Contents Index

Thoughts on the Aggression of Daughters

U. C. Knoepflmacher

In The Endurance of "Frankenstein": Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel, ed. George Levine and U. C. Knoefplmacher (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: Univ. of California Press, 1979), pp. 88-119.

Parental affection, indeed, in many minds, is but a pretext to tyrannize where it can be done with impunity.

-- Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

I will keep a good look out -- William is all alive -- and my appearance no longer doubtful -- you, I daresay, will perceive the difference. What a fine thing it is to be a man!

-- Mary Wollstonecraft to William Godwin, 10 June 1797

There never can be perfect equality between father and child . . . the ordinary resource is for him to proclaim his wishes and commands in a way sometimes sententious and authoritative and occasionally to utter his censures with seriousness and emphasis . . . I am not, therefore, a perfect judge of Mary's character . . . . [She] shows a great need to be roused.
-- William Godwin to William Baxter, 8 June 1812
I learned from your papers that you were my father, my creator; and to whom could I apply with more fitness than to him who had given me life?
-- Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)
{88} On the first page of Frankenstein, beneath the title and subtitle, appears a three-line quotation from Paradise Lost, X.743-45: "Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay / To mould me Man, did I solicit thee / From darknesss to promote me?" The following page {89} contains an inscription that seems far more tame and submissive: "To WILLIAM GODWIN / Author of Political Justice, Caleb Williams, &c. / These Volumes / Are respectfully inscribed / By / The Author."

The bitterness of Milton's Adam is intensified in Frankenstein by the companionless Monster: "I remembered Adam's supplication to his Creator; but where was mine? he had abandoned me, and, in the bitterness of my heart, I cursed him."1 Though recognizing "Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition," the Monster also seems to remember Adam's fit of rebellion in Book Ten of Paradise Lost when it sarcastically reproaches its own indifferent maker: "Oh truly, I am grateful to thee my Creator for the gift of life, which was but pain" (p. 115). In the speech from which Mary Shelley takes her novel's epigraph, Adam revolts against that same Spirit of Creation earlier described "brooding on the vast Abyss" and making "it pregnant" (I.20-22). When Adam considers that he can only increase and multiply his own progeny's "curses," Eve invites him to abjure creation, to remain the first and last Man. In Mary Shelley's revenge story, the Adamic Monster who has turned into a Satan forces its neglectful father-creator to experience its own desolation; in Milton's paternal universe, however, the rebellious child Adam must be forced to accept his own role as parent, even if parenthood does convert him into a death-bringer, the father of Cain and Abel. Adam's revolt is short-lived. To deny God's design would be tantamount to submission to a far more terrifying "Universe of death" and to a banishment into the Satanic abode of "many a frozen Alp" -- so like the ice-scapes into which the Monster lures its creator -- a region where "all life dies, death lives, and Nature breeds / Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things / Abominable, inutterable, and worse, / Than Fables yet have feign'd, or fear conceiv'd, / Gorgons or Hydras, and Chimeras dire" (II.622,624-28).

If the three lines quoted on the title page of Frankenstein thus evoke a locus for the "anger and hatred" that so irreconcilably separate the Monster from its father and creator, the novel's dedication seems to stem from quite opposite an intention. The {90} "Author," who so "respectfully" aligns herself with that other "Author" she will not publicly address as her father, assumes a stance that is as dutiful and self-effacing as that adopted by the exemplary Elizabeth Lavenza, the orphan whom Alphonse Frankenstein cherishes as "his more than daughter, whom he doated on with all the affection a man feels, who, in the decline of life, having few affections, clings more earnestly to those that remain" (pp. 195-96). In her 1831 introduction to the revised version of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley speaks of herself "as the daughter of two persons of distinguished literary celebrity." Her 1818 dedication, however, pays tribute only to the father who had been her mentor in the decline of his life; it ignores the famous mother whose conflicts with a tyrannical father had helped shape her first published work, a pamphlet entitled Thoughts on the Education of Daughters. Had Mary Shelley forgotten the rebellious mother who had written that "respect for parents is, generally speaking, a much more debasing principle" than marriage and who had insisted that the "father who is blindly obeyed is obeyed from sheer weakness, or from motives that degrade the human character"?2

Before I attempt to answer that question, let me point out that the quotation from Paradise Lost and the dedication to Godwin have a connection that is so obvious that it can easily be missed. In each passage, a father is addressed by the offspring he has "moulded." And, what is more important, in each passage the father addressed is that offspring's only parent. Like Adam, and like the Monster who calls himself "an abortion to be spurned at" (Walton's last letter, p. 219), Mary Shelley never knew a mother's nurture.

Frankenstein is a novel of omnipresent fathers and absent mothers. It is no coincidence that after killing the child who boasts of his powerful "papa," the Monster should stop to gaze at "the portrait of a most lovely woman" and be momentarily calmed by her maternal beauty, only to remember angrily and ruefully that "I was forever deprived of the delights that such beautiful creatures could bestow" (p. 139). Nor is it a coincidence, I think, that the Monster's previous "rage of anger," the "kind of insanity in my spirits" that {91} leads him to burn down the De Lacey cottage and to seek "redress," is the direct result of his realization that he will never be accepted as a member of the family of "the old man" -- the blind father whose hand he had seized in his unsuccessful plea for affection and kinship (pp. 134-35, 136).

Frankenstein resurrects and rearranges an adolescent's conflicting emotions about her relation both to the dead mother she idealized and mourned and to the living, "sententious and authoritative" father-philosopher she admired and deeply resented for his imperfect attempts at "moulding" Mary Wollstonecraft's two daughters. Fanny "Godwin" emulated the mother who had twice attempted to commit suicide. Her hardier half-sister attempted to master guilt and hostility in the "voyage of discovery" begun by Walton the mariner. As she tries to explain in her 1831 introduction -- written after she had completed Valperga, The Last Man, Perkin Warbeck, and nearly a dozen short stories -- Frankenstein is unique among her productions. It differs from her other works because in it she refused to "exchange the ghastly image of my fancy for the realities around" (p. 228). The adolescent mother and wife could confront "frightful" fantasies -- destructive and aggressive thoughts -- which the matured professional writer still entertained, yet carefully defused and disguised in most of her subsequent fictions.


Critics have inevitably ventured into biographical speculations in their attempts to come to terms with Frankenstein. In the preceding essay in this collection, Ellen Moers demonstrates the significance for this novel of the death of Mary Shelley's first (unnamed) "female child" in 1815, of the birth of the son she named after her father in 1816, and of the death by suicide, later in that same year and when Frankenstein was well under way, of Mary's half-sister Fanny, whom Godwin had described in 1812 as possessing "a quiet, modest, unshowy disposition," quite the reverse of his own daughter's "singularly bold, somewhat imperious" manner.3 Like Professor Moers, I tend to read Frankenstein as a {92} "phantasmagoria of the nursery," a fantasy designed to relieve deep personal anxieties over birth and death and identity. Yet I prefer to stress the importance of an earlier nursery -- of the nurture denied to Mary herself when her mother died of a retained placenta eleven days after her birth and of the highly inadequate substitute for a nursery which she found in her remarried father's household.

