This essay investigates how H G Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau employs the gothic trope of the uncanny. Despite Wells’s use of ‘uncanny’ twice to describe humanized animals, prior critics haven’t explored what the uncanny adds to our understanding of the novel, perhaps because Freud’s famous essay ‘The ‘Uncanny’ was written in 1913, following The Island of Doctor Moreau by more than two decades. We argue, however, that both men were working from notions of the uncanny circulating in fin de siècle Europe and describing a larger colonial dynamic, so that even though Wells’s work preceded Freud’s, we can use Freud’s explanation of the uncanny to better understand what Wells was doing and why the animals in The Island of Doctor Moreau are so unsettling to readers in our time and in his. That is, the uncanny helps to explain how the novel works as a gothic. Moreover, by examining how Freud’s theories help us to understand Wells, we also see elements of Freud’s essay that we wouldn’t otherwise. We will argue that because Freud and Wells were describing the world around them, overlap is logical, even predictable, and certainly useful to understanding both projects.

Gothic Studies