Contents Index

Frankenstein; or, the Modern Narcissus

Jeffrey Berman

In Narcissism and the Novel (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1990), pp. 56-77

{56} Ask readers to describe the physical appearance of the monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and most will immediately conjure up the image of a gigantic eight-foot high creature with yellow skin, shriveled complexion, straight black lips, and dull, watery eyes, a "hideous phantasm of a man"1 whose bones and limbs are collected from charnel houses and assembled in Victor Frankenstein's "workshop of filthy creation" (55). The same readers will easily recall the monster's crimes: the unprovoked murder of Victor's young brother, William; the killing of Victor's best friend, Henry Clerval; and the strangulation of Victor's wife, Elizabeth, on the night of their honeymoon. It is a tribute to the enduring power of the novel that we remember so vividly the haunting imagery of the Frankenstein Creature and his terrible acts. But can we confidently identify the real monster in the story and the nature of his misdeeds? Robert Walton, the young explorer who hears Victor's and the Creature's narrations, has no difficulty in locating the embodiment of evil. For Victor and Walton, the monster is born in the scientist's laboratory. Many readers, especially those who confuse Frankenstein with the Creature, would doubtlessly agree with this interpretation. And yet as we shall see, the real monster in Frankenstein is the scientist whose monstrous empathic failure comes back to haunt him.

Published in 1818 to immediate popular and literary acclaim, Frankenstein has been slow to receive the close psychoanalytic scru- {57} tiny it richly deserves. The neglect is more surprising in light of the numerous reprintings of the novel, its translation into many languages, and the legendary status of the Frankenstein movies.2 Freud was unaware of the novel's existence, and the early psychoanalytic literary critics ignored it in favor of other stories. Otto Rank did not mention Frankenstein at all in The Double, despite the fact that Shelley's novel powerfully illustrates his thesis.3 Nor did the extraordinary popularity of the Boris Karloff film adaptation in 1931, only one of more than a hundred cinematic versions, stimulate much psychological interest in the work. It was not until the mid-1970s that a spate of books and essays employing depth criticism appeared on Frankenstein. In The Unspoken Motive (1973), Morton Kaplan and Robert Kloss were among the first critics to explore Shelley's intriguing use of the Doppelganger technique;4 subsequently, nearly every critic has alluded, if only in passing, to the way in which the Creature embodies Victor Frankenstein's monstrous sexual and aggressive passions. Kaplan and Kloss offer an Oedipal interpretation of the novel, viewing Victor's obsession with the origin of babies as an ambivalent wish to present his mother with another child. Immediately after Victor succeeds in animating the Creature, the scientist dreams he is embracing Elizabeth; seconds later the dream changes, and Victor imagines he is holding the corpse of his dead mother in his arms.5

Ellen Moers' brilliant essay "Female Gothic," first published in the New York Review of Books in 1974, represents a milestone in Mary Shelley scholarship. Moers interprets the novel as a "phantasmagoria of the nursery," an elaborate fantasy of birth trauma evoking a woman's deepest fears of conception and childbirth.6 One of the earliest critics to probe a text's gender identity, Moers reads Frankenstein as "distinctly a woman's mythmaking on the subject of birth precisely because its emphasis is not upon what precedes birth, not upon birth itself, but upon what follows birth: the trauma of the afterbirth" (81). Moers does not mention Otto Rank, but it is clear that she offers a female revision of The Trauma of Birth. Moers also brings in compelling biographical information on Mary Shelley's personal tragedies. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died as a consequence of giving birth to her, and Mary Shelley almost died herself in childbirth. With one exception, all of her children died either in infancy or in early {58} childhood. "Death and birth," Moers writes, "were thus as hideously intermixed in the life of Mary Shelley as in Frankenstein's 'workshop of filthy creation'" (84).

Other articles and books followed, with critics exploring in abundant detail the psychological complexity of Frankenstein. J. M. Hill argues in "Frankenstein and the Physiognomy of Desire" (1975) that Victor's "dominant incestuous root for Promethean sin seems to take hold in uncompromising psychic wishes for exclusive love, and in possession of the mother -- the source of first love."7 In articles appearing in the 1975 issue of Hartford Studies in Literature, Gerhard Joseph suggests that Victor's terror of incest is the veiled cause of his disintegration,8 while Gordon D. Hirsch concludes that the "monster is psychologically a lady, or perhaps one should say, a little girl."9 Mark A. Rubenstein (1976) discusses the primal scene imagery in Frankenstein, ingeniously showing how it "penetrates into the very structure of the novel and becomes part of a more deeply hidden search for the mother."10 Martin Trop's Mary Shelley's Monster (1976) and David Ketterer's Frankenstein's Creation: The Book, the Monster, and Human Reality (1979) offer additional psychological interpretations.11 The Endurance of Frankenstein (1979) contains several excellent essays, including U. C. Knoepflmacher's "Thoughts on the Aggression of Daughters," which demonstrates that Frankenstein is a novel of emotionally distant fathers and absent mothers.12 A psychiatrist argues in a 1982 essay that Mary Shelley conceived of herself as an "exception to the rules," an individual who sensed that she had suffered unjustly because of her mother's death.13 More recently, Mary Poovey fuses feminist and psychoanalytic criticism in The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer (1984),14 while William Veeder suggests in Mary Shelley & Frankenstein (1986) that the novel reflects the author's lifelong concern with the psychological ideal of androgyny and its opposite, bifurcation.15 The brief history of psychoanalytic criticism on Frankenstein thus reveals a movement from Oedipal to pre-Oedipal approaches.

Surprisingly, the narcissistic implications of the story have not yet been directly confronted.16 Mary Shelley subtitled Frankenstein the "Modern Prometheus," but she could have also referred to it as the "Modern Narcissus." Victor exhibits, in fact, all the characteristics of the narcissistic personality disorder as defined in DSM-III: a grandi- {59} ose sense of self-importance; preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success; exhibitionism; cool indifference or feelings of rage in response to criticism; and interpersonal disturbances, including exploitativeness, alternation between overidealization and devaluation, and lack of empathy. Moreover, Victor demonstrates the paradoxical nature of narcissism, where self-love exists with self-hate, and fragile self-esteem results in a sense of entitlement, the expectation of receiving special favors from others without assuming reciprocal responsibilities. In addition, Victor pursues fantasies of unlimited power and glory with a pleasureless, monomaniacal intensity. He experiences the profound depression often accompanying a narcissistic disorder: dejection, loss of interest in the external world, inability to love, and a lowering of self-esteem, culminating in an expectation of punishment. It is as if he has internalized a poisonous object, the Creature, who is now consuming his heart.

