Contents Index

Literate Species: Populations, "Humanities," and Frankenstein

Maureen Noelle McLane

ELH, 63:4 (1996)

{959} When one is studying man, what can be more exact or more rigorous than to recognize human properties in him?

-- Jean-Paul Sartre, Search for a Method
I began the creation of a human being.

-- Victor Frankenstein [1.3.5
In his 1797 essay, "Of an Early Taste for Reading," William Godwin announced that "Literature, taken in all its bearings, forms the grand line of demarcation between the human and the animal kingdoms."1 Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus -- boldly dedicated to "WILLIAM GODWIN, Author of Political Justice, Caleb Williams, &c." -- may be read as a critique of her father's pronouncement.2 Shelley's corporeally indeterminate but decidedly literate monster asks us to consider whether literature -- taken in all its bearings -- was or is indeed a useful "line of demarcation between" human and animal. The fate of the monster suggests that proficiency in "the art of language" (110), as he calls it, may not ensure one's position as a member of the "human kingdom." Shelley shows us how a literary education, so crucial to Godwinian perfectibility, presupposes not merely an educable subject but a human being. Read through Godwin's dictum, the trajectory of Frankenstein's creation offers a parable of pedagogic failure -- specifically a failure in the promise of the humanities, in letters as a route to humanization.3 In assuming language and literature as domains available to him, the monster succumbs to the ruse of the humanities, the belief that "intellectual and literary refinement," in Godwin's terms, might be the route to his humanization. The novel demonstrates, perhaps against itself, that the acquisition of "literary refinement" fails to humanize the problematic body, the ever-unnamed monster. The monster thus introduces and embodies an anthropological problem which literature fails to resolve (within the novel) and yet which literature displays (in the fact of the novel itself). The perfectibility of man meets its violent contradiction in a speaking, {960} reasoning being which men, women, and children throughout Europe are unable or unwilling to recognize as a fellow species-being.

The meaning of "species," like the meaning of the monster, is not self-evident and indeed remains suspended through most of the novel. I will argue that Victor Frankenstein's final deliberations about the monster's future transform and fix the functional meaning of species; moreover, it is Victor's introduction of Malthusian discourse which allows him to arbitrate, in the last instance, the question of the monster's "species." The argument requires that I examine the monster's request for one "of the same species" (140) through the broad contours of the Malthus-Godwin debate, with Malthus representing the principle of population and Godwin the principle of perfectibility. I understand the discourses of population theory and human perfectibility to be part of the same discursive and historical field: Malthus and Godwin appear (in this essay as they did to themselves) as representative antagonists within that field.4 It was, of course, Godwin's vision of almost unlimited human improvability, and his defense of universal benevolence as the criterion of moral action and political justice, which most irked Malthus. Indeed, it was Godwin's essay "Of Avarice and Profusion" (published in The Enquirer: Reflections on Education, Manners, and Literature [1797]), which provoked Malthus to launch his extended attack on Godwinian radicalism, Condordet's theory of mind, and poor relief in his Essay on the Principle of Population (1798). Malthus and Godwin maintained their mutually antagonistic positions for several decades; in 1820 Godwin finally published his own Of Population: An Inquiry concerning the Power of Increase in the Numbers of Mankind, being an answer to Mr. Malthus' Essay on that Subject. Godwin wrote of his quarrel with Malthus and the surrounding debate, "[such] speculations have now been current for nearly twenty years."5

Written toward the end of that twenty-year period, Frankenstein should be read in part through the historical specificity of the Malthus-Godwin controversy. During Mary Shelley's lifetime, her father was known publicly as the antagonist of Malthus as well as the author of Political Justice and Caleb Williams; any discussion of Godwinian "benevolence" would have taken into account its most prominent critic, Malthus, and his cautionary calculus of moral restraint, misery and vice. Certainly Percy Shelley, disciple of Godwin and despiser of Malthus, made the connection between the two, as A Philosophical View of Reform demonstrates. Lee Sterrenberg, Ellen Moers, U. C. Knoepflmacher, Anne K. Mellor and Marilyn Butler {961} are only a sampling of the critics who have pointed to Godwin's tremendous influence on his daughter: she was educated by him; she read and re-read his works, including Political Justice, before and during her writing of Frankenstein; she took his novels, particularly Caleb Williams, as models for her own novel.6 Throughout Frankenstein, the careful conjunction and repetition of such freighted phrases as "misery," "human benevolence," "selfishness," "justice," and "duty" indicate a careful and conscious crafting of logical and rhetorical argument around the central problem of the Malthus-Godwin controversy: how to imagine the preconditions, possibilities and limits of human happiness.7 In scene after critical scene, characters in the novel speak their predicaments through a Malthus-Godwin problematic featuring self-love and benevolence, misery and happiness.

Mary Shelley's novel internalizes the broad contours of this debate; moreover, it reveals its anthropological preconditions. Although I hope to restore to the Godwinian readings of Frankenstein a Malthusian dimension, I hope not to produce merely another exercise in remedial historicism. The historical specificity of the Malthus-Godwin controversy provides one axis for my reading (and a deferred one, in terms of this essay); the anthropological precondition of that debate provides another axis. The monster is a rupture, a "most astonishing thing" not unlike Burke's French Revolution.8 All critics agree with Victor that the monster is a problem; how to describe that problem is a further one. He is in the words of Peter Brooks an "aberrant signifier," a disturbingly prolific producer of problems in signification.9 Yet he is also a bodily problem. The sutures of his body mark a physiological and aesthetic problem; his rhetorical fluency points to a problem of eloquence; he is at various moments and often simultaneously a linguistic, a national, a political, a sexed and a sexual problem. I do not wish prematurely to resolve or categorize the problem of the monster (nor do I think I can); rather, I wish to trace how the monstrous problem emerges in a specific terrain -- that of the discursive construction of human being. This aspect of my argument is most heavily inflected by my reading of Michel Foucault, particularly The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences and The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Discourse on Language. The monster, a product of natural science, becomes a problem for human science; literature fails to resolve that problem for the monster, who discovers himself forever exiled from "the human kingdom." The novel may be read, then, not only as a technophobic allegory, a critique of masculinist presumption, or a {962} Godwinian fable (to cite only a few possibilities) but also as a critique of the anthropological and anthropomorphic foundations of the categories "human" and "humanities."

The Rupture in the Human World

The method, the soul of science, designates at first sight any body in nature in such a way that the body in question expresses the name that is proper to it, and that this name recalls all the knowledge that may, in the course of time, have been acquired about the body thus named.

-- Linnaeus, Systema naturae10

if what we saw was an optical delusion, it was the most perfect and wonderful recorded in the history of nature.

-- Robert Walton, in Frankenstein [3.5.8]

What kind of being is the monster? What is this body which desires to humanize itself? Anne Mellor writes that "Mary Shelley saw the creature as potentially monstrous, but she never suggested that he was other than fully human."11 That he might be "other than fully human" seems to me very much the problem. It is true that Victor Frankenstein's ambition was to create a human being. Possessed of the secret of "the cause of generation and life" (47), the young scientist overcomes his hesitations and begins to work: "I began the creation of a human being" (49). Yet immediately Victor turns from this beginning. The particularity and smallness of the human body frustrate him: "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" (49) -- that is, eight feet tall. Within several paragraphs we see Victor raiding charnel houses for bones and body parts; and he further notes, "the dissecting room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials." Victor dreams now that "a new species would bless me as its creator and its source" (49).

