Contents Index

Tales of Transgression, Fables of Industry: Hoffmann, Hawthorne, Melville, and Gaskell

Chris Baldick

Chapter 4 of In Frankenstein's Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity, and Nineteenth-Century Writing (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987)

What a range of meanings and perpetual pertinence has the story of Prometheus!
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 'History'
Mary Shelley was not alone in fictionalizing the various preoccupations which we find at work in Frankenstein; stories of doomed experimenters and obsessive chemists were favourites with early nineteenth-century readers. In France Balzac himself tried his hand at this kind of tale in his La Recherche de l'Absolu (1834), in which the protagonist Balthazar Claes, who has studied chemistry under Lavoisier, encounters a Polish chemist who inspires him to search for 'the Absolute' -- the single element to which all matter can be reduced. The quest is of course fatal in its consequences, especially for Claes's domestic peace, as his wife foresees. She accuses Claes of regarding people merely as mechanisms animated by electrical fluid, and warns him against the Pole: 'Did you look at him closely? Only the tempter could have those yellow eyes, blazing with the fire of Prometheus.' Claes's science is, she warns, encroaching on God's power just as Satan had done in his reckless pride.1

The more familiar home of such Frankensteinian themes, though, lay in the European and American short-story tradition, where the emergent sub-genres of horror story, science fiction, and detective tale mingled productively in the early part of the century. Many of the most impressive short stories of this period are tales of transgression which show a particular interest in production -- whether artistic, craft, or scientific -- as an obsessive and self-destructive activity. The model for most of these Romantic fables is of course {64} the Faust myth, but in these versions the Faustian figure is radically modernized, his former acquisition of merely abstract knowledge now rewritten as the perfecting of productive technique.2 These stories are often also explorations of the Romantic crisis of artistic identity, self-reflexive fictions of creative aspiration and its uncertainties. In many of the best tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann and Nathaniel Hawthorne, artists of various kinds discover the destructive and damning qualities of their own creations, which typically develop autonomous powers and overwhelm their creators. As we are not yet dealing with a conscious or clearly defined 'science fiction' (the word 'scientist' itself does not appear before 1834), the kind of creator-figure we find in these stories is a peculiar mixture of artist, philosopher, craftsman, and chemical experimenter. Through these versatile and obsessive creators, Romantic story-tellers offered their own artistic dilemmas as metaphors for the production and reproduction of life in every domain from the sexual to the industrial.

Given the then incipient division of art from technology, Romantic authors could better subsume the full range of human activity under their sense of the 'creative' by using a conventional figure of creativity drawn from economically retarded societies in which a cherished integration of imagination and manual skill was still embodied in a single person. This would seem to explain partly the strong Germanic influence on the short-story tradition in the nineteenth century, and why the protagonists in Hoffmann, Hawthorne, and their imitators are so often skilled craftsmen; theirs are tales of mystery in the archaic sense of 'mystery' as a skilled and secretive trade. So we find in these stories a gallery or arcade of watchmakers, jewellers, violin-makers, goldsmiths, architects, opticians, and assorted experimenting doctors or professors, all of them obsessively independent producers who create marvels from their private researches, usually without Mephistophelean assistance. These figures are, in short, classical petty-bourgeois producers whose special knowledge and skill have allowed them to become their own masters, answerable to nobody and often feared by their fellow burghers.

What is repeatedly shown in these tales of transgression is how the secret skill which makes the protagonist independent and severs his social ties becomes an obsessional end in itself and masters the {65} master. In particular, the pursuit of craft skills to the point of artistic perfectionism is often shown -- especially by Hoffmann -- to stand in direct competition with sexual love. Hoffmann's young protagonists typically find themselves distracted from their fiancees by some delusion associated with their work or that of their masters, in the same pattern by which Victor Frankenstein neglects Elizabeth for his workshop. This element of sublimating distraction is one of the few original features of the tale most carefully preserved in stage and film versions of Frankenstein; Victor as a kind of secretive Bluebeard thus stands as one of the more popular components from which the cliche of the Mad Scientist will be constructed. The products of similarly obsessed creators in Hoffmann and Hawthorne are often poisonous or otherwise blighted, mocking the ideals of artistic perfectionism and metaphorically revealing the blighting of the creator as he seals himself off from the sources of life in other people.

Nathaniel's fiancee Clara in Hoffmann's 'The Sandman' takes the experimenter's syndrome for granted when she writes to her intended of his recent experiences:

The uncanny night-time activities with your father were no doubt nothing more than secret alchemical experiments . . . and your mother can hardly have been pleased about it, since a lot of money was undoubtedly wasted and, moreover, as is always supposed to be the case with such laboratory experimenters, your father, altogether absorbed in the deceptive desire for higher truth, would have become estranged from his family.3
True to the same pattern, Nathaniel is seduced away from the devoted Clara by the sinister optician Coppola and by the charms of Professor Spalanzini's perfect clockwork doll Olympia, with whom he falls in love. Finally driven insane by a series of delusions, Nathaniel almost kills Clara before leaping to his death from a tower. Similarly the artist Berthold in 'The Jesuit College at Glogau', who speaks of Iris art in terms of Promethean struggle, finds his life divided sharply between his obsessive work and his lore, and is suspected of killing his wife and child to remove all distractions from his painting. Councillor Krespel, who dismantles violins to discover their secrets, throws his pregnant wife out of a window when she interrupts his {66} music, and metonymically 'kills' his daughter by dismantling a violin especially associated with her.