Since in my reading of Frankenstein William Godwin may appear almost a villain, it ought to be acknowledged that he was genuinely solicitous about the care and welfare of Mary Wollstonecraft's two daughters. (Indeed, his very solicitude contributed to Mary Shelley's conflicting emotions of allegiance and resentment; had he been more like her maternal grandfather, Edward John Wollstonecraft, a drunkard and a bully, Mary might have found it easier to emulate her mother's rebellious detachment.) Godwin himself had been "brought up in great tenderness" as a child. Just as, in a passage added to elaborate on Victor Frankenstein's happy youth, Victor describes "the ardent affection that attached me to my excellent parents" (p. 31), so did Godwin gratefully remember his own parents. He claimed that his mother had "exercised a mysterious protection over me" and yet, significantly, he never could bring himself to forgive her for sending him away from home while an infant "to be nourished by a hireling."4 This personal understanding of the need for mothering must have been decisive in Godwin's stubborn quest for a second wife to act as surrogate mother for the two orphans in his care. Still, as every biographer has pointed out, Mrs. Clairmont was hardly a Mary Wollstonecraft. Vulgar, mundane, preoccupied with the welfare of her own two children, she failed to establish a good relationship with her two stepdaughters. Rather than compensating Mary for her deprivation, as Godwin had intended, she actually helped activate in Mary a lifelong desire to compensate her father for the loss of his exquisite first wife and their short-lived marital happiness. The situation was hardly improved when, in 1803, before Mary's sixth birthday, the new Mrs. Godwin presented her husband with the son he had actually expected in 1797 when he and the pregnant Mary Wollstonecraft, strangely overconfident of the sex of the child she was carrying, {93} had repeatedly promised themselves a "little William" in their letters.5

Professor Moers hints that the Monster's wanton destruction of little William in the novel is an expression of a young mother's anxieties over the precarious health of her own baby William. The speculation is not entirely new. Back in 1928, Richard Church also thought he detected a "miserable delight in self-torture" and a prophetic "anticipation of disaster" in Mary Shelley's decision to depict the fictional murder of "that fair child" who bears the name of her actual son:

At the time that she was writing this book, the baby William was in the tenderest and most intimate stage of dependent infancy. The mite five months of age was passionately tended -- but not very knowledgeably or hygienically -- by both his parents. It is almost inconceivable that Mary could allow herself to introduce a baby boy in 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 [in which she alludes to the real boy's identical blue eyes in similar rhapsodic terms] -- and then let Frankenstein's monster waylay this innocent in a woodland dell and murder him by strangling.6
Church's clue is valid, as we shall see; but his surmise remains as incomplete as Muriel Spark's added suggestion that the murder of the boy who bears the name of "the child Mary loved more than any" is symptomatic of a split between feeling and intellect that led her "automatically" to identify the threatened child with her own threatened emotions.7

Church, Spark, and Moers are undoubtedly correct in linking the Monster's first murder to Mary Shelley's fears for her second child. Yet these fears, which proved so sadly justified when William died in 1819, also stemmed from deeper and more primal associations. For, in addition to her own son, there were two other "little Williams" who played a crucial role in the fantasy life of {94} Mary Shelley's formative years. The first of these was none other than Mary herself, the little William expected in 1797 who turned into a little girl responsible for her mother's death and father's grief. The second was the half-brother born to Mary's stepmother, William Godwin the Younger, whose arrival she must have regarded as a threat to her relationship with a father to whom she so desperately wanted to make amends.

Even after the birth of this rival man-child, Mary eagerly tried to repair her father's loss both of the philosopher-wife he had worshipped and the philosopher-son he had hoped for from his first union. In the same 1812 letter in which Godwin contrasts Mary's imperiousness to Fanny's passivity, he notes approvingly that, unlike her half-sister, his daughter had shown herself true to her parental stock by responding to his teachings: "Her desire for knowledge is great, and her perseverance in anything she undertakes almost invincible." It seems fairly obvious that this extreme eagerness to learn was related to Mary's even greater eagerness to please the father for whom she had, as she later would put it, from very early on entertained an "excessive and romantic passion." Still, her deep thirst for knowledge and her active identification with his own learning, so like the impulse that binds the Monster and Walton to the more deeply studied and "philosophical" Victor, seems to jar both with Mary's lifelong insistence on her ignorance, timidity, and "horror of pushing" and with Percy Shelley's self-justificatory, yet believable, description in "Epipsychidion" of an unresponsive and indifferent wife. Indeed, visitors who came to the Godwin home detected no real distinction between Mary and the torpid and unambitious Fanny; Coleridge, for instance, found "the cadaverous silence of Godwin's children quite catacombish."8

This discrepancy is crucial to Frankenstein and to Mary Shelley's self-divisions into aggressive and passive components, a raging Monster and a "yielding" Elizabeth. But the discrepancy itself is easy enough to reconcile. In 1838, two years after Godwin's death, Mary Shelley was finally able to voice her disappointment in the exacting father-tutor she had tried to please:

My Father, from age and domestic circumstances, could not "me faire valoir." My total friendlessness, my horror of pushing, and {95} inability to put myself forward unless led, cherished, and supported -- all this has sunk me in a state of loneliness no other human being ever before, I believe, endured -- except Robinson Crusoe.9
It is clear from this account that Mary could, when "led, cherished, and supported," be the active and responsive, even "somewhat imperious," child described by Godwin in his 1812 letter; but like "Lucy," who lost her mother as an infant and whose case history is described in Erna Furman's A Child's Parent Dies: Studies in Childhood Bereavement, she could also resort to the defence of withdrawal and passivity whenever thwarted in this acute need for support.10

Mary Shelley's identification with the total isolation of Robinson Crusoe is significant. By 1838 she might have allowed another fictional analogue to characterize her sense of desertion. Yet the qualifying use of the adjective "human" prevents an identification with the Monster: the motherless creature who clings to the blind De Lacey to plead for affection and support is pointedly distinguished by its "un-human" features. What is more, the Monster is aggressive. As a male, albeit a male who wishes a female complement to subdue its "evil passions," it can find an outlet for hatred not permissible for nineteenth-century daughters. Fearful of releasing hostilities which -- without a maternal model -- she regarded (or wanted to regard) as exclusively male attributes, Mary Shelley could resort only to passivity as a safer mode of resistance. Again like "Lucy," Mary experienced a depressive crisis at the age of fifteen in the same year in which her father had hailed her "invincible" drive for knowledge. Noting that his "bold" daughter had suddenly become so listless that she showed "a great need to be roused," Godwin sent the teenager to the Baxters in Scotland, where she observed a happy family nucleus for the first time in her life. Recalled from Scotland by her father two years later (is it sheer coincidence that Victor Frankenstein should destroy the female monster in the Hebrides?), she soon became reacquainted with Shelley, the anti-authoritarian son of Sir Timothy. It was during their honeymoon at Marsluys that Shelley, perhaps to help her weather the bitterness of her father's disapproval, encouraged {96} Mary to write her first piece of fiction. The title of that story, now lost, was "Hate."11

Yet, unlike Shelley the iconoclast, she was not cast for the role of rebel. Even her elopement could not be construed as an act of open defiance. The poet, after all, had presented himself as her father's eager disciple, as one who would -- and could -- put into practice the principles of the "inestimable book on 'Political Justice.'" It is not too fanciful therefore to suppose that the young girl who pledged her love to Shelley over her mother's grave at St. Pancras Churchyard hoped to revive or resurrect the short-lived union between her own parents. Shelley had been betrayed, Mary was willing to believe, into a marriage with one inferior and unsympathetic to his genius. Had she not seen her father debased by just such a union with her stepmother? She would nobly rescue Shelley from her father's fate, and, in the process, repair the damage done by her own birth. Through her, the "little William" her parents had expected could be born again, and, by giving it the nurture she had herself lacked as a child, she would be able to assume her dead mother's identity and role. Yet the child once again was a female, and again the bond between mother and daughter was short-lived; after recording her successful nursing of the baby for three consecutive days, Mary Shelley laconically wrote: "Find my baby dead. Send for Hogg. Talk. A miserable day. In the evening read 'Fall of the Jesuits.' Hogg sleeps here."12 The unemotional, seemingly indifferent tone of this and subsequent entries (the next one ends: "Not in good spirits. Hogg goes at 11. A fuss. To bed at 3") is broken when she records her dream, on 19 March 1815, "that my little baby came to life again; that it only had been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and it lived."13

As Professor Moers observes, this dream is linked to the fantasy of animation that underlies Frankenstein; yet it could hardly have been Mary Shelley's first wishful "dream" of making the dead come alive. Before, a child had wished to restore a mother; now, a mother wished to restore a child. The restoration again became a possibility after the birth of a male "babe" in January of 1816.14 By {97} naming her first male child after her father, Mary could signify the reparation she had so long intended. The offering was as deferential as the dedication of her first literary offspring to the "Author" of Political Justice, of Caleb Williams, and of herself. But, like that dedication, it was also double-edged.


By 1816, the surrogate life with Shelley had already been sorely tested. No "little William" could breach the sense of loneliness and desertion she once more intensely experienced. Not only her father, but also her father's substitute, had been found wanting.15 The integration that she, like the Monster, had yearned to find through a mate who might take the place of a rejecting father seemed impossible. Although she clung tenaciously to her second child, the rebelliousness and self-pity she had previously stifled began to surface. Like the Malthusian Adam of Book Ten who resents his own birth and decides to resist his Father by not procreating, she resented her role as perpetuator of a male line.