As this brief summation suggests, Victor's aims undergo an unsteady modulation from a vision of "human being" to a vision of a "new species": the physiologically indeterminate being he creates brings us to the threshold of species-being. That is, Victor's labors ultimately become not an experiment to create a human being but rather an experiment in speciation, an experiment with extremely heterogeneous "materials" (50). Violating the "ideal bounds" (49) of life and death, Victor inadvertently confronts another threshold, the {963} boundary between species. He produces a biological anomaly; moreover, the production of this anomaly threatens his own "human nature," which "turn[s] with loathing from [his] occupation" (50). As soon as the monster convulses into life, Victor defensively remarks on the "un-human features" (52) of the creature, perhaps attempting to establish immediately the difference in species. Victor's revulsion from his creature has been read, among other glosses, as an aesthetic rejection, a disgust with childbirth, and a horror at violating a taboo.12 Yet we can also see that Victor's concern for his own "human nature" and his specification of the "un-human features" of his creature suggest that human being is the species category in question. The rest of the novel considers whether Victor's response indeed forecasts the monster's final state: will he remain an "inarticulate . . . demoniacal corpse" (53), as Victor calls him, or might this creature insert itself within a human community?

Victor's experiment thus implicates human being. This scene is only one of several in which Shelley features the category "human" under critique. The thing originally intended to be a "human being" (49) becomes in fact a threat to "human nature" (50), as Victor sees it. The monster is not decisively human; nor, as his eventual fluency and rationality suggest, is he decisively not human. Victor inadvertently engineers not a human being but the monstrous critique of the very category. The riddle of the monster propels a proliferation of categories, a nominalistic explosion which suggests a taxonomic breakdown: the body in question expresses no name precisely proper to it.

To account for the categorical problem which the monster produces and embodies, it is important to consider the discourses through which the monster speaks (and is spoken), and the modes of being such discourses imply. Victor's ideational and material construction of the monster -- the messy work of brain and hand -- provides us with at least two routes to the monster's being. Yet the novel offers several other modes of apprehending the monstrous problem, including visual and aural perception, territorial and national forms. These various modes of representation are by no means mutually exclusive. Discourses of human being multiply as the monster forces the rearticulation and reorganization of the content and mode of the "human."

Victor relates the what we might call the conceptual genesis of the monster; in terms of narratological genesis, Robert Walton (the English mariner, the epistolary framer) introduces the first terms through which to speak about the monster -- distinctions based on form and territory. Walton proposes the monster as an "optical delusion," {964} a revolution in the "history of nature" (18). Yet this optical delusion lives and moves and has its being. The proliferation of discourses around this rupture in natural history attempts to suture this all-too-corporeal rift in the known and knowable world. Walton first reports the sighting of "a being which had the shape of a man, but apparently of gigantic stature" (17); this apparition is soon followed by "a human being . . . He was not, as the other traveller seemed to be, a savage inhabitant of some undiscovered island, but an European" (18). To Walton, the first figure, the monster, takes on a gigantic aspect, whereas the second -- soon revealed to be Victor Frankenstein -- immediately appears as a fellow human being, and more precisely, a European. This first encounter delineates the kind of perceptual oppositions which govern the logic of territory and species. The most obviously "human beings" in Frankenstein are inevitably "European," whereas the monster consistently provokes questions such as Walton's: "is this unknown wast [sic] inhabited by giants, of which the being we saw is a specimen?" (18). The hailing of Victor as a European emerges as a differentiation against a savage backdrop. Walton's very syntax performs the negative construction of European being: Victor "was not, as the other traveller seemed to be, a savage . . . but an European" (18). Walton's report introduces question of seeming and being, appearance and essence, which might allow for an ambiguation of his categories. Yet his very facility with such constructions deserves attention: he provides in embryo the terms and terrain which the novel will eventually fix and specify (savage = not European = not human). In such language Walton introduces one dimension of the anthropological problem of the novel.

Walton's opposition of savage giant and European man soon modulates into a commentary on linguistic and territorial communities. Walton finds himself "addressed . . . in English, although with a foreign accent": the European is then identified as a "foreigner" to the English interlocutor. Walton converses with this figure, who is Victor Frankenstein, "in his native language which is French" (22). These successive translations and the becoming-foreign of Victor (to Walton, the de-territorialized Englishman "at sea," in ice) point to the problematic conjunction of a fantasized unitary place -- Europe -- and its multiple linguistic idioms. The European community includes England and France so far, and will grow to include, as the novel progresses, Geneva (Victor's native town), Italy (site of Elizabeth Lavenza's birth), Germany (where Victor attends University), Holland (where Victor and his friend Henry Clerval tour), the {965} Orkney Isles (where Victor undertakes the creation of a second female creature), and Ireland (where Henry dies). Yet Frankenstein repeatedly suggests that "Europe" may be a phantom, a spectral placeholder beyond and opposed to the clear boundaries of nation and republic, even as "Europeans" appear in contradistinction to savage "giants" (18). Europe exists as a category over and against the strong persistence of "native" lands and languages -- note that the "European" Victor is soon denominated a "foreigner" by Robert Walton. The turning of a fellow "human" and "European" into a specifically Genevese French-speaking "foreigner" shows how humans identify each another through increasingly differentiated and estranging categories. The monster strains against and defines the limits of these kinds and levels of classification.

This sighting reads, as David Marshall argues, as a variation on a Rousseauvian topos -- "tableaux of primitive man" -- that posits an isolated natural man (or post-diluvian man) who would instinctively react with fear whenever he came across another man.13 "In the beginning" (or after the catastrophe), the hypothesis went, men would not recognize one another as fellow human beings but would rather perceive the other as a giant, as a mortal threat. Common human being was thus imagined as emerging slowly and tortuously, only "après beaucoup d'experiences."14 Such a fiction asserted there was no automatic sympathetic identification among human beings; sympathy and society were conceived as achieved, not natural, aspects of the human condition. Revising Rousseau and other Enlightenment theorists of the primitive, Mary Shelley locates the primitive tableau in modern Europe. This giant thrives and terrifies not in antiquity but in the contested present of late-eighteenth-century Europe. We can read the gigantism of the creature as Walton's misprision (he is not really a giant but rather appears to be so); yet this gigantism is more than a perceptual error or a trope. Victor tells us later in the novel that he indeed made an extremely large monster, a being "of gigantic stature" (49): Walton is not wrong to identify the monster as such. The monster is not like Rousseau's hypothetical giants; he is not an "optical delusion"; he is quite literally a giant with a specific history, a body whose composition and scale were determined under specific conditions in Victor's workshop. He is theory embodied and made historical.

With its coordination of territorial, cultural and linguistic modes of identification and difference, Walton's sighting introduces the terms by which a human being might know and speak itself -- and {966} more relevant to the monster, a discursive range through which an anomaly might humanize itself. When the monster gives the account of his own life, he makes clear that he did not understand himself naturally to be excluded from human fellowship; it is only after he has been rejected as a French-speaking fellow man that he eventually concludes, as his maker seems to have long before, that there can be "no community" (95) between them. It takes the monster several years to learn what all sighted beings "know" about him: that his presence -- whether conceived as a "giant . . . specimen" (18) or as a "demoniacal corpse" (53) -- proves an irremediable rupture in the humanly peopled world. What the monster is forced to learn is that his "birth" remains a breach, and further that literate speech provides no adequate redress for natal alienation.

Natives of the World

In describing the monster as natally alienated, I borrow a term introduced by Werner Sollors in his Harvard lectures on "Literature and Ethnicity in America."15 This category allows us to trace the relation of knowledge to "nativity" and "natality." Both terms suggest birth, but nativity also connotes the condition of being "native" to a place in addition to having been born. As a made thing, the monster violates natality as a condition of human (and animal) existence; yet his development allows us to see how the new-comer, born or made, forces the society to articulate and redefine its understanding of the "native" and "human" -- and the practices proper to humanity -- against the anomaly.

