Currently Reading:

Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey


Mary Shelley

The story of Frankenstein is, of course, heartbreaking and insightful. Everybody already knows that. The monster could have been a decent guy, given a chance. Everybody already knows that, too. Frankenstein wasn’t such a decent guy, and couldn’t follow through on his own ambition. Everybody also already knows that. Because everybody already knows these things, what we get at the beginning of the book is a positively revolting preface by Diane Johnson that tries to reveal to us “surprising” truths about Mary Shelley that we may not have already known.
She starts out with a bit of biographical information — no problem there. From there, we get some exposition about Shelley’s social and political environment. No big problem there, either. Then Johnson gives us a brief bibliography of Shelley’s “influences”, and we start to run into trouble, because (while plausible at times) it seems to be pure speculation and assumption. And finally, we get several pages of psychoanalytic drivel about Shelley’s id and superego, and how Frankenstein’s unwillingness to give life to his female monster demonstrates Shelley’s fear of her own fertility, and a number of other brilliant inductions with all of the credibility of a Parade magazine horoscope. For instance: “The somewhat mournful union Frankenstein contemplates with Elizabeth (the name of Shelley’s sister) is chastely terminated before it is consummated, suggesting, perhaps, the wish of this burdened young woman to exchange for an uncomplicated, virginal state her present condition of continuous pregnancy, childbirth, and maternal concern.” WTF? If this were someone’s term paper for a freshman composition course, I would fail them. Let’s see — the monster (who of course represents the id) survived on nuts and berries. Clearly “nuts” refers to crazy people, and berries are a fruit, and everyone knows that a “fruit” is a homosexual. Therefore, the monster represents the growing insanity that Shelley felt when contemplating her deeply repressed lesbianism, and the authoring of Frankenstein was a means for her to symbolically de-closet and subsequently kill her undeclared sexuality. Yeah, that sounds good. Let’s roll the goddam presses.
Frankenstein is a great story. Not great writing always, but a great story. Johnson’s introduction is the worst sort of pseudo-scholarship that I can imagine; it’s the sort of thing that makes real human beings (justly) slander “academics” for being completely out of touch with reality. Read the book, skip the introduction (with the possible exception of the biographical history), and draw your own goddam conclusions.

Comments are closed.