The 1831 introduction makes much of the "hideous" thoughts that went into the making of Frankenstein. As if to deny that these thoughts germinated within her, Mary Shelley overemphasizes her passivity, the defense to which she had previously resorted to her father's (and to Shelley's) chagrin. She insists that she had no control over her revenge story: "My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me." If this tactic recalls Coleridge's own distancings from an "unhallowed" and possibly demonic imagination, it also strongly resembles both Victor Frankenstein's trancelike activities and the Monster's repeated claim that its vengeful crimes are solely attributable to the neglect of, and contempt for, all its eager efforts to please.

At least in the early stages of its growth and education in the {98} ways of "man" (Mary Shelley deliberately seems to eschew the words "humanity" or "mankind") the Monster is a most willing student. Not only does it quickly master the lessons intended for Safie (whose name means "wisdom"), but it is eager to please the De Laceys by anonymously performing the most menial tasks. Like a child who reveres grownups, it looks upon the family "as superior beings, who would be the arbiters of my future destiny." The Monster fantasizes "that it might be in my power to restore happiness to these deserving people," particularly to "the venerable blind father" whose losses have been greater than his children's (p. 103). De Lacey first wins the Monster's "reverence" by the soul-stirring music of his violin. Significantly, the ugly Monster and the beautiful Agatha respond identically to the "sweet mournful air." Indeed, when the Monster later kneels at De Lacey's feet, it hopes to win the same recognition earlier accorded to De Lacey's kneeling daughter:

He played a sweet mournful air, which I perceived drew tears from the eyes of his amiable companion, of which the old man took no notice, until she sobbed audibly; he then pronounced a few sounds and the fair creature, leaving her work, knelt at his feet. He raised her, and smiled with such kindness and affection, that I felt sensations of a peculiar and overpowering nature . . . . I withdrew from the window, unable to bear these emotions [Pp. 103-4]
Frankenstein clearly draws on Mary Shelley's recollection of her vain attempts to win "notice" and approval as her father's pupil. (Indeed, after her elopement she remained most interested in the "conduct" of the second "little William" being "moulded" in her father's house.16) In her 1831 introduction she depicts herself as {99} "a devout but nearly silent listener" to Byron's and Shelley's discourses on "the principle of life." She deliberately belittles both her "tiresome unlucky ghost story" and her ideas, which, she says, required "communication with [Percy's] far more cultivated mind." But the belittlement can hardly conceal her ready appropriation of the subject discussed by the two poets and "poor Polidori." Their conversation about the piece of flesh that twitched "with voluntary motion" may well have evoked, in her mind, the piece of flesh that caused her mother's death. But it was clearly their speculation that perhaps a "corpse would be reanimated" that attracted and repelled her so powerfully.

Mary could not acknowledge to her 1831 English readers that the topic which the three men had so casually touched upon was integral to a private fantasy she had by 1816 long cherished and recently despaired of -- the fantasy of restitution that would reconcile the apparently antagonistic aims of resurrecting a mother and regaining a father's undivided love. In the 1831 introduction it is Shelley, and not his wife, who soon starts a story ":founded on the experiences of his early life." Although Mary Shelley dwells on her own early life in Scotland (an "eyry of freedom" in which she was "not confined to my own identity"), she ostensibly dwells on this past only to suggest her subsequent acquisition of a greater sense of "reality." The wife of a husband "anxious that I should prove myself worthy of my parentage" thus wants above all to stress her maturation. She has outgrown "the indulging of waking dreams" and must apologize for the "so very hideous" production of a "young girl." Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that the introduction should depict her Scottish fantasy life as wholly "pleasant" and thus in no way connected to the "ghastly image" that overwhelmed her in 1816 when forbidden and ugly material had, like the Monster itself, come to life.

That "hideous progeny," Mary Shelley insists in 1831, is her very own. Though she acknowledges Shelley's "incitement," she stresses her originality with unaccustomed forcefulness: "I certainly did not owe the suggestion of one incident, nor scarcely of one {100} train of feeling, to my husband" (p. 229; italics added). Indeed, there is a faint note of resentment at the two "illustrious poets" who, "annoyed by the platitude of prose, speedily relinquished their uncongenial task" (p. 225). The seed they have so carelessly implanted in Mary (and "poor Polidori") becomes a burden that is hers alone. It is she who has to give birth to a "hideous progeny," because she can better understand the pains of abandonment. Like the Monster, the author has been deserted. And, if we are to trust her account, she began her story neither with Walton's frame or Victor's account of his idyllic youth, but with the scene of desertion in chapter 4, with a father who rejects the stretched-out hand ("seemingly to detain me, but I escaped") of the "miserable monster whom I had created" (p. 53). Victor's repulsion of "the demoniacal corpse I had so miserably given life" will unleash antagonistic emotions that Mary Shelley had resisted and would stoutly continue to resist.

Yet the Monster does not become truly demoniacal until it murders little William and thereby causes the death of the guiltless Justine. As it explains to its creator, "I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend." Unlike the "fallen angel" he professes to have become, the Monster insists that evil need not be its good: "Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous" (p. 95). The words recall another male demonist created by a female imagination, Emily Brontë's Heathcliff, who asks Nelly to "make me good." Yet Mary Shelley was far less willing than her Victorian successors to acknowledge her attraction to the anarchic and the destructive. Her violent figures are inevitably males; she could not have depicted a Jane Eyre who bloodies a boy's nose or a Maggie Tulliver who mutilates her dolls. And, whereas Emily Brontë quickly passes over the particulars of Heathcliff's early deprivation, Mary Shelley lingers over the Monster's painful degradation before she will depict it as an enraged murderer and fiend.

By the time the Monster does strangle little William our sympathies have so fully shifted from Frankenstein to the Monster that the action almost seems justifiable. Like little William, the Monster has been an innocent more sinned against than sinning. Though no "darling of a pigmy size," it is a genuine Wordsworthian child who has been able to "wander at liberty" and to derive intense "pleasure" in the natural world. It is as delighted by "the bright moon" and "the little winged animals" (p. 98) as any Romantic {101} child of a feminine Nature.17 But unlike Wordsworth's asocial children, this grown-up child desires socialization, human contact. On observing the De Laceys, who are exiled from society and yet remain self-sufficient as a family unit, the Monster discovers that its "heart yearned to be known and loved by these amiable creatures" (p. 127). It is from them that it -- like the Mary Shelley who observed the Baxter family -- learns the rudiments of kinship:

The youth and his companion had each of them several names, but the old man had only one, which was father. The girl was called sister, or Agatha; and the youth Felix, brother, or son. I cannot describe the delight I felt when I learned the ideas appropriated to each of these sounds, and was able to pronounce them. I distinguished several other words, without being able as yet to understand or apply them; such as good, dearest, unhappy. [Pp. 107-8]
The absence of a "mother" in this paragraph (which ends on the word "unhappy"!) is conspicuous. Less apparent, I think, is the strange fact that Agatha is called "sister" but never "daughter," even though "brother" Felix, who will tear away the old man with the single name of "father," is accorded the name of "son."

It is its own exclusion from such a system of relations that later leads the Monster to maintain that both the killing of little William and the execution of the innocent Justine have been a warranted retaliation, the outcome of "the lessons of Felix, and the sanguinary laws of man" (p. 140). Felix had removed his father from the Monster's reach after mistaking its Agatha-like feelings for the contrary emotions of hatred and violence. That the creature should still so vividly remember this potential brother's action after the deaths of William and Justine seems rather poignant. For, in its way, the murder of William was a delayed fratricidal act.

After it has burned the De Lacey cottage the Monster manages to reassert its softer nature. On entering "a deep wood," it blesses the sun and "dared to be happy." But its "hatred" for its "unfeeling, heartless creator" is soon reactivated when it is accidentally cast in a life-giving role like that of its own deserting father. Just as {102} Victor had animated the corpse from which he created the Monster, so the Monster tries "to restore animation" to a young girl it has rescued from drowning. But again a gesture of kinship is rewarded with a wound -- a literal injury this time -- from the "ball" shot by "the man" who, like Felix, misreads an expression of the benevolent side of the Monster's divided personality as an act of aggression. Unlike a Mary Shelley who desperately clung to her Agatha- or Elizabeth-self, the Monster now yields to its destructive impulses and vows "eternal hatred and vengeance."