One difference between monster and man appears in the different nativities of these figures, and in their relation to exile and emigration. Victor begins his life history with the ringing Rousseauvian statement, "I am by birth a Genevese; my family is one of the most distinguished of that republic" (27). He goes on to describe his father's career as a "public" servant, one who late in life decided to marry, thus "bestowing on the state sons" (27). Victor provides himself with a specific genealogy implicated in the state; he repeatedly asserts his relation to his "native country" (37). Conversely, the monster opens his life story with an assertion of problematic genealogy: "It is with considerable difficulty that I remember the original aera of my being: all the events of that period appear confused and indistinct" (97). Unlike every other character in the novel, the monster has no republic, town or nation to call his own. He articulates his beginnings solely in terms of disordered sense perception. As the {967} furiously disappointed monster later tells Victor, "to me, hated and despised, every country must be equally horrible" (135). Unlike Victor, he cannot appeal to familial, political or other territorial categories which would provide him with techniques of authentication and remembrance. For all his claims on Victor as "creator" and "author of his being," he exists as a stateless creature who respects no European boundaries, even as his heterogeneous and formerly dead body violates species boundaries.

The monster is a problem both for himself and for Victor; more specifically, the monster forces what we might call the psychological re-mapping of the native human world. The fact of the monster transforms nativity, even as it transforms human being. If the monster is produced or made as natally alienated, without native place, Victor faces the prospect of becoming natally alienated. He articulates his increasing desperation and guilt as a kind of progressive natal alienation -- an exile within Europe, a de-naturing of his bonds with Geneva. When he hears of his brother's murder, he heads back to his "native town," finding himself fearful, "dreading a thousand nameless evils" (69). He soon finds "residence within the walls of Geneva very irksome," the "shutting of the gates" at ten the clang of a claustrophobic regime (86). His increasing alienation contrasts with that of his fiancée and father, both of whom offer paeans to the small domestic circle and tranquillity "in our native country" (89). These homages are horribly inappropriate, as Victor realizes: the world has come to Geneva however much his father and Elizabeth think otherwise. It is one of the exquisite ironies of the novel that Victor's first "exile" from home, his going to university in Ingolstadt, was instigated by his father, who thought that Victor "should become acquainted with other customs than those of [his] native country" (37). It is, of course, at Ingolstadt that Victor acquires the means -- ideational and technical -- of producing his creature. When Victor must later go to England to obtain materials for building his female creature, he parodies his father's logic. He tells his father he wishes "to visit England; but, concealing the true reasons of this request, [he] clothed [his] desires under the guise of wishing to travel and see the world before [he] sat down for life within the walls of [his] native town" (150). Using the language of filiopiety and native allegiance, Victor dissembles his project, appropriates the language of the European tour, and travesties the security of the "walls of the native town" (151).

Victor marks his alienation with the cry, "how much happier that {968} man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow" (48). Even in his disillusion, Victor still attempts to naturalize his alienation and recover his status as a Genevese son. Had he stayed within the bounds of his "nature" (read, his socio-political sphere, his domestic circle, or his pre-technological episteme), he would not have destroyed his belief in his "native town." His lament demonstrates the truth that the native town is not the world, or rather, that the world has come to Geneva. The monster, the living artifact, becomes in fact the figure of the world irremediably transformed.

The monster uses the very same terminology as Victor -- "exile," "native" (and, as I will discuss later, "sympathy") -- but he circulates in a different species economy. His "emigration" (100), as he calls it, brings him eventually to the De Laceys and to acquaintance with Volney's Ruins of Empires. This book constellates his conscious formulation of natal alienation: "Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant; but I knew that I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property" (115). This "knowledge" brings him only "sorrow," and he exclaims, "Oh, that I had for ever remained in my native wood, nor known nor felt beyond the sensations of hunger, thirst and heat!" (116). Thus the monster, like Victor, expresses the counterfactual wish that he had stayed "native." But however rhetorically parallel their laments, and however similar their respective falls-into-knowledge, there persists between monster and man a crucial rift in modes of being. The monster suffers natal alienation in a register distinct from Victor's revulsion from Geneva. To have "emigrated" from the "native wood" because of hunger is quite another thing than to have found oneself a spiritual "exile" within Europe. The monster experiences a nostalgia for the woods, for nature, for purely sensual being, whereas Victor regrets his exile from a naturalized social state and domestic intimacy. The monster also offers a kind of radical materialism; his fall into consciousness conjoins questions of ontology ("creation") and economy ("money," "property"). In their echoes of the other's predicament, they dramatize the difference of their positions -- in terms of the state, the condition of human civilization they embody, and finally in terms of species. They exist on different sides of the human, that is the civilized, propertied, native European, border. It is to cross that border that the monster sets about acquiring a linguistic and ultimately a literary education.

The Science of Education

{969} The world is much like a school.

-- Godwin, Essay on Sepulchres

Just as the monster's being and origin launch a critique of "human being" and "nativity," his intellectual history -- "the progress of my intellect" (123) as he calls it -- complicates anthropomorphic accounts of mind and educability. That Frankenstein concerns itself with the education of its figures (and its readers) is a critical truism: with his exposure to Goethe, Milton, Plutarch, and Volney, the creature receives a highly specified course inflected by concerns both revolutionary and romantic. The monster's political and aesthetic education suggests that he serves as an experimental subject for what Godwin called "the science of education."16 Mary Shelley's personal pedagogic relations, most notably with Godwin and Shelley, informed her understanding of the complex situations of education. Modelling the monster's reading program on her own in 1815, Shelley furnished her creature's consciousness with the stuff of her own mind. There is now something of a critical consensus about the monster as a figure of the "second sex" (secondary, incomplete, monstrous) and the monster's education as a "sexual education" -- its eccentricity both sexed (more like Mary Shelley's, say, than Percy's) and sexual (among the many "lessons" Felix DeLacey inadvertently teaches the monster is that of sexual difference and reproduction).17 However sexed and vexed, the progress of the monster's intellect implies a theory of improvable mind, which both Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin endorsed. As Godwin wrote in "Of the Sources of Genius," in The Enquirer, "Give me all the motives that have excited another man, and all the external advantages he had had to boast, and I shall arrive at excellence not inferior to his. This view of the nature of the human mind, is of the utmost importance in the science of education."18 Shelley's novel may be read as a thought experiment with the anthropomorphic foundations of and limits to Godwin's "science."

Mary Shelley furnished her novel with several routes to and sites of this "science of education": Victor's boyhood schooling in Geneva and university training in "natural philosophy" in Ingolstadt; the monster's eavesdropping on the language and history lessons given in the De Lacey household; Henry Clerval's attaining proficiency in {970} several "oriental" languages (Persian, Arabic, Hebrew).19 These different educational modes and contents suggest that all knowledges are not equal, nor are they equally obtained. As the work of Anne Mellor, Marilyn Butler and others suggests, science emerges as the most prominent body of knowledge under critique.20 Mary Shelley's science may be variously described as alchemical "pseudo-science" (in U. C. Knoepflmacher's phrase), as a "serio-comic" version of the vitalist controversy in England (pace Marilyn Butler), as a satire on the synthesizing dreams of the Naturphilosophen, as a figure for reproduction at the threshold of the "chemical revolution."21 But however we view the representation of science in the novel, we must concede that it is Victor and not his monster who masters (however unfortunately) this body of knowledge. The monster is a product of natural philosophy, not its student. When he embarks on his own tale of the "progress of [his] intellect" we soon discover that his learning involves not the "science" of "modern chemistry" (or any other natural science) but rather the "godlike science" (107) of "letters" (114).

The word "science" had yet to restrict its range to what we now denominate the physical and social sciences; yet Shelley carefully differentiates among the bodies of knowledge available to and cultivated by the various figures in the novel. Gayatri Spivak has described this apportionment as aligned with "Kant's three-part conception of the human subject," with Henry Clerval (the linguist) embodying practical reason, Elizabeth Lavenza aesthetic judgment, and Victor theoretical reason.22 This mapping of the subject seems to me inadequate, forsaking as it does the prominence of the monster's own intellectual development. The differential status of "letters" (the monster's material) and of natural philosophy (Victor's domain) illuminates how "the idea of the humanities" increasingly delimited and defined itself against natural science.23 That is to say, the agon of Victor and monster may be read as well as an agon between "science" and "the humanities." Indeed, George Levine has called Frankenstein "perhaps the great popular metaphor of the hostility between science and literature."24 I believe that this "popular metaphor" is no catachresis but rather a recognition of a critical contest within the narrative. Such a reading grossly simplifies the historical conditioning of Shelley's representation of the subjects and techniques of education; I am also choosing to ignore the complications introduced by Robert Walton (the self-described "self-educated" and "illiterate" mariner [13-14]) and Henry Clerval (the oriental linguist whose father, a businessman, asserts that "learning is superfluous in the {971} commerce of ordinary life" [39]). What this simplification allows, however, is an opportunity to explore the novel as a diagnosis of the embodied use and abuse of different knowledges. The novel proposes, in its history of the monster, a remedy for the horrifying body which science has produced -- the humanities.

