FRANKENSTEIN AND THE REPROBATE'S CONSCIENCE.
"O Conscience! into what abyss of fears And horrors hast thou driven me; out of which I find no way, from deep to deeper plunged!"
(John Milton, Paradise Lost, 10.842-44)
The status of Frankenstein as one of the most popular horror stories of the modern era has little to do with the kinds of horrors to which Milton's Adam is alluding. The horrors of conscience derive from an age preceding that in which the novel was written and relatively little interest has been shown in the pre-history of a work whose powerful prognostic resonances have commanded so much attention. When in his Preface to Grace Abounding Bunyan exhorts his children to "remember your terrors of conscience, and fear of death and hell,"(1) he evokes the anxieties of a moral culture that is remote from most twentieth-century readers. Frankenstein's imaginings, "busy in scenes of evil and despair,"(2) more readily evoke the external threat posed by the monster than such horrors as this:
Thought calleth to Fear; Fear whistleth to Horrour; Horrour beckoneth to Despair, and saith, Come and help to torment this sinner. One saith, that she cometh from this sin, and another saith, that she cometh from that sin: so he goeth through a thousand deaths, and cannot die. Irons are laid upon his body like a prisoner. All his lights are put out at once; he hath no soul fit to be comforted.(3)
In spite of the Gothic images they once generated from the pulpits of England, the inner struggles of the Puritan consciousness have come to seem esoteric compared with the horrors raised out there in the world by a scientist recklessly driving to change the course of nature. Frankenstein sets the imagination working amidst the fearful prospects conjured up by scientific experiment. Mary Shelley's own prefigurative imaginings were inspired by galvanic experiments in post-mortem reanimation. In March 1997, when the Edinburgh team who created Dolly, the cloned sheep, announced the success of their experiment, a front page tabloid headline speculated Could We Now Raise the Dead?,(4) and Ian Wilmut as head of the research team was obliged to make the reassuring statement that they were "not Frankenstein-type people."(5) The public debate on cloning continues to be littered with references to Frankenstein. Since its first publication, Mary Shelley's story has been taken variously to illustrate the issues surrounding the Anatomy Act of 1832, the invention of the robot, the invention of the atomic bomb, the potentialities of the cyborg, and genetic engineering.(6) The novel has been an important focus for feminist critiques of science and has been read as a damning indictment of the heady ambitions of masculine Romanticism. Evelyn Fox Keller writes that "a number of increasingly sophisticated literary analyses in the last few years" have demonstrated that the plot of Frankenstein is "considerably more complex than we had earlier thought; the major point, however, remains quite simple. Frankenstein is a story first and foremost about the consequences of male ambitions to co-opt the procreative function."(7) The comment implies that "the major point" is something approximating an established fact. Recent feminist analyses of the novel, in spite of their sophistication, leave unquestioned a long standing popular assumption that it is essentially a narrative written against the presumptuous spirit of a Modern Prometheus and that, as Marie Mulvey Roberts puts it, the monster is "the hideous progeny of the darkness of science."(8)
What Isaac Asimov termed "the Frankenstein complex"(9)-the overreacher's conviction that his creation will turn on him and exact retribution for his contravention of natural law-is always fashionable, in the sense that it can be fashioned and refashioned to suit changing cultural anxieties. Whether or not Frankenstein was written as a cautionary tale, this is undoubtedly the status it has acquired in popular culture, scientific debate and feminist critique.(10) The story's hold on the popular imagination is most directly attributable to stage and film dramatizations and it is often after first acquaintance with these that readers will approach the novel, with vivid preconceptions about the forms of dramatic tension to be found in its narrative. The first dramatization, Richard Brinsely Peake's Presumption, or The Fate of Frankenstein, staged in 1823, set the course for future dramatizations on stage and film by foregrounding the theme of hubris and retribution. The title was chosen to spell this out and the playbills included a mission statement: "The striking moral exhibited in this story, is the fatal consequence of that presumption which attempts to penetrate, beyond prescribed depths, into the mysteries of nature."(11) Evidently, this was still not enough to allay popular anxieties surrounding the taboo subject. A leaflet campaign was mounted to warn potential audiences:
Do not take your wives and families-The novel itself is of a decidedly immoral tendency; it treats of a subject which in nature cannot occur. This subject is pregnant with mischief; and to prevent the ill-consequences which may result from the promulgation of such dangerous doctrines, a few zealous friends of morality, and promoters of this Posting-bill ... are using their strongest endeavours.(12)
The evidence is that caution and conscience cannot too strongly advertise their presence as the controlling influences on this subject "pregnant with mischief." Through the course of the twentieth century, science has shown itself to be so pregnant with mischief that, where the conscience of science is concerned, we can never have enough of it. This may, however, cause us to have a form of cultural amnesia when it comes to reading Mary Shelley's novel. In science, there may be a perceptible continuity between the earlier decades of the nineteenth century and the later decades of the twentieth, but the cultural formations of conscience show no such continuity. Frankenstein's conscience is foreign to us and needs to be approached across a cultural divide that is elided when we concentrate our attentions on Frankenstein's science. Yet if the effort is made to cross this divide, there emerges a radically altered perspective on the novel, with the prospect of an interpretation that focuses not on the horrors of science, but on the phantasmic horrors turned into realities by the monstrous conscience.
The passage in Milton's Paradise Lost in which Adam exclaims against the torments of conscience closes the speech which contains the motto quote on the title page of Frankenstein:
Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay To mould me Man, did I solicit thee From darkness to promote me? (PL, 10.743-45)
The context of the quotation is an extended complaint about having become the author of original sin and thus the original bearer of the savage conscience. Adam's rhetorical question thus contains more than a simple protest at having incurred the creator's resentment; it develops the idea that he has been born only to fall into a trap from which he has no hope of emerging. The "fears and horrors" of Adam's conscience belong to a particular seventeenth-century gloss on the concept of original sin. Before arguing for the genealogical relevance of this interpretation to Frankenstein, I'd like to point out that Frankenstein's conscience is emphatically of the tormentor variety. It makes its presence felt in full force as he anticipates the condemnation of the innocent Justine for the first of the murders committed by his creature: "The tortures of the accused did not equal mine; she was sustained by innocence, but the fangs of remorse tore my bosom, and would not forego their hold" (p. 63). The conscience is so savage that Frankenstein, as its victim, seems to have a stronger claim on the solicitation of those around him than anyone else involved in the tragedy: "The poor victim, who on the morrow was to pass the dreary boundary between life and death, felt not as I did, such deep and bitter agony. I gnashed my teeth, and ground them together, uttering a groan that came from my inmost soul" (p. 65). His father and cousin Elizabeth ate diverted from their own anguish in attempts to mitigate his, but to little avail: "I was a wretch, and none ever conceived of the misery that I then endured" (p. 66). Lest this sound to the late-twentieth-century ear like the masculine ego talking, spitting out various kinds of Freudian angst arising from misfired attempts to appropriate the feminine capacity of giving birth, it is important to point out that the savage conscience is not gender specific. Mathilda, Mary Shelley's next novel after Frankenstein, has a female narrator who drives herself to suicide through a chronicle of guilty despair, expressed in terms no less vehement than those used by Victor Frankenstein:
others wept the various forms of misery as they visited them: but infamy and guilt was mingled with my portion; unlawful and detestable passion had poured its poison into my ears and changed all my blood, so that it was no longer the kindly stream that supports life but a cold fountain of bitterness corrupted in its very source.(13)
Like Frankenstein, Mathilda attracts solicitous attempts to rescue her from the abyss but refuses all incitements to think of her situation with anything other than the direst prognostications. Mary Shelley tends to avoid stating moral or ideological positions in her journals, but her concern with the dangerous potentialities of self-judgment sparks the occasional explicit comment, such as this:
They say that Providence is shewn by the extraction that may ever be made of good from evil-that we draw our virtues from our faults ... but I can never applaud the permitter of self degradation though dignity and superior wisdom arise from its bitter and burning ashes.(14)
Mathilda and Frankenstein explore extreme versions of the problem, in which the inferno of self-degradation is such that there is no prospect of anything redemptive rising from the ruins.