The supreme horror story of nineteenth-century English fiction, Frankenstein is, like Ovid's myth of Echo and Narcissus, a tragic love story leading to madness and despair. The parallels between the ancient myth and the Gothic novel are striking. No novel illustrates more graphically the destructive consequences of withheld love. "Treat a person ill and he will become wicked," Percy Bysshe Shelley observes in his Introduction to Frankenstein. "Requite affection with scorn; let one being be selected for whatever cause as the refuse of his kind -- divide him, a social being, from society, and you impose upon him the irresistible obligations -- malevolence and selfishness."17 Like Narcissus, Victor coldly spurns an individual who asks for love; like Echo, the Creature remains hopelessly devoted to a man who callously rejects him. Both Echo and the Creature make futile efforts to validate themselves through another's approval. Distance becomes problematic: the Creature can neither live with Victor nor live without him. Ovid's myth and Shelley's novel both reveal a pathological union of two individuals who sadomasochistically torment each other. Unrequited love culminates in shattered self-esteem, crippling dependency, and uncontrollable rage.

Frankenstein warns, furthermore, of the dangers of surface perception and solipsism. Both Narcissus and Victor are blinded by superficial impressions that are reflections of their own inner conflicts. Haunting and hunting each other, Victor and the Creature reveal not {60} only an absence of self-object boundaries, but an identity that has never come into independent existence. Functioning as a self-object, the Creature embodies Victor's narcissistic rage. Victor narcissistically invests himself in his offspring, the helpless Creature; but contrary to Freud's belief that parents idealize their children, Victor imposes a monstrous identity on the "demoniacal corpse." With fitting poetic justice, Victor finds himself punished by his shadowy double.

Victor Frankenstein is the first of several narcissistic characters who will occupy our attention, characters who rationalize their empathic failures and seek to escape the consequences of their actions. To understand Victor's narcissism, we must confront the most vexing issue in Frankenstein: his failure to understand and empathize with an innately benevolent individual. Victor's failure points to a major irony in Frankenstein: it is easier to discover the secret of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter than to unlock the mystery of human development. Before exploring Victor's wish to destroy life, however, I must consider the complex motives behind his wish to create life.

"The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine. Curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to me, are among the earliest sensations I can remember" (36). The highly charged erotic language suggests more than a simple infatuation with science. Victor is "deeply smitten with the thirst for knowledge," and he describes himself as "always having been embued with a fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature" (39). The language suggests a link between sexual and intellectual discovery. Viewed from the Freudian theory of sublimation, Victor's interest in the science of anatomy reflects his fascination with the structure of the human body, a wish to participate in the mysteries of sexuality and usurp the mother's role in the act of procreation. "In Frankenstein," George Levine observes, "we are confronted immediately by the displacement of God and woman from the acts of conception and birth."18

Victor's decision to create new life also seems related to his efforts to master fears of death. Is it merely accidental that his philosophical interest in regeneration immediately follows his mother's death? Despite his acceptance of maternal loss and rejection of the mourning process, Victor attempts to reverse the forces of time by resurrecting {61} the dead. He thus enacts a rescue fantasy, not unlike the service Robert Walton performs for him. "You rescued me from a strange and perilous situation; you have benevolently restored me to life" (26). Both Ellen Moers and U. C. Knoepflmacher speak eloquently about the fantasy of restitution in Frankenstein that would reconcile the apparently antagonistic aims of resurrecting a lost mother and regaining a father's undivided love.

These two important motives for scientific research, birth fantasy and restitution fantasy, help us to understand Victor's need to create new life, but they do not explain the narcissistic implications of his scientific work. Why, for example, does he create a larger-than-life figure who will invariably attract attention and inspire awe? Victor claims that "as the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature; that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionably large" (53-54). It is difficult to take this explanation seriously, however, and he remains fixated on the magnitude of his creation. Similarly, he demands egotistically that his offspring glorify him as the creator and pay him tribute. "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 theirs" (54). Victor wishes to give birth to gigantic and numerous offspring whom he can omnipotently control. Although he claims, earlier, that his quest for the elixir of life is prompted by the noble wish to "banish disease from the human frame, and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death" (40), narcissism, not humanitarianism, dictates the gigantic shape of his progeny.

For if Victor truly were motivated by humanitarianism or Prometheanism, as he claims, his rejection of the Creature would be inconceivable. We could not then reconcile Victor's view of himself as an intellectually curious scientist, free from superstition and fear, with the picture of a terrified and morally revolted individual who flees during the moment of his greatest success. Victor asserts that "during every hour of my infant life I received a lesson of patience, of charity, and of self-control" (34). Why, then, does he lose patience, charity, and self-control when he accomplishes what he has set out to do? He states that as a youth he never trembled at a tale of superstition, feared {62} the apparition of a spirit, or avoided the dark. Yet why does he repeatedly address the Creature as "daemon," assume that he is inherently malevolent, and consign him to eternal darkness? And why does Victor deliberately choose the Creature's ill-formed anatomical parts only to reject his handiwork on the grounds of physical deformity?

Victor offers several explanations for the rejection of the Creature, but they turn out to be rationalizations. He cites the changeable feelings of human nature to explain why, after nearly two years of labor to infuse new life into dead matter, the beauty of the dream suddenly vanishes. Victor would rather justify his own fickleness as an aspect of human nature than as a uniquely individual failure. His description of the awakening Creature evokes the image of a sadistic beast ready to devour its prey: "His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped, and rushed down stairs" (58). The Creature's narrative portrays the opposite image, that of a helpless and dependent baby, desperately seeking human contact. Victor agrees at first to the Creature's request for a female companion, but then, months later, inexplicably destroys the nearly completed figure, citing the fear that the two monsters might propagate a race of devils upon the earth. Surely a simple change of design in the female creature's anatomical parts would lay to rest Victor's reproductive nightmare.