The pattern of fatal oppositions between love and work is repeated in a particularly fascinating story by Hoffmann, 'The Mines at Falun' (1819), upon which Wagner once planned to base an opera. The tale is a kind of Moby Dick in reverse: a melancholic and introspective sailor, Elis Frobom, meets an old miner and is ensnared by the attractions of subterranean life. As in Melville's novel, the industry is endowed with a metaphysical value beyond its financial rewards, and it is this lure of higher aspirations which draws the protagonist on to his eventual destruction.

Elis Frobom was almost terrified by the old man's words. 'What are you advising me to do?' he cried. 'Am I to leave the beautiful earth and the sunlit sky and go down into the dreadful depths and burrow like a mole, grubbing for ores and minerals, for the sake of vile profit?'

'People despise what they want to know nothing about!' the old man cried angrily. 'Vile profit! As if the horrors perpetrated on the face of the earth by trade and commerce were nobler than the work of the miner, whose indefatigable industry opens up nature's most secret treasure-houses. You speak of vile profit, Elis Frobom! -- well, something higher than that might be involved. If the blind mole burrows by blind instinct, it may be that the eyes of man acquire more penetrating sight in the deepest depths of the earth, until they can recognize in the wonderful stones they find a reflection of that which is hidden above the clouds. You know nothing about mining, Elis; let me tell you about it.' (TH, 316)

As the old man describes the world of mining, Elis begins to feel the charm of a world whose magic has been known to him from earliest boyhood in strange and secret presentiments. They are perhaps not so strange if we remember that he is being invited to penetrate Mother Nature; and indeed that night Elis is conquered in a dream by the huge and terrifying subterranean 'Queen' at the same time that he hears the voice of his dead mother.

Repelled at first by the chasm of the open-cast mine and its resemblance to Dante's Inferno, Elis bashfully falls in love with Ulla, the daughter of a mine overseer, and becomes a miner himself. But the mysterious old miner reappears to warn him that the Prince of Metals jealously demands an exclusive devotion with which Elis's love for Ulla conflicts. Other miners tell him that the old man is the ghost of the bachelor Torbern, whose understanding of 'the hidden powers which rule in the womb of the earth' (TH, 329) had {67} transcended mere material greed, but who had been killed in a collapse; his ghost recruits miners in times of labour shortage and guides them to the best veins of ore. When it appears that Ulla is accepting the advances of a rich merchant, Elis rushes to the mine to devote himself to it instead; in a vision, he discovers the richest veins, and is clasped to the breast of the Queen. Ulla's apparent betrayal turns out to have been staged by her father to force a proposal from Elis, so their engagement can now go ahead. In the midst of their bliss, though, Elis feels haunted by his commitment to the Queen, while Ulla senses something pulling him away from her as he raves about 'the paradise which shone in the womb of the earth' (TH, 334). As the wedding day nears, Elis's state improves, but on the nuptial morning he sets off again to the mine to find, as a bridal gift, a blood-red carbuncle which he has seen in a dream and which reflects 'the heart of the Queen at the mid-point of the earth' (where Lucifer is placed in Dante's Inferno) (TH, 335). Elis is then killed in a landslide.

In this tale Hoffmann outlines, almost at the same time as Mary Shelley, a series of Frankensteinian problems, most obviously a complex involving the fusion of productive labour and sexual obsession. As in Frankenstein, the hero is clearly gripped by fantasies of his dead mother, and the tale is almost too overtly a 'mine' for depth psychology. Yet, like other tales of Hoffmann, it pursues the conflict between normal bonds of affection and a professional 'mystery' which exacts a single-minded devotion from its followers. It gives us not just a Freudian nuptial trauma but an image of the world of work as a rival to the sexual claims of the fiancee. Only when Elis hears that there is more to mining than the mundane value of 'vile profit' does he become embroiled in its fantasized appeal. Thus it is suggested (as it is in Moby Dick, as we shall see) that Elis's self-destruction follows from his aspiring beyond the bourgeois safety of the balance-sheet, in ardent pursuit of Nature's secrets. Hoffmann hints at a mysterious force of attraction which entices young men into frantic labours apparently unjustified by the simple market value of the ores extracted. The brilliant gems and metals seen in Elis's visions seem to reflect all his desires both sexual and spiritual, and it is worth noting that although he starts by scorning vile profit, his obsession is put in motion by the prospect of marrying his overseer's daughter. Elis's industry is rewarded in just this way by Ulla's father, so his frantic accumulation can be seen as a means towards a {68} respectable end. At the close of the tale, though, what seems to Ulla and her father to be a means has become an end in itself. In this kind of concern with the obsessional appeal of production, 'The Mines at Falun' stands alongside Frankenstein as another remarkable modern parable of the industrial condition.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his many fictional studies of self-destructive artists, craftsmen, alchemists, and other alienated producers, is clearly an imitator of Hoffmann, although the American's tales show a more measured and artistically finished quality. Often, as in 'The Artist of the Beautiful', it is apparent that Hawthorne's central concern is with the dilemmas of the Romantic artist, yet in this and in many closely related tales he also brings into focus wider questions of society, science, and solitude which are posed in ways which are strikingly familiar to the reader of Frankenstein. Hawthorne's stock figure in these allegorical sketches is an isolated man whose mentality and special pursuits tear him from the warmth of (usually female) society until he hardens into a frozen or petrified monster. Indeed, the protagonist of 'The Man of Adamant' literally turns to stone after rejecting the sympathies of woman; conversely, the 'monstrous egotism'4 of Roderick Elliston in 'Egotism, or the Bosom Serpent' is finally cured by woman's love. Hawthorne repeatedly plays upon a contrast between the human warmth of domesticity and the self-defeating coldness and abstraction of egotistical endeavour, as in 'The Ambitious Guest' or 'The Christmas Banquet'. Similar patterns of characterization are at work in the longer romances too: in the prying heartlessness of Chillingworth in The Scarlet Letter, and in Hollingsworth's pseudo-philanthropic egoism in The Blithedale Romance.