The savage conscience which terrorizes Frankenstein is, contrary to his own insistence, in no way specific to him as an individual, though his conviction that it is so is typical. Mathilda has the same conviction. The model of the conscience from which both suffer is generic, and belongs to their literary genealogy. In Mathilda as in Frankenstein, the narrator's conviction of being afflicted uniquely and to an unprecedented degree with a form of guilt that leads like that of Cain to exclusion from the rest of the human race, is part of a cultural syndrome explored by many of the major literary writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Here is the narrator in Godwin's St Leon stirring the rhetorical mix in a passage that would not be difficult to transpose to the pages of Frankenstein:
What nights of dreadful solitude and despair did I repeatedly pass during the progress of my ruin! It was the night of the soul! My mind was wrapped in a gloom that could not be pierced! My heart was oppressed with a weight that no power human or divine was equal to remove! My eyelids seemed to press downward with an invincible burden! My eyeballs were ready to start and crack their sockets! I lay motionless, the victim of ineffable horror! The whole endless night seemed to be filled with one vast, appalling, immovable idea! It was a stupor, more insupportable and tremendous than the utmost whirl of pain, or the fiercest agony of exquisite perception!(15)
One significant feature of this passage is its dramatization of the narrator's passive position in the face of a raging storm of anguish. His powerlessness is in inverse proportion to the extreme power of what is visited upon him. It is as though agency were entirely transferred from the narrator as a subject, to the tyrannical guilt which enslaves him. Frankenstein's narrative works along the same lines, even to the point where he uses a metaphor of abduction:
Now all was blasted: instead of that serenity of conscience, which allowed me to look back upon the past with self-satisfaction, and from thence to gather promise of new hopes, I was seized by remorse and the sense of guilt, which hurried me away to a hell of intense tortures, such as no language can describe. (P. 67)
Such experiences have an important cultural history that has yet to be brought to bear on a reading of Frankenstein.
What is at work in all three novels quoted above is "the persecutory imagination," as defined by John Stachniewski in a fine study of Calvinism and the psychology of reprobation. Stachniewski begins by pointing out that Calvin was England's most published author between 1548 and 1650. The study traces how the doctrine of predestined election and reprobation "infiltrated the mental life of the nation" and "worked itself out in the everyday detail of life," generating anxieties which readily became obsessive.(16) The premises of Calvinism set a complex and inescapable trap for the anxious mind. Every human life was predetermined by God to set a course towards salvation or damnation. The saved of "the elect" were a tiny minority (statistics are given variously as one in a hundred, one in a thousand and one in a million) and the damned or "reprobate" could do little about their predicament, which had been decided before birth:
even infants themselves bring their own condemnation into the world with them, who, though they have not yet produced the fruits of their iniquity, yet have the seed of it within them; even their whole nature is, as it were, a seed of sin, and therefore cannot but be odious and abominable to God.(17)
The language of Calvin's last sentence here gives an indication of the dramatic intensity of the reprobate predicament. Reprobates are not merely abandoned by God, but actively hated by him and afflicted accordingly by the torments of "the hell within," a key phrase in Calvinist writing. When Frankenstein declares "I bore a hell within me which nothing could extinguish" (p. 65) and his creature duplicates the expression--"I, like the arch fiend, bore a hell within me" (p. 101)--they are echoing the words of Milton's Satan, which themselves are echoes of the Calvinists' reprobate creed. William Perkins, one of the first and most influential exponents of Calvinism in England, declared that "a wicked man carrieth an hell about him in his life,"(18) a view endorsed by John Sheffield, with the claim that "all the torments and miseries of Hel are epitomized in an unquiet, and self-tormenting Conscience. This man carries his Hell along with him where ever he comes or goes."(19)
Calvin's picture of reprobates as prenatally detested by God, "devoted from the womb to certain death, that his name may be glorified in their destruction" (I, 3.22.6), gives a particular inflection to the notion of original sin in an individual life. Those who are born to be reprobated are originally guilty; their consciences are born bad. The actions they perform in the world are the symptoms, not the causes of their guilt. When applied to the case history of Victor Frankenstein, this notion creates a base line twist in the moral parameters of the novel. Frankenstein repeatedly insists that every significant event in his life is a predetermined step towards a terrible deed. External events in his history are shadowed by developments in an intellectual life whose course is directed as if by original sin:
But, in drawing the picture of my early days, I must not omit to record those events which led, by insensible steps to my after tale of misery: for when I would account to myself for the birth of that passion, which afterwards ruled my destiny, I find it arise, like a mountain river, from ignoble and almost forgotten sources; but, swelling as it proceeded, it became the torrent which, in its course, has swept away all my hopes and joys. (P. 29)
The narrative stresses that it is his predestination to be damned that steers him into the act of illicit creation, not the act in itself that damns him, and herein lies the crux of an alternative reading of the course of events which he unfolds. Such a reading is, first and foremost, an alternative to the narrator's own. In his own representation, Frankenstein is not so much guilty of the deed as guilty by birth. The creation of the monster is a preordained expression of his being, rather than a bizarre aberration in a life course which might otherwise have been close to ideal. It is easy to interpret this reasoning as a transparent ruse by which he excuses himself for having failed at every stage to stop the disastrous course of events he has set in train, but such a view fails to engage with the kinds of power involved in the Calvinist dynamic. Calvinist habits of reasoning might look like a ruse to the twentieth-century reader, but a writer in Mary Shelley's cultural circumstances would have understood that they were not to be adopted or discarded according to convenience. Many of her closest associates, including her father, were brought up under the long shadow of Calvin, and belief in reprobation would have presented itself to them as a profound problem, both at the level of the individual and on a broader social scale. In Stachniewski's description, the doctrine of reprobation "invaded the most intimate thought processes where in many cases, by the power vested in it by collective belief, it actively persecuted its host" (PI, p. 7). Stachniewski also stresses that the negative aspects of Calvinism provided an ideological infrastructure which upheld a range of social tyrannies and economic injustices. As a strategy for ensuring that the disempowered stay that way, Calvinism had an important political role. Christopher Hill points out that "no Calvinist could logically have any confidence in democracy: his religion was for the elect, by definition a minority."(20) The social ethos of Romanticism was a radical challenge to Calvinist ideology, and this challenge is the background against which the political and moral parameters of Frankenstein are drawn.
