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Free Essays On Frankenstein Dominent Ideology

Mary Shelley's Monster: Politics and Psyche in Frankenstein

Lee Sterrenburg

In The Endurance of "Frankenstein": Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel, ed. George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: Univ. of California Press, 1979), pp. 143-71.

. . . out of the tomb of the murdered monarchy in France has arisen a vast, tremendous, unformed spectre, in a far more terrific guise than any which ever yet have overpowered the imagination, and subdued the fortitude of man. Going straight forward to its end, unappalled by peril, unchecked by remorse, despising all common maxims and all common means, that hideous phantom overpowered those who could not believe it was possible she could at all exist.

-- Edmund Burke, Letters on a Regicide Peace (1796)1

{143} Mary Shelley was the daughter of two of England's foremost intellectual radicals, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. For a number of reasons -- not all of which can be considered here -- she rejected her utopian and radical heritage and opted for a more conservative and pessimistic view of the world. Her mother's early death, her quarrels with William Godwin, her marital difficulties with Percy Shelley, her own political instincts, her extensive readings on the French Revolution, along with the fact that she came to intellectual maturity during the decline of Napoleon and the Metternichian Restoration that followed, all contributed to her growing detachment from radicalism. Her gravitation toward conservatism was more overt and explicit later in her career. But it is {144} already in her first novel, Frankenstein, which was written in 1816-17, just after the beginning of the Restoration.

In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley's critique of her father's utopianism occurs mainly on the level of metaphor and narrative form. In her attempts to move beyond the utopian politics of William Godwin, Mary Shelley appropriated several literary conventions from the conservative opposition. My essay concentrates on three of these antecedent traditions. In the first section I begin with what might be described as the anti-Godwinian debate in a narrow and specific sense, along with some of Godwin's own literary responses to his conservative critics; I suggest that the character and utopian aspirations of Victor Frankenstein echo parts of this debate. In the second section I expand my focus to include writings on the Revolution in France; I suggest how Mary Shelley's Monster echoes demonic imagery in the revolutionary tradition, including the resurrected monsters and specters of Edmund Burke. In my conclusion, I briefly relate the confessional narrative structure of Frankenstein to earlier conservative confessional modes, in which repentant ex-radicals renounce their reforming ways. As I shall try to demonstrate, Frankenstein goes beyond both the radical and conservative traditions it appropriates. Though relying in images drawn from these traditions, Mary Shelley writes a novel that is, in many ways, a subversion of all ideology.

Viewed in its historical context, Frankenstein poses a question about the relationship of literature and political ideology. As the art historian T. J. Clark suggests, works of art may draw upon surrounding ideological structures, without being reducible to them. Clark argues that

the encounter with history and its specific determinants is made by the artist himself. The social history of art sets out to discover the general nature of the structures he encounters willy-nilly; but it also wants to locate the specific conditions of one such meeting . . . . The work of art may have an ideology (in other words, those ideas, images, and values which are generally accepted, dominant) as its material, but it works that material; it gives it a new form and at certain times that new form is in itself a subversion of ideology.2
{145} Frankenstein may well serve as a case in point. Mary Shelley draws upon political images and values that were already current. She echoes such standard anti-Jacobin motifs as grave-robbing, reviving the dead, and monsters who destroy their own creators. Conservatives had often used these images to warn of the dangers of reform. They pictured the radical regeneration of man in demonic terms, as the unleashing of parricidal monsters and specters from the grave. In appropriating these images for her novel, however, Mary Shelley gives them a "new form" which partially subverts their original political import.

The "new form" of her novel is more subjective, complex, and problematic than earlier monster fictions in the political tradition. Mary Shelley translates politics into psychology. She uses revolutionary symbolism, but she is writing in a postrevolutionary era when collective political movements no longer appear viable. Consequently, she internalizes political debates. Her characters reenact earlier political polemics on the level of personal psychology. In the 1790s, writers like Edmund Burke had warned of a collective, parricidal monster -- the revolutionary regime in France -- that was haunting all of Europe; in the aftermath of the revolution, Mary Shelley scales this symbolism down to domestic size. Her novel reenacts the monster icon, but it does so from the perspective of isolated and subjective narrators who are locked in parricidal struggles of their own.

Structurally, Frankenstein introduces a major innovation in the demonic confessional story that had been used by George Walker, Hannah More, and by William Godwin himself. Like later works such as James Hogg's Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) and Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus (which was originally begun just after the July Days Revolution of 1830), we are presented with the confessional of isolated protagonists who are, at least symbolically, reenacting heroic and messianic quests from a previous revolutionary age. Political themes are translated into private and psychological terms. The messianic struggles of the hero are presented subjectively, in an autobiographical confession we cannot fully trust, and surrounded by equally subjective editors, interlocutors, and interpreters, whose presence further complicates our hope of finding a simple ideological meaning. The identity of the demonic forces is no longer clear. The specter haunting {146} Europe is no longer the monster Jacobin. The messianic impulse remains, but its political content has been called into question.

I

If we want to understand why Godwinian reforms produce monsters in Frankenstein, we can begin by noting the pervasiveness of analogous symbolism in the period before Mary Shelley wrote her novel. The symbolic association between Godwin and monsters was forged in the years 1796-1802, when the conservative reaction against him reached its peak.3 During those years demonism and the grotesque were frequently used to deflate Godwin's theories about the utopian regeneration of humanity. Conservatives depicted Godwin and his writings as a nascent monster that had to be stamped out, lest England go the way of revolutionary France.4 The demonic style of these attacks against radical philosophers was established in part by Edmund Burke, who wrote in 1796 of "metaphysical" social theorists:
. . . a more dreadful calamity cannot arise out of hell to scourge mankind. Nothing can be conceived more hard than the heart of a thoroughbred metaphysician. It comes nearer to the cold malignity of a wicked spirit than to the frailty and passion of a man. It is like that of the principle of evil himself, incorporeal, pure, unmixed dephlegmated, defecated evil.5
William Godwin served as a chief example of this evil reforming type. Burke called Godwin's opinions "pure defecated atheism . . . the brood of that putrid carcase the French Revolution."6Horace Walpole called Godwin "one of the greatest monsters exhibited by history."7 The AntiJacobin Review, which championed the attack {147} upon William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, denounced the couple's disciples in 1800 as "the spawn of the monster."8 The previous year, the Anti-Jacobin published a print and an accompanying poem entitled "The Nightmare," a takeoff on Fuseli's famous painting.9 The print shows the opposition Whig leader Charles James Fox asleep on his bed, while a grinning French Jacobin monster, resurrected from the dead, replete with revolutionary cap and grinning skeletal face, rides the horse of death across the sleeper's chest. And the cause of Fox's nightmare is not hard to find. At the foot of the bed lies a copy of his nighttime reading, William Godwin's Political Justice. Long before Mary Shelley wrote her novel, Godwin's utopian theories were symbolically reviving the dead. Looking back at the reactionary 1790s, Thomas de Quincey later declared, somewhat anachronistically, that "most people felt of Mr. Godwin with the same alienation and horror as of a ghoul, or a bloodless vampyre, or the monster created by Frankenstein."10

