The second half of my old look at the first two volumes of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen:
Give your hairy beast its due
While London is falling apart, and all those reclaimed for society are once again freeing themselves of their clothing-shackles, Moore does present one society that doesn’t seem to be falling apart: the
Island Forest of Dr. Moreau. His secret? Redefinition.
In the future, Moreau tells us, the definition of humanity will change. It seems implicit that Moreau already defines humanity differently. For him, what it means to be a man (sexist language intentional, given the context)–what it is to be an accepted part of civilization–is not the same as in the larger world of the League. Moreau accepts the bestial half of his citizens and indulges it as necessary, as with Rupert the bear’s gypsy woman. Surely it would be foolish not to do so, since it is their base selves (literally the animal on which they were based, but the pun is intentional) which make them unique, which give them the abilities Moreau-as-society considers important.
What do you want Mina to do about it?
Mina is horrified by it all. Or, rather, she expresses horror, which might not be the same thing. She learned quite some time ago the expectations of the society to which she belongs. Ostensibly, polite society does not condone the expression of the base at all. Mina’s scarf is the bright, obvious symbol of her understanding of the actual practice of this morality: whatever you do, whoever you are, when you enter the bright, cooperative sunlight, no one should be exposed to it.
This, you see, is Mina’s great secret. She is willing, to return to a previous metaphor, to take off her clothes. And once she does, she fully indulges in the carnal with unabashed delight. In fact, her greatest horror becomes her biggest turn on, as the victim of history’s most well-known vampire asks Quatermain to bite her as they have sex. Then–here’s the important part–she puts her clothes back on and becomes a proper lady once more. She doesn’t regret what was clearly sex for its own sake. (“**** me,” she calls, not “make love to me.”) She revels in the mutual exposure of scars, thrills at mixing pain and fear with pleasure. In fact, Mina later calls this most uncivilized activity wonderful.
And so she survives. Mina concedes that there is something to be gained in being an extraordinary gentleman. She realizes, as her more extreme contemporaries fail to, that clothing need not be a shackle, and can in fact be a tool. Hyde and Griffin feel its use as something to protect society from their true selves. Mina, on the other hand, uses her scarf and other trappings in the opposite way, protecting her wonderful, carnal self from civilization’s abuses.
Original version published at Trickle of Consciousness