Calvinist doctrine asserted that reprobates constituted the vast majority of people, and it was therefore a doctrine designed to promote self-abnegation and hopelessness among this majority, whom it placed in a set of psychological double binds. The condition of the reprobate was by definition unchangeable and the reprobate experience one of appalling discovery: what was the hidden truth of a self cast for good or evil before birth? An instinctual response to the suspicion that you were a reprobate would be to contest or to try to change this status, but such a response served only to confirm the truth: that you were inimical to God's will. God's reasons for selecting one person to be saved and another to be damned were beyond human comprehension; seeking to penetrate the secrets of divine reasoning was itself a sign of reprobation. Thus, to try to give God good reason for counting you amongst the elect was not a reasonable enterprise, but rather a sign of presumption, which was in turn one of the key indicators of the reprobate. On the other hand, passive acceptance of your own damnation was not a "right" course of action. There was no right course of action for the reprobate. To consider yourself always already damned was to bring upon yourself the twin afflictions of despair and the persecutory imagination, the psychical visitations of God's hatred. Introspection in itself was suspect: "If thou consider thyself," warned Calvin, "there is certain damnation" (I, 3.2.24). One of the predictable social consequences of Calvinist doctrine was an escalating suicide rate. Suicidal despair became a widely recognized syndrome, generating advice pamphlets such as the one purchased by Pepys, with the title The Danger of Despair, Arising from a Guilty Conscience and bearing on its cover a woodcut image of a man who has drowned himself. Women were among the most easily browbeaten into incurable despondency, which often went with the cultivation of an abject self-image. The seventeenth-century physician Richard Napier recorded 91 consultations with patients suffering from despair, 72 of these patients being women. Mathilda considers herself "struck off from humanity; bearing no affinity to man or woman; a wretch on whom Nature has set her ban" (M, p. 229).
Worldly afflictions such as poverty, sickness, the deaths of children, natural disasters, and above all an inevitable tendency toward sin were the logical work of a malevolent providence upon its preselected victims. To the persecutory imagination, the minor incidents of life would provide confirmation of providential hostility on a daily basis. Godwin's Caleb Williams looks back through the events of his life to see "the uninterrupted persecution of a malignant destiny."(21) One of the effects of Calvinist doctrine was to provoke people into continually reviewing the events of their lives in order to try to deduce which way things were tending. In other words, the doctrine provokes a narrative and autobiographical view of personal experience. "As all things wrought together for the best, and to do good to them that were called, according to his purpose," writes Bunyan, "so I thought that all things wrought for my damage, and for my eternal overthrow."(22) Thomas Goodwin, who preached against the habit of pessimistic self-appraisal, warned that "reason is of itself a busy principle, that be prying into, and making false glosses upon all God's matters as well as our own."(23) Goodwin and Bunyan share a concern to identify the dangers of hard-line Calvinist reasoning, and the works of both set out to prove to the reader that the self-styled reprobate is a highly unreliable narrator. Bunyan emerges from the throes of despair to find "grace abounding." Mary Shelley's Mathilda writes her way to terminal despair. Grace Abounding and Mathilda dramatize, in opposite ways, both the desperation behind and the difficulty of assessing one's own spiritual condition. This is again something Thomas Goodwin identifies: "The objections and difficulties which a beleever meets with in beating out a right judgment of his estate, are greater than any controversies the world ever knew."(24)
Frankenstein's dramatic engagement in the advancement of science is bound up with the drama Goodwin describes. Very little attention has been given to Frankenstein as a novel about the workings of the human mind, though Mary Shelley makes quite explicit her fascination with "the habit of self-analyzation." She praises Rousseau's Confessions, Montaigne's essays and Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy as works concerned with "the science of self-knowledge" that "leave no lurking thought or disguised feeling in the hiding places where so many thoughts and feelings, for fear of shocking the tender consciences of those inexpert in the task of self-examination, delight to seclude themselves."(25) Frankenstein's problem is not seclusion from the powerful feelings that lurk in the darker reaches of the mind, but an inability to adjudicate them through effective self-analysis. Perhaps the science that goes wrong in this story is not the science which takes place in the laboratory, but the science of self-knowledge.
For writers emerging from the grip of Calvinist thinking (both Burton and Rousseau would be included in this category), the science of self-knowledge was an important corrective because Calvinist preaching worked to induce a thoroughly constrained approach to self-assessment, in which there was a predisposition to draw ominous inferences.(26) By its very title, Bunyan's Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners advertises a challenge to this predisposition, and its narrative treats the condition of despair as a form of delusory consciousness. The only form of delusory consciousness recognized by Calvinism was of the optimistic variety: the consciousness called "presumption." Presumption is a significant thematic concern in both Mathilda and Frankenstein. Mathilda's fictional autobiography constructs her own father in the image of the Calvinist God: he rejects her at birth, then suddenly calls her to his presence only to repudiate her again after "a few short months of Paradisiacal bliss" (M, p. 190). She protests "I disobeyed no command, I ate no apple," then makes the classic reprobate's error of pleading her cause: "I fear to aggravate your grief or to raise that in you which is death to me, anger and distaste ... speak to me and pardon my presumption." The response is predictable. "You are indeed presumptuous, Mathilda, presumptuous and very rash ... Do not again speak to me in this strain; but wait in submissive patience the event of what is passing around you" (M, p. 199). Here we have a problem we do not encounter with Bunyan: how to assess the moral perspective of the author relative to that of the narrator. Bunyan's account of the terrors visited upon him by the persecutory imagination is framed by explicit instructions to the reader about how to interpret such experiences as the work of the devil as he seeks to bring the soul to despair.(27) An earlier version of Mathilda entitled The Fields of Fancy contains a prelude describing an episode of despair from which the author was rescued:
Whether I slept I know not or whether it was in one of those many hours which I spent seated on the ground my mind a chaos of despair and my eyes for ever wet by tears but I was here visited by a lovely spirit whom I have ever worshiped and who tried to repay my adoration by diverting my mind from the hideous memories that wracked it.(28)
Fantasia, the "lovely spirit," takes her to the Elysian Gardens where souls laboring under the burden of misery are counseled until they are ready to be admitted to a higher phase of immortal being. Here the inhabitants recount their troubles to Diotima, who warns of the difficulty mortals have in disentangling the good from the evil of their own experience. It is in this setting that Matilda's story is told, so that there is a strong contextual hint to the reader to anticipate an illustration of the dangers of unbridled pessimism. There has been a tendency to equate the views of the author with those of her narrators who, in both Frankenstein and Mathilda, are decidedly unreliable. When Mathilda makes moral pronouncements, these may sound superficially convincing: "To bestow on your fellow men is a godlike attribute-So indeed it is and as such not one fit for mortality;-the giver like Adam and Prometheus, must pay the penalty of rising above his nature by being the martyr to his own excellence" (M, p. 224). Her voice, though, is one that persistently veers towards hysteria, and its style of reasoning veers from the melodramatic to the psychotic' "Do you mark my words: I have learned the language of despair: I have it all by heart, for I am Despair; and a strange being am I, joyous, triumphant Despair" (M, p. 236). This is a voice that talks its way to suicide, quite unswayed by the persuasions of a sympathetic friend who speaks for a new era in which optimism is asserted as a moral principle.