Hollingsworth had a closer friend than ever you could be. And this friend was the cold, spectral monster which he had himself conjured up, and on which he was wasting all the warmth of his heart, and of which, at last -- as these men of mighty purpose so invariably do -- he had grown to be the bond-slave. It was his philanthropic theory!5
Before this Frankensteinian narcissism destroys the warm-blooded {69} Zenobia, she accuses Hollingsworth of being a monster and a 'cold, heartless, self-beginning and self-ending piece of mechanism'.6

Hawthorne's interests extend beyond the spectres conjured up by egotism, to take in similarly alienated figures who are not just heartless individualists but also producers in a more practical sense: alchemists, artists, or both. 'The Artist of the Beautiful' is unusual in the sympathy which Hawthorne extends to its hero, the poetical watchmaker Owen Warlock; the tale is less a critique of egotism than an indulgent self-examination of the artist's predicament, but it is still worth noting how Hawthorne makes Owen lose the girl Annie, as a result of his creative obsession, to a more earthly blacksmith and suffer 'a sensation of moral cold that makes the spirit shiver as if it had reached the frozen solitudes around the pole' (STS, 253). Trying to improve upon nature by manufacturing a butterfly-like automaton, Owen cuts himself off from the blessings of truly humanized nature. Appropriately it is Annie's child who finally crushes Owen's painstakingly constructed model butterfly.

Owen's malign counterpart in Hawthorne is the physician Rappaccini, whose exile from human sympathies fits more closely the developing stereotype of the Mad Scientist: the hero Giovanni is told by Professor Baglioni that Rappaccini 'cares infinitely more for science than for mankind. His patients are interesting to him only as subjects for some new experiment.' (STS, 274.) In Hawthorne's works clinical detachment of this kind is always a symptom of moral disease. Rappaccini is not just a sinister experimenter, though, but a creator whose works are fabricated on recognizably Frankensteinian principles. The plants in his poisonous artificial garden

would have shocked a delicate instinct by an appearance of artificialness indicating that there had been such commixture, and, as it were, adultery, of various vegetable species, that the production was no longer of God's making, but the monstrous offspring of man's depraved fancy, glowing with only an evil mockery of beauty. They were probably the result of experiment, which in one or two cases had succeeded in mingling plants individually lovely into a compound possessing the questionable and ominous character that distinguished the whole growth of the garden. (STS, 283)
Taking individually beautiful components, as Victor Frankenstein had done, Rappaccini has combined them to produce not an abortive {70} Adam but a poisonous Garden of Eden, which similarly exhibits the nature of the temperament behind its creation. And for Rappaccini's crime it is his creature who suffers: his daughter (and finest 'flower') Beatrice, who is condemned to solitude by her poisonous constitution arid who regards herself as a monster when she infects Giovanni.

Perhaps a more interesting figure among Hawthorne's deluded creators is Aylmer in 'The Birthmark'. Like Owen Warlock and like Frankenstein, Aylmer is a modern disciple of Albertus Magnus and a latter-day rival to Pygmalion. Seeking to improve upon nature, he attempts to correct the only blemish in his wife's otherwise perfect beauty -- a hand-shaped birthmark which comes to symbolize earthly imperfection in general. In this story too we see 'the love of science . . . rival the 1ore of woman in its depth and absorbing energy' (STS, 203). So strong is the rivalry, in fact, that Aylmer's attempt to eradicate the birthmark succeeds in killing his wife along with her supposed blemish.

Several of these characteristics of heartless isolation and abortive production are united in the most Frankensteinian figure in Hawthorne's fiction, that of Ethan Brand. In his story we can detect a significant shift from a Faustian to a Promethean model of transgression. The legend which surrounds Brand in the tale attributes to him the conjuring of a devil from the furnace of his lime-kiln, but the activity which he and the devil are alleged then to pursue is described as if it were a process of production, 'the man and the fiend each laboring to frame the image of some mode of guilt which could neither be atoned for nor forgiven' (STS, 305). A lime-burner by trade, Ethan is a maker, and a suitably Promethean one at that, as his fiery surname hints. Although he is for a while led off on a fruitless quest for the Unpardonable Sin, he finds it at last only by making it. Hawthorne shows in Brand's project a familiar process of dehumanization which is revealed at last to be a process of transgressive production.