Acquiring Human Being: "Humanities" as Remedy

the peculiar dignity of these arts is said to lie in the fact that their cultivation and pursuit differentiates the activities distinctive of man from those of animals.

-- R. S. Crane, The Idea of The Humanities

I believe that the monster's bildung makes explicit the problematic status of "human being" (a species category) and "the humanities" (the cultivation of the "good arts" -- as R. S. Crane described it -- whether considered as eloquence and reason, belles lettres, or the "liberal arts").25 If the monster appears as the product of scientific experiment fueled by romantic ambition, his attempt to acquire know-how and fellowship through speech and writing represents another effort at producing himself, this time as a speaking and reasoning being. History and literature, supported by a basic literacy, figure as the most sophisticated techniques for the monster's experiment in his own humanization. He tells his maker that he happened upon a cache of books, "written in the language the elements of which I had acquired at the cottage." Among these books are Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch's Lives, and the Sorrows of Werther (123). The linguistic, historical, and cultural heterogeneity of the monster's canon is an intriguingly unthought aspect of the novel. How is it possible that all these books should be "written in the language" the monster has acquired? He never speaks of translation, although this is an obvious solution to the difficulty. He makes a point of telling old De Lacey that he "was educated by a French family, and understand[s] that language only" (129). We may understand the monster's assimilation of Milton's English, Plutarch's Latin, and Goethe's German to be a typically "European" -- or perhaps Romantically eclecticizing -- gesture. And yet, as the monster's assertion of monolingual fluency suggests, the aspirant to human community must speak at least one particular language fluently, must be able to identify his language with a kind of national or at least regional seal -- in this case, French.

{972} Several critics have discussed the monster's reading course: the significance of Shelley's choices; the sequence in which the monster reads his books; their political, religious, and aesthetic valences.26 When considering the anthropomorphic problematic of Frankenstein, the content of and expectations generated by such material as Paradise Lost (Adamic sonship and prerogative, Satanic exile and heroic despair) seem less significant than the very literacy which such reading presupposes. What is most striking is not what the monster reads and speaks, or even that he reads and speaks, but rather what he thinks such accomplishments should signify: the precondition for his "becoming one among my fellows" (116), as he puts it. Shelley repeatedly emphasizes the function of linguistic mediation in constituting communities. She takes care to provide her Europeans with a linguistic education, Elizabeth and Victor having learned English and Latin. Victor also familiarizes himself with "the easiest Greek" (36) and German (this in addition to his native French). Thus the novel traces a linguistic range for her inhabitants and points to the colonial, commercial, and sexual extension of this range, as in Henry Clerval's orientalism and in the "Arabian" Safie's linguistic Europeanization. Given the novel's elision of "European" and "human," it is not at all surprising that the monster looks to language and to European history and literature as the media for his transformation into a member of the community.

The monster understands language to be a route to human being; he also conceives of language not merely as an oral exchange but also as literate (lettered) speech. In his hovel by the De Laceys, the monster discovers the "science of words or letters" (105). Eventually he recognizes that the De Laceys communicate "by articulate sounds" -- a "godlike science" he wishes to learn. There is a particular urgency to the monster's wish: he decides he will remain hidden until he has made himself "master of their language" (109). He expects to use his articulate voice against their perception of his hideous form. His idiosyncratic schooling emphasizes the acquisition of speech and writing, a double linguistic fluency which he acquires almost simultaneously. He becomes both phoneticized and alphabeticized. In this he registers the nineteenth-century turn-to-language, in which scholars increasingly established the study of language as the basis of the human sciences (evidenced in the proliferation of universal grammars, the birth of philology, the development of comparative linguistics). He understands human being to be constituted through a very particular "discourse network," in Friedrich Kittler's terms, in which {973} the learning of language required a "naturalization of the alphabet" and as well as an "oralization" of the alphabet; through such techniques pedagogues attempted to obscure the arbitrariness of what the monster calls the "science of words or letters."27 The monster's choice of "science" in this last phrase introduces an interesting ambiguity (as does his mention of the "godlike science" of language): he may well be using "science" in its full elasticity, as equivalent to a formal knowledge or method, but he may also register what Kittler describes as the "revolution of the European alphabet" -- its oralization through syllabic and spelling methods around 1800 which contributed to "the epistemological shift from a general grammar to the science of language."28 The problem of phonetics and the alphabet, posed by the monster to himself, suggests that language has been denaturalized, already broken into a particular combinatoire. The monster is unable to acquire French by purely oral means; he requires the intervention of a book, of transcription, whose words he then hears Felix reading to Safie. This oral method thus rests on a literate precondition. Whether considered as an art (for example, as part of rhetoric) or as a science (for example, as part of phonetics), language appears as the most basic medium for his humanization.

The monster makes little progress until Safie appears in the De Lacey household. Now the monster realizes there is more than one human language. He notes that, although Safie "appeared to have a language of her own, she was neither understood by, or herself understood, the cottagers" (112). Teaching Safie French out of Volney's Ruins of Empires, Felix gives the monster the opportunity to learn both articulate speech and the course of empire, the nature of economics, and conduct of human affairs. As Safie learns French, so does the monster: "the idea instantly occurred to me, that I should make use of the same instruction to the same end" (113). Yet it is important to note that, whereas Safie has "her own" language and is merely acquiring another, the monster is being translated into language: he had no language of his own and, unlike a human infant, was unable without administered instruction to "master" (109) their language. Learning the "art of language" (110) -- "their language" (109; emphasis added) -- coincides for him with learning the "science of letters": speaking and alphabetic writing appear to him as two equally alien media which he requires in order to be recognized. Or rather, he requires these techniques as an anticipatory remedy for being visually cognized as anti- or un-human, a monster. Of course, the promise of letters fails the monster, most dramatically when he is {974} beaten out of the De Lacey household. This expulsion from the domestic idyll prompts the monster's declaration of "everlasting war against the species" (133) -- that is, the human species, which the monster slowly and inexorably comes to understand as a class of being from which he is excluded.

The final test of the monster's belief in what I am calling the humanities, in acquired humanitas, takes place in his encounter with the small brother of Victor Frankenstein. The crux of Mary Shelley's critique of the humanities may be posed as such: is little William "unprejudiced" (138), as the monster hopes? Having come upon the child, the monster deliberates: perhaps the child "had lived too short a time to have imbibed a horror of deformity. If, therefore, I could seize him, and educate him as my companion and friend, I should not be so desolate in this peopled earth" (138). The monster imagines himself as pedagogue to remedy his lack of community. He proposes to himself an experiment in human nature, taking as his subject one still in his "infancy" (138). He approaches the child as a naturally sympathetic being, interpreting the previous horror of all humans to have been a socialized prejudice. But again the monster's experiment fails: the child responds with the instinctive aversion of all other humans and furthermore calls down the juridical wrath of the State in the person of his paterfamilias -- "Let me go; my papa is a Syndic . . . he would punish you." In Louis Althusser's terms, the monster discovers there is no subject before interpellation; the child understands and speaks himself through several ideological state apparatuses -- familial, legal -- and calls upon them to defend himself against the monster.29 The language of fairytales and nightmares -- "ugly wretch! you wish to eat me, and tear me to pieces" the child cries -- segues into the language of the socialized subject, the son who calls out for his papa the Syndic. The monster's faith in education shatters, and he murders the child. The wish to "seize him, and educate him" (139) becomes the act of seizing him for strangling. So ends the monster's "idea" of himself as a pedagogue.