Mary Shelley might seem to be situated at a comparatively safe distance in time from the theological terrorism of pre-revolutionary England, but concentrated pockets of Calvinism remained in Scotland and in Cambridgeshire, where William Godwin was brought up. Godwin, with his doctrine of perfectibility, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, with his visions of grace abounding in the natural world, were still fighting off the influence of the persecutory imagination. Godwin's education convinced him that if one can "grant the being of God, both the truth of Christianity, and the doctrines of Calvinism, followed by infallible inference."(29) He became the pupil of a minister in Norwich whose extreme version of Calvinism was "drawn from the writings of Sandeman, a celebrated north country apostle, who, after Calvin had damned ninety-nine in a hundred of mankind, has contrived a scheme for damning ninety-nine in a hundred of the followers of Calvin."(30) Godwin's references to this influence are so wry and fragmentary that they pale into insignificance against his later political writings, which demonstrate a powerfully revised philosophy. Yet it would be a mistake to assume that his Calvinism could be shuffled off as easily as one of Mary Shelley's early biographers is ready to believe:
Calm rationalism got the better, in no long time, of his religious creed, which he seems to have abandoned slowly, gradually, and deliberately, without painful struggle. His religion, of the head alone, was easily replaced by other views for which intellectual qualities were all-sufficient.(31)
Against this complacency should be set Stachniewski's call for alertness to "the powerful drag of inherited imaginative patterns" and the tenacity of the persecutory imagination through "the tentacles it could extend into an individual psyche" (PI, p. 10). Godwin's novels dwell obsessively on guilt, criminal embroilment and the experiences of the outcast. Scots Calvinism was a gripping formative influence on members of the Shelley peer group, most notably Byron, who cast himself in the role of Cain and was not about to be enlightened out of it. The ethos of the literary world which surrounded Mary Shelley at the time when she wrote Mathilda and Frankenstein was not post-Calvinist, but rather in contention with a Calvinist heritage whose overpowering qualities were still very real. Victor Frankenstein rivals Mathilda as a narrator committed to trenchantly dismal self-assessments. "Nothing can alter my destiny," he says to Walton, "listen to my history, and you will perceive how irrevocably it is determined" (p. 25). Frankenstein opens his narrative in the mode of the reprobate autobiography and his history begins in Geneva, the birthplace of Calvinism. The circumstantial evidence that he is from a distinguished family which boasts a long line of counselors and syndics would suggest that the Genevan orthodoxy was at least part of his cultural heritage. A reading of Frankenstein which emphasizes those characteristics its narrator shares with the reprobate autobiographer necessarily raises questions about how to judge the judgments he makes on himself and his enterprise, when these judgments reflect the worst style of Calvinist reasoning. This in turn raises questions about the kind of cautionary tale its author may be offering.
The sequence of letters from Robert Walton which prefaces the main story should serve to raise some initial doubts in the reader's mind about Frankenstein's perspective on himself and his situation. Walton repeatedly emphasizes Frankenstein's powers of recovery, both physical and spiritual. While he is "generally melancholy and despairing," "if any one performs an act of kindness towards him, or does him any the most trifling service, his whole countenance is lighted up, as it were, with a beam of benevolent sweetness that I never saw equalled" (p. 22). The suggestion that he comes across as one of the elect is strengthened in the revisions for the 1831 edition, with Walton remarking on "the lineaments of his face irradiated by the soul within,"(32) as Frankenstein embarks upon what he has announced as "the relation of my disasters" (which are only "misfortunes" in the 1818 text). In the lead up to the story-telling, Walton repeatedly marvels at Frankenstein's powers of recovery, while Frankenstein insists that he is one who has "lost everything, and cannot begin life anew" (1831, p. 29). He may be suffering not from an irreversible set of misdeeds, but from an irreversible mind-set, as Thomas Goodwin would have warned: "So in these commotions and winnowings of spirit, do our corruptions flote in our consciences, whilst the graces that are in us lie covered under them out of sight."(33)
Those who challenged Calvinist dogma, like Goodwin, Bunyan and Milton, took the dangers of reprobate psychology very seriously and were concerned to reverse the balance of popular belief so as to emphasize the availability of grace and the pervasive benevolence of the ways of God to man. Mary Shelley's novel follows the counter-Calvinist strategies of P. B. Shelley in emphasizing nature, rather than the biblical God, as the source of grace and suggesting that to be created as a natural being is, by definition, to be elect. Only those who are unable to experience a sense of inclusion in the natural world are immune to the effects of grace. This is a thesis which also emerges powerfully in Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, lines from which are repeatedly evoked, directly or indirectly, in Frankenstein's account. In contrast to his friend Clerval, who is "a being formed in the very poetry of nature" (p. 115), Frankenstein claims to have become "a miserable wretch, haunted by a curse that shut up every avenue to enjoyment" (p. 114). Yet his descriptions of the changing landscapes as they journey to England and northwards through the Lake District belie this claim. So does Walton's observation:
Even broken in spirit as he is, no one can feel more deeply than he does the beauties of nature. The starry sky, the sea, and every sight afforded by these wonderful regions, seems still to have the power of elevating his soul from earth. Such a man has a double existence: he may suffer misery, and be overwhelmed by disappointments; yet when he has retired into himself, he will be like a celestial spirit, that has a halo around him, within whose circle no grief or folly ventures. (P. 24)
These views closely echo those expressed by the poet Shelley concerning human nature in general, and its capacity to receive grace through "the uniform and unchanging motive of the salutary operations of the material world."(34)
Frankenstein recounts a brief family history, which includes the information that his maternal grandfather died of despair, before embarking on the main thread of his story with a declaration: "Natural philosophy is the genius that has regulated my fate; I desire therefore, in this narration, to state those facts which led to my predilection for that science" (p. 29). One of the key ideas of Calvinism is the calling. The elect are called by God to their appointed work in the world, and to know one's calling is a sign of election. The trap lies, of course, in the slippery distinction between knowing one's calling and the presumption of a calling, which led the reprobate to a predetermined course of wrong action. Here, the difficulty of "beating out a right judgment," as Goodwin puts it, is critical. On this matter the Institutes are at their most perverse. On the one hand, "if we attempt to penetrate the eternal decree of God, we shall be ingulfed in the profound abyss," but on the other, "what can be more absurd and inconsistent, when the Scripture teaches that we are illuminated according as God has chosen us, than that our eyes should be so dazzled with the blaze of this light as to refuse to contemplate election?" (3.24.3). Frankenstein charts his own transition from the conviction of a calling through which he was "animated by an almost supernatural enthusiasm" for his researches in natural philosophy (p. 38), to the conviction of having succumbed to "the fatal impulse that led to my ruin" (p. 30).(35) Between these two perspectives lies a consistent assumption that his course is predestined, a point which is amplified in the revisions made for the 1831 edition, most notably with the addition of a passage at the end of the second chapter, following an account of how he is temporarily disenchanted with his occult studies after witnessing a galvanic experiment which convinces him that he should turn his attention to mathematics:
Thus strangely are our souls constructed, and by such slight ligaments are we bound to prosperity or ruin. When I look back, it seems to me as if this almost miraculous change of inclination and will was the immediate suggestion of the guardian angel of my life-the last effort made by the spirit of preservation to avert the storm that was even then hanging in the stars, and ready to envelop me ... It was a strong effort of the spirit of good; but it was ineffectual. Destiny was too potent, and her immutable laws had decreed my utter and terrible destruction. (1831, pp. 41-42)
Another interpolated statement gives a fatalistic view of his journey to Ingoldstadt, where his more dangerous studies can be furthered: "Chance-or rather the evil influence, the Angel of Destruction ... asserted omnipotent sway over me from the moment I turned my reluctant steps from my father's door" (1831, p. 45).