So much for the intellect! But where was the heart? That, indeed, had withered, -- had contracted, -- had hardened, -- had perished! It had ceased to partake of the universal throb. He had lost his hold of the magnetic chain of humanity. He was no longer a brother-man, opening the chambers or the dungeons of our common nature by the key of holy sympathy, which gave him a right to share in all its secrets; he was now a cold observer, looking on mankind as the subject of his experiment, and, at length, converting man and woman to be his puppets, and pulling the wires that moved them to such degrees of crime as were demanded for his study.

{71} Thus Ethan Brand became a fiend. He began to be so from the moment that his moral nature had ceased to keep the pace of improvement with his intellect. And now, as his highest effort and inevitable development, -- as the bright and gorgeous flower, and rich, delicious fruit of his life's labor, -- he had produced the Unpardonable Sin! (STS, 314)

By 'producing' the Unpardonable Sin, Brand has produced himself too, remaking himself as a man whose heart, after his final self-immolation, is so hard as to withstand the furnace. His long search for the Unpardonable Sin has been a wasted effort, more pointless even than the spinnings of the dog in the story who chases his own tail, since Brand's goal too is in himself. Ethan Brand's activity combines all those disorders which Hawthorne habitually analyses: individualism, isolation from human sympathies, intellectual irresponsibility, and an instrumental attitude to others. Brand comes to define the Unpardonable Sin as the one he has himself practised: 'The sin of an intellect that triumphed over the sense of brotherhood with man and reverence for God, and sacrificed everything to its own mighty claims!' (STS, 306.)

As if to emphasize the fact that Brand's sin is a misdirected labour, Hawthorne takes care to contrast with him the figure of Lawyer Giles. Whereas Brand has risen from manual to intellectual labour, Giles has gone the other way.

This poor fellow had been an attorney . . . but flip, and sling, and toddy, and cocktails, imbibed at all hours, morning, noon, and night, had caused him to slide from intellectual to various kinds and degrees of bodily labor, till at last, to adopt his own phrase, he slid into a soap-vat. In other words, Giles was now a soap-boiler, in a small way. He had come to be but the fragment of a human being, a part of one foot having been chopped off by an axe, and an entire hand torn away by the devilish grip of a steam engine. (STS, 307)
If Ethan Brand's intellectual labour condemns him to burn in his own kiln, Giles's manual labour dismembers him in the grip of a mechanical devil; his soap-boiling and Brand's lime-burning both hint at the infernal. As Leo Marx has pointed out, this macabre vision of manual labour as dismemberment seems to arise from Hawthorne's visit in 1838 to the new factories in the Berkshires.7 Hawthorne addresses in 'Ethan Brand' the problem of Schiller's fragmented humanity, {72} allegorizing that division of labour which the Transcendentalists of Brook Farm had tried to overcome in their Utopian schemes, under the sceptical eye of Nathaniel Hawthorne himself.

Thanks to R. W. Emerson and his associates, the problem of modern fragmentation as formulated in German Idealist and Carlylean terms was to become a central preoccupation of mid-century American writing, the novelty of the American adventure having called forth fundamental questions about life, labour, and human ambition in an individualist and scientific age. Emerson's own anxiety, expressed in 'The American Scholar', was that the advanced division of labour in modern industrial society was fragmenting any sense of human integrity:

The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so manly walking monsters, -- a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man.

Man is thus metamorphosed into a thing into many things. . . . The priest becomes a form; the attorney a statute-book; the mechanic a machine; the sailor a rope of the ship.8

This kind of Transcendentalist social criticism emphasizes both the dismemberment of the body politic and the subordination of men and women to their own creations, under the new reign of the commodity. As Emerson lamented in his 'Ode Inscribed to W. E. Channing,
'Tis the day of the chattel,
Web to weave, and corn to grind;
Things are in the saddle,
And ride mankind.
There are two laws discrete,
Not reconciled' --
Law for man and law for thing;
The last builds town and fleet,
But it runs wild,
And doth the man unking.9
This running wild of the huge productive energies of the nineteenth century, particularly in the unprecedented conquests of nature going {73} forward in Britain and America, is a recurrent nightmare for the mid-century writer. The feeling that 'things are in the saddle' reappears in the paradoxical formulations of H. D. Thoreau, whose hut at Walden adjoined a new railroad track. 'We do not ride on the railroad', Thoreau wrote, 'it rides upon us.' Reflecting on his neighbours' enslaved existence, he believes that 'men are not so much the keepers of herds as herds are the keepers of men', and again that 'when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him'. Thoreau summarizes the incompatibility of liberty and property by agreeing with Emerson that 'men have become the tools of their tools'.10

The prospect which so troubled these Transcendentalist writers was that the 'Adam' of Tom Paine's new world would turn out to be a miscreant, and that the created wealth of the New World would turn (or had already turned) against 'Man', its supposed master. Instead of conquering nature, Americans would find themselves becoming the slaves of their own products, whose power would run wild. Frankensteinian forebodings of this kind were prompted not just by railroads or machinery but also by larger problems of nationhood in the United States. Another of Emerson's Transcendentalist associates, the feminist Margaret Fuller, applied the Frankenstein myth to the prospects of American literature itself. Arguing against premature attempts to synthesize a peculiarly national literature, Fuller contended that such an achievement would have to await the further fusion of races on the American continent and the advent of greater leisure alongside material progress, 'national ideas shall take birth' only then, she maintains. 'Without such ideas', Fuller warns, 'all attempts to construct a national literature must end in abortions like the monster of Frankenstein, things with forms, and the instincts of forms, but soulless, and therefore revolting.'11 Fuller's analogy is not quite clear, but it appears to warn against assembling a literature from the existing cultural disjecta membra available in the United States before a unified American 'soul' has emerged. The almost unavoidable corollary is that the United States themselves form already a Frankenstein monster, the federal attempt to make one from many (e pluribus unum) having proved either {74} abortive or, at best, embryonic. America itself might become a colossal, powerful, but alarmingly uncontrolled creation running wild.