If, as we sense, grandiosity is the secret motive behind Victor's creativity, then his horrified retreat from the Creature may lie in the psychic mechanism of projective identification, the projection of virulent aggression onto another figure, who is then perceived as a deadly persecutory double. Victor's paralyzed overidentification with the Creature and subsequent revulsion and dread suggest not only projective identification, but the other primitive defense mechanisms characteristic of pathological narcissism: splitting, denial, defensive idealization, omnipotence, and devaluation. As such, Victor's personality bears an uncanny resemblance to the case study material found in Otto Kernberg's psychiatric text, Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism. Consider this description, for example:

I describe patients with narcissistic personalities as presenting excessive self-absorption usually coinciding with a superficially smooth and effective social adaptation, but with serious distortions in their internal relationships with {63} other people. They present various combinations of intense ambitiousness, grandiose fantasies, feelings of inferiority, and overdependence on external admiration and acclaim. Along with feelings of boredom and emptiness, and continuous search for gratification of strivings for brilliance, wealth, power and beauty, there are serious deficiencies in their capacity to love and to be concerned about others.19
There are, admittedly, several potential dangers in applying a psychiatric diagnosis to a literary character. To begin with, we must be careful not to reduce art to illness or subordinate literature to psychiatry. There are key differences between a fictional and real character. A fictional character, Lillian Feder reminds us in Madness in Literature, is "rooted in a mythical or literary tradition in which distortion is a generally accepted mode of expression; furthermore, the inherent aesthetic order by which his existence is limited also gives his madness intrinsic value and meaning."20 Clinicians acknowledge that descriptive diagnosis is innately ambiguous, with no clear line existing, as Freud admitted, between normal and neurotic behavior. In addition, it is often more difficult to locate pathology in a fictional character than in a real person. The fictional character does not consent, after all, to lie on the therapist's couch and offer the free associations that are indispensable to analysis. Moreover, we will never know more about a fictional character than the text gives us.

Nevertheless, psychoanalytic theory can illuminate a literary character's conflicts and interpersonal relationships. In particular, a comparison of Victor Frankenstein to a narcissistic personality yields new and valuable insights into his disturbed inner world. From an object relations point of view, Victor's inner world -- the internalized objects that shape his pattern of interpersonal relationships -- is highly unstable. Good object relations involve "the capacity both to love well, and to hate well, and particularly to tolerate varying combinations of loving and hateful feelings" (Kernberg, 308). Victor's reliance upon splitting, the division of the world into "all good" and "all bad" objects, betrays the inability to acknowledge ambivalence, or to integrate the good and bad self into a single totality. Two of the most common defenses of narcissism, omnipotence and devaluation, reflect Victor's overinvolvement and subsequent underinvolvement with the creation of new life. These two defenses, Kernberg writes, represent the patient's "identification with an 'all good' object, idealized and {64} powerful as a protection against bad 'persecutory' objects" (33). Devaluation of external objects inevitably accompanies omnipotence. "If an external object can provide no further gratification or protection, it is dropped and dismissed because there was no real capacity for love of this object in the first place" (33). Victor experiences the Creature either as a remote, distant object or as a persecutory self. He never sees his offspring as a related other who remains, paradoxically, both inside and outside the self.

Victor also demonstrates the all-or-nothing behavior common to narcissism. He repudiates violently the ideas and ideals that no longer interest him. His brief infatuation with science is a good example. His delight in a volume of Cornelius Agrippa prompts his father to look carelessly at the book's title page and exclaim: "Ah! Cornelius Agrippa! My dear Victor, do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash" (39). Victor rebels against his father's harsh judgment but internalizes his dismissive attitude. The same dismissiveness is echoed later in Victor's professor of natural philosophy, M. Krempe, who derides the ancient masters: "'Have you,' he said, 'really spent your time in studying such nonsense?'" (45). Not only does Victor dethrone the "lords of his imagination" -- Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, Paracelsus -- but he later regards their work as contemptible. "By one of those caprices of the mind, which we are perhaps most subject to in early youth, I at once gave up my former occupations; set down natural history and all its progeny as a deformed and abortive creation; and entertained the greatest disdain for a would-be science, which could never even step within the threshold of real knowledge" (41). Victor similarly sees the Creature as "sad trash," a "deformed and abortive creation."

Victor's reliance upon defensive idealization represents one of the most conspicuous narcissistic features of his narration. He repeatedly makes statements affirming the happiness and tranquility of his earlier life, as when he says: "No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself!" (37). Indeed, a major problem in reconciling Victor's idyllic childhood and tragic adulthood is the radical discontinuity between past and present. How could a loving son enjoy an unconflicted relationship with his parents and then become a monstrous father? "What went wrong?" Christopher Small asks in Ariel Like a Harpy (1972) and then proceeds to accept at face value Victor's {65} assertions of an untroubled past. "Frankenstein has suffered no deprivation, on the contrary he has been doted on, and his upbringing by parents equally loving and judicious, in an atmosphere uniformly high-minded, approaches the Rousseau-Godwin ideal. He certainly cannot say that he is wicked because he has been ill-treated: nor does he."21 Small is deceived, however, by Victor's repeated denials. Quite simply, Victor protests too much. His celebration of childhood suggests not merely the repression of normal anxieties and conflicts but a massive falsification of reality.

Otto Kernberg has written extensively on defensive idealization and describes how, in the early stages of analysis, the narcissistic patient develops fantasies that his analyst is perfect, God-like, devoted exclusively to fulfilling the patient's every need. The patient's idealization of the analyst soon shifts to intense devaluation, symptomatic of the grandiose self's rejection of imperfection. The devaluation is neither healthy nor realistic, since it does not allow the patient to see the analyst as a fellow human being, with both strengths and weaknesses. The devaluation represents a symbolic destruction of both the analyst and the potentially therapeutic possibilities of analysis. Devaluation confirms the patient's deepest fear that others cannot be trusted or loved. Defensive idealization, Kernberg argues, "reveals defensive functions against the emergence of direct oral rage and envy, against paranoid fears related to projection of sadistic trends on the analyst (representing a primitive, hated, and sadistically perceived mother image), and against basic feelings of terrifying loneliness, hunger for love, and guilt over the aggression directed against the frustrating parental images" (280-281).