This is the persecutory imagination talking, and its momentum builds ahead of the events which are to be taken as evidence to support its readings. Obsessed with finding omens, the narrative becomes itself prognostic, so that when Frankenstein returns home to Geneva after the news has reached him of the first murder, he is already envisaging prospects for which this is a mere overture:
I foresaw obscurely that I was destined to become the most wretched of human beings. Alas! I prophesied truly, and failed only in one single circumstance, that in all the misery I imagined and dreaded, I did not conceive the hundredth part of the anguish I was destined to endure. (P. 56)
Prognostic imaginings belong to the genre of the Gothic horror story, but this particular form of them belongs to the genre of the reprobate autobiography, from which the imagery and vocabulary of Gothic horror may be partly derived. Readers unfamiliar with this earlier genre may also be insensitive to the destructive potential of the hypertrophic conscience. The tendency of a blind and melodramatic pessimism to generate self-fulfilling prophesies is well recognized by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century critics of Calvinist extremism. If this tendency is the central problem with which Frankenstein is concerned, the creation of the monster can be seen as an act which could indeed have constituted a wonderful achievement, and which is only turned to disaster through the baleful determining influence of the persecutory imagination. The spirit of Calvin, rather than that of Prometheus, may be the target of the author's critique.
The chapters which describe the process of the monster's creation also describe a crisis of judgment, with wild reversals of perspective on the work and its goals. First there is Romantic inspiration: "Life and death seemed to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source" (p. 40). This is followed within a page by descriptions of "the horrors of my secret toil" in the "workshop of filthy creation" (pp. 40-41). Anxiety fuses with enthusiasm until, with "an anxiety that amounted almost to agony" (p. 42), the moment of animation is anticipated. It is in the scene of the monster's awakening that the persecutory imagination decisively gains the upper hand over Promethean idealism. The experience of visual shock evoked in this scene has made it inexhaustibly attractive to film makers and theater directors. Through its various dramatizations, it has become one of the most famous horror scenes in the modern repertoire, yet, stripped of its filmic associations, the text is about horror-mongering rather than pure horror. The creature greets his maker with a smile, an outstretched hand and an attempt at speech, but is instantly judged to be "demoniacal" (p. 43) and "my enemy" (p. 45). The basis of this judgment is appearance alone: "Oh! no mortal could support the horror of that countenance" (p. 43). There is a fascination with countenances throughout the novel and throughout Mary Shelley's fictional writings, which contain numerous depictions of the dangers of judging people by their countenances. Frankenstein's propensity to do this is made evident through his account of the two professors between whom he must choose for his mentor. They represent opposing forms of science, and are also polarized in their physical presentation. Krempe has a "repulsive countenance" and Waldman "an aspect expressive of the greatest benevolence," by which Frankenstein is instantly won over. Waldman lives up to his looks, but there is no indication that Krempe's moral nature accords with his. "Transformation," a short story by Mary Shelley first published in 1830, explores the problem of a mismatch between moral nature and physical presentation. Its narrator offers the story as a cautionary tale. As a young man, with fine looks but suffering from "fiendly pride" and governed by vindictive impulses, he encountered a figure whose external appearance matched his own internal condition: "A human being!-Yet was it one? Surely never such had existed before-a misshapen dwarf, with squinting eyes, distorted features, and body deformed, till it became a horror to behold."(36) This creature offers to strike a bargain: to ensure an ultimate vengeance on the narrator's enemy, in return for a temporary exchange of looks. For the narrator, the experience of becoming monstrous is traumatic and the bargain misfires, so that the retrieval of his own shape almost costs him his life. Retrospectively, he concludes that the "loathsome and foul-shaped wretch" was sent by his guardian angel to teach him "the folly and misery of pride" (p. 300). Here and elsewhere in Mary Shelley's writings, there seems to be a concern with the arbitrary allocation of physical beauty and its even more arbitrary denial, as though this were the equivalent of the arbitrary allocation of grace. Those who, like Elizabeth Lavenza, bear the "celestial stamp" in their features are the elect (1831, p. 34). Ugliness is read as a sign of reprobation. That this is gross misprision is made abundantly evident from the creature's own autobiographical account. He is unquestionably endowed with what the Romantics defined as grace, in his capacity to respond to the beauties of the natural world; yet the immediate response of Frankenstein is to construe his creation as a travesty of nature, a counter-natural abomination. While it is easy for film makers to exploit the horror-mongering potentialities of this view, the novel itself may be suggesting that the creature is a natural being with elevated moral and social instincts and that, apart from some acute cosmetic problems, the experiment of which he is the result has been a profound success.
The persecutory imagination gains dominance over Frankenstein and dispels the sense of genius and illumination. As it does so, it also ruins his capacity to be the kind of creator who would be blessed by his new species. He starts to behave like a parody of the Calvinist God, his self-reprobation transferring itself to the being he has created. His hyperbolic condemnations of the creature are then re-appropriated to himself in a vicious circle of guilt and guilt by association: "I wandered like an evil spirit, for I had committed deeds of mischief beyond description horrible" (p. 67). The first murder is immediately linked with the principle of evil itself, so that any question of its being explicable in terms of natural behavior is foreclosed. It is also immediately assumed to be the first of many. The creature does not need to prove himself a serial killer before he is labeled "fiend," "daemon" and "devil." By the nature of his embodiment, he must be the very incarnation of evil, malevolence made flesh:
I perceived, as the shape came nearer, (sight tremendous and abhorred!) that it was the wretch whom I had created. I trembled with rage and horror ... He approached; his countenance bespoke bitter anguish, combined with disdain and malignity, while its unearthly ugliness rendered it almost too horrible for human eyes. (P. 73)
Such statements may seem generically familiar to readers who see this through the lens of the Gothic. Their meaning in terms of the genre of reprobate confession is thoroughly different, and presents a different kind of challenge to the reader's judgment.