It is striking that the monster's first murder appears as the climax of a pedagogical fantasy. The real question is not why did little William respond so violently to this monster (who is consistently visually aversive to humans), but why did the monster ever consider him educable -- or more broadly, why does the monster entertain educational fantasies at all? The monster persists in taking himself as an appropriate object of the liberal arts. He believes the methods and arts available to, for example, Safie, are equally available to him. {975} As he says, relishing his language lessons, "I resolved to make use of the same instructions [given Safie] to the same end" (113). The "end" for Safie is the learning of French in order to be assimilated linguistically and sexually into the Christian, republican, patriarchal domicile; so too the monster aspires, but his aspiration also bears the weight of his desire to humanize himself, to distinguish himself from the animals (as both R. S. Crane and Godwin describe the task of the humanities). In entertaining humanist fantasies, the monster forgets his corporeally and nominally indeterminate status: the community of letters presupposes a human community, and the humanities presuppose humans. The monster presupposes his potential humanity; in this he succumbs to the ruse of the humanities.

Renouncing Human Being: Species Revising

It is only after the spectacular failure of the monster's education, both in his own training-into-language with the De Laceys, and in his wish to "educate" little William, that the monster admits the anthropological crisis he presents, both for himself and for humans. The monster's tale of his "progress" concludes with his request of Victor:
I am alone and miserable; man will not associate with me; but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me. My companion must be of the same species, and have the same defects. This being you must create. (140)
The creature's understanding of species takes up, and perhaps parodies, the conceptualization of that term throughout what Michel Foucault terms the Classical period (from the mid-seventeenth to the late-eighteenth century in Western Europe). As both Foucault and François Jacob note, species was defined in this era according to the persistence of the visible structure.30 For the creature, to be "of the same species" is to look alike, however "deformed and horrible" that might be. Species here seems to follow a logic of appearance. It seems less a scientific category denoting classes of beings which reproduce their like over time than a perceptual-social category which organizes the possibility of contact among beings. Creatures of different species will "not associate" together. Aesthetic revulsion precludes social interaction. This has been repeatedly demonstrated by the visual paranoia the monster induces and the semiological riddle he presents. Yet he is not merely a signifier: he is a body, a potentially reproductive body, as Victor comes to see.

Requesting a female "with whom I can live in the interchange of {976} those sympathies necessary for my being" (140), the monster links the problem of his "being" to the problem of sympathy. As David Marshall has argued, Frankenstein may be read as an inquiry into the specular and spectacular logic of sympathy: the monster appears as the very limit of the economy of sympathetic exchange. The monster is of course repeatedly presented as a specular problem; I have argued that the visual distress he induces may be read as well as a figure for the imaginal-conceptual breakdown he embodies. This leads us to the interesting question: is common species being a pre-requisite for sympathy, or is sympathy the precondition for what I am calling "common species being"? The question of theoretic priority is ultimately less important than the monster's analysis of the mutual implication of the discourse of sympathy and the construction of human being. The monster acquiesces in the proposition that only beings "of the same species" are capable of sympathizing with each other.31 His request reflects his experience of sympathy as a specifically human specular logic: a body requires a human appearance to stimulate, elicit and participate in human sympathetic reactions. Of course, the monster shows himself capable of sympathizing with humans; yet sighted humans refuse that reciprocity. That blind De Lacey offers an alternative vision of the monster provides not an instance of superior insight (see, the monster really is like us) so much as another moment in which blindness calls forth insight. The monster's pleasant discussion with old De Lacey promises an alternative discourse network, a community independent of visual affinity. The sympathetic blindness of old De Lacey allows us to read normal human vision as ideologically blinkered; and yet the visual persists as most powerful mode of understanding the world. Shelley shows us how humans experience sight as transparency; sympathy and its counter, revulsion, occur as if naturally to the sighted. Those with normal and normalizing sight will perceive the anomaly as a threat, as an invasion, and will, like Felix De Lacey, vigorously and righteously resist. She thus displays and critiques the anthropomorphic supports of sympathy. The monster marks the species limit of what Donna Haraway calls, in another context, "primate vision."32 Both Victor and the monster come to agree: sympathy will not cross the species barrier. Recognizing the primarily specular logic of human sympathy, the monster arrives at a new self-conception. Requesting as he does a being "of the same species," a female who with the "same defects" (140) will presumably violate "human nature" (that is, human appearance) as much as himself, the monster marks his formal and explicit renunciation of human being.

{977} In his turn to Victor for a mate, the monster also marks the narrative convergence of two functions, the critique of the "human" and the critique of the "humanities." The discourse of species confronts the differential power of the disciplines. The well-read and eloquent monster lacks the tools he most needs, the instruments of speciation, the means of production. The monster makes clear the implicit hierarchy of knowledge: the science of "modern chemistry" which led Victor to his first creation stands as a more efficacious knowledge than what the monster hailed as the "science of words or letters" (105). Victor has the solution, the means of production, technical and ideational -- the "chemical apparatus" (168), as he calls it, and the university training in natural philosophy. Natural science, not language, literature or consciousness, will provide for the monster the community of two he desires. Implicitly acknowledging the failure of the humanities, of "literature -- taken in all its bearings" (as Godwin wrote), the monster also acknowledges his acquiescence in the human -- that is, the European -- reading of him, which has featured such epithets as "savage," "ogre," and "demoniacal corpse." He defines difference as species difference and no longer looks to linguistic or cultural filiation as a means to override his problematic genealogy and form. Thus his request for another "of the same species."

What I read as the monster's understanding of the stakes of species and sympathy must be contrasted and complemented with Victor's reading of this same request. It is Victor who transforms and fixes the meaningful force of these terms. The category of "species," while obviously a multivalent and potentially vague term, requires a reproductive specificity, as Victor's deliberations illuminate. Just as the "idea" which governs the first making of a creature undergoes several ideational modifications (from creating human to giant to "new species"), so too Victor's conception of his second labor of creation undergoes a kind of imaginative transformation. What was originally latent in the monster's request -- reproductive possibility -- is made manifest in Victor's panicked thought. Sitting in his laboratory in the Orkneys, Victor considers how his new creature might turn out: "she might become ten thousand times more malignant than her mate" (163), or she might find her fellow creature loathsome and desert him. Even more appalling to Victor is the following possibility:

Even if they were to leave Europe, and inhabit the deserts of the new world, yet one of the first results of those sympathies for which the demon thirsted would be children, and a race of devils would be propagated upon the earth, who would make the very existence {978} of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror. Had I a right, for my own benefit, to inflict this curse upon everlasting generations? (163)
Is Victor right to envision an apocalyptic threat to the "very existence of the species of man" (165)? Does Victor suffer from reproductive paranoia? How do we know the creature could reproduce? After all, he is a motley assemblage, and Mary Shelley has done nothing to specify his sexual capacity or organs. He may well be a kind of mule -- composite, sterile. Perhaps another way to phrase the problem of the monster's request is this: what does a monster really want? Victor thinks he knows. The monster's request indicates a refutation of Malthus, who in 1798 wrote that, "Life is, generally speaking, a blessing independent of a future state."33 Victor comes to envision, quite anxiously, the monster's future state in reproductive terms. Victor materializes and sexualizes what the creature has presented in more ambiguous language: the "interchange of sympathies" the creature desires becomes in Victor's imaginings a primarily sexual intercourse. The creature had earlier predicted that, with a mate, his "virtues will necessarily arise when I live in communion with an equal. I shall feel the affections of a sensitive being, and become linked to the chain of existences and events, from which I am now excluded" (143). Certainly this could be read as a series of sexual puns -- the monster's phallic virtues rising. We, like Victor, may hear in this the creature's wish to become inserted in the reproductive chain of being, into the time of natural history and generation. In Victor's view, the monster demands a reproductive future, a phylogenic future and not a mere ontogenic existence. The creature aspires to existence as a reproductive species being. Only if he can beget like by like will this individual constitute a member of a species. Thus the creature's request for one "of the same species" ironically seeks to make good on Victor's long-dead aspiration, to "create a new species [which] would bless me as its creator and source" (49).