In fiction, too, monster imagery is evoked to depict Godwin and Wollstonecraft as the begetters of anarchy and destruction. In George Walker's conservative propaganda novel The Vagabond (1798), a "new philosopher" named Stupeo lectures an English crowd on the utopian principles of Godwin and Wollstonecraft, only to have them riot and turn against the lecturer, who cries out helplessly: "What shall be done? . . . This enraged beast, this many-headed monster will devour us."11 This is a standard conservative trope. Utopian reformers breed monsters who threaten to destroy them. Throughout the novel, Stupeo remains a steadfast disciple of Godwin and continues trying to apply his master's theories. His doom comes at the hand of metaphorical monsters of a different sort. After being run out of England by Church and King mobs, Stupeo, accompanied by Frederick Fenton and Dr. Alogos, two of the novel's other Godwinian radicals, goes off to the wilds of Kentucky to found a new utopian community. Just as the wishes of Frankenstein's Monster are aborted when the destruction of his mate takes with it his plan to "go to the vast wilds of South America," so does Stupeo's desire to resettle the new world go up in {148} flames. In symbolic punishment for his misdeeds, he is burned alive at the stake by marauding Indians, savage "monsters" who are supposedly more delighted with their wanton killing than "the fair daughters of France, who danced the Carmagnole round the guillotine."12 The "great philosopher, metaphysician and politician" Stupeo and his utopian plans are thereby "reduced . . . to the idea of a few cinders."13 The meaning is perfectly apparent. Utopian theories beget savage mobs, who rage out of control like the revolutionaries in France.

Frankenstein might well be described as a descendant of the anti-Godwinian novel of the 1790s. Although Mary Shelley dedicated her novel to William Godwin, her dedication, as U. C. Knoepflmacher suggests elsewhere in this anthology, was secretly invidious. If her novel surreptitiously criticizes Godwin in personal and autobiographical terms, it also mounts a critique of Godwin's philosophical ideas -- especially his schemes for regenerating the human race. As some critics have pointed out, Victor is a latter-day Godwinian. Victor's attempts to regenerate human life echo both Godwin and the conservative critique of Godwin's ideas. It is as if Mary Shelley has appropriated the standard conservative portrayal of Godwinianism, and then added her own private and domestic perspective to it.

Godwin entertained millennial expectations in An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Political Justice (1793), where he exulted in nothing less than the coming of a new human race. This race, to emerge once overpopulation had been scientifically brought under control, was to be produced by social engineering, not sexual intercourse. Godwin's scheme summarily dispenses with sexual reproduction, mothers, and children. In his famous chapter on population, Godwin envisions a future form of humanity. He writes:

The men . . . who exist when the earth shall refuse itself to a more extended population, will cease to propagate, for they will no longer have any motive, either of error or duty, to induce them. In addition to this they will perhaps be immortal. The whole will be a race of men, and not of children. Generation will not succeed generation, nor will truth have in a certain degree to recommence her career at the end of every thirty years. There will be no {149} war, no crimes, no administration of justice as it is called, and no government.14
Viewed in the revolutionary context of the 1790s, these utopian speculations on human immortality may have seemed plausible, at least to their author. Many people at the time were talking about the regeneration of society and humanity. Godwin simply took the matter more literally than most. But his abstract, overly philosophical, and thoroughly male-oriented vision of the coming utopia is hardly something his daughter could have been expected to embrace.

Godwin's utopia is public, political, and messianic. It foresees the salvation of the human species as a correlative of the coming state of anarchism. Restraining institutions will be dissolved and oppression will come to an end. Humanity will be reborn socially and physically. Mary Shelley parodies these heroic hopes in the quest of Victor Frankenstein. But she also shifts the emphasis from politics to psychology. Godwin's disinterested utopianism is parodied through Victor Frankenstein's self-centered creation of a new Adam of "gigantic stature." In Godwin's paternalistic utopia, children were eliminated entirely. Victor does seem to want offspring, but only as a glorification of himself. He anticipates:

A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve their's.15
Victor foresees a utopia that reflects his own subjective desires. What was previously a form of social millenarianism has been reduced or narrowed to the status of a psychic obsession.

To a large extent, the sections of the novel narrated by Victor Frankenstein concern themselves with his subjective hopes and fears, his millenarian expectations and his demonic sufferings, and his emotional inability to cope with the Monster he has unleashed. In representing Victor's psychology, Mary Shelley deliberately draws on the features of earlier political literature. Conservative {150} writers had parodied Godwin's bloodless, "incorporeal" theories by rendering them into something demonic, grotesque, and ghoulish. Where Godwin foresaw the triumph of mind over matter, and the banishment of death and disease from the human frame, his conservative opponents saw something promiscuous, perverted, and unnatural. They denounced Godwin's theories as a virtual invitation to grave-robbing and trafficking with the dead.

When Victor Frankenstein exhumes and revives the dead he is thus enacting a role that was standard fare for previous fictions. In George Walker's The Vagabond the young Frederick Fenton joins forces with a radical anatomist who is experimenting on the dead in order to prove that humans have no souls. The anatomist soon convinces Fenton that death is meaningless and that "all things in nature [are] merely modifications of the same matter, there being no difference between a putrid carcase and a bank of violets, except in the perception of our ideas."16 When Fenton willingly digs up cadavers for the anatomist's experiments, his ghoulish task is presented as the ultimate expression of his radical philosophy. Fenton tells us:

My practice of plundering church-yards at the most solemn hours under danger of detection, and what was worse, under fear of infection from diseases nearly advanced to putrescence before the interment; to break open a coffin, and to carry in my arms a naked body, whose scent was sufficient to ferment a plague, was an undertaking that required all the resolution of philosophy, and fitted me for the event of any revolution or combustion of nature.17
Victor Frankenstein claims an analogous indifference toward death and the grave. He tells us "a church-yard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life, which, from being the seat of beauty and strength, had become food for the worm" (p. 47). Victor's career as a bodysnatcher sounds a great deal like Frederick's. But there are also subtle and important differences. Victor is more isolated and withdrawn. He works in secret, totally alone. He is no longer working in the name of "philosophy." His description lacks the codewords which would identify him as part of a movement trying to effect revolutions or combustions, either in {151} nature or politics. Rhetorically, he emphasizes the subjective "I" who eagerly pursues success even to the grave. Victor recounts:
I collected bones from charnel houses; and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame. In a solitary chamber, or rather cell, at the top of the house, and separated from all other apartments by a gallery and staircase, I kept my workshop of filthy creation; my eyeballs were starting from their sockets in attending to the details of my employment. The dissecting room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials; and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation, whilst, still urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased, I brought my work near to conclusion. [P. 50]
These two scenes suggest a major stylistic difference between Frankenstein and conservative writings of the 1790s. Walker's melodramatic style in The Vagabond assumes a rigid schism between inner and outer. Evil comes from without. It is like an alien, invading force that threatens to take over the mind. Originally, Fenton was not a radical philosopher. It was only after he met his evil mentor, the Godwinian disciple Stupeo, that philosophy invaded and took possession of his mind. That erstwhile external influence is now in control, and it leads him into contact with further dangers and horrors from without. Fenton's mind is now armed with the "resolution of philosophy." He may have other thoughts and emotions, but we do not see them. Psychically, he has been flattened out into a stereotype, the ideologically blinded radical philosopher. When Fenton robs graves, he is moving inexorably from one external influence (radical philosophy) to its natural sequel (graveyard horrors and monsters). Radical philosophy and demonism both come from without, at least in conservative writings. The former leads straight to the latter. As soon as Fenton becomes infected by philosophy, he is further assailed by threats of detection and punishment, by plagues and diseases, and by the grim realities of the naked, rotting carcasses he carries in his arms. As mentioned earlier, Fenton and Stupeo also find themselves surrounded and assailed from without by "monsters" in the form of riotous mobs and wild Indians. For Walker, evil influences -- such as radical philosophy and armed uprising -- are always alien forces arising from without, perhaps from France, or, more metaphorically, from hell itself. Characters like Fenton and Stupeo serve as warnings of what {152} happens when these alien forces take over. We are led straight to the nether realm of demonism, anarchy, and destruction.

Victor Frankenstein enacts a similar graveyard melodrama. But he does so in more psychological terms. He is not simply the victim of invasions from without. The innate benevolence of his "human nature" is at war with a counter tendency, his perpetually increasing "eagerness" to revive the dead. His fanatical desires (which are symbolized by his staring eyes and incessant nighttime labors) do battle with his natural "loathing" of the horrors around him. The fanaticism wins. But a battle has taken place within. And that battle renders Victor into a more complex character than Frederick Fenton, who is merely an ideological conduit for Godwinism.

Stylistically, then, the rigid schisms and dualisms of Walker's world have been shifted within. Disturbing and demonic forces are no longer simply portrayed as invasions from without. The world is still dualistic. But the contending poles of the dualism are now contained within the parameters of a single psyche. Victor Frankenstein goes through the motions of a 1790s melodrama. He robs graves, revives the dead, and spawns a monster who rises parricidally against him. But the vector of external forces assumed by writers of the 1790s is largely dissipated. There is no longer a Jacobin Revolution at hand, so robbing graves ceases to be a revolutionary act. It is a private act, carried out in isolation. The psychology is also private. Victor responds not primarily to outer influences, but rather to obscure drives within. These drives prompt him to reenact -- in private terms -- an anti-utopian melodrama from the age of the French Revolution.

II

The stylistic distance between Frankenstein and the 1790s is even more graphically illustrated when we turn to writings dealing directly with the Revolution in France. If the characterization of Victor Frankenstein owes much to Godwin's utopian writings and to the body of literature that grew up in response to him, Frankenstein's Monster, in contrast, rises from the body of writings on the French Revolution. Mary Shelley's reading was by no means confined to the philosophical tradition of her father. As Gerald McNiece has shown, Mary and Percy Shelley were ardent students of the literature and polemics written about the French Revolution, {153} the Reign of Terror, and the meteoric career of Napoleon.18 During their trip to the continent in 1816, the year she began writing Frankenstein, Mary and Percy toured various revolutionary landmarks, noted the spot where the King and Queen had appeared before the Paris insurrectionaries, and even tried to find the chambers where the demonstrators had allegedly burst in upon and captured the royal pair. In their attempts to understand the Revolution and how it had issued forth into Napoleonic despotism, Mary and Percy systematically studied the works of the radicals, including Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and William Godwin. But they also read widely in the works of the conservatives and anti-Jacobins, including Edmund Burke, Abbé Barruel, John Adolphus, and the anonymous French Revolutionary Plutarch. In all these latter works appear metaphors that depict the revolutionary crowd as demons and monsters. These monsters are the precursors of Mary Shelley's creature in Frankenstein, although she again internalizes the metaphor and adapts it to new ends.

According to the conservative myth of the French Revolution, that event was the result of sinister external influences. In fact, the "revolution" itself is often rhetorically rendered as an external influence that has invaded and altered the human mind, thereby giving rise to unprecedented evils and monstrous horrors. The stylistic focus on externals is by no means confined to the psychology of single fictional characters, like Frederick Fenton. It also serves to depict the collective psychology of revolutionary France. Like Fenton, the French revolutionaries are depicted as the victims of a twofold attack from without. First they are invaded and infected by "revolution" or radical philosophy. Then they set about rebelling, robbing graves, tampering with the dead, and calling forth deadly monsters. The resurrected dead constitute a second attack from without, which descends upon those who succumbed to revolution in the first place. This etiology of political demonism informs Edmund Burke's passage on grave-robbing in his Letter to a Noble Lord (1796). Burke haughtily warns:

Before this of France, the annals of all time have not furnished an instance of a complete revolution. That revolution seems to have extended {154} even to the constitution of the mind of man . . . . They [the French Revolutionaries] have so determined hatred to all privileged orders, that they deny even to the departed the sad immunities of the grave . . . . they unplumb the dead for bullets to assassinate the living. If all revolutionists were not proof against all caution, I should recommend it to their consideration, that no persons were ever known to history, either sacred or profane, to vex the sepulchure, and, by their sorceries, to call up the prophetic dead, with any other event, than the prediction of their own disastrous fate.19
Burke echoes the standard conservative melodrama of invading externals. He himself views the Revolution from the outside and without sympathy. It is a drama happening to foreigners, who are the pawns of alien, external forces. The social revolution has "extended" itself into the minds of the French, thus revolutionizing their mental economy as well. They have been turned into a new and unprecedented race of grave-robbers. But Burke caustically warns these revolutionaries that their demonic nemesis is near at hand. The prophetic dead will awaken, and turn upon the sorcerers of the revolutionary tribunal.