The reprobate is an abhorred being, physically as well as morally, and it is God as his or her creator who has set the stamp of vileness. Adam, as the first reprobate, showed the effects of the fall in his person, according to the Institutes: "Wherefore, although we allow that the Divine Image was not utterly annihilated and effaced in him, yet it was so corrupted that whatever remains is but horrible deformity" (1.15.4). James Fraser "thought, or apprehended, God's Wrath and Prejudice was more at my person than Faults."(37) Thomas Goodwin warns against just this kind of apprehension, arguing that it is the promptings of Satan which lead the despondent to assume God's wrath to be directed "absolutely against their persons."(38) Richard Kilby saw himself as "before God a most ougly monster, and a detestable loathsome wretch";(39) Hannah Allen described herself as "the Monster of the Creation."(40) This kind of terminology was derived directly from Calvin; the Institutes several times refer to reprobates as "monsters." More than a touch of Gothic horror creeps into Calvinist writing when it comes to portraying the savage conscience, which is itself projected as a terrifying monster. In the words of William Perkins, when the sleeping beast of conscience is roused "he then wakes and flies into a man's face and offers to pull out his throat."(41) In the case of Richard Norwood, the violence is turned outwards on the rest of humanity:
His suppressed conscience was projected onto passers-by whose staring so riled him that he "was ready to fall on some of them to do them a mischief." Unable to withstand their gaze he hid himself till nightfall: "and so travelled by night and hid myself for the most part by day and went through byways for several nights."(42)
Here the experience of Frankenstein's creature is echoed exactly. His physical presence alone is sufficient to incite violent levels of hatred. He performs violent deeds, but they belong to a culture of violence which is reflected everywhere in the language of Calvinist preaching, and the personal reflections influenced by it.
Born, like the reprobate, to be an abomination, the creature attempts every logical recourse, only to find that each avenue is always already foreclosed, exactly in accordance with the Calvinist model. There is the direct appeal to the creator:
How can I move thee? Will no entreaties cause thee to turn a favourable eye upon thy creature, who implores thy goodness and compassion. Believe me, Frankenstein: I was benevolent; my soul glowed with love and humanity: but am I not alone, miserably alone? You, my creator, abhor me; what hope can I gather from your fellow creatures, who owe me nothing? they spurn and hate me. (P. 74)
The 1831 edition develops the analogy more explicitly:
Remember, that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. (1831, p. 100)
The response is, "Begone! I will not hear you" (p. 100). The creature's attempts to prove his benevolence through good works and moral self-education may demonstrate the truth of Godwin's anti-Calvinist belief in the perfectibility of man, but they make no impression on a consciousness trained to judge by countenance, as the immediate evidence that someone is created good or evil.
The reprobate can choose between two paths. The first (Mathilda's course) is that of spiraling despair and self-loathing, leading to suicide. The second turns against the persecuting God with reciprocal hatred and strategic malignity, the most effective strategy being to do violence to those whom he has arbitrarily taken into his embrace (the elect). In this second case, Calvinist cause and effect reasoning works in a feedback loop, to argue that the reprobate is and always was God's enemy, and is now just overtly demonstrating the essential vileness of which only God could have had prior knowledge. From the reprobate's point of view, there is nothing to lose, it is along this line that the relationship between Frankenstein and his creature develops. The creature's victims are all members of the elect, both in a social sense (as adored members of Frankenstein's inner circle) and in their presentation as natural beings. In the 1831 edition, Elizabeth is described as "a being heaven sent, and bearing a celestial stamp in all her features" (1831, p. 34). Henry Clerval's whole life course seems blessed until the creature cuts it short. William is a "dear angel" (p. 56) whose innocent beauty is remarked on by everyone, including his murderer. This innocent nevertheless delivers himself of a mouthful of unprovoked abuse: "monster! ugly wretch! ... You are an ogre ... Hideous monster ... "(p. 105). The elect can afford to treat reprobates in this manner, because they are only reflecting judgments already divinely made.
Godwin's Enquiry Concerning Political Justice offers a highly developed analysis of how human beings may be turned to good or evil according to the treatment they receive in the world. Although this analysis is not offered as an overt critique of Calvinism, it is an argument against all the central tenets of the doctrine. Godwin offers a doctrine of necessity that is not metaphysical but social, identifying parenting and education as the principle determining influences on an individual's courses of action. The thrust of this doctrine is away from the metaphysical interpretations of parenthood in which the role of the father or household head was considered to replicate that of the Calvinist God. "To reprobate" children was common practice and meant disowning them on the basis that they had been recognized as irredeemable. Casting out such a son or daughter with the most severe forms of physical and verbal abuse was a divinely endorsed parental responsibility. It is against this cultural background that Godwin argues that the skillful parent is one who knows that "evil is not invincible" and that it is "persons of narrow and limited views" who convince themselves otherwise.(43) Mary Wollstonecraft echoes Godwin's views and prefigures her daughter's fictional scenario when she states that "a great proportion of the misery that wanders, in hideous forms, around the world, is allowed to rise from the negligence of parents" (Vindication, p. 236). Parental negligence in this passage from the Vindication of the Rights of Woman is associated with the Calvinist model of the tyrannical father who demands "blind obedience" and may practice arbitrary rejection.
The message to Victor Frankenstein might be, in Godwin's words, that "if we entertain false views and be involved in pernicious mistakes, this disadvantage is not the offspring of an irresistible destiny."(44) In this light, the "pernicious mistakes" would be the judgments passed upon the creature and on the act of his creation, not the act of creation in and of itself. As an anti-Calvinist, rather than an anti-Promethean novel, Frankenstein, with its dedication to Godwin, might be a cautionary tale on a Godwinian theme: "As long as parents and teachers in general shall fall under the established rule, it is clear that politics and modes of governement will educate and infect us all. They poison our minds before we can resist, or so much as suspect their malignity."(45) Many critical readings of Frankenstein argue that the portrayal of Frankenstein as a bad father is linked with his portrayal as an obsessive and over-ambitious scientist. This again is the logic of late-twentieth-century social values retrospectively applied to a work whose logics reflect a very different set of social bearings. If Frankenstein is read as a critique of the Calvinist conscience that spoils Promethean endeavor, rather than as a critique of Prometheanism itself, the abandonment of the monster can be understood accordingly. Frankenstein rejects his progeny because he has rejected his work. They are one and the same thing. He could not have been a "good parent" without maintaining faith in his experiment right through the stage of genesis, and to do this would have meant triumphing over the moral panic which he instead allows to engulf him.
