The Cambridge Companion to Frankenstein.
During a 1997 conference in Calgary, Mitzi Myers aptly called Frankenstein "the Swiss Army knife of Romanticism"--implying the remarkable critical and pedagogical variety inspired in twentieth-century literary studies by Mary Shelley's novel. As contemporary readers prepare to celebrate the 200th birthday of the book Shelley called her "hideous progeny," The Cambridge Companion to Frankenstein, edited by Andrew Smith, supplies to a new generation of students a valuable tool for engaging the novel in its broad range of historical, critical, and popular contexts.
Like Frankenstein, The Cambridge Companion is organized into three parts. The first section of the Companion treats the novel's historical and literary contexts. Charles E. Robin elucidates the novel's textual genealogy from the hypothesized 1816 draft through the 1831 third edition, emphasizing the collaborative, editorial, and commercial practices that inflected the story Mary Shelley originally envisioned. Lisa Vargo explores Frankenstein's pre-Romantic sources, establishing the novel as a rich palimpsest of prior canonical texts that are reworked in concert as the novel's major themes. In a chapter that illuminates the Godwin-Wollstonecraft-Shelley family dramas of creation, Jerrold E. Hogle reads Frankenstein's allusions to other Romantic texts as a "multiple authorship" through which Shelley uses the gothic to tease out contradictions inhering in British Romanticism itself, particularly the search for Romantic unities in a stratified society (41). Catherine Lanone assesses Frankenstein's pivotal position in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century history of the novel, emphasizing the Creature's body as a metaphor for Frankenstein's "intertextuality and literary filiation," which are key to its ongoing cultural salience (66). Andrew Smith reviews the scientific contexts of Victor Frankenstein's experiment--Davy's chemistry; Locke's empiricism; Erasmus Darwin's natural history; the electrical experiments of Galvani, Aldini, and Volta; and the theoretical physiologies of Lawrence and Abernethy--and shrewdly elaborates their political resonances during Shelley's lifetime. In a chapter critical for students reading Frankenstein in the contemporary light of globalization and climate change, Adriana Craciun traces Frankenstein's global politics across latitudes, from the French Revolution to polar exploration.
The second section offers five sociopolitical interpretations of the novel from feminist, queer, critical race, eco-critical, and post-human theory that will be useful to upper-level undergraduates and graduate students. With thoroughgoing recourse to Frankenstein's feminist critical legacy, Angela Wright elaborates Mary Shelley's position in the female gothic tradition; between the 1818 and 1831 editions, Wright argues, Shelley eschewed anxieties of authorship and came more fully to "embrace the terror of a particularly female strain of Gothic literature" (113). George E. Haggerty queers Frankenstein by showing its multivalent resistance to dominant ideologies of gender, drawing suggestively on the theories of Lee Edelman and Eve Sedgwick to illuminate how Frankenstein's un-sexual creativity undoes sociability between men. Patrick Brantlinger assesses themes of race in Frankenstein, linking Victor Frankenstein's scientific beliefs with the emergent biologization of race during imperial expansion and demonstrating the continuities of Frankenstein's master-slave dialectic with contemporary debates about the abolition of slavery. Timothy Morton's chapter prompts readers to think environmentally about Frankenstein by revisiting the novel's ambivalent relationship with the category of Nature. In this section's last chapter, Andy Mousley focuses on the construction of the Creature's body to situate Frankenstein as an inaugural text of posthuman culture; one of Frankenstein's central projects, Mousley demonstrates, is to ask what it means to be human, or not.
The third part of the Companion treats adaptations of the novel into other forms, emphasizing the themes of textual heredity that are central to Frankenstein itself. Diane Long Hoeveler's chapter catalogs the adaptations of the novel onto the nineteenth-century stage, and their influences on the cultures of drama. Mark Jancovich records Frankenstein's "monster mash" of afterlives in television and cinema, noting their wide dispersal as a testament to the novel's ubiquitous cultural power (199). David Punter extends this argument in a chapter on Frankenstein's literary afterlives, noting that "Shelley's book has now mutated into something which is no longer a book, a single text, but which is instead a world' (211). Christopher Murray elaborates the movements of Frankenstein into the genres of comics and graphic novels, noting that Boris Karloff's iconic Creature has inspired new generations of authors to engage with old problems of identity and creativity. In the last chapter of this section, Karen Coats and Farran Norris Sands explore the migration into teen and children's literature of Frankenstein's focus on Bildung and its complications, which are so resonant with this population of readers.
The Companion also includes a chronology of Shelley's life, a selection of famous images associated with the text, and a guide for further reading. In this apparatus alone--the three sections summarized above and indexical materials--it is an excellent critical resource.
Moreover, throughout the chapters of the Companion, students of Frankenstein will find contemporary interpretations of the novel that speak fluently and provocatively to one another while resonating with major work done on the text in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s by literary critics who established Frankenstein as an urtext of feminism. Andrew Smith's introduction to the Companion traces this history powerfully to Mary Shelley herself, and her famous waking dream: the birth myth of the birth myth. In this sense, the Companion is faithful in its content and form to the academic and popular cultures of Frankenstein and their robust critical legacies. While it is customary in this genre to name a shortcoming of the text under review, the riches of The Cambridge Companion to Frankenstein render small quibbles moot. Andrew Smith and his collaborators--in their compilation's expert range, compelling variety, and suggestive internal connections--celebrate the 200th birthday of Shelley's novel by demonstrating the multiplicity and vitality with which Frankenstein speaks to us still.
SARAH MARSH, American University
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|Publication:||Studies in the Novel|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2017|
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