In contriving this second experiment Mary Shelley transforms the problem of monstrous life: Victor shows his Malthusian hand and gropes his way to the principle of population, a principle through which he finally excuses his frenzied dismemberment of the half-finished female "thing" (164). What the monster proposes as a solution, a species companion, becomes in Victor's prospectus the route to a further and more horrifying problem, that of species competition. The work of speciation, so troubling in the first experiment, now introduces the further threat of reproductive populations. The contest {979} between Victor and monster, at first an agonistic doubling of individuals, becomes in this second experiment a world-historical contest between imagined populations -- the "whole human race" versus "a race of devils" (163). Victor's thought follows and parodies the inexorable logic of the principle of population. He cannot imagine his creatures not reproducing: this is the most striking thing about his reflection. In this second experiment and its truncation, Victor shows himself to be an adept not of Paracelsus nor even of Humphry Davy but rather of Malthus, who wrote, regarding progress in human society, that "in reasoning upon this subject, it is evident that we ought to consider chiefly the mass of mankind and not individual instances."34 From the moment Victor imagines the children of his creatures -- monsters as "mass" and not "individual instance" -- he introduces a Malthusian calculus in which species "struggle for existence."35 Whereas the monster newly conceives of himself as an other species being, Victor comes to conceive of him and his potential mate as Malthusian bodies, progenitors of a "mass." Victor is obviously not a doctrinal Malthusian; he does not dabble in the particulars of geometric versus arithmetic growth (increase of people versus increase in means of subsistence); he is a Malthusian inasmuch as he is a population theorist, an imaginer of mass bodies competitively peopling the globe.

In these last pages, Shelley makes clear what has been suspended throughout the novel. The self-cultivation of the problematic body, the assumption of consciousness by the monster -- these achievements in the Godwinian "science of education" count for little when the monster is considered as a mass being, a specimen of a potential population. The introduction of the Malthusian problematic thus supports Victor in the contest over the meaning of species difference. That Shelley may be satirizing the Malthusian position -- Victor is no reliable narrator, and his thoughts are frequently disordered -- does not erode my point: thinking species difference in reproductive terms involves Victor in a Malthusian calculus, and this calculus leads to Victor's thwarting of the monster's aspirations.

Securing the World for Human Being: Towards a Malthusian Humanitarianism

Victor is not just a Malthusian; he is a humanist Malthusian. The emergence of a Malthusian calculus in Frankenstein propels the final revaluation of the category "human." Both monster and Victor circulate the category "human" in this final contest. In his request for a {980} mate, the monster convincingly presents his request for a partner as his last and greatest attempt at humanizing himself. Describing how he will live as a peaceful vegetarian with his mate in South America, the creature says, "The picture I present you is peaceful and human, and you must feel that you could deny it only in the wantonness of power and cruelty" (142). At the very moment he renounces human being, the monster demonstrates his fluency in anthropo-logic: clearly his literary education has taught him how to speak human being if not to inhabit it. Indeed, the monster identifies the relentless anthropomorphic prejudice of Victor's thought; as he says to Victor, "you would not call it murder, if you could . . . destroy my frame, the work of your own hands" (141). He is even willing to acquiesce in the naturalization of this lethal anthropomorphism: he wants his own mate precisely because he recognizes that "the human senses are insurmountable barriers to our union" (141).

The monster shows himself to be a canny theorist of human being, a theorist from the outside; Victor persists in the muddy and ultimately murderous thought of the natively and naïvely human being. Even as the monster promises to "quit the neighborhood of man, and dwell, as it may chance, in the most savage of places" (143), Victor questions whether he will truly be able to "fly from the habitations of man." "How can you," he asks the monster, "who long for the love and sympathy of man, persevere in this exile?" (142). Victor persists in conjuring the romance of humanization, the appealing exchange of "sympathy" among men, at the very moment the monster has imagined for himself and his mate a future as "monsters, cut off from all the world" (142) -- from Europe. Victor finally accedes to the request on one condition -- that the monster promise "to quit Europe for ever, and every other place in the neighborhood of man, as soon as I shall deliver into your hands a female who will accompany you in your exile" (144). It is striking that "the vast wilds of South America" do not register, for either Victor or the monster, as among the "neighborhood[s] of man." Both Victor and monster imagine this emigration to the New World as an exile from Europe (the ambiguous geographic territory) and from human being (the contested category of being). The monster's prospective exile from Europe thus defines his status as de-territorialized non-human body and reminds us of that early equation established in Walton's account of his first sighting: "Man" = European.

Victor's Malthusian deliberations lead him, then, to re-think not only the problem of anomaly (monstrous individual becomes monstrous {981} population) but also to re-configure the humanly habitable world. Victor asks the monster "to quit Europe forever" -- a dream of forced deportation and species isolation (and a bleak parody of forced emigration throughout Europe). He seeks to ensure that the savage within Europe will exile himself from Europe. Yet, as suggested earlier, the very idea of "Europe" appears as a linguistic and juridical phantom to which human citizens appeal only in a crisis of differentiation. The world no longer offers a secure place for the "exile" of undesirables. The world has contracted to a contest: as Victor foresees, the world is already potentially populated. The problem of exile and emigration -- formerly described in terms of individual movement (Victor's exile from Geneva, the monster's "emigration" from the "native wood") -- acquires world-historical importance when considered as a movement of potential populations. There is no safely policed or policeable border; the monster who invades Geneva cannot be confined to the "vast wilds of South America." Monsters will mate, monsters will people (as it were) the globe, monsters will eventually threaten the "existence of the species of man" (161).

Now that the monster appears not as a local but rather as a global threat to humanity, Victor can no longer persist in his second experiment in speciation. His final deliberations suggest a transvaluation of the category human, since he is simultaneously capable of envisioning the female monster as a future "thinking and reasoning animal" and as a threat to the "whole human race" (163). Victor clearly resolves the contradiction of the monster: he decisively dissociates literacy and rationality from human being. Contrary to Godwin's belief, thinking and reasoning will not, indeed must not, carry a creature across the border from animal (or "creature") to human. Confronted by the monstrous contradiction to human being, Victor must dissociate human being from certain capacities and sympathies thought native to it. The culmination of his work on the female shows the violence required to secure such a resolution. Victor looks on the work of his hands: "The remains of the half-finished creature, whom I had destroyed, lay scattered on the floor, and I almost felt as if I had mangled the living flesh of a human being" (167). Almost. As the monster had predicted, Victor "would not call it murder" if he destroyed "the work of [his] own hands" (141).

Victor's aborting of the monster-mate becomes, as he reflects, an exercise in humanitarianism. His increasingly biological interpretation of "species" and of the monster's future state provides Victor with the humanist alibi:

{982} During these last days I have been occupied in examining my past conduct; nor do I find it blameable. In a fit of enthusiastic madness I created a rational creature, and was bound towards him, to assure, as far as was in my power, his happiness and well-being. This was my duty; but there was another still paramount to that. My duties towards my fellow creatures had greater claims to my attention, because they included a greater proportion of happiness or misery. Urged by this view, I refused, and I did right in refusing, to create a companion for the first creature. (214)
Victor's declaration of human conscientiousness invokes and revises a utilitarian calculus: Godwinian concerns about "duty," "happiness," and universal benevolence confront the species barrier. The "duties towards [his] fellow creatures" trump the duties toward created living non-human beings. Indeed, by 1831 Shelley had revised the phrase "fellow creatures" to "beings of my own species," further reminding us that one's "own species" has come to stand, for Victor, as a reified category for human fellowship conceived over and against this monstrous alternative.