Victor sentimentalizes his childhood in order to deny past disappointments. The story he conceals is more significant than the one he reveals. His rejection of his intellectual mentors -- the "lords of my imagination" -- precedes his repudiation of the Creature and repeats, transferentially, the dislocation of his privileged position in the family. The first-born child, Victor claims that he was his parents' "plaything and their idol, and something better -- their child, the innocent and helpless creature bestowed on them by Heaven" (33). The Creature also appears, at first, innocent and helpless -- and the "first-born child" of his creator. Both characters mythologize an idyllic past, deriving what Victor calls "exquisite pleasure in dwelling on the recollections {66} of childhood, before misfortune had tainted my mind" (38). Victor would have us believe that he experiences no sibling rivalry when his mother unexpectedly brings home Elizabeth Lavenza, an Italian foundling. A similar situation arises in Wuthering Heights when Mr. Earnshaw returns from London with a curious, dark-skinned waif. Hindley and Catherine immediately welcome Heathcliff with hisses and imprecations -- Catherine even spits at him. Victor, by contrast, promises dutifully to accept Elizabeth and to "protect, love, and cherish" her (36). She quickly becomes the center of attention in the family, displacing Victor.

When Victor is seventeen, Elizabeth falls ill with scarlet fever, and Mme. Frankenstein nurses her back to health, sacrificing her own life in the process. During Elizabeth's illness, "many arguments had been urged to persuade my mother to refrain from attending upon her. She had, at first, yielded to our entreaties; but when she heard that the life of her favourite was menaced, she could no longer control her anxiety" (42). Nor can Victor control his own anxiety -- his sarcastic anger over the recognition that his mother favored Elizabeth above everyone else. Victor does not tell us about the specific arguments his family used to dissuade Mme. Frankenstein from attending to Elizabeth, but presumably they involved the mother's obligations to the rest of the family. We may assume from what Victor says that he was prepared to accept the necessity of Elizabeth's death to save the mother's life. Mme. Frankenstein's "watchful attentions triumphed over the malignity of the distemper," Victor tells us. "Elizabeth was saved, but the consequences of this imprudence were fatal to her preserver" (42). We can thus detect Victor's anger over his mother's "imprudence," which forever destroyed the family's intactness. His anger spills over to Elizabeth, the adopted child who is indirectly responsible for his mother's death. Victor cannot express this anger directly, however, especially since Mme. Frankenstein's last wish was for him and Elizabeth to marry one day. Such a last wish reveals an overcontrolling mother, narcissistically invested in her children's lives.

The birth of William, the youngest brother, further displaces Victor's position in the family. There is no description of overt sibling rivalry, but M. Frankenstein's letter, announcing the news of William's murder, is filled with thinly veiled criticism of his distant son. "And how, Victor, can I relate our misfortune? Absence cannot have {67} rendered you callous to our joys and griefs; and how shall I inflict pain on my long absent son?" (71). M. Frankenstein scolds Victor for his untimely absence, hints ominously that his son has become insensitive, and confers sainthood on the murdered William. "William is dead! -- that sweet child, whose smiles delighted and warmed my heart, who was so gentle, yet so gay!" (71). The father thus plays off William, the good son, against Victor, the bad son. "How shall I inflict pain on my long absent son?" conceals a disguised threat that is probably not lost on the former "idol" of his parents. The father even signs the letter with his full name, heightening the cold formality of the communication. Family and friends eulogize the martyred William with imagery befitting an angel. "Poor William!" laments Ernest, the middle brother, "he was our darling and our pride" (78); "Poor William!" exclaims Henry Clerval, "dear lovely child, he now sleeps with his angel mother" (73); "William, dear angel!" intones Victor, "this is thy funeral, this thy dirge!" (76).

When we actually see William, however, he hardly justifies the lavish praise bestowed upon him. The child seems thoroughly spoiled and obnoxious, almost deserving his fate. The epithets he hurls at the Creature -- "monster," "ugly wretch," "ogre," "hideous monster" -- are forms of discrimination, like racial prejudice, that a child generally learns from his or her family. Significantly, these are the same hateful words that Victor uses to describe the Creature. Thus, for the second time, we see a family that repudiates otherness, that either overloves (as in the case of the mother's willingness to die for Elizabeth) or underloves (strangers).

Consequently, William's sadistic treatment of the Creature calls into question the family's sentimentalized descriptions of the slain boy, underscoring the problem of narrative reliability. Apart from the Creature, who alone knows the truth of William's capacity for monstrous judgments, the other characters in Frankenstein collude in a defensive idealization of him. Had William been as innocent as the others claim, he would have either remained paralyzed with fright at the fearful-looking stranger or attempted to run home. Of course, if William were truly gentle, he would have befriended the helpless Creature. Instead, William makes a fatal error, invoking in the Creature's presence the power of a stern, wrathful father. "Hideous monster! let me go. My papa is a Syndic -- he is M. Frankenstein -- he will {68} punish you" (142). Discovering William's relationship to the hated creator, the Creature executes his first act of revenge.

William's death, consequently, unmasks Victor's murderous feelings, his revenge on a family that metes out swift punishment to "hideous monsters," be they deformed creatures or long-absent sons. William is not the real object of the Creature's (hence, Victor's) rage, but only a symbol of deeper disappointments. These disappointments lead inevitably to Victor's troubled childhood, particularly to a mother whose premature death is perceived as an act of abandonment and to a father whose emotional coldness is reproduced, with a vengeance, in his unempathic son. These disappointments, moreover, lead to Mary Shelley's own troubled childhood, particularly her anger toward the two "Williams" in her life, her father and her half-brother.22

