Critical Essays on Frankenstein, Part 1

The Norton Editions (original and second edition) have essays and other materials about Frankenstein. I enjoyed reading them; it reminded me what I liked about school. Yes, I’m the type of person who likes school.

Here are my scattered thoughts and reactions about some of those essays from the 1995 Critical edition.

Shelley’s Preface: The teaser! “The event in which this fiction is founded has been supposed, by Mr. Darwin, and some of the physiological writers of Germany, as not of impossible occurrence.” Was he paid by the word? So many to say, “dude, this could totally happen.” Also, a bit dig about how this novel is good, not like those other novels out there. This novel (unlike all those other bad novels) illustrates the “amiableness of domestic affection” and “excellence of universal virtue.” Right, in those vignettes between putting together a man out of the pieces of dead bodies and the murders.

Mary Shelley’s Introduction (1831): Establishing her credentials as a writer, while saying she doesn’t want a “literary reputation.” “I have become infinitely indifferent to it.” Easy to say after it’s been achieved, eh?

Without going into the details, I adore all the back story behind writing Frankenstein, the story of the personal lives of the Shelleys and Byron and others in their circle.

Here, some of the original reviews of Frankenstein, showing that bloggers haven’t invented snark.

John Croker, from the Quarterly Review (January 1818):the monster, who had borrowed (we presume from the flourishing colony of East Greenland) a kind of raft, comes alongside the ship, and notwithstanding his huge bulk, jump in at Mr. Walton’s cabin window.” Then, later, a wry observation about the monster saying he’ll “burn himself on a funeral pyre” in the middle of ice.

Anonymous, from Knight’s Quarterly (August – November, 1824):it is not at all probable, that one with Frankenstein’s science should have formed a creature of such ‘appalling hideousness.’ It is utterly inconceivable also, that he should have let the monster (as he is somewhat unfairly called) escape.”

Introduction to the Routledge World Library Edition, 1886: “The subject is somewhat revolting, the treatment of it somewhat hideous. The conception is powerful, but the execution very unequal.”

At this point, I just want to say that sometimes with the more modern criticism (below) it’s difficult to know which edition of Frankenstein is being discussed.

Christopher Small, [Percy] Shelley and Frankenstein: “If [Victor Frankenstein] is not Shelley he is a dream of Shelley, and one that he would not have been averse to dreaming himself, as an improvement, up to a point, on experience.” If this observation is true (Frankenstein is Shelley, or a version of Shelley), it’s rather interesting. Victor abandons the creature; and Shelley abandoned his wife and two children (one not even born yet). Victor’s reaction to stress or responsibility is fleeing and getting sick; while I have no idea how true that is of Shelley, he and Mary did run away to the continent when he left his wife.

William Veeder, The Women of Frankenstein: This contains in interesting point about Justine and her confessor who bullied her into confessing. “How far Mary is going out of her way to invoke conventional anti-Catholic responses is shown by the illogic of events here: the last thing we would expect to encounter in Geneva, the bastion of John Calvin, is Catholic coerciveness.” This type of historical perspective and observation is why reading on one’s own, in isolation, doesn’t provide the whole portrait of a work.

Frankenstein, The True Story: Provides interesting insight into the changing view of Victor and the creature, specifically, which one is the “hero” and which is the “villain.””It begs the question of whether the reader is supposed to excuse the murders of innocent people because the murderer is a victim of prejudice.” And “for Frankenstein does not let it’s readers feel good. It presents them with genuine, insolvable problems, not with any easy way out.”

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