Yet the Monster wavers still one more time when it sees, not an adult male rival, but a "beautiful child, who came running into the recess I had chosen with all the sportiveness of infancy" (p. 138). The vague syntax almost seems designed to confuse us momentarily -- does "the sportiveness of infancy" refer to little William or to the Monster? Assuming "this little creature" to be as "yet unprejudiced," the larger creature is "seized" by the idea to "seize him, and educate him as my companion and friend." The child, however, displays Victor's own adult horror: "monster! ugly wretch! you wish to eat me, and tear me to pieces -- You are an ogre -- Let me go, or I will tell my papa" (p. 139). Significantly, the scene both reverses and matches the earlier encounter with Felix: whereas the threatened little boy invokes his father to protect him, Felix tried to protect his own father from the Monster's threat. In both cases, however, this threat is only imaginary: just as the Monster has revoked its vows of "eternal hatred" on seeing the harmless child, it had earlier "refrained" from strangling Felix. But when little William utters the name of his father, the oath of revenge is remembered. Assuming that "M. Frankenstein" and his own creator are one and the same, the Monster has found its "first victim": "Frankenstein! you belong then to my enemy" (p. 139). The murder is a delayed act of revenge, not only against a father but also against a father's rival son, like Felix a brother-figure. A huge and alienated Cain kills an Abel who can be sure of his father's support and secure in that father's identity.

If, as Church was the first to suggest, the fictional little William were no more than an analogue for Mary Shelley's real-life "baby boy," then the sympathetic, almost exculpating, attention devoted to all the psychic wounds inflicted on the Monster before it commits the murder would be distracting and illogical, as well as inartistic. The Monster's first choice of "victim" derives its fitness as much {103} from the unattainability of a father as from fraternal slights. Little William possesses the birthright the Monster longs for. Only a course of aggression can obtain for the Monster the parental recognition it desires. And that course will prove irreversible -- despite the Monster's pleas for a restraining female counterpart. It will also prove self-destructive.


Frankenstein is a fiction designed to resist that potential self-destruction. 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. Just as Mary Shelley must have feared that the possible death of her own little William might damage her identity, so does the death of the fictional boy mark the irreparable loss of the "benevolent" or feminine component of the Monster's personality, making it indistinguishable from Victor Frankenstein, similarly alienated from his feminine self -- a self represented both by his dead mother and by the wife who dies on his wedding night.

I have said that Frankenstein is a novel of fathers and absent mothers, and it is time to examine this statement more closely. The book's central relationship is obviously that between father and child. After his mother's death, the secluded Frankenstein pursues feminine Nature "to her hiding places" to appropriate for himself the maternal role and the blessings of a new "species" created without a mother's agency: "No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs" (p. 49). After the destruction of its female complement ("a creature of another sex, but as hideous as myself"), the Monster becomes father to the man and relentlessly imposes on its creator the same conditions of dependency and insecurity that it was made to suffer.18 Once able to {104} identify with Agatha, the daughter, and to respond so powerfully to the "benign divinity" of little William's and Victor's mother, the Monster culminates its revenge by depriving Victor of Elizabeth. This contest between males divorced from female nurturance is framed by a series of forbidding fathers -- the father whose "dying injunction" forbade Walton to embark on a sea-faring life; Henry Clerval's father, who insists that his son be a merchant rather than a poet; the "inexorable" Russian father who tries to force his daughter into a union she abhors; the treacherous Turkish father who uses Safie to obtain his freedom yet issues the "tyrannical mandate" that she betray Felix.

There are kinder fathers in the novel, to be sure, but their kindness is tainted: as Kate Ellis shows on pp. 129-130 below, the "proud and unbending disposition" of Beaufort leads him to seek an exile that results in his loyal daughter's total degradation; the "Italian gentleman" who is Elizabeth's father in the 1818 version (in 1831 she is the daughter of an imprisoned patriot and a German lady who "had died on giving her birth") decides, on remarrying, that it would be preferable to have her educated by her uncle and aunt rather than have her "brought up by a step-mother" -- a decision that, in reversing William Godwin's own choice, may be construed as an act of kindness, but nonetheless involves an abdication of parental responsibility. De Lacey and Alphonse Frankenstein are impaired by an impotence and lack of discrimination that Mary must often have regretted in a father who "from age and domestic circumstances could not 'me faire valoir.'" De Lacey can welcome Safie as a daughter but cannot respond to the Monster's need for affection; Alphonse Frankenstein values Elizabeth as a replica of Caroline Beaufort yet cannot believe in the innocence of Justine Moritz. A rationalist, like Godwin, the elder Frankenstein rather cruelly chastens his son's youthful imagination; his disparagement of Cornelius Agrippa actually may have produced, according to Victor, "the fatal impulse that led to my ruin" (p. 33). The 1818 version of the novel is even harsher on the old man whose heart is finally broken by Elizabeth's death. In a contradiction which Mary Shelley emended in her 1831 revisions, Alphonse is also blamed for leading his son to science when he conducts a Franklin-like {105} experiment and draws some electrical "fluid" down from the clouds (p. 35). The Monster's confusion of Alphonse with Victor, when he encounters William, thus seems quite warranted. When, after Clerval's murder, the calm but "severe" magistrate, Mr. Kirwin, informs Victor that a "friend" has come to visit him, the prisoner believes the visitor is the Monster: "I know not by what chain of thought the idea presented itself that the murderer had come to mock me at my misery." Surprised, Mr. Kirwin rejoins: "I should have thought, young man, that the presence of your father would have been welcome, instead of inspiring such violent repugnance" (p. 177). To the reader, however, the "chain of thought" seems quite intelligible: Alphonse, Victor, and the Monster have all become manifestations of the same truncated male psyche.

Frankenstein questions the patriarchal system (see Kate Ellis on this, pp. 135-136), yet the novel is more than an indictment of fathers as potential monster-makers. If in his parental neglectfulness Victor resembles William Godwin (as well as Percy Shelley), his obsessive "desire for knowledge" and "perserverance" are the very same qualities displayed by the younger Mary Shelley when she wanted to signify her oneness with her father. The novel's attack on a male's usurpation of the role of mother therefore goes beyond a daughter's accusation of a father who could not "me faire valoir." It is also an expression of Mary Shelley's deep fears about an imbalance within herself -- the imbalance of a personality that had developed one-sidedly, without a feminine or maternal model. Karen Horney points out that a "girl may turn away altogether from the female role and take refuge in a fictitious masculinity" in order to assuage "disappointments in the father" or "guilt feelings towards the mother."19 It seems obvious that the young woman who addresses the readers of Frankenstein (including the "Author" to whom the book is dedicated) through three male speakers acquired such an attitude in her own childhood. Yet Frankenstein represents a desperate attempt to recover "the female role." Despite its use of male masks and its emphasis on male aggression, the {106} novel tries to exorcise a sadistic masculinity and to regain the female component of the novelist's threatened psyche.

Just as the novel oscillates in its sympathies between Victor and the increasingly demonic monster, so does it oscillate in the sexual characterization of these two antagonists. At first, though nurtured by loving women, Frankenstein is phallic and aggressive capable of torturing "the living animal to animate the lifeless clay" (p. 49). Conversely, the Monster -- purposely not called a "he" in this discussion -- initially displays feminine qualities. It identifies with both Agatha and Safie and is respectful of that same Wordsworthian and feminine Nature whose "recesses" its creator is so eager to "penetrate" (p. 42).20 These sexual associations, however, shift with the Monster's first act of aggression, the "mischief" that leads it to plant the portrait of maternal "divine benignity" into one "of the folds of [Justine's] dress" (p. 140). The Monster now assumes Victor's phallic aggression; and Victor becomes as tremulous and "timid as a love-sick girl" (p. 51).