Burke also develops an externalized, Gothic melodrama in his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). He denounces armed insurrection as a pernicious monster, set free by experimenters and reformers. He pointedly warns that military democracy is "a species of political monster, which has always ended by devouring those who have produced it."20 For Burke, even resurrected monsters and the prophetic dead are animated by external forces, "radical and intrinsic" evil.21 He uses a Gothic symbolism of transmigrating spirits to suggest the new, unexpected shapes rebellion can assume once it begins its rampages. As history moves forward he suggests, the spirit of evil invades new bodies and works in new ways. Now, during the French Revolution,

vice assumes a new body. The spirit transmigrates, and, far from losing its principle of life by the change of its appearance it is renovated in its new organs with the fresh vigour of a juvenile activity. {155} It walks abroad; it continues its ravages; whilst you are gibbeting the carcass, or demolishing the tomb.22
Burke's personifications are effective. It is difficult to sympathize with a revolution that springs forth from the tomb and stalks abroad like some evil monster, specter, or phantom haunting its hapless victims.

It would perhaps be relevant at this point to suggest the social and historiographical import of these demonic personifications. Conservatives often divide their political melodramas along class or factional lines. The philosophes, or sometimes the moderates and reformers from the early phases of the Revolution, play the role of the sorcerer who calls up the prophetic dead. The monster they call into being personifies the extreme factions of the Revolution, such as the radical bourgeois Jacobins and their sansculotte allies, who turn upon and destroy the moderates. This symbolic division of labor preserves the theory of external causes: philosophical ideas of reform are seen to filter from the wealthy and educated classes above down to the level of the revolutionary masses, who translate them into violence and anarchy. Sometimes, the appearance of the monster or specter also serves as a temporal designation, marking a turning point in the course of the Revolution. This is the case in the passage from Burke's Letters on a Regicide Peace I cited at the beginning of my essay. A "spectre" or "hideous phantom" springs forth from the tomb of the "murdered monarchy," thus signifying the increasingly demonic nature of the Revolution after 1793. Such symbolic watersheds are common. As J. M. Roberts points out, after 1793 "battle-lines were much more clearly drawn and on the antirevolutionary side the general swing to reaction led to greater readiness to accept extreme statements about the origins of the Revolution."23

In its most extreme form, the melodrama of external influences emerges as a full blown theory, which holds the French Revolution to be the result of a vast, organized international conspiracy. This theory emerges most overtly, perhaps, in Abbé Barruel's lurid Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism (1797), which, according to Thomas Jefferson Hogg, was a favorite work of Percy Shelley's {156} during his days at Oxford. Hogg says that Shelley read all four volumes of Barruel again and again, and that he was particularly taken with the conspiratorial account of the Illuminati. We know that Mary and Percy both studied Barruel during their continental tour of 1814, and that Percy read parts of the Memoirs to her out loud at that time.24 Barruel sets out to expose the secret conspiracies he sees lurking behind the French Revolution. He uncovers a vast, proliferating cabal, which originates with the Illuminati in Ingolstadt, and descends downward through the Freemasons, the philosophes, the Jacobins, and finally reaches the revolutionary crowds in the streets. He depicts the Jacobins and the revolutionary crowds as a monster incarnate. This monster is an offspring of the Illuminati, whose reforming philosophies have brought it into being. At the end of his third volume, Barruel looks forward to his fourth with an ominous warning to the reader:

Meanwhile, before Satan shall exultingly enjoy this triumphant spectacle [of complete anarchy] which the Illuminizing Code is preparing, let us examine how . . . it engendered that disastrous monster called Jacobin, raging uncontrolled, and almost unopposed, in these days of horror and devastation.25
The international conspiracy theory here takes the form of a sexual or parenting metaphor. The secret code of the Illuminati has "engendered" a "monster called Jacobin," who now rages out of control across Europe. Barruel makes extensive use of the parent-child metaphor. He writes: "the French Revolution has been a true child of its parent Sect; its crimes have been its filial duty; those black deeds and atrocious acts the natural consequences of the principles and systems that gave it birth."26 The symbolic projection of external causes and external agents could hardly be more extreme. Without the parent philosophical sect, there would be no childlike monster arising to terrorize Europe. Without the secret conspiracy of the Illuminati at Ingolstadt, there purportedly would {157} have been no French Revolution, either. For Barruel reforming philosophies lead directly and inevitably to the production of rebellious monsters.

There is reason to assume that Mary Shelley had Barruel in mind when she composed Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein of course does not produce a real Jacobin monster. But he does create his Monster in the same city, Ingolstadt, which Barruel cites as the purported secret source of the French Revolution -- and as the place in which the "monster called Jacobin" was originally conceived. Victor, in effect, is producing the second famous literary monster to issue forth from the secret inner sanctum of that city. This second coming differs significantly from the first. Even though the demonic personification remains intact and though the story is nominally set in the 1790s, the French Revolution has simply disappeared. Mary Shelley retains the monster metaphor, but purges it of virtually all reference to collective movements. Her monster metaphor explains the coming of a domestic tragedy. Political revolution has been replaced by a parricidal rebellion within the family. And, as Kate Ellis suggests above, that family is essentially bourgeois.

The form of Mary Shelley's novel further serves to depoliticize the monster tradition. Instead of watching the birth and career of the monster from without, as we do in Burke and Barruel, we watch it from within, from the personal viewpoint of the participating parties. This shift within opens up subjective perspectives left untapped in the political milieu of the 1790s. Mary Shelley's new formal subjectivity does more than efface and replace politics. It also subverts the clear, definable melodrama of external ideological causes that informed writings of the 1790s. The world is now much more problematic. Monsters are still abroad, but we are no longer quite sure why. In order to find out, we have to piece together and compare the various subjective explanations offered by Victor, by the Monster, and even by the frame narrator, Robert Walton. But these narratives are patently at odds with one another, especially when it comes to explaining causes. Mary Shelley's world-view is less political than Godwin's or Burke's; it is also far more labyrinthine and involuted when it comes to telling us why things fall apart.