By tearing up the female, Victor begins to repair the rent in the humanly habitable world. His heightened species-consciousness allows him a partial recovery of natality, not as a native Genevese but as a "human." In "exile," having left Geneva to create the second monster, he comes to see himself as the species-being par excellence. To invoke Marx, "Man is a species being, not only because in practice and in theory he adopts the species as his object (his own as well as those of other things), but -- and this is only another way of expressing it -- but also because he treats himself as the actual, living species."36 Taking his species, "the whole human race," as his object, Victor acquires, or rather produces, a distinctive consciousness of human species being, which allows him to remember the destroyed female thing with a clear conscience. Victor's refusal to complete the monster-mate does, at least for him, mark his re-entry into the human social body, one which is now imagined as persisting through time, unto "everlasting generations" (165). In a roundabout and perverse way, Victor does traffic in a human reproductive economy, if only in his capacity to imagine future human generations under threat. Indeed, the dismembered female, recollected in tranquillity, embodies the culmination of Victor's conscientious foresight, his carefully defended Malthusian humanitarianism. From a purely human perspective, Victor's violence appears as a true demonstration of Malthusian philanthropy.

{983} What we might call ideological biologization of species difference -- first by the monster (who wants one "of the same species") and then by Victor (who refers to "his [the monster's] own species") -- fixes the asymmetry between monster and man. In Victor's turn to population he demonstrates the motivation of a discursive shift: he is no innocent, ingenuous, or disinterested speculator but rather a human being who imagines his "species" under threat and acts accordingly. Victor's Malthusian panic ensures that the conflict of monster and man will be imagined as a species or race conflict. Clearly this progression can be read as an allegory of the colonial enterprise, or of the racial consciousness of English romanticism, or as a representation of the unruly proletariat. Yet, in a more localized reading, we can also see how biologization, the nominalization of a corporeal and social problem as a species difference, succeeds (that is, follows) and supports the failure both of humanism and the humanities. It is Victor -- the human being, the natural philosopher, the population theorist -- who emerges dominant, both in terms of species competition and in the utility of his education. The course of the novel suggests that the principle of population, of species competition in a world become suddenly too small, trumps the principle of benevolence. Considered as such, the novel undermines not only Godwin's faith in the "science of education" but indeed the very anthropological foundations of Political Justice. One could say, in fact, that in Frankenstein, Malthus triumphs over Godwin: the "perfectibility of man" announced by Godwin and ridiculed by Malthus appears in the novel as a perfectibility for European species men only. In the ideological contest between "benevolence" (the Godwinian principle) and "misery" (the Malthusian check), benevolence extends only to the limits of one's own species being, a status represented in the novel as constituted through various local apparatuses -- familial, political, educational, yet with a biological, anthropological determination in the last instance. The monster's misery is, in the end, no business of Victor's and indeed must be resisted with the newly discovered language of human-all-too-human fellowship. Victor's experiments have demonstrated, however ironically, the truth of Malthus' dictum: "an experiment with the human race is not like an experiment upon inanimate objects."37 Neither human nor inanimate,the monster persists as a challenge to those who would build communities of affinity, to those who wish to redeem the promise of the humanities.


I would like to thank James Chandler, Françoise Meltzer, Janel Mueller, Victoria Olwell, Robert Richards, Erik Salovaara and Mary Lass Stewart, each of whom read or heard this paper in various incarnations and offered incisive comments.

1. William Godwin, "Of an Early Taste for Reading," in The Enquirer: Reflections on Education, Manners, and Literature in a series of essays, 1st ed. (London: G. G. and J. Robinson, 1797), 31.

2. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, The 1818 Text, ed. James Rieger (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1974, 1982), 5. All quotations from the novel will hereafter be cited parenthetically in the text by page. Throughout the essay I will refer to Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley as "Mary Shelley" or "Shelley," though she was still Mary Godwin when she wrote Frankenstein.

3. William Godwin, The Enquirer, x: "The cause of political reform, and the cause of intellectual and literary refinement, are inseparably connected."

4. Frances Ferguson's essay, "Malthus, Godwin, and the Spirit of Solitude," in Literature and the Body: Essays on Populations and Persons, ed. Elaine Scarry (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1988), first stimulated my thinking about Frankenstein in the context of the Malthus-Godwin debate. Ferguson delineates a "Romantic political economy" and offers a feminist critique of the logic of scarcity and its implications for consciousness; she notes that, in Malthus's Essay, concern about "the pressure of too many bodies registers the felt pressure of too many consciousnesses" (106). Also important for its incisive reconsideration of Malthusian bodies and political economy is Catherine Gallagher's "The Body Versus the Social Body in the Works of Thomas Malthus and Henry Mayhew," in The Making of the Modern Body: Sexuality and Society in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Catherine Gallagher and Thomas Laqueur (Berkeley: Univ of California Press, 1987).

5. Godwin, Of Population . . . (1820; New York: Augustus M. Kelley, Reprints of Economics Classics, 1964), iii.

6. See "The Shelleys' Reading List," in The Journals of Mary Shelley 1814-1844, ed. Paula R. Feldman and Diana Scott-Kilvert, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 2:649. Shelley records reading, among other works, Godwin's Essay on Sepulchres (1809) on 22 October 1814; Fleetwood; or, the New Man of Feeling in 1815; An Enquiry concerning . . . Political Justice (1793) in 1814 and 1817. The Enquirer is listed with a "?" as having been read in 1817.

7. Elizabeth Lavenza's faith in "human benevolence" (81) is shattered when she thinks Justine killed her brother; the monster contrasts his natural "benevolence" (137) with his "miserable life in the woods" (138); his "insupportable misery" impels his declaration of "everlasting war against the species" (133); rejected from fellowship, he bitterly derides the "eternal justice of man" (96). For his part, Victor weighs "justice" and "selfishness": Victor considers the claims of "justice due both to him and my fellow-creatures" (144); he worries that creating a female "would be an act of the most atrocious selfishness" (168). Other examples of such phrases, and their crucial deployment, abound.

8. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, ed. L. G. Mitchell (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993), 10.

9. Peter Brooks, "'Godlike Science'/Unhallowed Arts: Language, Nature, and Monstrosity," in The Endurance of Frankenstein, ed. George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1979), 213.

10. Quoted in Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage Books, 1973), 159.

11. Anne K. Mellor, Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters (New York: Routledge, 1989). 63.

12. See Fred Botting for a reading of the monster as a critique of aesthetic totality and as a figure of the uncanny: Making Monstrous: Frankenstein, Criticism, Theory (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1991). The 1974 collection of essays in The Endurance of Frankenstein, a watershed in Frankenstein criticism and in the rehabilitation of Mary Shelley the writer, contains several essays highlighting gender, family, and biography: Ellen Moers's "Female Gothic" and U. C. Knoepflmacher's "Thoughts on the Aggression of Daughters" differently discuss the novel's fascination with and horror of childbirth. See also Mellor's analysis of Victor's gendering of nature and his "usurping [of] the female" (chapter 6) in Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters.

13. See Marshall's chapter "Frankenstein, or Rousseau's Monster: Sympathy and Speculative Eyes," in The Surprising Effects of Sympathy (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 1988). Alan Bewell details several Enlightenment "hypothetical histories," including Condillac's and Rousseau's, which he terms the fiction of "the primitive encounter"; he brilliantly traces the impact of such eighteenth-century anthropological fictions on Wordsworth's poetry. See his chapter "First Encounters of the Primitive Kind," in Wordsworth and the Enlightenment: Nature, Man, and Society in the Experimental Poetry (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1989).

14. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Essai sur l'origine des langues, quoted in Marshall, 205.

15. I have not been able to locate this term in Sollors's Beyond Ethnicity or Consent and Descent in American Culture. The lecture series mentioned above took place in 1987 at Harvard.

16. Godwin, "Of the Sources of Genius," in The Enquirer, 14.

17. See Mellor, chapter 10, for one of the more recent discussion of scenes of "sexual education" in Shelley's works and life; also relevant are David Marshall, The Surprising Effects of Sympathy, and Alan Richardson, "From Emile to Frankenstein: The Education of Monsters," in Literature, Education, and Romanticism: Reading as Social Practice, 1780-1832 (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994).

