beings take the place of God?


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