It is partly out of this ferment of ideas in mid-century America that the major writings of Herman Melville emerge, and partly too from the example of his literary hero and sometime neighbour Nathaniel Hawthorne. Melville's focus of interest, like Hawthorne's, is usually on the outcast or isolato, often a fatherless figure doomed to wander the world. And like Emerson and Thoreau, Melville is particularly alert to the contradictory promise of America's new empire of productive forces: 'Seeking to conquer a larger liberty,' he wrote, 'man but extends the empire of necessity.' This striking aphorism appears as one of the epigraphs to a short story, 'The Bell-Tower', in which Melville most concisely reproduces the themes of Frankenstein. The tale is often regarded as a reworking of Hawthorne's 'Ethan Brand', but it is likely to have been based also on Frankenstein, a copy of which was sent to Melville by his publisher in 1849. The meaning of 'The Bell-Tower' is summarized, rather too emphatically and proverbially, in its final paragraph: 'So the blind slave obeyed its blinder lord; but, in obedience, slew him. So the creator was killed by the creature. So the bell was too heavy for the tower. So the bell's main weakness was where man's blood had flawed it. And so pride went before the fall.'12 The pride of the protagonist Bannadonna takes, as so often in Melville, a phallic form: he erects a tower to house his perfect bell, but this bell is in fact blemished by a fragment of flesh from a foundry worker killed in anger by Bannadonna during its casting. To chime the hours, Bannadonna secretly constructs an automaton whose hammering action kills him. The bell later crashes down and is finally destroyed along with the tower by an earthquake.

Bannadonna's dream, described by Melville as Promethean and compared with those of Albertus Magnus and Cornelius Agrippa, has been to construct a superior creature as a helot. 'All excellences of all God-made creatures, which served man, were here to receive advancement, and then to be combined in one.' (BBS, 209.) The difference from Frankenstein or Faust is, as Melville is at pains to stress, that Bannadonna does not believe in a mysterious secret of {75} life; he is 'a practical materialist' (BBS, 210) aiming to achieve Frankensteinian ends by means of applied mechanics:

In short, to solve nature, to steal into her, to intrigue beyond her, to procure some one else to bind her to his hand; -- these, one and all, had not been his objects; but, asking no favors from any element or any being, of himself, to rival her, outstrip her, and rule her. He stooped to conquer. With him, common sense was theurgy; machinery, miracle; Prometheus, the heroic name for machinist; man, the true God. (BBS, 210)
It is as if Melville were criticizing Frankenstein for being too Faustian, too alchemical to be a fully modern version of the Prometheus myth. Despite the tale's setting in Renaissance Italy, Bannadonna's 'utilitarian ambition' (BBS, 210) more accurately represents the nineteenth-century Prometheanism of industry. It attempts no romantic seduction or inveigling of Nature but an individualistic effort of competition against her, carried on in what Melville implies is a 'stooping' mechanical efficiency rather than in transcendental aspiration.

Melville's response to Frankenstein is not to convert it again into a moral fable -- although he does his worst in the last lines of 'The Bell-Tower' -- but to outstrip it himself, to make it both more secular and yet more potently mythical too. The achievement of the earlier and far greater Moby Dick follows this paradoxical pattern, representing the Prometheanism of modern industry in almost pedantic realist reportage while at the same time inflating it mythically into the grandest of Titanic enterprises. Through such a paradoxical design can be shown the larger contradictions behind the self-destructiveness of Melville's age -- both the mechanical inventiveness of the nineteenth century and the restless ambition which drives it.

Like Frankenstein but more ostentatiously, Melville's Moby Dick is an assemblage and pastiche of older myths. Most obviously, the novel recalls the myths of Job and Jonah along with other biblical tales, and employs -- like earlier Gothic novels -- a clearly Shakespearian tragic pattern in its plotting. Moby Dick is an allusive omnivore, digesting myths as remote as those of Osiris or Narcissus and as recent as Paradise Lost or Robinson Crusoe, but among the more prominent of the myths which the novel absorbs and reworks is that of Prometheus. Like Victor Frankenstein, Captain Ahab embodies both the transgressive and the creative aspects of Prometheus, in such a contradictory manner that Captain Peleg has to describe him as {76} 'a grand, ungodly, god-like man' (ch. 16).13 Ahab's Promethean traits extend beyond his rebellion against divine power to include a tormented capacity for remaking himself, most strikingly apparent in this account of his obsession:

. . . it must have been that, in Ahab's case, yielding up all his thoughts and fancies to his one supreme purpose; that purpose, by its own sheer inveteracy of will, forced itself against gods and devils into a kind of self-assumed, independent being of its own. Nay, could grimly live and burn, while the common vitality to which it was conjoined, fled horror-stricken from the unbidden and unfathered birth. Therefore, the tormented spirit that glared out of bodily eyes, when what seemed Ahab rushed from his room, was for the time but a vacated thing, a formless somnambulistic being, a ray of living light, to be sure, but without an object to color, and therefore a blankness in itself. God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart for ever; that vulture the very creature he creates. (ch. 44)
Ahab's obsessive purpose is seen here to be an independent creature of his own fashioning, which now feeds upon the remaining human elements within him. He is caught here in the process of becoming his own self-created monster.