For writers of the 1790s, the world could be improved, saved, or {158} destroyed by manipulating external and environmental influences. William Godwin thought that humans might become immortal, once the pressures of overpopulation were brought under control. Edmund Burke was Godwin's political enemy and a bitter opponent of Enlightenment philosophies. But he too used social and environmental explanations, at least when it came to dealing with the threat of revolution. Godwin wanted to eliminate misery, and he thought this could be done by eradicating excess population. By the end of his career, when Burke actively wanted to eliminate the international revolutionary menace, he thought (or hoped) this could be done by locating and eradicating revolutionaries at home and abroad. Both writers were thus the heirs of Enlightenment thinking, at least rhetorically, in the sense that they held forth the practical hope of isolating and doing away with a social cause of suffering.

To put the matter in moral terms, both Godwin and Burke presumed to know where evil resided. For Godwin, it was in social institutions that maintained arbitrary inequality, oppression, and want. For Burke, evil resided in those philosophers and rebels who wanted to strip away the protection of social hierarchies and institutions. Both these world-views contain an element of melodrama. They are also typical expressions of the polarized thinking which emerged, during the revolutionary 1790s, as a political extension of the Enlightenment world-view. The cultural historian J. M. Roberts comments on the style of this "new political universe" as follows:

Its essence was a view of politics whose roots lay in the Enlightenment itself and sometimes proclaimed by the revolutionaries; it rested on the assumption of one great and general antithesis, Good versus Evil, Right versus Wrong. Practically, it was expressed in the rapid crystallisation of the day-to-day politics of the Revolution into a straight two-sided confrontation and the appearance of a Left-versus-Right Convention. This confrontation was soon expanded to become an ideological antithesis which could find room for any piece of historical data which people wished to fit into it . . . . The idea of the struggle between the Revolution and the ancien régime, reason and religion, rich and poor, talent and birth (or whatever translation was given to the idea from time to time), helped to create behavior exemplifying its own reality.27
{159} Viewed in its wider cultural context, Mary Shelley's shift from politics to psyche in Frankenstein should be seen, not merely as a reaction against the utopianism of Godwin, nor against the conservatism of Burke, but rather as a reaction against this entire world-view of the revolutionary age. Mary Shelley does not escape from the schisms of that polarized world. Hers is still a world of good versus evil, rich versus poor, men versus monsters. But she does set about internalizing those dualisms. Instead of depicting the vast political dramas of the revolutionary age, she narrows the focus to a few isolated characters, who are often too subjectively rendered to conform neatly to the old political labels. In Frankenstein, the very act of perceiving and defining a monster has become problematic.

The confessional structure of Frankenstein pulls our attention away from the world of politics. We shift our attention from the social object to the perceiving subject. The novel often deals with the problems of the subjective viewer, who is projecting upon others a private vision of demonic persecution. Mary Shelley pays a good deal of attention to how characters misperceive or half invent the social forces aligned against them. For example, she goes to great lengths to portray Victor's subjective fantasies of the Monster he has created. Subjective images of the fiend intrude upon Victor's nighttime dreams; they also appear during his waking hours as a kind of spectral hallucination. The first such imaginary visitation takes place the morning after Victor has revived his creature from the dead. Henry Clerval notices that Victor appears upset and asks him what is wrong. Victor responds in a paroxysm of fear:

"Do not ask me," cried I, putting my hands before my eyes, for I thought I saw the dreaded spectre glide into the room; "he can tell. -- Oh save me! save me!" I imagined that the monster seized me; I struggled furiously, and fell down in a fit. [P. 56]
Victor becomes feverish in the days that follow. He continues to be haunted by fears of the Monster's return. He recalls "the form of the Monster on whom I had bestowed existence was ever before my eyes, and I raved incessantly concerning him" (p. 57). Victor sometimes accounts for these subjective fears as a form of mental possession or derangement. Thus he recalls the period just after he agreed to make a mate for the Monster: "Can you wonder," he narrates, {160}
that sometimes a kind of insanity possessed me, or that I saw continually about me a multitude of filthy animals inflicting on me incessant torture, that often extorted screams and bitter groans? [P. 145]
Imaginary attacks also take place in Victor's dreams. Just after his release from the Irish prison he sleeps fitfully through one night and then,
towards morning I was possessed by a kind of nightmare; I felt the fiend's grasp in my neck, and could not free myself from it, groans and cries rung in my ears. [P. 181]
Repeatedly, Victor experiences subjective persecutions of the most intimate and personal kind. The imaginary Monster fastens upon his throat, or seems to be torturing or killing him. Although Victor plays the familiar role of the reformer who produces a monster, his narrative often reduces itself to extremely subjective renditions of the creature's revenge.

Mary Shelley internalizes the dualisms of utopian expectation and demonic reversal which partisan writers like Robert Walker had portrayed from without. Victor's account is complicated by the fact that he often perceives the creature as an imago of his own blasted hopes. Victor continually talks in terms of dualistic reversals. Within the space of a single disjunctive sentence, he can pass from utopian hope to demonic suffering and catastrophic failure. Victor recalls the moment the creature opened his eyes for the first time: "now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart" (pp. 52-53). Victor's dualistic sentences chart emotional convulsions that take place within his own psyche. He is the focal point of his own narrative. His utopian expectations have been blasted by failure. And his responses to the Monster are often a function of that disappointment. Thus the frequently self-reflexive nature of his syntax: "dreams that had been my food and pleasant rest for so long a space, were now become a hell to me; and the change was so rapid, the overthrow so complete" (p. 54). Hells and demons are, for Victor, the symbolic reversals of his extravagant hopes and desires.

When Victor finally meets and speaks with his Monster, we are implicitly witnessing a clash of rival world-views. Victor speaks in his typically subjective and self-reflexive manner. The Monster retains {161} much more of the Enlightenment political style. He talks analytically about the social influences that have shaped his life. The Monster speaks like a philosophe, while Victor rages in Romantic agony. The first time Victor ever speaks with his creature, he breaks out in a fit of wild imprecations, and the Monster replies:

"I expected this reception, . . . All men hate the wretched; how then must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things." [P. 94]
There is considerable irony in this stylistic reversal. The novel assigns to Victor the conventional role of the experimenting philosophe-scientist; but he raves like a mad demon. Conversely, the novel assigns to the creature the role of the mad, Jacobin demon, risen from the grave to spread havoc abroad. But he talks like a philosophe, indicting the social system for the suffering it causes individuals. Mary Shelley does not always escape from the stereotypes of the revolutionary age, but she does conflate and mix them in new and subversive combinations.