Victor's desire to marry Elizabeth is presented as a pathetic and hopeless attempt to reenter the broken circle of affection over which his dead mother had presided. Conversely, the Monster's similar yearning for a female companion is treated as highly dangerous. Victor's marriage to Elizabeth evokes the image of a debilitated patient in need of a nurse (an image corroborated in James Whale's film The Bride of Frankenstein, which implies that the newly wed "Henry" Frankenstein is far too frail to consummate his marriage to the voluptuous Elizabeth). The Monster's desire for a mate, however, raises the specter of "a race of devils" to be "propagated on the earth" (p. 163). Even an unconsummated union holds dangers: Victor fears that the female monster might "turn with disgust from [the Monster] to the superior beauty of man" or that the Monster's own aggression (so far limited to the murder of William and the death of Justine) might be exacerbated upon his beholding his own "deformity" in "female form" (p. 163).

But above all Victor fears the possibility of a female creature not only more aggressive than the novel's remarkably passive female characters, but also capable of surpassing the sadistic and "unparalleled {107} barbarity" of the killer of little William: "she might become ten thousand times more malignant than her mate, and delight, for its own sake, in murder and wretchedness" (p. 163; italics added). The implications are clear. Victor seems to acknowledge that the Monster's aggression has been partly justified, but a female who might delight in sadism "for its own sake" is a horror he cannot contemplate. Mary Shelley may well intend to have her readers see the speciousness in Victor's rationalizations -- his decision is made when he "had not sufficient light" for his "employment." Still, Victor's terror seems also to be Mary Shelley's. The specter of female sadism is resisted by the novelist who fears her own aroused anger and desire for revenge. Victor rejects the Monster when he destroys the half-formed shape of its female companion; Mary Shelley, too, distances herself from the demonic figure at the casement, whose "ghastly grin" proclaims the retaliations that will follow: the deaths of Clerval, Alphonse Frankenstein, and Elizabeth. Only after the death of Victor will the Monster turn its aggression on itself. In a parody of the self-sacrificing Son, the feminine principle of compassion in Paradise Lost who balances the exacting justice of God the Father, the Monster will immolate itself to save humanity from its own violence.

The only surviving male speaker of the novel, Walton, possesses what the Monster lacks and Frankenstein denies, an internalized female complementary principle. Walton begins his account through self-justificatory letters to a female ego-ideal, his sister Margaret Saville (the British pronunciation of her name sounds like "civil"). The memory of this civilizing and restraining woman, a mother with "lovely children," helps him resist Frankenstein's destructive (and self-destructive) course. Frankenstein and the Monster are the joint murderers of little William, Justine, Clerval, Alphonse Frankenstein, and Elizabeth; Walton, however, refuses to bring death to his crew. In a skillful addition to the 1831 version, Mary Shelley has Walton remind his sister that a "youth passed in solitude" was offset by "my best years spent under your gentle and feminine tutelage."

Mary Shelley, who likened her own "state of loneliness" to that of Robinson Crusoe, lacked the "feminine tutelage" that rescues Walton. Bereft of a maternal model that could teach her how to acknowledge and channel her own aggression, fearful of the unleashed aggression that consumes both Victor and the Monster, she {108} turned to passivity as a stabilizing force. In her story "The Sisters of Albano" (published in Keepsake for 1829), the young nun Maria sacrifices herself for her more passionate sister Anina (who then becomes herself a nun). In Frankenstein the falsely accused Justine Moritz meets her degradation and death with "an air of cheerfulness" -- in total contrast to the Monster's rage at the injustices it is forced to suffer (p. 84). In "The Sisters," Anina, "her only wish to find repose in the grave," delays this death-wish (so like both Fanny Imlay's and that of Richardson's Clarissa) until the death of her own "miserable father," whose loss she tries to repair through constant "filial attentions";21 in Frankenstein, Justine can die peacefully since she, "the favourite of her father" until the day of his death, has no such amends to make (p. 60).

This equation of femininity with a passivity that borders on the ultimate passivity of death is, in Frankenstein and in Mary Shelley's own life, associated with a dead mother. Caroline Beaufort Frankenstein, who nurses her dying father "with the greatest tenderness" and is the perfect daughter-wife to Alphonse Frankenstein, is a model accepted by Justine and by Elizabeth yet rejected (or forgotten) by the Monster and by Victor. Caroline is found by the elder Frankenstein near her father's coffin; on her own deathbed, she enjoins the "yielding" Elizabeth to take her place as mother and "supply my place to your younger cousins" (p. 38). It is significant that both she and Elizabeth are invoked in Victor's dream just after he has seen "the dull yellow eyes of the creature" to which he has given life. Presumably one of Victor's objects in finding "a passage to life" is to restore his mother and "renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption" (p. 49); but his dream only underscores his rejection of the maternal or female model.

In the dream, Victor embraces Elizabeth, about whom he had said that she and he "were strangers to any disunion and dispute" (p. 30); when Elizabeth turns into the "corpse of my dead mother" (p. 53) the startled dreamer awakes and beholds "the miserable monster whom I had created." The conjunction of dream and reality, both equally frightening to Victor, forces us to link the four personages, the two females and the two males. The relation between Caroline and Elizabeth is one of fusion: although Elizabeth, {109} like Mary Shelley, is the accidental agent of the mother's death, the "amiable woman"22 harbors no resentment and insists that Elizabeth take her place. The relation between Victor and the two female corpses and the relation between Victor and the Monster are both based on "disunion"; his reaction is identical in each case: he recoils from the association.

But what is the relation between the two female corpses and the Monster? Like the Elizabeth of the 1831 version, the Monster is an orphan; like the young woman whose single remonstrance in the entire novel is her regret "that she had not the same opportunities of enlarging her experience, and cultivating her understanding" (p. 151) as her male friends, the Monster is denied a formal education. It is customary by now to discuss Frankenstein and the Monster as the feuding halves of a single personality. Yet the beautiful and passive Elizabeth and the repulsive, aggressive Monster who will be her murderer are also doubles -- doubles who are in conflict only because of Victor's rejection of the femininity that was so essential to the happiness of his "domestic circle" and to the balance of his own psyche.23

Victor's dream, then, can be read as an intrapsychic conflict that has its roots in Mary Shelley's deprivation of a maternal model. Though Frankenstein is the dreamer, it is Caroline, Elizabeth, and Monster who dramatize this conflict. The Elizabeth whose mother died on giving her birth in the 1831 version and whose father deserted her in the 1818 version can find a feminine model in Caroline, and inherit her place. The motherless Monster deserted by its father finds this model in the picture of Caroline, only to be triggered by it into a course of revenge that ends with Elizabeth's death. Victor's dream thus contains an ominous warning. Though male, ugly, and deformed, the Monster is a potential Elizabeth (indeed, what if Frankenstein had created a little Galatea instead of {110} a heroic male of Brobdingnagian proportions?). Yet Victor fails to recover the feminine ideal of nurture represented by Caroline, that sentimentalization of a forgiving Mary Wollstonecraft. By rejecting his child as a Monster, he will also be responsible for the death of Elizabeth, that less monstrous, yet also unduly passive, component of Mary Shelley's personality.

Death remains the only reconciler in Frankenstein, as the dream of Elizabeth's corpse and the reality of the corpse turned Monster foreshadow. For not only Victor and the Monster, but also the Monster and Elizabeth fuse through death into a single personality. Like Keats and Percy Shelley, but for rather different reasons, Mary Shelley was half in love with easeful death. The demise of Caroline so early in the novel suggests that Mary Shelley could endorse this escape from a world of fathers, brothers, husbands, and male justices and identify it with the repose found by her own mother.24 There is strong empathy, too, with the grief the Monster feels as it hangs "over the coffin" of its dead parent, a scene that parallels Caroline Beaufort's own grief by her father's coffin. The Monster's lament ("Oh, Frankenstein! generous and self-devoted being! what does it avail that I now ask thee to pardon me?") may seem out of character, as Walton rather self-righteously points out, but Walton of course fails to understand that the Monster has also recovered that softer, feminine side that enabled it before to identify with Agatha and Safie. Indeed, as we shall see in the next section, the very phrasing of the Monster's tribute to Victor resembles the speeches of penitent daughters in Mathilda and "The Mourner."