Indeed, Victor seems to have inherited from his father an inability to express deep feeling or acknowledge loss. Victor's stony heart later prevents him from empathizing with the Creature's feelings. Victor's reaction to his mother's unexpected death illustrates his failure to mourn. Telling us that his mother "died calmly" (which may represent wishful thinking), Victor resolves stoically not to succumb to excessive emotion.23 "The time at length arrives, when grief is rather an indulgence than a necessity; and the smile that plays upon the lips, although it may be deemed a sacrilege, is not banished" (43). Victor's sacrilegious smile, we suspect, reveals his secret hatred of his mother for dying -- and for playing favorites. Victor is simply too angry to mourn his mother's death, just as he is later too angry to mourn the Creature's deformed birth. In denying himself the opportunity to mourn, Victor cannot work through the normal emotions associated with maternal loss: confusion, anger, and despair. To this extent, Victor's "rationalism" echoes his father's mistrust of emotion. We do not learn about M. Frankenstein's reaction to his wife's death, but we hear him reproach Victor for feeling depressed over William's death. "'Do you think, Victor,' said he, 'that I do not suffer also? No one could love a child more than I loved your brother'; (tears came into his eyes as he spoke;) but is it not a duty to the survivors, that we should refrain from augmenting their unhappiness by an appearance of immoderate grief?'" (90-91). M. Frankenstein's language is revealing: he removes himself and Victor from the class of survivors, implying that neither man should grieve over William's death. Al- {69} though his tears make him seem more human, M. Frankenstein is better at reproaching than consoling Victor. Both father and son avoid talking about the dead subject. Significantly, Victor rejects immoderate grief but not immoderate rage.

Unable to work through his grief and guilt, Victor falls ill to a mysterious "nervous fever" and is confined for several months. The illness, which immediately follows the Creature's birth, is a kind of postpartum -- and postartem -- depression. "The form of the monster on whom I had bestowed existence was for ever before my eyes, and I raved incessantly concerning him" (62). Like other forms of psychological illness, Victor's nervous breakdown has secondary advantages, allowing him to avoid confronting the consequences of a disabling subject -- a Creature who is, like himself, helpless, dependent, and demanding. The illness represents Victor's conscious repudiation of the Creature, on the one hand, and unconscious identification with him, on the other. The breakdown enables Victor to regress and become a child again, wholly dependent on the ministrations of his devoted friend, Henry Clerval. "But I was in reality very ill; and surely nothing but the unbounded and unremitting attentions of my friend could have restored me to life" (62). Clerval functions as both nurse and mother, supplying Victor with the love and empathy Victor himself cannot offer to the Creature. Clerval becomes a fantasy mother, nonjudgmental and infinitely empathic, and his devoted care temporarily restores Victor to life.

Unlike Victor, the Creature has no devoted friend to care for him. Nor does he have a loving family, however distant, to maintain the illusion of support. (The De Laceys function as a family, but they quickly turn against him in horror.) The Creature's narcissistic injuries are apparent in his shattered self-esteem, massive rage, and blurred self-object boundaries. Victor's relationship to the Creature dramatizes the theme of defective parenting, as critics have realized. "The story of the monster's beginnings is the story of a child," M. K. Joseph observes.24 Moreover, throughout Mary Shelley's fiction there are, Elizabeth Nitchie points out, "many orphans and half-orphans among her heroes and heroines."25 The Creature's story reveals the futile search for loving parent surrogates to replace the "real" parents who have failed him. The Creature experiences the worst narcissistic injury imaginable: the recognition that his sole parent tried to abort {70} him and, failing that, cruelly abandoned him. Victor's rejection defines the Creature's identity, and as the Creature reads Victor's journal, he is appalled by his "accursed origin." "'Hateful day when I received life!' I exclaimed in agony. 'Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust?'" (130).

Mary Shelley's depiction of aggression in Frankenstein is a text-book example of narcissistic rage, and Kohut's description applies to both Victor and the Creature:

Narcissistic rage occurs in many forms; they all share, however, a specific psychological flavor which gives them a distinct position within the wide realm of human aggressions. The need for revenge, for righting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means, and a deeply anchored, unrelenting compulsion in the pursuit of all these aims which gives no rest to those who have suffered a narcissistic injury -- these are features which are characteristic for the phenomenon of narcissistic rage in all its forms and which set it apart from other kinds of aggression.26
Underlying narcissistic rage, both Kohut and Kernberg agree, is the struggle to maintain the perfection of the grandiose self, which has come into existence as a defense against rejection. The grandiose self demands absolute control and perfection, devaluing those individuals unable to fulfill its demands. Unlike healthy or reactive aggression, which can be successfully discharged, narcissistic rage feeds off itself, with revenge becoming an end in itself. "Narcissistic rage enslaves the ego," Kohut writes, "and allows it to function only as its tool and rationalizer" (387). The Creature's twin sides -- the gentle, benevolent figure and the violent, malevolent monster -- embody the radical split between the good and bad self.

The actual moment of the Creature's self-alienation occurs when he gazes down at a transparent pool of water and, like Narcissus, is paralyzed by his reflection. "At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror; and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification" (114). Mirrors are dangerous to narcissists, reminding them of their tenuous identity and imperfection. In a twist on Lacanian theory, the Creature experiences no jubilation during the stade du miroir scene, no merging with an idealized image. The mirror affects Narcis- {71} sus and the Creature differently, awakening the former's self-love and the latter's self-hate. Unlike Narcissus' death, which is poetic justice for a life of self-preoccupation, the Creature's fate is undeserved. Innately benevolent, the Creature is born with a finely developed sensibility. He is struck by the gentle manners of the De Laceys, moved by their poverty. He is also attentive to their moods. "When they were unhappy, I felt depressed; when they rejoiced, I sympathised in their joys" (112).

Although the Creature's exquisite empathy is improbable, psychologically speaking, the novel's optimistic developmental theory reflects Mary Shelley's acceptance of the prevailing Romantic belief in innate human goodness propounded by Rousseau and Godwin. Erik Erikson's "basic trust," with which the Creature is generously endowed, develops not in a vacuum but as a result of loving, empathic parents, attentive to the child's needs. Denied from "birth" the maternal mirroring necessary for healthy development, the Creature exhibits an empathic responsiveness that remains one of the mysteries of his character.

The story of the De Laceys reenacts the Creature's personal childhood myth of Paradise Lost. His idealized portrait of the De Laceys is pure fantasy, like Victor's distorted memory of his own family life. The two recreations are, in effect, the same story, products of a narcissistically injured child's defensive idealization. In both stories there is an absent mother, a father unable to keep the family together, and a son who falls in love with an orphaned female. (Felix's relationship to Safie repeats Victor's relationship to Elizabeth.) Parent-child hostility and sibling rivalry may be glimpsed, but only beneath the narrative's surface calm.