Such a perspective may be hard for a reader in our own time to countenance. When Ian Wilmot declares that he and his team are not "Frankenstein type people," he epitomizes the way in which even a reference to the story has become shorthand for a prevailing cultural anxiety about scientific endeavor breaking the bounds of nature. Frankenstein is one of the most interpreted novels in modern literature, yet readings from literary critics, for all their diversity, have been consistent in their assumption that it is a depiction of the horrifying potentialities of science. The notion of a scientist meddling with corpses in an attempt at reanimation can now be regarded only with horror and carries connotations of a peculiarly masculine form of megalomania whose disastrous effects have been seen in the atomic bomb and the Nazi laboratories. Without these connotations, and in an entirely different cultural context, the notion may have aroused a form of horror mixed with exhilaration, and a form of triumph that, far from expressing the power-crazed ego of an individual, could be seen as profoundly democratic. Godwin recalls that among the small range of literature presented to him in his childhood was James Janeway's tract, A Token for Children, being an Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives and Joyful Deaths of several young children.(46) The infant mortality rate in the Cambridgeshire fens was amongst the worst in England and Godwin's family maintained the terrible average. His birth followed the deaths of four siblings and was followed by the deaths of three more. Mary Shelley's own life was overshadowed by the loss of her mother at birth, and her adulthood began with the death of her own first child. Against this pattern, Frankenstein's determination "to pour a torrent of light into our dark world" by defeating the arbitrary powers of death, might read as a truly revolutionary determination, to be defended at all costs against the influence of restrictive moral codes. P. B. Shelley's Essay on Christianity offers a secular view of the doctrine of resurrection as one fit to influence human aspirations:
How magnificent is the conception which this bold theory suggests to the contemplation, even if it be no more than the imagination of some sublimest and most holy poet, who, impressed with the loveliness and majesty of his own nature, is impatient and discontented with the narrow limits which this imperfect life and the dark grave have assigned for ever as his melancholy portion. (EC, p. 93)
This may be just the kind of hubris which some feminist interpretations of Frankenstein would like to see its author debunking. According to Anne Mellor, "when Mary Shelley subtitled her novel `The Modern Prometheus,' she forcefully directed our attention to the book's critique of both the Promethean spirits she knew best, Byron and Percy Shelley, and of the entire Romantic ideology as she understood it."(47) Such claims need to be tested against some of Mary Shelley's own statements on genius and the Promethean spirit, for example:
Methinks it is both presumptuous and sacrilegious to give the law to genius. We are so far removed from the point of perfection to judge with accuracy what ought to be ... Let us, applying the rules which appertain to the sublimest objects in nature, to the sublimest work of God, a Man of Genius-let us, I say, conclude, that though one of his species appear to err, the failure is in our understandings, not in his course; and though lines and rules, "centric and eccentric scribbled o'er," have been marked out for the wise to pursue, that these in fact have been the leading-strings and go-carts of mediocrity, and have never been constituted the guides of those superior minds which are themselves the law, and whose innate impulses are the fiats, of intellectual creation.(48)
To attribute an anti-Promethean stance to Mary Shelley may bring her into accord with certain kinds of late-twentieth-century feminist thinking, but it is hardly consistent with the feminist thinking of Mary Wollstonecraft, who repeatedly encouraged the overthrow of a rule-bound mediocrity in favor of "the inclinations that fear not the eye of heaven."(49) Prometheanism was something Wollstonecraft thought should be embraced by women rather than abandoned by men. Indeed, it was fundamental to her feminist vision. Arguing against the view of women as secondary beings, she proposes "that one reason why men have superior judgment, and more fortitude than women, is undoubtedly this, that they give a freer scope to the grand passions, and by more frequently going astray enlarge their minds."(50)
Reversal of the anti-Promethean enthusiasms of a repressive former belief system was central not just to Godwin's project, but to that of the whole Romantic movement. The position is well summarized in St Leon, when the narrator is threatened by a witch-hunting mob:
No sooner did a man devote himself to the pursuit of discoveries which, if ascertained, would prove the highest benefit to his species, than his whole species became armed against him. The midnight oil was held to be the signal of infernal machinations. The paleness of study and the furrows of thought were adjudged to be the tokens of diabolical alliance.(51)
The violence of the mob is "a pledge of the eternal triumph of ignorance over wisdom." Prometheus and all his symbolism needed to be unbound from a deep-seated cultural complex, a task to which Godwin's disciple Shelley set himself in the year of Frankenstein's publication. The Preface to his Prometheus Unbound describes the hero of the work as "the type of the highest perfection of moral and intellectual nature, impelled by the purest and truest motives to the best and noblest ends."(52) In Wollstonecraft's view, "monsters" are monsters of the mind that haunt the enemies of Prometheus:
Every thing new appears to them wrong; and notable to distinguish the possible from the monstrous, they fear where no fear should find a place, running from the light of reason, as if it were a firebrand; yet the limits of the possible have never been defined to stop the sturdy innovator's hand. (Vindication, p. 233)
For Mary Shelley to have taken an anti-Promethean stance would have been to ally herself with a position of repressive authoritarianism and renege upon all the efforts of Godwin to ensure that future generations could emerge once and for all from the grip of the persecutory imagination. Why should an intellectual woman in her social milieu have written a novel whose moral energies ran back towards an embrace of Calvinist pessimism, inciting fears of predestination, loathing of "presumption" and phobic denunciations of the Promethean spirit? There would have been nothing in such a stance to serve the cause of feminism, which for Mary Wollstonecraft was vitally integrated with the larger philosophical ethos in which Godwin was a key spokesman:
We must get entirely clear of all the notions drawn from the wild traditions of original sin: the eating of the apple, the theft of Prometheus, the opening of Pandora's box, and the other fables, too tedious to enumerate, on which priests have erected their tremendous structures of imposition, to persuade us, that we are naturally inclined to evil.(53)
Percy Bysshe Shelley's Prometheus, who is "exempt from the taints of ambition, envy, revenge, and a desire for personal aggrandisement,"(54) would offer far more effective support for Wollstonecraft's feminism than the antipathetic views so often attributed to her daughter.
Perhaps Frankenstein is not written against "The Modern Prometheus" at all, but only in ironized disappointment at the weakened state of the Promethean spirit in an age when the backlash against the French Revolution was creating a new climate of political oppression and the culture of optimism associated with the early phase of the Romantic movement was losing ground. Frankenstein is the product of an age in transition and, as its story unfolds, two kinds of horror overlap: the frisson of horror at a strange and immense discovery, and the horror of the savage conscience that banishes this discovery from sight and from knowledge. The first of these horrors might be called Romantic, in that it has ingredients of the uncanny and the sublime, and is associated with revelation. The second is dismal, but very real in its impact on an age still struggling to emerge from a powerful orthodoxy whose stranglehold on the cultural imagination lasted for two centuries. When Frankenstein is read as a novel wrestling with the problems of the savage conscience and the persecutory imagination, it can also be seen as a work actively contributing to the most radical intellectual directions of its time.
I would like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Angela Davies in the researching of this essay, and to thank John Burrows for some very helpful conversations concerning textual questions.
(1) John Bunyan, Grace Abounding and The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (London: Dent, 1969), p. 5.
(2) Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818 edition), The Mary Shelley Reader, ed. Betty B. Bennett and Charles E. Robinson (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1990), p. 57. Subsequent references are to the 1818 text unless otherwise specified.
(3) Henry Smith (1560-92), "The Betraying of Christ," sermon quoted in W. Fraser Mitchell, English Pulpit Oratory from Andrewes to Tillotson (New York: Russell & Russell, 1962), p. 212.
(4) The Daily Mail, Friday, March 7, 1997, p. 1.
(5) Robin McKie, "The Week that Dolly Shook the World," Guardian Weekly, March 9, 1997, p. 7.