18. Godwin, The Enquirer, 14.

19. "Natural philosophy" is, as Mary Shelley well knew, an Anglicization of the Naturphilosophie typically associated with the German tradition of philosophical science -- a tradition with which Coleridge, for one, was well acquainted. Victor is a philosophical scientist in the German tradition, not an English empiricist. Historians of science such as Trevor H. Levere note that the naturphilosophie tradition, a kind of "romantic science," persisted in England alongside the more empirically, analytically oriented work of the mainstream thinkers (see Levere, Poetry Realized in Nature: Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Early Nineteenth-Century Science [New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1981]). Coleridge believed, in fact, that men like Humphry Davy could unite the claims of empirical and philosophical "science." As the work (and reception) of Davy and Erasmus Darwin suggests, the lines between the more romantic natural philosophy and the empirical tradition of induction, analysis, and experiment were not always easily distinguishable in England. Levere's discussion of "national styles of science" and his account of the Lawrence-Abernethy debate is especially relevant to Frankenstein. Shelley's interest in the "principle of life" and its manipulation may be read as a displacement of the "vitalist controversy" in England to a Bavarian locale, Ingolstadt, which was associated with the conspiratorial Illuminatists.

20. For a discussion of Shelley's familiarity with the work of Erasmus Darwin, Humphry Davy, and Luigi Galvani, see Mellor, chapter 5. Marilyn Butler's new introduction to the Oxford World Classic edition of Frankenstein (1818 text; New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1994) situates the novel in terms of the "schism in the life-sciences between strict materialists and those willing to share a vocabulary with the religious" (xviii), with Shelley on the side of the materialist skeptic and radical scientist William Lawrence. In his debate with John Abernethy, Lawrence satirized those who proposed the existence of a "life-principle" independent of organization (xviii); it is this very principle which Victor claims to discover and manipulate. Butler sees Mary Shelley as more of a Peacockian satirist -- a "serio-comic" novelist (xxi) -- than I do, but her exploration of the "comic analogy" (xxi) of the novel provides a useful antidote to a large body of of perhaps over-serious critical discussions of the novel as a polemic against masculinist science and technophilic hubris.

21. For the characterization of the novel's science as "pseudo-science," see U. C. Knoepflmacher, in The Endurance of Frankenstein, 317. Butler considers Shelley's representation "detached and serio-comic" (xxi). Thomas Kuhn dates the "chemical revolution" to Lavoisier's discovery of the "oxygen theory of combustion" in the 1770s (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd edition, enlarged [Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1970], 56). It was in fact the chemical threshold and its relation to life that most fascinated and troubled Shelley's contemporaries Erasmus Darwin and Coleridge. Coleridge's extended essay, Hints toward the Formation of a More Comprehensive Theory of Life (1816; revised through the mid-1820s, published in 1848), is in part an attack on those who would look to chemistry to provide an explanation of life. Coleridge asks, "How . . . could men of strong minds and sound judgments have attempted to penetrate by the clue of chemical experiment the secret recesses, the sacred adyta of organic life, without being aware that chemistry must needs be at its extreme limits? . . . the failure of its enterprises, will become the means of defining its absolute boundary" (Theory of Life, ed. Seth B. Watson, M.D. [London: John Churchill, 1848], 32).

22. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism," in 'Race,' Writing and Difference, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986), 275.

23. R. S. Crane, "Shifting Definitions and Evaluations," in The Idea of the Humanities and Other Essays Critical and Historical, 2 vols. (Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press, 1967), 1:155.

24. George Levine, "Introduction," in One Culture: Essays in Science and Literature, ed. Levine with Alan Rauch (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1987), 9.

25. In "Shifting Definitions and Evaluations," R. S. Crane traces the historical emergence, development, and interpenetration of such concepts as "humanity" and "the humanities." The humanities have encompassed different subjects in different periods (Quintilian's rhetoric, the "good arts" commended by the grammarian Aulus Gellius, the medieval trivium and quadrivium, Matthew Arnold's "culture"). Regardless of subject content, however, it is the humanities, as Crane notes, which traditionally offered the means of cultivating "humanitas": educators in antiquity assumed that the men who pursued the "good arts" "are most humanized" (23).

26. See Anne McWhir, "Teaching the Monster to Read: Mary Shelley, Education, and Frankenstein," in The Educational Legacy of Romanticism, ed. John Willinsky (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 1990), for a wonderful discussion of the monster as ideologically trapped by his education, which provides him "intellectual parents" and "a sense of self only to discover that he has no right to exist" (74). See also Alan Richardson's "From Emile to Frankenstein; The Education of Monsters."

27. Friedrich A. Kittler, "The Mother's Mouth," in Discourse Networks, 1800/1900, trans. Michael Metteer with Chris Cullens (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1990), 29, 32. See especially the section entitled, "Learning to Read in 1800." In my turn to Kittler I elide several differences, including Kittler's focus on German discourse networks, his emphasis on the mother as the new state-created pedagogue, the role of the new grammars and the phonetic method circa 1800. Clearly the monster has no mediating mother; moreover he learns not from grammars but from an auralized/oralized written history. Yet his encounter with the "science of letters" (114) suggests that his experience of language is always already alphabeticized; the monster's labor (and Safie's) also highlights the differing and simultaneous functions of Felix's pedagogy -- the monster seeks to enter human being by accessing what seems to the residents of the cabin a closed discourse network. That the monster succeeds in acquiring words, letters, eloquence, consciousness demonstrates the monstrous productivity of Felix's pedagogic machine.

28. Kittler, 32.

29. I am of course alluding to Althusser's "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)," in Lenin and Philosophy and other essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971). See in particular the section, "Ideology Interpellates Individuals as Subjects" (170-77). Little William and the monster engage in a complex and asymmetrical "hailing" of each other. In the course of their encounter, the monster addresses the frightened William as "Child" and then as "boy"; the child, struggling violently, calls the creature "monster," "ugly wretch," and "ogre." The lethal outcome of this double interpellation baldly dramatizes Althusser's implication that "recognitions" entail violence, ideological and otherwise. As if to confirm Althusser's observation that becoming-a-subject requires subjecting oneself, we see in Frankenstein that the young child is fully capable of interpellating himself and does so vociferously. Althusser's essay also allows us to read Walton's earlier hailing of the "savage . . . giant" and the "European" (18) as ideological and not simply "optical" (18) events.

30. In the section "Species" in the chapter, "The Visible Structure," Jacob writes, "Throughout the Classical period, it was primarily by their visible structure that living beings were known and investigated" (The Logic of Life: A History of Heredity, trans. Betty E. Spillman [Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1973], 44). Foucault asserts, in his chapter called "Classifying": "Natural history is nothing more than the nomination of the visible" (The Order of Things, 132).

31. Marshall brilliantly conjoins the problem of species and the "failure of sympathy" (195); in many ways his reading of the monster's request and Victor's response coincides with my own. He constellates Shelley's critique of the species-sympathy problem through Godwin, Wollstonecraft, and Rousseau. As he notes, Shelley's "story about the denial of sympathy, fellow feeling, and fellow creatures seems to draw upon Wollstonecraft's critique of the ideology of sexual difference" (199).

32. Donna J. Haraway, Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (New York: Routledge, 1989). Haraway's insistence that vision and perspective be embodied and theorized as such, as well as her call for "situated knowledges," has obvious implications for my reading of Frankenstein. See especially the section, "The Persistence of Vision," in "Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective," Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991).

33. Thomas Robert Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), ed. Philip Appleman (New York: Norton, 1976), 128.

34. Malthus, 122.

35. Malthus, 29. Malthus introduces the "struggle for existence" in a his review of the "savage or hunter state." We should read Malthus as much as Rousseau as a theorist of primitive encounters.

36. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert Tucker, 2nd ed. (New York: Norton, 1978), 75.

37. Malthus, 94.