The conclusion of Frankenstein exorcises aggression. With the death of Victor, the Monster turns its hatred against itself. "You hate me" it tells Walton, "but your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself" (p. 219). These words echo the expression of Mary Shelley's own revulsion, in her 1831 introduction, over the "hideous" embodiment of anger she had allowed herself to create. The Monster now sees justice in destroying its own "miserable frame"; its sadism has turned into self-pity: "I, the miserable {111} and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on." Sadism becomes masochism, the outlet for self-inflicted anger: "Polluted by crimes, and torn by the bitterest remorse, where can I find rest but in death?" (p. 220). Rest rather than restitution. The Monster must welcome the death so eagerly embraced by many of Mary Shelley's female penitents, figures often far more guiltless than it has been.

One such figure is that other victim of "injustice," the ironically named Justine Moritz. Mary Shelley asks us to regard the revengeful Monster and the passive Justine who is falsely accused of the murder of little William as exact opposites. Yet are they? If the child's murder can be construed as a fratricidal act on the part of the Monster, why are we told shortly before the murder that Madame Moritz has accused poor Justine of "having caused the deaths of her brothers and sisters"? (p. 61). The accusation is as false as the later indictment: it comes from one who -- like Mrs. Clairmont in the Godwin household -- clearly prefers the other children to this Cinderella and "neglected daughter." But why is the detail inserted? We must trust the novel rather than the novelist, and the suggestion that Justine may harbor thoughts as aggressive as the Monster's is corroborated by her willingness to confess to the murder. "Threatened and menaced" by her father confessor, charged "with the blackest ingratitude" for killing the child of the woman who had adopted her, Justine tells Elizabeth that she "almost began to think that I was the monster that he said I was" (p. 82). And so she dies for the Monster's crime. She is an innocent -- and yet so is the Monster. She is its associate: her passive death becomes almost as much a retaliation against injustice as its murderous passion. She can also cause pain: her self-deprecating speeches are as agonizing to Victor as the Monster's later accusations. And Elizabeth, by identifying with Justine's death-wish ("I wish," cried she, "that I were to die with you; I cannot live in this world of misery" [p. 84]), also manages, ever so sweetly, to sharpen Victor's guilt and pain over William's death. Passivity, used correctly, as Mary Shelley knew but could not admit, can be as powerful a weapon as rage.


Novels, as we all know, are relations based on relations: narratives based on the interconnection of characters as well as on the {112} links between these characters and their creator. In a famous illustration in Vanity Fair, Thackeray drew his own mournful and timid face peering out behind the removed mask of laughing jester; in a celebrated passage in Middlemarch, George Eliot, who had privately claimed that Casaubon was based on no other "original" but herself, rejected the notion that Dorothea's mummified husband ought to be regarded as a heartless monster: "some ancient Greek," the narrator volunteers, must have "observed that behind the big mask and the speaking-trumpet, there must always be our poor little eyes peeping as usual and our timorous lips more or less under anxious control."25 In Frankenstein, too, the lifting of a monstrous mask produces a startling unveiling: beneath the contorted visage of Frankenstein's creature lurks a timorous yet determined female face.

The unveiling should not really surprise us. For relatio, as Percy Bysshe Shelley seemed to remember in his distinction between poetry and logic, once simply meant evocation: the recalling or bringing back of forgotten or dormant associations that the conscious will must then rearrange and recombine. The fluidity of relations in Frankenstein, which converts each character into another's double and makes a male Monster not only a counterpart of Victor and Walton but also of little William, Agatha, Safie, Caroline, Justine, and Elizabeth, stems from common denominators that can be traced back, as I have tried to show, to Mary Shelley's childhood and to her threatened identity as an adult daughter, wife, and mother. Yet this fluidity of relations, which makes Frankenstein so powerful as an exploration of the very act of kinship and relation, is absent in the novelist's later fictions, even though these later works are equally obsessed with the same intrapsychic conflicts. The later Mary Shelley, who suffered severe new shocks through the deaths of her own William, her daughter Clara, and Shelley himself, seemed no longer capable of the imaginative strength that had enabled her to relate her own adolescent deprivations to the Monster's development and education. Whereas only a matured George Eliot, could, after much experimentation, have produced Middlemarch, maturity for Mary Shelley involved a loss of the powers she had been able to tap in her first novel. Her gradual acceptance of her father's deficiencies, her Amelia Sedley-like cult of the {113} dead Shelley, and her devotion to little Percy Florence, permitted her to domesticate the daemon within and to advocate, in fiction as in life, the renunciatory virtues of an Elizabeth-Justine.

To be sure, there was one more important imaginative outburst and it came, not unexpectedly, after William died in Rome in June 1819. Mary had been able to bear the deaths of her first female child in 1815 and of the year-old Clara in 1818, but the loss of the little boy overwhelmed her as powerfully as the death of the fictional little William had unsettled Frankenstein. Life (or death) threatened to imitate art as the grieving mother indulged the same deathwish to which Justine had yielded. Writing to Amelia Curran three weeks after the burial, Mary Shelley asked to hear about the child's tomb, "near which I shall lie one day & care not -- for my own sake -- how soon -- I shall never recover that blow -- I feel it more now than at Rome -- the thought never leaves me for a single moment -- Everything has lost its interest to me."26 But again, life and creativity came to the rescue: she had been pregnant since March, and Percy Florence was born in November 1819; angered by a new affront from her father and increasingly alienated from Shelley, she was "roused" once more into writing a fiction that might master these turbulent emotions, the novella Mathilda, on which she worked feverishly in August and September.

Shelley had written to Godwin to ask him to "soothe" Mary "on account of her terrible state of mind." Instead, the philosopher (who could not remember his grandson's age) wrote to berate Shelley and to ask for more money to help him fight a litigation. A second letter to Mary proved equally insensitive; instead of consolation for the loss of the boy she had named after Godwin, Mary found herself threatened once more with the withdrawal of her father's love: "Remember too," wrote Godwin, "though at first your nearest connections may pity you in this state, yet that when they see you fixed in selfishness and ill humor, . . . they will finally cease to love you, and scarcely learn to endure you."27 That this bullying accusation of selfishness was taken seriously by Mary Shelley is evident in Mathilda, her most autobiographical piece of fiction, the writing of which must have been almost as therapeutic as the birth, after its completion, of her new male child.

Unlike Frankenstein, with its three male narrators, Mathilda is told {114} by a twenty-two-year-old woman (Mary Shelley's own age in 1819). And unlike Walton who successfully repels the death that consumes Victor and the Monster, this narrator is engulfed by death: in one version of the manuscript, she is a penitent soul in limbo who addresses herself to a female listener who (unlike Walton's sister) is also dead, possibly after committing suicide on suffering a "misfortune" in Rome that reduced her "to misery and despair."28 Elizabeth Nitchie, the critic most extensively concerned with Mathilda, has stressed the biographical implications of the novella's second half in which the lonely Mathilda meets a deprived young poet called Woodville and tries to cajole him into a suicide pact (in the days before their elopement, it had been Shelley who suggested to Mary that they both commit suicide). Nitchie is undoubtedly correct when she reads this second half as a self-castigation on Mary's part for her estrangement from Shelley: "Mathilda expresses a sense of estrangement from, even of physical repulsion toward, one whom she had deeply loved, a realization of her own selfish, petulant, and unreasoning absorption in her grief."29 But in the first half of the narrative Mathilda's guilt and grief are traced to their source in her relationship to her father.

Like Mary Shelley, Mathilda is the daughter of a beautiful, intelligent, and adored woman who dies a few days after Mathilda's birth; like Godwin, her father is crushed by his loss. Although, unlike Godwin, he does not remarry, he leaves his child in the care of a stern and unsympathetic foster mother and (like De Lacey) becomes an exile. Again like Mary Shelley -- who in the 1831 preface to Frankenstein speaks of living "in the country as a girl" and of passing a "considerable time in Scotland" -- Mathilda grows up in the Scottish countryside. Her sole "pleasures," like the Monster's, "arise from the contemplation of nature alone; I had no companion."30 At this point Mary Shelley begins to invert the fictional parallels: whereas she was recalled from Scotland by her father, Mathilda's father visits her in Scotland when she is sixteen; whereas {115} Mary found herself as neglected as before by Godwin after her return, Mathilda's father tries to compensate for his earlier desertion by lavishing attentions on his daughter; and, lastly, while Mary gave up her "excessive and romantic" attachment to Godwin when she eloped with Shelley, Mathilda discovers, to her horror, that her father's love for her is incestuous. After she repels him, he leaves her a letter in which he acknowledges that he had hoped to find in her a substitute for his beloved dead wife. She dreams that she pursues him to a high rock, and her dream (like Frankenstein's) is prophetic: she finds her father's corpse in a cottage on a cliff. Guilt-stricken, she withdraws from society until she meets Woodville, himself a guilty mourner.