The confrontation of world-views continues. Oblivious of his own cruel neglect, Victor remains fixated on the crimes and innate evils of his adversary and continues to rave in a dire, apocalyptic style ("Abhorred monster! fiend that thou art! the tortures of hell are too mild a vengeance for thy crimes"). Yet the Monster's rhetorical style tells us that his identity as a rebel was learned, not innate. In direct contradiction to the Burkean tradition of the monster as evil incarnate, the creature tells Frankenstein: "I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend" (p. 95). This disjunctive rhetoric itself reenacts a passage from benevolence to rebellion. In part, the Monster has been converted to his demonic identity, and does not deserve Victor's reactionary labeling, which assumes that he is the principle of evil incarnate. And Victor's rejection is all the more ironic because the utopia projected by the monster is highly paternalistic: he wants to be cared for by Victor, whom he calls his "natural lord and king" (p. 95).

The Monster proves a very philosophical rebel. He explains his actions in traditional republican terms. He claims he has been driven to rebellion by the failures of the ruling orders. His superiors and protectors have shirked their responsibilities toward him, impelling him to insurrection. He says of the De Laceys: "My protectors {162} had departed, and broken the only link that held me to the world. For the first time feelings of revenge and hatred filled my bosom, and I did not strive to controul them" (p. 134). This rebellion against irresponsible superiors soon turns against Victor, who has rejected the creature from the moment of its awakening. The Monster's rebellion is parricidal; he rises against his own creator. He defiantly tells Victor: "I will revenge my injuries: if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear; and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy, because my creator, I do swear inextinguishable hatred" (p. 141). This imprecation echoes a motif in the political literature of the 1790s. Especially for republican historiographers, parricidal monsters serve as emblems of the consequences of misrule. For republicans, monsters rebel not because they are infected by the evils of radical philosophy, but because they have been oppressed and misused by the regnant order. In the language of Frankenstein social misery turns them into fiends.

Mary Shelley's readiest source for this stereotype of a republican monster would have been her mother's study, An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution (1794). Mary Wollstonecraft grants one concession to the Burkean conservatives. She admits that rebels are monsters. But she resolutely insists that these monsters are social products. They are not the living dead, nor are they specters arisen from the tomb of the murdered monarchy. Rather, they are the products of oppression, misrule, and despotism under the ancien régime. The lower orders are driven to rebellion. They have been "depraved by the inveterate despotism of ages,"28 and they eventually turn against their oppressors in parricidal fashion.

Mary Wollstonecraft uses this imagery to depict the female rebels of Paris in the opening days of the Revolution. The Paris women exacerbated to the point of frenzy, execute Old Foulon and Berthier, two hated agents of the old regime, stick their severed heads on pikes, and parade them triumphantly through the streets. The old regime receives its due. In mock surprise, Mary Wollstonecraft exclaims of these female rebels:

{163} Strange that a people . . . should have bred up such monsters! Still we ought to recollect, that the sex, called the tender, commit the most flagrant acts of barbarity when irritated.29
Wollstonecraft is not an overt partisan of these French female insurrectionaries. She analogizes their acts to the bloody crimes of Lady Macbeth, and she conjectures that we may never be able to "erase the memory of those foul deeds, which, like the stains of the deepest dye . . . can never be rubbed out."30 But she does account for these foul deeds in social and historical terms. Oppression, she argues, always tends to breed parricidal monsters. Continuing her analogy to Lady Macbeth, she finds parricide inevitable under certain circumstances: "Since . . . we cannot 'out the damned spot,' it becomes necessary to observe, that, whilst despotism and superstition exist, the convulsions, which the regeneration of man occasions, will always bring forward the vices they have engendered, to devour their parents."31

The critics who see Mary Shelley's Monster as a furtively female character have a historical precedent on their side. The most extravagant and demonic pictures of mass insurrectionary violence in both Wollstonecraft and Burke concern female rebels. Wollstonecraft depicts the sansculotte women of July 1789 as devouring, cannibal-like monsters destroying their own parents. Burke depicts the women who marched on Versailles to bring back the King and Queen on October 6, 1789, in the following terms:

. . . the royal captives who followed in the train were slowly moved along, amidst the horrid yells, and shrilling screams, and frantic dances, and infamous contumelies, and all the unutterable abominations of the furies of hell, in the abused shape of the vilest of women.32
Mary Shelley knew these passages well. She had available to her models of monsters, specters, and furies who actually were female. These female monsters are a collective force; they have behind them the weight and resonance of actual historical events, including {164} the march on Versailles. But Mary Shelley turns her Monster into a lone male, rebelling on his own. She thereby denies herself many of the sexual and political implications already inherent in the image of the female, parricidal monster.

She settles instead for a rebellion within and against the bourgeois family. The Monster kills off Victor's friends and kin, promises to be with him on his wedding night, and murders his new wife. If nothing else, his rebellion effectively brings about the demise of one socially prominent family with a long history of public service. Victor comes from a long line of officials and syndics. His father gives him a university education, so he might better perpetuate the family fame and tradition. Victor also inherits a "competent fortune" (p. 149) that enables him to carry on his scientific researches without having to work for a living. Victor is in a position to further the social responsibilities historically associated with his family, but he does not do so. The Monster ensures the end of this "distinguished" line (p. 27) by killing little William and finally leading Victor to his death.

The Monster accompanies these specific acts of rebellion with a verbal indictment of social oppression in general. His experiences have turned him into an articulate social critic. Rejected by his creator, the Monster has to eke out a miserable existence on the lower fringes of rural society. He gleans food from shepherds, peasants, and wandering beggars (pp. 99-101). The De Laceys, with whom he identifies for a while, are reduced to the level of poor cottagers, who support themselves by gardening a rented plot and sending their son out as a hired farm laborer. From the De Laceys' plight and their family discussions, he extrapolates what sounds like a radical critique of oppression and inequality: "I heard of the division of property, of immense wealth and squalid poverty; of rank, descent, and noble blood" (p. 115). Both his prose style and his message portray a world of social schisms and polarities. He speaks in the manner of revolutionary-era radicals:

"I learned that the possessions most esteemed by your fellow-creatures were, high and unsullied descent united with riches. A man might be respected with only one of these acquisitions, but without either he was considered, except in very rare occasions, as a vagabond and a slave, doomed to waste his powers for the profit of the chosen few." [P. 115]
{165} The creature utters an explicit verbal critique of the chosen few who live on the toil of others and care not at all for the plight of the multitudes. And as he very well knows, this economic critique of society in general bears directly on his own plight:
"And what was I? Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant; but I knew I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property. I was besides, endowed with a figure hideously deformed and loathsome; I was not even of the same nature as man . . . . When I looked around, I saw and heard of none like me. Was I then a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled, and whom all men disowned?" [Pp. 115-16]
This existential protest harkens back to the revolutionary age of the 1790s, yet also stands at a considerable distance from it. Had Mary Shelley's Monster "looked around" in the 1790s, he might have found many other defiant literary monsters, ready to do battle against the ancien régime. But there are no other monsters in the post-Napoleonic era to join his cause, and he is destined to remain alone.