Ahab is of course already partly an artificial man, recognizable by the ivory leg which is both a reminder of and a defiant challenge to the divine malevolence he detects behind the White Whale. In a sequence of more or less comic scenes involving the replacement of this leg, Ahab elaborates upon the myth of Prometheus in his dialogues with the ship's carpenter and blacksmith, whom he nicknames 'manmaker' and 'Prometheus' respectively (ch. 108). 'I do deem it now a most meaning thing,' he says, 'that that old Greek, Prometheus, who made men, they say, should have been a blacksmith, and animated them with fire; for what's made in fire must properly belong to fire; and so hell's probable.' (ch. 108.) Warming to his hellish theme, Ahab himself tries on the role of Prometheus by imagining the creation of an artificial man:

Hold; while Prometheus is about it, I'll order a complete man after a desirable pattern. Imprimis, fifty feet high in his socks; then, chest modelled after the Thames Tunnel; then, legs with roots to 'em, to stay in one place; then, {77} arms three feet through the wrist; no heart at all, brass forehead, and about a quarter of fine brains; and let me see -- shall I order eyes to see outwards? No, but put a sky-light on top of his head to illuminate inwards. (ch. 108)
Behind the foolery here is a grandiose self-portraiture, an enlarged projection of Ahab's own ambition, complete with its heartlessness and its solipsism. Like the ship's surgeon and anatomist Dr Cuticle in White-Jacket, 'a curious patch-work of life and death, with a wig, one glass eye, and a set of false teeth',14 Ahab's willed resistance to common human sympathies has refashioned him as an artificial being, the creature and plaything of his own monomania. He is both sides of the Promethean creation at once, both obsessed creator and outcast creature.

To emphasize his Promethean role Ahab becomes a blacksmith himself and forges his own harpoon, which we foresee will bring about his death ('have I been but forging my own branding-iron, then?'), baptizing it in the name of the Devil (ch. 113). He has already described himself as an iron artefact, indeed as the all-conquering and world-embracing railroad engine. 'The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents' beds, unerringly I rush! Naught's an obstacle, naught's an angle to the iron way!' (ch. 37.) Beneath this expansionist brag lies an ironic admission that Ahab has re-created himself in the image of a mechanical beast of burden, enslaving himself to what he imagines is a conquest of nature. Ahab's Promethean self-making is both heroic and pathetic, for in seeking a larger liberty he has but extended the realm of necessity.

Victor Frankenstein's first disciple is a navigator, Robert Walton, who attempts with Frankenstein's help to inspire his crew to complete a dangerous voyage. He is saved from the consequences of his ambition by the threat of mutiny by his sailors, who have been recruited, as it happens, from whaling ships. Moby Dick can be read as a study of what happens when the crew fails to mutiny against Frankensteinian leadership. The crew of the Pequod allows itself to be welded into another instrument of Ahab's mania. The old captain regards the mentality of his sailors as that of the 'manufactured man' (ch. 46), while in the preparations for the final chase the men around {78} him appear to Ishmael as if their human feelings had been 'ground to finest dust, and powdered, for the time, in the clamped mortar of Ahab's iron soul. Like machines, they dumbly moved about the deck, ever conscious that the old man's despot eye was on them.' (ch. 130.) Melville had explained in White-Jacket that a ship's captain regards his subordinates as 'disintegrated parts of himself, detached from the main body';15 Ahab has remade from such parts a disciplined organic instrument subordinate to his will. As he exclaims at the climax of the chase, 'Ye are not other men, but my arms and legs; and so obey me.' (ch. 134.)

Animated by Ahab's controlling will the arms and legs of the crew, and their separate racial and personal identities, are brought together to compose a floating body politic.

They were one man, not thirty. For as the one ship that held them all; though it was put together of all contrasting things -- oak, and maple, and pine wood; iron, and pitch, and hemp -- yet all these ran into each other in the one concrete hull, which shot on its way, both balanced and directed by the long central keel; even so, all the individualities of the crew, this man's valor, that man's fear; guilt and guiltiness, all varieties were welded into oneness, and were all directed to that fatal goal which Ahab their one lord and keel did point to. (ch. 134)
It is the crew as a whole which is the 'manufactured man' shaped by Ahab in his role as the Prometheus of nineteenth-century industry. The crew is deliberately and allegorically presented to us as a medley of different races and temperaments, all of its members being islanders, individualists, and isolatoes. 'Yet now, federated along one keel, what a set these Isolatoes were!' (ch. 27.) They stand, in short, for the federated American republic, afloat upon Melville's allegorical waters. But they do not form a federation of equals; the red man, the brown man, and the black boy are all mere instruments subordinate to the white captain and his white obsession. The nineteenth-century American whaling ship, as H. Bruce Franklin reminds us,16 combined many of the worst features of Northern wage-slavery with those of Southern chattel-slavery, driving its victims -- Melville included -- to desertion or mutiny.