This melodramatic fable obviously displays in a different fashion the passive and aggressive impulses I have examined in Frankenstein. Mathilda's passive withdrawal clearly stems from parricidal wishes which the narrative conveys and yet never fully dares to acknowledge. Just as the Monster protests that it has not willed its crimes, so is Mathilda absolved from wishing her father's death -- an event she dutifully tries to prevent. Why, then, should she feel such inordinate guilt over the death of the incestuous lecher who can love her only after she has become a fully developed woman? Though far less artistic than Frankenstein, the story must be read as a pendant to the novel, as still another self-exploration and confrontation with acknowledged hatred and wishful self-destruction; moreover, by dispensing with the protective masks of male protagonists, the story places Mary Shelley's marital difficulties at her father's doorstep.

How could Mary Shelley have had the temerity to send the manuscript of Mathilda to Godwin? She asked Maria Gisborne to take the manuscript to London, show it to her father, and obtain his advice about publishing it. When Maria demanded its return, Godwin held on; he told her that he did "not approve of the father's letter" in the story and that he found the entire subject "disgusting and detestable."31 Had Mary Shelley finally succeeded in unsettling the revered "Author" of Political Justice? Was he finally forced to recognize what was so much more elliptically presented through Victor's rejection of the disgusting and detestable Monster? Godwin made sure that Mathilda would never be published. {116} But when his daughter sent him Valperga to help him defray new debts and expenses, he gladly saw this new novel to press. Begun in 1820, yet not published until February of 1823, well after Shelley's death, Valperga had again anticipated an actual disaster, as Mary recognized: "it seems to me that in what I have written hitherto I have done nothing but prophecy [sic] what has [? arrived] to. Mathilda foretells even many small circumstances most truly -- and the whole of it is a monument of what now is."32

What "now" was in 1823, however, was the death of Shelley and not the death of the father, who calmly wrote his daughter early that year that he had "taken great liberties with [Valperga], and I am afraid your amour propre will be proportionately shocked."33 He need not have worried. The wife who had deferred to Percy's "far more cultivated mind" while composing Frankenstein did not resent her father's editorial tampering with Valperga. Yet the old conflicts could not be exorcised, and they would continue to surface in her fictions -- particularly in her short stories.

In "Transformation" (1831), perhaps her best short story, a monster -- this time a deformed Satanic dwarf -- must be killed before an "imperious, haughty, tameless" young man, who has shown sadistic traits and whose thirst for revenge against his beloved's father leads him to exchange bodies with the monster, can win his Elizabeth-like bride: by mutilating himself on his enemy's huge sword while feebly plunging in his tiny dagger, Guido the rebel can regain his manly shape, marry the kind Juliet, and be henceforth known as "Guido il Cortese." If "Transformation" is a fantasy in which the aggression and monsterhood induced by two fathers -- Guido's "generous and noble, but capricious and tyrannical" father and Juliet's "coldhearted, cold-blooded father" -- can be overcome, "The Mortal Immortal" (1834) reverses the emphasis. In this story, which George Eliot must have read before writing her own horror tale "The Lifted Veil" (1859), the alchemist's apprentice Winzy (another ironic name suggestive of the Pyrrhic victories of "Victor" and "Lavenza") becomes responsible for the death of Cornelius Agrippa (the youthful Frankenstein's own mentor) when he drinks the elixir of life the old master had prepared {117} for himself; he thus not only becomes a parricide of sorts who is forced to see his "revered master" expire before his eyes, but also a passive victim of his own longevity as he watches the gradual deterioration of his beloved Bertha into a "mincing, simpering, jealous old" hag. Nursing her until her death "as a mother might a child," Winzy, like the Monster, seeks some place where he might end his life-in-death.34

It is the tale called "The Mourner" (1830), however, which most pronouncedly allegorizes the self-division first manifested in Frankenstein. The story's narrative interest is itself split between a grief-stricken Mathilda-figure called Ellen (her real name turns out to be Clarice) and the Guido-like narrator Neville, a young man whose impetuosity is checked by Ellen much in the way that Walton is restrained by the feminine fosterage of his sister. Neville's rebellious feelings toward education and parental authority are carefully contrasted to Ellen-Clarice's feelings about her own dead father and tutor. At Eton Neville has only met "a capricious, unrelenting, cruel bondage, far beyond the measured despotism of Jamaica" (p. 87); his outrage and sense of "impotence" reach their apex when he is abused by a tutor. He rebels and, like the Monster, gives in to a "desire of vengeance." After the departure of the De Laceys, the Monster is "unable to injure any thing human" and turns its "fury towards inanimate objects" (Frankenstein, p. 134); Neville too wants to leave a "substantial proof of my resentment," and, like Proust's Marcel who destroys the hat of Charlus, he tears his tutor's belongings to pieces, "stamped on them, crushed them with more than childish strength," finally dashing a "time-piece, on which my tyrant infinitely prided himself" (Stories and Tales, p. 88). Neville flees to Ellen's cottage, sure that his violent outburst has forever alienated him from his father, but she persuades him that he will be forgiven.

Ellen-Clarice may be able to reclaim Horace Neville from exile and monsterhood, but she cannot overcome her own self-loathing as a female monster; her alienation can be conquered only through a withdrawal into death. Like so many of Mary Shelley's fictional orphans, Ellen-Clarice is the daughter of a widower who, after the "deadly blight" of his wife's death, leaves his surviving "infant daughter" to be reared by others (p. 96). He returns when Clarice is ten and devotes himself to her education. Their relationship, totally unlike that between Mathilda and her returning father, is ideal and she quickly becomes "proficient under his tutoring": "They rode -- walked -- read together. When a father is all that a father may be, the sentiments of filial piety, entire dependence, and perfect confidence being united, the love of the daughter is one of the deepest and strongest, as it is the purest passion of which our natures are capable" (p. 96). This wishful harmony between parent and child is disrupted by an incident that links Clarice's passivity to Neville's aggression much as Justine-Elizabeth are linked to the Monster. During a raging storm, Clarice's father deposits her in a lifeboat in which there is room for but one more passenger. He dies, fighting the waves and battling "with the death that at last became the victor" (p. 100) and leaves Clarice haunted by the idea of "self-destruction." Neville's attempts to dispel her "intense melancholy" ("what do I not owe you? I am your boy, your pupil") are fruitless. Unable to bear her guilt, sure that no young man would ever want "to wed the parri--," she wills her death (p. 106), joins her "father in the abode of spirits" (p. 105), and leaves Neville to tell her story to his own bride.

Mary Shelley's deep ambivalence about William Godwin informs most of her works of fiction. While thesis-novels such as The Last Man (1826) show the impress of her father's philosophical tutorship by incorporating some of his ideas on institutions and government, Frankenstein and tales like those discussed above reveal the impact of a very different legacy.35 The philosopher who had so strongly inveighed against "coercion" of any sort, who had written that all "individuals" ought to be left "to the progress of their own {119} minds,"36 clearly failed to apply his precepts during the early development of his daughter. His effect on her was as inhibiting as that James Mill, another rationalist prescriber of felicity, was to have on the emotional like of his son.

