The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for grumpiness


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The Independent Culture

Ailment: Grumpiness

Cure: The Island of Doctor Moreau, by HG Wells

After the highs and lows of Christmas, you may well feel entitled to a grumpy period. Your social repartee is exhausted, and there's only so much good cheer you can take. But as you allow that lurking scowl to settle over your features, spare a thought for the effect of your truculent demeanour on those around you – the friends, colleagues and cohabitants who must live with it every day. If you can't see what it has to do with them, read HG Wells's anti-vivisection polemic of 1896, and be shamed.

Dr Moreau is the archetypal mad scientist who has somehow managed to take possession of an island in the Pacific on which to conduct his experiments. When a shipwrecked Englishman named Edward Prendick is rescued from drowning by the moody Moreau, he finds himself captive among a strange and terrifying race of semi-human creatures who spend a lot of time on all fours chasing rodents. He believes he is about to succumb to this horrible conversion himself; but in fact he's got the wrong end of the stick. Rather than turning humans into beasts, Moreau has been attempting to turn four-legged animals – hogs, hyenas, dogs and leopards – into human beings using an unorthodox mix of surgery and behavioural conditioning. His experiment has only been half successful, however – hence his foul mood.

The wails of the creatures at night do little to comfort Prendick, and their chants about "the law" are decidedly enervating. Although Prendick finally realises he has nothing to fear from the "beast folk", he has by then descended into a crabbiness as intense as Moreau's – the grumpy scientist, of course, being the true beast of the island. Don't indulge in selfish bad moods like Moreau; they only bring everyone else down with you. Instead, expose yourself to sunnier dispositions, and catch that mood instead of spreading yours.