That reactionary relapse into concealed feudal tyrannies imagined in Gothic novels is also the concern of Moby Dick, which envisages {79} the possibility of America's federated parts being reassembled in the service of a guiding principle -- a 'keel' -- both oppressive and self-destructive. The danger is the same as that announced in White-Jacket: a "monstrous grafting of tyranny upon freedom'.17 The individuals or isolatoes of the Pequod's crew succumb to a Shakespearian rhetoric and to a resurgent European mode of hierarchy in which Ahab galvanizes them through 'the Leyden jar of his own magnetic life' (ch. 36). Rather than squeeze hands in that democratic brotherhood dreamed of by Ishmael, they surrender their destinies to a 'head' who turns them into mere arms and legs. Since Ahab is waging war against Nature in the shape of the White Whale, he requires a prior conquest over his men; called into life as a collective instrument, their task is to suffer for their captain's transgression. While Ahab attempts to subdue Nature, pursuing her to her hiding-places like Frankenstein (F, 49/54), the crew is expected to suffer the consequences. The fate of the Pequod asks us to question the logic of industrial development stirring into life in America and across 'the all-grasping western world' (ch. 87).

Read in a Frankensteinian perspective, Moby Dick can be seen to harbour three monsters: the dehumanized Ahab, the 'manufactured man' which is the crew, and finally the White Whale itself. Moby Dick is frequently referred to as a monster, often simply because of his huge size and destructive capacity, but he has other claims to the title. In the episode of 'The Spirit-Spout', Ishmael and the rest of the crew sense a malevolence in the whale's appearance, 'as if it were treacherously beckoning us on and on, in order that the monster might turn round upon us, and rend us at last in the remotest and most savage seas' (ch. 51). This ambiguous point at which the quarry becomes a trapper and the hunter becomes the hunted is precisely that of Frankenstein's closing episodes, in which the monster appears to flee Victor but leaves him food and directions in order to lure him to the Arctic. In both novels the effect of the confusion between pursuer and pursued is to cast the antagonists as twin 'moments' within a single self-destructive complex, in which revenge can be revealed as suicide and heroism as folly pursuing its own tail. As in Caleb Williams and Frankenstein, the quest turns in upon statically, and the antagonists of Moby Dick confront one another as mirror images. That the White Whale acts, or at least appears {80} to the Puritan paranoiac, as Ahab's 'double' has often been remarked by readers of Moby Dick; the two share the same wrinkled brow and the same solitary and maimed grandeur. Yet their equivalence is ultimately a figment of Ahab's obsessed mind: as a white whale, Ahab's quarry is simply a whale, a dumb brute, but as Moby Dick -- humanly named and adorned with legend -- he becomes a 'monster', apparently wilful in provoking and mocking Ahab's urge to subdue Nature.

If the monstrous quality of the White Whale is a projection of Ahab's persecution mania, then it should come as no surprise to find Ahab blending into this mirror image, and becoming a vengeful monster himself. On the other hand the whale, with the help of Ishmael's bragging cetology, appears in heroic guise, and even as an inscrutable divinity towards whom Ahab is acting as a presumptuous blasphemer. By the end of the story Moby Dick has become a fully American hero by resisting and eluding the Europeanized tyranny of Ahab's monomania. His human counterpart and panegyrist Ishmael also slips away from the despotic nightmare and offers through his narrative a fraternal and pastoral alternative to Ahab's lust for conquest. The whale is a mute 'monster', but he is given a displaced voice through his advocate Ishmael, a virtuoso of rhetorical energy and style. Between them, these two survivors offer the dialogical rebuttal of Ahab's obsession, as the monster does to Victor's. Goaded into self-defence, the whale remains innocent because dumb; forced to become, in human eyes, a 'monster', he is never truly part of the human world. His articulate equivalent is Ishmael, a fellow-victim and outcast orphan, while the true monster is the Frankensteinian figure of Ahab himself, dismembered, unnaturally vengeful, self-enslaved, and self-exiled from land and from women.

Even more than Frankenstein, Moby Dick is a novel which excludes women from its action, yet it manages similarly, if less pointedly, to problematize the masculine heroism which its setting isolates. Melville's men appear to be redeemed to the extent that they are feminized: Ishmael and Queequeg are seen to be bound together in what is almost a parody of the marriage-bed and its harmony, and they are later 'wedded' by the monkey-rope, while Queequeg acts as a 'midwife' to Tashtego. By contrast, Ahab's regime aboard the Pequod bristles with phallic menace. Only in the chapter entitled 'The Symphony' does his rigour unbend as he observes the sexualized {81} heavings of sea and sky. Here he admits to Starbuck that his forty years at sea have been a 'desolation of solitude'. For the first time, Ahab mentions

that young girl-wife I wedded past fifty, and sailed for Cape Horn the next flay, leaving but one dent in my marriage pillow -- wife? wife? -- rather a widow with her husband alive! Aye, I widowed that poor girl when I married her, Starbuck. . . (ch. 132)
The image of his wife and child which he sees in Starbuck's eye is the last lifeline by which Ahab could pull himself back to his 'humanities'. In rejecting it, he joins Victor Frankenstein, Elis Frobom, and Hawthorne's transgressors as another victim of industrial sublimation.