Still, Mary Shelley's Monster would have been unique and isolated even in the 1790s. He is a hybrid, a cross between two traditions that produces a unique third. From the Burkean tradition of horrific, evil, and revolutionary monsters, he seems to have derived the grotesque features that physically mark him and set him apart; he has risen from the tomb like a revolutionary monster, and the mark of death is still upon him. All men flee from such ugliness and apparent evil, as the Monster knows only too well. From the republican tradition of social monsters, he seems to have derived his acerbic, verbal critique of poverty and injustice, which serves as his stated rationale for insurrection. As he tells us with pointed eloquence, monsters are driven to rebellion by suffering and oppression. People flee from this monster, and they try to kill him as well. The Monster in Frankenstein thus suffers the consequences of two symbolic traditions.

But Mary Shelley does more than conflate two traditions. She molds them into a unique third. She moves inside the mind of the Monster and asks what it is like to be labeled, defined, and even physically distorted by a political stereotype. The Monster in Frankenstein is the victim of Burkean circumstances: he is resurrected from the grave. He is also the victim of circumstances a republican {166} might single out: he is oppressed and misused by the social orders above him. Mary Shelley is able to represent the consequences of these influences subjectively, through the eyes of a victim who is also a rebel. This is a new perspective. It is something her Enlightenment forerunners could not see, preoccupied as they were with charting, explaining, and debating the external influences that enkindle revolution.

III

If, as I have tried to show, Frankenstein draws on, yet greatly complicates, the revolutionary and antirevolutionary political metaphors of the 1790s, the novel itself furnished a political metaphor for the later nineteenth century. Written at a time of "severe distress," when Regency England was facing "the most widespread, persistent, and dangerous disturbances, short of actual revolution and civil war, that England has known in modern times,"33Frankenstein was evoked during subsequent periods of crisis. The image of the "Frankenstein monster" surfaced during the revolutionary scares and reform agitation of the early 1830s, the climax of Chartism in 1848-49, the enfranchisement of the working classes in the late 1860s, and the Irish troubles of the 1880s.

Commenting in 1830 on the aesthetic and revolutionary tenor of the times, the radical Tory Fraser's Magazine remembered Mary Shelley's Monster:

A state without religion is like a human body without a soul, or rather like an unnatural body of the species of the Frankenstein monster, without a pure and vivifying principle; for the limbs are of different natures, and form a horrible heterogeneous compound, full of corruption and exciting our disgust.34
Similarly forgetting the sympathy that Mary Shelley had managed to create for the Monster's plight, other writers and cartoonists preferred to dwell on the dangers of animating social monsters through hopes of political reform. The metaphor used by Burke and Mary Wollstonecraft had found a new palpable shape. Parry's {167} illustration, "Reform Bill's First Step Among His Political Frankensteins" (1833), depicts a devilish creature -- the sovereignty of the masses -- overwhelming the privileged classes who had reluctantly brought him into being (see illustration 1).35 Elizabeth Gaskell's allusions to the Frankenstein monster in Mary Barton are only slightly more sympathetic: likening the "actions of the uneducated" to "those of Frankenstein, that monster of many human qualities, {168} ungifted with a soul, a knowledge of the difference of good and evil," the novelist fears the masses who "rise up to life."36

A similar return to the stereotypes that had preceded Frankenstein is evident in two later cartoons by John Tenniel. "The Brummagem Frankenstein" (1866) depicts a timid reformer, John Bright, tiptoeing past a recumbent monster who clearly stands for the huge working class demonstrations at Birmingham (see illustration 2).37 And in the lurid "The Irish Frankenstein," which appeared shortly after the Phoenix Park murders of 1882, the Irish terrorist yoked with Parnell is a barbaric, ape-like beast -- who resembles Stevenson's Mr. Hyde as much as Shelley's creature (see illustration 3).38 In all of these instances, reforming or seditious ideas transform the new classes into political monsters. And in each case, the metaphor is derived from a novel written by the daughter of two radical writers.

Mary Shelley herself, of course, eventually rejected the radicalism that had been her birthright. In October of 1838 she recorded in her Journal: "since I lost Shelley I have no wish to ally myself to the Radicals -- they are full of repulsion to me -- violent without any sense of Justice -- selfish in the extreme -- talking without knowledge -- rude, envious, and insolent -- I wish to have nothing to do with them."39 In 1818, however, the writer who dedicated Frankenstein to her father and let herself be guided by her husband, was far more ambivalent towards her radical heritage. An antirevolutionary confessional such as Hannah More's The Death of Mr. Fantom, The Great Conformist, published in 1817, some months before Frankenstein, would have been unthinkable to her. Hannah More revived one of her old characters from the 1790s, the demonic reformer Fanton, who now is made to renounce radicalism and to warn others of the monstrosities of rioting and sedition. Like Frederick Fenton in Walker's The Vagabond, More's Fanton is merely a vehicle for a sustained antirevolutionary and anti-utopian critique.

{171} If Frankenstein, too, contains a political critique, it does so by availing itself of a far more subtle confessional form. The dilemma of the Godwinian philosopher is seen from within. Godwin's own self-doubts, dramatized in his confessional romance St. Leon (1799), are revived in Victor and his creature. Like St. Leon, an alchemist who discovers an elixir of life that gives him immortality, Frankenstein is led to admit that his powers for melioration have resulted in anarchy and chaos. Each character bemoans the "fatal legacy" of his redemptive powers; each bemoans the deaths of others caused by his own neglect and malfeasance. St. Leon admits: "I possessed the secret of immortal life; but I looked upon myself as a monster that did not deserve to exist." When Frankenstein animates the "lifeless thing that lay at my feet" (p. 52), he must likewise confront self-loathing: "but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart" (pp. 52-53).