(6) Tim Marshall in Murdering to Dissect: Grave-robbing, Frankenstein and the Anatomy Literature (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1995) offers a wide-ranging historical study of the ways in which anxieties about anatomy are reflected in the novel and other literature of its time. Geoffrey Simons cites Frankenstein as an important part of the mythological history of the robot in Robots: The Quest for Living Machines (London: Cassell, 1992). Isaac Asimov invents the term "the Frankenstein Complex" and affirms that it is a constant element in his robot stories (Introduction to Machines That Think, ed. Isaac Asimov, Patricia Warrick and Martin Greenberg [Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985], p. 1). Brian Easlea's Fathering the Unthinkable: Masculinity, Scientists and the Nuclear Arms Race (London: Pluto Press, 1983) argues that Frankenstein's story is a prototypical case of "compulsive masculinity," a syndrome he associates with the "birth" of the atomic bomb. Bernard E. Rollin entitles a recent study of ethical and social issues in genetic engineering The Frankenstein Syndrome (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995).
(7) Evelyn Fox Keller, Secrets of Life, Secrets of Death: Essays on Language, Gender and Science (London: Routledge, 1992), p. 49. Anne K. Mellor offers the most fully developed of such readings in Mary Shelley: Her Life, her Fiction, her Monsters (London: Routledge, 1988).
(8) Mary Mulvey Roberts, "The Male Scientist and the Female Monster," A Question of Identity: Women, Science and Literature, Marina Benjamin, ed. (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1993), p. 71.
(9) Asimov, p. 1.
(10) Chris Baldick's In Frankenstein's Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity and Nineteenth Century Writing (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992) introduces some much-needed resistance to the prevailing tendency to read the story as a cautionary tale, claiming that "the grounds for this sort of reading are shifting and uncertain" (p. 47). Offering instead a detailed account of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century political associations in the themes of monstrosity and uncompromising experiment, Baldick shows their ethical bearings to be highly problematic, and finds a deep-seated ambiguity in the moral cast of the novel.
(11) Playbill for Richard Brinsley Peake's Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein (1823) quoted in Stephen Earl Forry, "An Early Conflict Involving the Production of R.B. Peake's Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein," Theater Notebook 39.3 (1985), p. 100.
(12) Ibid., p. 100.
(13) Mary Shelley, Mathilda, in The Mary Shelley Reader, p. 229. All subsequent references are to this edition. Mathilda too suffers from guilt by association, having drawn from her father a confession of his incestuous passion for her. Both novels explore the idea of an essential and unforgivable sin in which the narrator is unavoidably co-implicated. This idea forms the basis for the plot of Godwin's Caleb Williams (1794) and of James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824). On the basis of their plot design, it could be argued that all four of these works, with their reprobate narrators, belong to the genre of the Calvinist novel.
(14) Paula R. Feldman and Diana Scott-Kilvert, eds., The Journals of Mary Shelley (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987), p. 397.
(15) William Godwin, St Leon (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1994), pp. 56-57.
(16) John Stachniewski, The Persecutory Imagination: English Puritanism and the Literature of Religious Despair (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1991), pp. 12 and 23. Subsequent references to this edition are denoted as PI in the text.
(17) John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. Hugh T. Kerr (London: Lutterworth Press), 4.15.10. Subsequent references to this edition are denoted as I in the text.
(18) Quoted in Stachniewski, p. 349.
(19) Ibid., pp. 349-50 (emphasis in the original).
(20) Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (London: Penguin, 1991), p. 160.
(21) William Godwin, Caleb Williams (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1977), p. 16.
(22) Bunyan, p. 48.
(23) Thomas Goodwin, A childe of light walking in darkness (London: 1643), p. 24.
(24) Ibid., p. 41.
(25) Mary Shelley, "Giovanni Villani," The Mary Shelley Reader, p. 331.
(26) Stachniewski examines the Anatomy of Melancholy as a work demonstrating "the difficulty contemporaries found in resisting the Calvinist diagnosis of human experience" and in which there is "undercover satirical resistance to the ideas the text overtly and perhaps consciously supports" (PI, pp. 224-25). Rousseau, as "the Citizen of Geneva" rejected from his birthplace for the unorthodoxy of his views, was a figure with whom Mary Shelley identified strongly during her own visit to Geneva when she felt the vestiges of Calvinism in the fierce moralistic stand taken towards herself and Shelley for what was imagined to be "the most unbridled libertinism" (Journals, p. 125).
(27) See Bunyan, p. 13.
(28) Mary Shelley, The Fields of Fancy, in The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley, Pamela Clemit, ed. (London: Pickering, 1996), 2:351.
(29) Quoted in C. Kegan Paul, William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries (London: Henry S. King, 1876), p. 17. Kegan Paul draws extensively on autobiographical notes by Godwin which are not published elsewhere.
(30) Kegan Paul, pp. 10-11.
(31) Mrs. Julian Marshall, The Life and Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (London: Richard Bentley, 1889), p. 4.
(32) Mary Shelley, Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus (1831 edition), ed. M. K. Joseph (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1990), p. 31. Subsequent references to this edition are denoted 1831 in the text.
(33) Goodwin, p. 30.
(34) Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Essay on Christianity," Essays and Letters, ed. Ernest Rhys (London: Walter Scott, 1886), p. 91. Subsequent references to this edition are denoted EC in the text. When he claims that poetry is "the light of life" ("A Defense of Poetry," Essays and Letters, p. 20) and "the interpenetration of a diviner nature with our own" (p. 35), Shelley renders the term almost synonymous with grace. The power of the poet is that of "communicating and receiving intense and impassioned conceptions respecting man and nature" (p. 40).
(35) In the closing section of the frame tale, Frankenstein shows how strongly he is still drawn to the idea of a Promethean calling when he rails against Walton's crew for failing to have the courage of their leader's convictions. The reflection on his own enterprise is unmistakable:
"You were hereafter to be hailed as the benefactors of your species; your name adored, as belonging to brave men who encountered death for honour and the benefit of mankind. And now, behold, with the first imagination of danger, or if you will, the first mighty and terrific trial of your courage, you shrink away." (P. 158).
(36) Mary Shelley, "Transformation," The Mary Shelley Reader, p. 292.
(37) Quoted in Stachniewski, p. 103.
(38) Goodwin, p. 18.
(39) Quoted in Stachniewski, p. 116.
(40) Ibid., p. 44.
(41) Ibid., p. 368.
(42) Ibid., p. 114.
(43) William Godwin, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, ed. Isaac Kramnick (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976), pp. 104-05.
(44) Godwin, Enquiry, p. 110.
(45) Ibid., p. 114.
(46) William St. Clair gives a compelling account of the Calvinist influences on Godwin's childhood in The Godwins and the Shelleys (London: Faber, 1989).
(47) Mellor, p. 70.
(48) Mary Shelley, "Giovanni Villani," pp. 229-30.
(49) Mary Wollstonecraft, "An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution," Political Writings, ed. Janet Todd (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1994), p. 289.
(50) Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, in Political Writings, p. 185.
(51) Godwin, St Leon, p. 290.
(52) Percy Bysshe Shelley, Preface to Prometheus Unbound (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967), p. 205.
(53) Mary Wollstonecraft, "An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution," Political Writings, p. 294.
(54) P.B. Shelley, Preface to Prometheus Unbound, p. 205.
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|Publication:||Studies in the Novel|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1999|
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