Throughout Frankenstein hovers the idealized father, whose function is to preserve the illusion of a perfect, omnipotent creator. De Lacey remains a phantom father, a mirage existing beyond the Creature's anguished reach. Unable to win the good father's love, Victor and the Creature keep alive the bad father by "nurturing" narcissistic rage. Revenge fills the void created by parental absence. Victor realizes that revenge is the "devouring and only passion of my soul" (200); "revenge alone endowed me with strength and composure" (201). Although narcissistic rage seems preferable to emotional deficit, it ultimately becomes self-depleting.

{72} Victor and the Creature are essentially indistinguishable in their psychology, but we respond to them differently. Victor is the more narcissistic of the two, and the more solipsistic. He is self-justifying, always seeking to thwart our identification with the Creature. The Creature, by contrast, readily confesses to his repugnant crimes. By refusing to minimize these acts, he accepts full responsibility for them. We condemn the Creature's acts but not the Creature himself. Unlike Victor, who would obliterate the Creature's point of view, the Creature does not seek to destroy his other self. Victor urges us to dispose heartlessly of all monsters, to abort the ill formed; the Creature compels us, by contrast, to empathize with those who, through no fault of their own, are bereft of protectors and friends. The possibility exists, of course, that the Creature is playing upon our sympathy, seducing us by his eloquence. This is what Victor warns Robert Walton at the end. "He is eloquent and persuasive; and once his words had even power over my heart; but trust him not. His soul is as hellish as his form, full of treachery and fiendlike malice" (209). Nevertheless, we can empathize with the Creature without condoning his crimes, and he expands our understanding of all creatures great and small.

Victor's failure as a narrator parallels his failure as a scientist. In both activities, he authors defective texts. He precedes his narration by admonishing Robert Walton to "deduce an apt moral from my tale" (30). Victor frequently interrupts his narration, however, to prevent Walton from deducing anything other than a prescribed meaning. "Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow" (53). The phrasing of the sentence is revealing. Even as Victor attempts to repudiate his ambitions, he idealizes those who, like himself, aspire to become greater than their nature will allow, and devalues those who narrow-mindedly believe their native town to be the world. When he does acknowledge guilt, he refuses to locate the true meaning of his crime. Thus, Victor sees himself as a failed Promethean rather than as a pathological narcissist. By interpreting his defeat in terms of the acquisition of forbidden knowledge, instead of {73} empathic failure, Victor heroicizes his story. His last words to Walton indicate the belief that his ambition has been noble and blameless. "Farewell, Walton! Seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries" (217-18). Like T. S. Eliot's Gerontion, Victor has the experience but misses the meaning.

Indeed, Victor's narcissism is more pronounced at the end of the story, when he is presumably penitent, than in the beginning. Viewing Robert Walton as a younger version of himself, the dying Victor exhorts the captain and his crew to undertake a "glorious expedition" to slay the hated Creature (214). Like his mother, but only to a greater extent, Victor attempts to influence the living even after death. He is as careless with Walton's life as he has been with the Creature's. In a speech charged with emotion, Victor exclaims: "You were hereafter to be hailed as the benefactors of your species; your names adored, as belonging to brave men who encountered death for honour, and the benefit of mankind" (214). Ironically, Victor calls Walton and his crew the "benefactors of your species." Earlier Victor has invoked the same argument to justify his experimentation with lifeless matter. "A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me" (54). The Creature was made to show Victor's parents how an offspring ought to be conceived and framed, how, ideally, offspring should be treated; but Victor's motivation is inherently grandiose, causing him to abandon the Creature at birth. Victor's allegiance has been, from the beginning, not to the creation but the destruction of life. Notwithstanding his admonition to Walton to avoid ambition, Victor megalomaniacally believes that he alone can save humankind from monstrous evil.

Victor finds the right audience in Robert Walton, his younger counterpart. Like Victor, Walton has a strained relationship with his father: "my father's dying injunction had forbidden my uncle to allow me to embark in a seafaring life" (17). He is also prone to depression, which, as in Victor's case, spurs him to Promethean activities. (Their Prometheanism seems to be the manic phrase of depression.) Like Victor, Walton hungers for a friend who will fill the terrible void in his life. Walton's objectivity is impaired by his idealization of Victor, whom he sees as "noble," "gentle," and "wise" (27). Walton's rela- {74} tionship to Victor anticipates Marlow's pursuit of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, both captains irresistibly drawn to brilliant alter egos whom they see as dying stars.

Unlike Marlow, who becomes ambivalent toward the "nightmare of my choice," Walton reaches no comparable insights. Marlow realizes Kurtz's "exalted and incredible degradation," while Walton remains blind to Victor's similarly oxymoronic identity. Walton's purpose in voyaging to the North Pole, we gradually realize, has been to find a man to whom he can devote his life and receive, in turn, the love and validation necessary for his self-esteem. Walton's driving force seems to originate from the same hunger that underlies Victor's scientific ambitions. William Walling has commented on the paradoxical split within Walton that radiates from his ambition: he wants to benefit humanity and, at the same time, achieve an eminence that will separate him from the human community.27 Fortunately, Walton's egotism is not as dangerous as Victor's, and he reluctantly heeds the crew's demands to return home. Ironically, Walton finds himself in the Creature's situation, bereft of the support of the one person who can validate his life.

Walton and the Creature confront each other in the last scene in Frankenstein, each regarding himself as the true offspring of Victor, who now lies dead. The rivalry between them is intense, with Walton the good son, the Creature the bad son. Torn between Victor's dying request to slay the fearful Creature, on the one hand, and the promptings of his own curiosity and compassion, on the other, Walton allows his rival to speak, though not without branding him a "hypocritical fiend!" (220). Walton's language faithfully echoes Victor's undying enmity, which cannot equal the Creature's self-hate. Committing himself wholly to Victor's version of reality, Walton continues the creator's deformation of his work. The Creature's eloquence renders Walton speechless, however, and the last five pages of the novel contain the Creature's almost uninterrupted narration. As Frankenstein closes, the Creature refers to the funeral pyre that will consume the ashes of his "miserable frame." Even in his dying moments he cannot rid himself of a deformed self-image. The closing of the novel -- the Creature's wrenching farewell and Walton's awed description of the figure being "borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness {75} and distance" (223) -- constitutes one of the most moving endings in fiction.