In Frankenstein Mary Shelley relies on political symbols to depict a psychological struggle. She could therefore animate what, in the political writings from which she drew her symbolism, had hardened into stereotype and rhetoric. Victor Frankenstein is more than a Godwinian theorist; the rebellious Monster, the offspring of utopian ideas, is more than the vindictive and "hideous phantom" envisioned by Burke. The earlier stereotypes are nonetheless encrusted in the novel. Like the monsters depicted in conservative writings, the nameless creature arises from the grave and perishes in flames. He acts out the apocalyptic paradigm when he destroys his formerly benevolent creator and consigns himself to a fiery holocaust. Mary Shelley can imagine a positive side to radical hopes for reform, yet she also sees their degeneration into carnage and disaster. Unlike the polemicists who assailed her father and the French Revolution, however, she can go beyond ideology, from the world at large to the quarrel within.


Notes

1. Edmund Burke, Letters on the Proposals for Peace with the Regicide Directory of France, Letter I (1796), in The Works and Correspondence of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke, new edition (London, 1852), V:256.

2. T. J. Clark, Images of the People: Gustave Courbet and the Second French Republic 1848-1851 (Greenwich, Conn., 1975), p. 13.

3. On the rise and duration of the reaction against Godwin see B. Sprague Allen, "The Reaction Against William Godwin," Modern Philology IV, no. 5 (September 1918): 57-75; Ford K. Brown, The Life of William Godwin (London, 1926), pp. 151ff.

4. The use of anti-Jacobin imagery against domestic liberals is discussed in Gerald Newman, "Anti-French Propaganda and British Liberal Nationalism in the Early Nineteenth Century: Suggestions Toward a General Interpretation," Victorian Studies XVII, no. 4 (June 1975): 385-418.

5. Edmund Burke, Letter to a Noble Lord (1796), Works, V:241.

6. Cited by Brown, Godwin, p. 155.

7. Ibid.

8. The Anti-Jacobin Review V (1800): 427.

9. The Anti-Jacobin Review III (1799): 98-99.

10. Tait's Magazine (March 1837), reprinted in The Collected Works of Thomas de Quincey, ed. David Masson (Edinburgh, 1890), III:25.

11. George Walker, The Vagabond, 4th ed. (Boston, 1800), p. 150.

12. Ibid., p. 224.

13. Ibid.

14. William Godwin, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Political Justice, the essay on "Property," ed. H. S. Salt (London, 1890), pp. 126-27.

15. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (the 1818 text), ed. James Rieger (Indianapolis, 1974), p. 49. All subsequent references are to this edition.

16. Walker, The Vagabond, pp. 141-42.

17. Ibid., p. 142.

18. See especially Gerald McNiece's chapter "The Literature of Revolution," Shelley and the Revolutionary Idea (Cambridge, Mass., 1969), pp. 10-41.

19. Burke, Letter to a Noble Lord, Works, V:216.

20. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, ed. Conor Cruise O'Brien (Harmondsworth, England, 1968), p. 333.

21. Burke, Reflections, p. 339.

22. Burke, Reflections, p. 248.

23. J. M. Roberts, The Mythology of the Secret Societies (London, 1972), p. 180.

24. Thomas Jefferson Hogg, The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Humbert Wolfe (London, 1933), I:367. See also W. E. Peck, "Shelley and Abbé Barruel," PMLA XXXVI (1921): 347-53; McNiece, Shelley and the Revolutionary Idea, pp. 22-24; and Peter Dale Scott's essay, pp. 176-77, below.

25. Abbé Barruel, Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, trans. Robert Clifford (London, 1798), III:414.

26. Barruel, Memoirs, I:viii.

27. Roberts, Secret Societies, pp. 203-4.

28. Mary Wollstonecraft, An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution (1795; reprint of 2d ed., Delmar, N.Y., 1975), p. 252.

29. Wollstonecraft, French Revolution, p. 258.

30. Ibid. 31. Ibid., p. 259.

32. Burke, Reflections, p. 165.

33. Frank Darvall, Popular Disturbances and Public Order in Regency England (London, 1934), p. 306.

34. Fraser's Magazine, November 1830, p. 481.

35. Michael W. Jones, The Cartoon History of Britain (New York, 1971), p. 62.

36. Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton, ed. Myron F. Brightfield (New York, 1958), p. 162.

37. Punch, September 8, 1866, p. 103.

38. Punch, May 20, 1882, p. 235; see also Matt Morgan's "The Irish Frankenstein," The Tomahawk, December 18, 1869, reproduced in Thomas Milton Kemnitz, "Matt Morgan of Tomahawk and English Cartooning, 1867-1870," Victorian Studies XIX, no. 1 (September 1975): 31.

39. Mary Shelley's Journal, ed. Frederick L. Jones (Norman, Okla., 1947), p. 481.

Mary Shelley Challenges Society in Frankenstein Essay

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Mary Shelley Challenges Society in Frankenstein

Romantic writer Mary Shelley’s gothic novel Frankenstein does indeed do a lot more than simply tell story, and in this case, horrify and frighten the reader. Through her careful and deliberate construction of characters as representations of certain dominant beliefs, Shelley supports a value system and way of life that challenges those that prevailed in the late eighteenth century during the ‘Age of Reason’. Thus the novel can be said to be challenging prevailant ideologies, of which the dominant society was constructed, and endorsing many of the alternative views and thoughts of the society. Shelley can be said to be influenced by her mothers early feminist views, her father’s…show more content…

The creature spends his ‘happiest days’ observing the ‘tranquillity’ and ‘felicity’ in the Delancey home. Does, then, Shelley propose that life should be lived without the father as the head and leader of the household? Probably not, but these characters do show that she supports a value system in which women are treated with much more independence and dignity than was currently afforded to them.

Like Caroline and Safie, Elizabeth Lavenza’s father causes her unhappiness. However this is drastically confounded by the egotism of Victor Frankenstein who seeks to take on the vitally female role of the creator. Elizabeth is constructed by Shelley as an extremely positive character, whose ‘saintly soul’ shines ‘like a shrine dedicated lamp’ in the Frankenstein’s ‘happy home’. She, like her foster mother Caroline, keeps the family together ‘veiling her grief’ for the benefit of the children. However, when victor attempts to take on the role of a woman and ‘create life’ Shelley shows us that it is an unfortunate masculine characteristic to doom idealism with egotism and the pursuit of glory. Despite his noble goals of ‘unfolding the mysteries of creation’, to confer ‘inesteemable benefit’ on all mankind, Victor’s masculine egotism endures

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