When Godwin died in April 1836 at the age of eighty, Mary Shelley was at work on her last piece of fiction, Falkner (1837), a novel about remorse and redemption. The fact that she wrote no more novels or stories in the fifteen years after his death can be attributed to a variety of reasons, among them, no doubt, her greater financial independence. Still, the fact remains intriguing. Intriguing, too, is her decision to postpone the edition of Godwin's manuscripts and the composition of his biography. Like George Eliot's Casaubon, Godwin had left her a message adjuring her not to allow his papers "to be considered to oblivion." Yet, very much like the Dorothea Brooke who no longer could think that the "really delightful marriage must be that where your husband was a sort of father, and could teach you even Hebrew, if you wished it,"37 Mary Shelley now stoutly resisted the hold of the dead hand. She had once wanted "little William" to be recognized by her father. Now she could adduce her maternal solicitude for another boy as a foil to "the sense of duty towards my father," whose "passion for posthumous fame," so like Victor Frankenstein's eagerness to receive the blessings of future generations, she no longer professed to share: "With regard to my Father's life," she wrote Trelawny, "I certainly could not answer it to my conscience to give it up -- I shall therefore do it -- but I must wait. This year I have to fight poor Percy's battle -- to try to get him sent to College without further dilapidation of his ruined prospects."38 To see Percy Florence reinstated in the graces of Sir Timothy Shelley, that other forbidding father, had become more important than to make amends for guilty thoughts and feelings. Aggressive at last in a sanctioned way, she had become a militant mother rather than a daughter penitent for not being a son. Godwin had squelched the publication of Mathilda in 1820; when Mary Shelley died in 1851, the promised biography consisted of only a few manuscript pages, largely about Godwin's relation to Mary Wollstonecraft. "Little William" had been revenged at last.


1. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, ed. James Rieger (Indianapolis and New York, 1974), chap. 7, p. 127. All future references in the text are to this edition of the 1818 version of the novel.

2. Mary Wollstonecraft, "Duty to Parents," A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects (New York, 1833), chap. 11, p. 167.

3. Quoted in C. Kegan Paul, William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries (London, 1876), II:214; the letter was written to an "unknown correspondent" who had inquired about Godwin's theories of education.

4. Ibid., I:7; see also Ford K. Brown, The Life of William Godwin (London and Toronto, 1926), p. 3.

5. See Godwin and Mary: Letters of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, ed. Ralph M. Wardle (Lawrence, Kansas, 1966), pp. 80, 82, 88, 92, 102; the passage used as the second epigraph to this essay ("William is alive") occurs on p. 94.

6. Richard Church, Mary Shelley (London, 1928), pp. 54-55.

7. Muriel Spark, Child of Light: A Reassessment of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Southend-on-Sea, Essex, 1951), p. 138.

8. Quoted in Edna Nixon, Mary Wollstonecraft: Her Life and Times (London, 1971), p. 248.

9. Mary Shelley's Journal, ed. Frederick L. Jones (Norman, Oklahoma, 1947), p. 205; the entry occurs on 21 October 1838.

10. A Child's Parent Dies: Studies in Childhood Bereavement (New Haven and London, 1974), p. 176; see also pp. 194-95.

11. For a fuller account of Mary's early life with Percy see Peter Dale Scott's discussion on pp. 178-182, below.

12. Journal, p. 39; 6 March 1815.

13. Ibid., p. 41; 19 March 1815.

14. Mary Shelley's journal for May 1815-July 1816 is lost; since it would have contained entries about the first six months of her "little William's" life, it is possible that she herself destroyed it after the boy's death in 1819.

15. Why had Mary Shelley called for Hogg immediately after the death of her first child? In her letter to Shelley of 27 July 1815 she pleads that he "attend to" and "comply with" her feeling that they "ought not to be absent any longer": "We have been now a long time separeted [sic]" (The Letters of Mary Shelley, ed. Frederick L. Jones [Norman, Oklahoma, 1944], I:16-17.

16. Journal, p. 15; 16 September 1814. As a male child, the younger William Godwin was permitted to go away to school: from 1811 to 1814 he went to the Charterhouse, from 1814 to 1818 to a school in Greenwich run by the young Dr. Burney. Described as "wayward and restless" as a youth, he became a successful journalist and wrote a novel called Transfusion. He died of cholera at the age of twenty-nine, leaving a wife but no children (Mary's Percy Florence thus was William Godwin's only grandchild). In 1818, Godwin described his son as "the only person with whom I have been any way concerned in the course of education, who is distinguished from all others by the circumstance of always returning a just answer to the questions I proposed to him"; this habit of mind apparently seemed more important to Godwin than the boy's "very affectionate disposition" (Paul, William Godwin, II:258). After his son's death, Godwin published the novel he had left behind and added, in Paul's words, a "gravely self-restrained Memoir" (II:321).

17. Juliet Mitchell points out that in the conditions established by "patriarchal human history," the growing girl learns "that her subjugation to the law of the father entails her becoming the representative of 'nature'" ("A Woman's Place," Psychoanalysis and Feminism [New York, 1974], p. 405).

18. Frankenstein describes himself as "passive" in the arrangements of his return to Geneva immediately after he had agreed to the Monster's dictates; when, "trembling with passion, [he tears] to pieces the thing on which I was engaged," the Monster soon forces him into passivity again (pp. 145, 164). By the time the two reach Walton's ship, the presumed aggressor, Victor, is clearly the victim of the Monster he thinks he is pursuing.

19. "Inhibited Femininity," Feminine Psychology (New York, 1967), p. 79; see also, in the same volume, "The Flight from Womanhood": "the desire to be a man is generally admitted comparatively willingly and . . . once it is accepted, it is clung to tenaciously, the reason being the desire to avoid the realization of libidinal wishes and fantasies in connection with the father" (p. 66).

20. The contrast between the two figures, in fact, resembles that between "Man of Science" and poet developed by Wordsworth in his 1800 "Preface": the scientist "seeks truth" in "solitude," while the creative poet carries "everywhere with him relationship and love."

21. Tales and Stories by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, ed. Richard Garnett (London, 1891), p. 19.

22. Mary Shelley seems to have had difficulties choosing the right adjective to describe the mother who is infected by Elizabeth; "amiable" was originally "admirable," but in the 1831 edition the novelist had apparently become less hesitant about identifying Caroline with her own mother: "this amiable woman" now becomes "this best of women."

23. In a way, it is Mel Brooks, in his script for the comic Young Frankenstein, who has been the most acute reader of the novel when he reunites the Monster, not with Victor, but with Elizabeth; Brooks also recognizes the novel's fluid interchanges when he has young Frahnkensteeeeen become endowed with the Monster's brain.

24. It may not be necessary to remind the reader that in both males and females the longing for death is associated with the longing for a reunion with the mother; in women, however, this death-wish seems to be free of the fears which lead men to paint a destructive femme fatale who brings death rather than life into the world.

25. Middlemarch, ed. Gordon S. Haight (Cambridge, Mass., 1956), p. 297.

26. 29 June 1819, Letters, I:74.

27. Quoted in Spark, Child of Light, p. 62.

28. Mathilda, ed. Elizabeth Nitchie (Chapel Hill, 1959), p. 90. The Bodleian notebook simplifies the implausibility of a dead narrator by having Mathilda write out her story just before her death. The fullest account of the bibliographical history of the manuscript is to be found in the third appendix of Elizabeth Nitchie's Mary Shelley: Author of "Frankenstein" (New Brunswick, N.J., 1953), pp. 211-17.

29. Nitchie, Mary Shelley, p. 212.

30. Mathilda, p. 10.

31. Quoted in Nitchie, Mary Shelley, p. 214n.

32. Mary Shelley to Maria Gisborne, 2-6 May 1823, Letters, I:224; by a coincidence, a stern portrait of Godwin faces the pages from which this passage is taken.

33. February 1823, quoted in Paul, William Godwin, II:277.

34. Tales and Stories, p. 161; future references to stories in this collection will be given in the text.

35. A study of the ways in which Frankenstein and some of the other novels enlist, yet also subvert, Godwinian ideology is beyond the scope of this essay. Such an investigation, however, I am convinced, would yield fruitful results. It would show, for instance, that the Monster I have called a Wordsworthian child of Nature is also a Godwinian child whose freedom from social institutions paradoxically proves as injurious as Justine's degradation at the hands of the legal system, which Godwin pronounced to be "an institution of the most pernicious tendency" (An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness, edited and abridged by Raymond A. Preston [New York, 1926], II: 210). It would also show that in her rebellious moods Mary Shelley sided with the idea of Godwin's former disciple, T. R. Malthus, against her father, who, by 1818, was preparing his reply to the Essay on Population.

36. An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, II:27.

37. Middlemarch, p. 8.

38. To Edward John Trelawny, 27 January 1837, Letters, II:119.