There is only one character in Frankenstein who might not be appalled at the Creature's appearance -- and who would not, therefore, echo Victor's monstrous rejection of him. A minor character, admittedly, M. Waldman has been ignored by commentators. A benevolent chemistry professor, he stimulates Victor's imagination and stirs his soul. Whereas Victor's other professor, M. Krempe, dismisses the achievements of the old philosophers, Waldman wisely evaluates them in the proper context. "The labours of men of genius, however erroneously directed, scarcely ever fail in ultimately turning to the solid advantage of mankind" (49). Waldman offers a valuable perspective on the nature of creativity. He views intellectual progress as arising, not from one generation of scientists repudiating the findings of the preceding generation, but from the painstaking accumulation of knowledge. He thus offers a theory of creativity based not on the anxiety of influence, but on a careful synthesis of knowledge: he is committed to the ego, not the id or superego. He also urges a broad course of studies, including every branch of natural philosophy. Waldman alone is the truly Promethean figure in Frankenstein, a scientist and humanist who remains devoted to ideals.

Equally important, unlike the vain and mean-spirited Krempe, Waldman has transcended egotism. He is an idealized figure, to be sure, but he represents the healthy idealism necessary for all genuine creativity. He affirms not only scientific progress but, more importantly, evolutionary development. He invites Victor to identify with him, to be his "disciple" -- but without imposing any demands on the student other than a commitment to the pursuit of truth. Waldman's temperament is conciliatory, good natured, reasonable. It is Victor's misfortune that he never confides in this Kohutian figure. Waldman alone would accept, we sense, what Victor and the others condemn as monstrous deformity. Observe again Waldman's statement: "The labours of men of genius, however erroneously directed, scarcely ever fail in ultimately turning to the solid advantage of mankind." Do we not hear in these words an affirmation of the strivings of humankind, a tolerance for inevitable error and imperfection, a recognition that all labor -- scientific, artistic, procreative -- is potentially valuable? Wald- {76} man is an inspiring scientist and a wise analyst, and his statement uncannily anticipates Kohut's affirmation of humanistic growth, particularly the realization that "Freud's writings are not a kind of Bible but great works belonging to a particular moment in the history of science -- great not because of their unchanging relevance but, on the contrary, because they contain the seeds of endless possibilities for further growth."28 In remaining committed to an ideal larger than the self, Waldman escapes the paralyzing narcissism and solipsism to which Victor succumbs.

So, too, does Mary Shelley avoid Victor Frankenstein's deadly self-preoccupation. It is appropriate to recall here the origins of Frankenstein and the novelist's feelings toward her creation. In the 1831 introduction to Frankenstein, she vividly recalls how the story first seized hold of her imagination. One night, following lively philosophical conversations with her husband and Byron, she found herself unable to sleep. A series of images suddenly arose in her mind. "I saw -- with shut eyes, but acute mental vision, -- I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together" (9). In a paragraph filled with extraordinary imagery, she identifies with Victor's hope that, left to itself, "the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade; that this thing, which had received such imperfect animation, would subside into dead matter" (9). Like Victor, she is appalled by the "hideous corpse" terrifying both scientist and artist. She seems to assume, along with Victor, that the Creature's physical appearance reflects moral deformity. She certainly gives the impression that she endorses Victor's efforts to abort the creature.

And yet, unlike the fictional scientist, the novelist does not attempt to destroy or disown the product of her imaginative labors. Quite the opposite: she is entirely devoted to the Creature, despite its "imperfect animation." She goes on to describe the excitement when she realized that her "hideous phantom" would make a wonderful ghost story. Her remarks indicate that the "spectre" -- both the Frankenstein Creature and the novel Frankenstein -- is no longer an enemy but an ally capable of delighting as well as terrifying readers. As the introduction closes, she bids her "hideous progeny go forth and prosper." "I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words, which found no true echo in my heart" 10). Artistic creativity, she implies, is a magical defense {77} against the fear of death. The hideous progeny has won its Creator's blessing and, like any labor of love, filled her heart with joy that can withstand the severest ordeal.

Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein both may be viewed as Promethean, but they are not equally narcissistic. Shelley's hideous progeny is not only the Creature, but the novel, to which she lovingly gives birth. There is an analogy, David Ketterer notes, between the birth of the novel and Frankenstein's creation. "The process of literary creation is presented in the Introduction as exactly parallel to the initial phases of the monster's apprehension of his existence."29 Whatever her feelings about the "effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world" (9), she conceives and nurtures a literary work that has, in its own way, engendered countless offspring. In a Winnicottian sense, the affection she lavishes on her fictional characters affirms her good enough mothering and authoring. Despite its minor aesthetic "deformities" -- improbable plotting, superficial development of minor characters, and a tendency toward melodrama -- Frankenstein remains an admirable novel, fulfilling Victor's dream of "pour[ing] a torrent of light into our dark world" (54).


1. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus (1831), M. K. Joseph, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969; repr. 1984), 9. All references are to this edition.

2. For a selected chronology of Frankenstein films, see Martin Trop, Mary Shelley's Monster (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976), 169-74.

3. Otto Rank, The Double (1914), Harry Tucker, Jr., trans. and ed. (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1971; repr. New York: New American Library, 1979).

4. Morton Kaplan and Robert Kloss, The Unspoken Motive (New York: Free Press, 1973). A complete listing of all the books and essays exploring the theme of the double in Frankenstein would have to include virtually everything published on the novel in the last fifteen years. A book not often cited by Shelley critics is Masao Miyoshi's The Divided Self (New York: New York University Press, 1969). Miyoshi points out the essential oneness of Victor and the Monster (84).

5. In the original 1818 edition of Frankenstein, Elizabeth is described as Victor's cousin, while in the 1831 revision she is described as an Italian foundling adopted by the Frankensteins. For a detailed examination of the differences between the two manuscripts, see Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus: The 1818 Text, James Rieger, ed. (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1974; repr. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982).

