The Madman’s Daughter
Pub 1-2013, Balzer + Bray
Madness is defined as the state of being mentally disturbed, insane or demented — in other words, outside the norm. Yet most of us have, at least once in our lives, come close to the beauty and curiosity of madness. Like Juliet Moreau, The Madman’s Daughter’s enticing protagonist, we desire access to the delirious world of our subconscious — what lives within us but is so hard to reach from the humdrum world of logic and morals. Throwing ourselves headlong into the drone of everyday habits and schedules, we slowly become victims of conformity. Sometimes, we have to dream of breaking free from these unbearable chains, of doing the opposite of what is expected.
The Madman’s Daughter is Megan Shepherd’s first novel, so it’s understandable that she’d want to find her place in the world of young adult books. She does so incredibly well. The Madman’s Daughter uses its historical references to place it in parallel to modern-day society as well as bring into focus the very specific, and distinct, topic of science’s relationship to spirituality.
The Madman’s Daughter recounts the tale of The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G.Wells through the eyes of Dr. Moreau’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Juliet Moreau. A presumed orphan who finds herself in the slums of 19th century London, Juliet has been the victim of a scandalous story about her father’s science experiments. Left without a job or money, she runs into a childhood friend named Montgomery who then leads her to her father’s island. Once on the island, she is torn between rejoicing at the long-awaited reunion with her father and recoiling at the gruesome truth of his scientific experiments. Juliet finds herself in a difficult situation wherein she has only just reunited with her family and must either decide to stay with her father or return to London, a victim once again. Love and hate, science and lust, survival and the spirit all define Juliet Moreau’s journey to the unconscious.
Overall, Sheperd’s tale is a delight to read. The reader is instantly captivated by the gloomy, curious character of Juliet, and her distress in the face of truth. Shepherd delves deep into Juliet’s mind to mine the source of her desperation. Of course, the “madman” himself is very fickle and shifty. Like Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Inspector Javert in Les Miserables, or even Fagin in Oliver Twist, Dr. Moreau is a character that defies pigeonholing. These are, personally, my favorite characters: those who confound “good” and “bad”.
Readers want to place characters in opposition to one another. When an author decides to create characters like Dr. Moreau and Inspector Javert, though, we are forced to admit that not everything is this way or that way; that not everything fits a preconceived mold; that everything is positively and truthfully indecisive. In The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Madman’s Daughter, the reader is confronted by Dr. Moreau’s questionable sanity. Is he really mad, and if so, who decides? To 19th century Britain, Dr. Moreau was a bloodthirsty madman, but what if he had lived at a different point in history, in a different society? Madness is so widespread, can be so many things, that to put one’s finger on it—to accurately define it—is nearly impossible.
The reader’s second main consideration is that of the love triangle formed by Juliet and her two suitors, Edward and Montgomery. Here again Shepherd repeats the motif of choice, and brings it further into focus: Love is, in some sense, a kind of madness.
If only because I’m currently reading Beowulf, I can’t help but think of the “hero’s journey”. A hero is someone who sacrifices herself, psychologically and physically, for a higher cause. The hero’s journey is made up of a departure, a fulfillment, and a return, all equally difficult to achieve. The adventure the hero is ready for is usually the one she will receive—just like Juliet, who knew that her father would end up resurfacing sooner or later. Yet, though she’s ready to face him, she doesn’t know that she’s ready. To comprehend this fully, she has to make her journey.
Beowulf must face larger-than-life forces, such as Grendel and the dragon. Juliet must face the creatures on the island and the “monster” who is her father. Yet what happens within each of these characters—their transformation—is also part of what makes them heroes. In my opinion, the deed a hero must accomplish is twofold: first, she must save herself, and then, in doing so, she must save others. The quest must come from within because a hero must be bold enough to give herself up for another person. There must be a transformation within her consciousness—a revelation and a redemption—in order to make her deed heroic.
Juliet is able to kill many internal monsters by venturing into unknown regions of her mind and soul, as well as her outer environment. But her story doesn’t end there; rather, it ends on a very mysterious note. She must continue her search for freedom and truth. The Madman’s Daughter seems to say that we, as humans, must listen closely to the spirit of humanity, the one burning within us—a universal truth that must be discovered by all. Good fantasy writing rings with these truths, which run parallel to our lives and teach us what might is universal to us all.
- Muse G., 15