6. Ellen Moers, "Female Gothic," repr. in George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher, eds., The Endurance of Frankenstein (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979; repr. 1982), 87. All references are to the 1982 edition. For a discussion of the way in which maternity often provokes mental breakdown, see Marilyn Yalom, Maternity, Mortality, and the Literature of Madness (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1985). Although Yalom does not discuss Mary Shelley, Frankenstein illustrates the thesis that many women experience childbirth as a form of torture, "a unique encounter with existential aloneness, akin to mental breakdown and dying" (7).

7. J. M. Hill, "Frankenstein and the Physiognomy of Desire," American Imago 32, 4 (1975): 335.

8. Gerhard Joseph, "Frankenstein's Dream: The Child as Father of the Monster," Hartford Studies in Literature, 7,2 (1975): 97-115.

9. Gordon D. Hirsch, "The Monster Was a Lady: On the Psychology of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," Hartford Studies in Literature, 7, 2 (1975): 135.

10. Marc A. Rubenstein, "'My Accursed Origin': The Search for the Mother in Frankenstein," Studies in Romanticism, 15,2 (976): 165.

11. Trop, Mary Shelley's Monster; David Ketterer, Frankenstein's Creation: The Book, The Monster, and Human Reality (Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria, 1979).

12. U. C. Knoepflmacher, "Thoughts on the Aggression of Daughters," in Levine and Knoepflmacher, eds., The Endurance of Frankenstein.

13. Wayne A. Myers, "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: Creativity and the Psychology of the Exception," in Robert Langs, ed., International Journal of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy (New York: Jason Aronson, 1982-1983), vol. 9.

14. Mary Poovey, The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).

15. William Veeder, Mary Shelley & Frankenstein (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986).

16. Trop observes in Mary Shelley's Monster: "Frankenstein could almost be labeled a narcissistic schizophrenic, or what Freud called a paraphrenic: 'They suffer from megalomania and have withdrawn their interest from the external world (people and things.)' The paraphrenic is also preoccupied with 'the lost narcissism of his childhood -- the time when he was his own ideal!'" (48). Despite the awkwardness in terminology -- "narcissistic schizophrenic" conflates two quite different psychiatric classifications -- Trop accurately describes crucial elements of Victor Frankenstein's personality. In "Frankenstein and Other Monsters: An Examination of the Concepts of Destructive Narcissism, and Perverse Relationships Between Parts of the Self as Seen in the Gothic Novel," International Review of Psycho-Analysis 12 (1985):101-8, Stanley Gold views the Creature as the split-off narcissistic aspect of the self. Despite the lengthy title of the essay, Gold devotes only a few paragraphs to an analysis of Frankenstein.

17. Quoted by William A. Walling, Mary Shelley (New York: Twayne, 1972), 49. It is interesting to note that despite Percy Bysshe Shelley's insightful comment on Frankenstein, several critics have suggested that the fictional Victor mirrors Mary Shelley's ambivalent feelings toward her husband. Christopher Small observes that "Frankenstein himself is clearly and to some extent must intentionally have been a portrayal of Shelley, and Shelley can scarcely have been unaware of it, if only on account of his name. Frankenstein's first name is Victor, the same (presumably in earnest of a life of mental fight and spiritual conquest) that Shelley took for himself on a number of occasions in boyhood and later" (Ariel Like a Harpy [London: Victor Gollancz, 1972], 101). George Levine makes a similar point, arguing that Frankenstein "dramatizes, whatever its intentions, the deadliness of Shelley, her husband's, idealizing and rebellion" (The Realistic Imagination [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981], 26.) In Shelley & Zastrozzi (London: Gregg/Archive, 1965), Eustace Chesser suggests that "Shelley was narcissistic, to such a degree that it was a barrier to the formation of other relationships" (25).

18. George Levine, "The Ambiguous Heritage of Frankenstein," in Levine and Knoepflmacher, eds. The Endurance of Frankenstein, 8.

19. Otto Kernberg, Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism (New York: Jason Aronson, 1975), 264. All references are to this edition.

20. Lillian Feder, Madness in Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), 9. For an extended discussion of the similarities and differences between fictional and psychiatric accounts of mental illness, see Jeffrey Berman, The Talking Cure: Literary Representations of Psychoanalysis (New York: New York University Press, 1985).

21. Small, Ariel Like a Harpy, 65-66.

22. Biographers and critics long have been fascinated by Mary Shelley's decision to name the murdered boy in Frankenstein William when, at the same time, her own baby had the same name. "It is almost inconceivable," an early biographer wrote in dismay, "that Mary could allow herself to introduce a baby boy into her book; deliberately call him William, describe him in terms identical with those in which she portrays her own child in one of her letters -- and then let Frankenstein's monster waylay this innocent in a woodland dell and murder him by strangling" (Richard Church, Mary Shelley [London: Gerald Howe, 1928], 54-55). To make matters worse, the real William died shortly after Frankenstein was completed, a chilling example, or so it may have seemed, of life imitating art. David Ketterer calls the decision to name the fictional child William an "act of prescient masochism" (Frankenstein's Creation, 42.) Mary Shelley's father, to whom she dedicated Frankenstein, and her half-brother were also named William, suggesting the depth of her ambivalence toward the name. As Knoepflmacher notes in "Thoughts on the Aggression of Daughters," "The destruction of little William can obviously be related to Mary Shelley's own muted hostility toward her younger half-brother: unlike herself, the younger William Godwin possessed a mother and, as a male, had received his father's identity and approbation. Simultaneously, however, the Monster's murder of the little boy must also be recognized as a self-mutilation which the novel as a whole tries to resist and conquer" (103).

23. In dying in order to save Elizabeth, Mme. Frankenstein seems to be reenacting the situation of Mary Wollstonecraft, whose death made possible her daughter Mary's life. The "calm death" Mary Shelley ascribes to Mme. Frankenstein may well represent the novelist's efforts to assuage her mother's suffering and mitigate the daughter's complicity in the death.

24. M. K. Joseph, "Introduction" to Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, x.

25. Elizabeth Nitchie, Mary Shelley (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953),96.

26. Heinz Kohut, "Thoughts on Narcissism and Narcissistic Rage," The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 27 (1972): 380. All references are to this edition.

27. Walling, Mary Shelley, 36.

28. Heinz Kohut, "Reflections," in Arnold Goldberg, ed., Advances in Self Psychology (New York: International Universities Press, 1980), 516.

29. Ketterer, Frankenstein's Creation, 11.