The earliest and most outspoken champions of the modern Melville revival rightly stressed the connections between Moby Dick and the dynamic energies of territorial and industrial expansion in mid-century America. Both D. H. Lawrence in Studies in Classic American Literature and Charles Olson in Call Me Ishmael read the Pequod as an image of American industry, and Ahab as the white American urge to subdue Nature by mechanical efficiency. Many critics have seen Ahab as a latter-day Faust, but Olson recognizes that after the industrial revolution Faust could never be the same again.18 Faust has become Prometheanized; and in the nineteenth-century world of industrial development, transgression and damnation have become identified less with devilry than with production. The world of Moby Dick is no alchemical laboratory but an authentic and exhaustively catalogued American whaling ship setting out to convert real spermaceti and blubber into dollars for its owners. The problem of defining Ahab's transgression, however, is that his project is not simply an over-reaching extension of capitalist enterprise as such; on the contrary, it appears to be a hijacking or usurpation of the Pequod for private purposes at odds with those of mundane profit-making. As in 'The Mines at Falun', it is the conversion of the industrial into a route to 'higher' goals which proves fatal.

Starbuck, the pious and (as his name suggests) dollar-orientated first mate, voices the horror of the respectable New England bourgeois at Ahab's motives.

I am game for his crooked jaw, and for the jaws of Death too, Captain Ahab, if it fairly comes in the way of the business we follow; but I came here to {82} hunt whales, not my commander's vengeance. How many barrels will thy vengeance yield thee even if thou gettest it, Captain Ahab? it will not fetch thee much in our Nantucket market. (ch. 36)
Ahab scorns this as an accountant's view of the world, and it is only then that Starbuck resorts to moral objections, condemning Ahab's pursuit as blasphemous. From the point of view of the Pequod's owners, Ahab is a profitable instrument who has now rebelled in pursuit of his own higher goal, diverting the lucrative resources of the crew and the ship towards the symbolic conquest of Nature's malevolence in the shape of the White Whale. Yet Starbuck, the loyal representative of the company's interests, is forced nevertheless to obey the man to whom the supreme powers of captain and industrial manager have been delegated. Ahab's maritime coup d'etat may be illegal, but to the impotent Starbuck it is also irresistible, because all he can offer the crew, in competition with Ahab's inspiring heroic purpose, is a frugal and drily legalistic accountancy. Melville is, in effect, enquiring into the possibility that simple capitalist enterprise can harbour within it -- in its acquisitive mentality, in its forms of labour-discipline and delegated power -- tendencies towards untrammelled despotism and destructive energy which its sober guardians are powerless to resist once they are unleashed.

The good Quakers of Nantucket are obliged by the law of the market to employ heathen harpooners and a satanic captain, because their labour is more productive. Once out of their sight, though, the Quakers' ship becomes a weapon to strike at their own God in open rebellion. Starbuck seems quite unprepared for this transformation, having failed to discern beneath the Pequod's innocent commercial status a power susceptible to irrational development. What Ahab's usurpation represents is the subordination of simple commercial transactions to an underlying thirst for capital accumulation, an uncontrolled expansionist drive which uses each transaction or productive act merely as a step to the next. This process was still very much a mystery even to those who were most eagerly practising it, and so it can only be represented symbolically, in the somewhat lurid and melodramatic terms of biblical or Shakespearian vengeance, in pseudo-Masonic rituals and other codes incompatible with Starbuck's mercantile common sense. Even Ahab cannot understand the nature of the force which drives him; like Queequeg, who cannot decipher the hieroglyphs tattooed upon his own skin, the captain is inscrutable to himself.

{83} What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozzening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? is Ahab, Ahab? (ch. 132)
Never stably identical with himself, Ahab is indeed not Ahab but the instrument of an accumulative frenzy which grips nineteenth-century industry, possessing the possessor and commanding the commander. Ahab's combination of technical efficiency with general loss of control and purpose, of localized tyranny with generalized anarchy, encapsulates perfectly the very logic of capitalist accumulation and expansion: 'all my means are sane,' he realizes, 'my motive and my object mad.' (ch. 41.)19

The singular achievement of Moby Dick is now generally acknowledged as an unprecedented combination of high tragic dignity and mythological resonance with the meticulous, even pedantic realism of reportage, in which Melville plays off Ahab the mythic quester and tragedian against Ishmael the encyclopaedic cetologist and practical mariner. The novel's divergent registers somehow balance one another, the central chapters on the parts and dimensions of the whale and on the bloody details of its exploitation serving as a 'ballast' -- as many critics have expressed it -- to the symbolic and metaphysical soaring which is the book's counter-movement. This cetological material holds what would otherwise be transcendental freewheeling down to the observable facts of the nineteenth-century world, while on the other hand the anatomizing of the whale and the inventory of the ship are lifted and propelled beyond the merely documentary by the impetus of the book's mythic, symbolic, and romance elements. Yoked together in Moby Dick are two contrary impulses -- of documentary realism and of symbolic romance -- which tend to pull in opposite directions throughout the history of the novel form, and whose magnetic repulsion was especially powerful in the nineteenth century as an ugly, urbanized, industrial world proved increasingly indigestible to the traditions of literary romance.

{84} Melville's ability thus to digest fictionally the hard facts of nineteenth-century industry relies to a great extent on his use of transgression myths -- those of Frankenstein and Faust, with the stories of Ethan Brand and others -- as the foundation for Moby Dick's design and narrative movement. It is the mobilization of such myths which gives the novel a means (perhaps the only means) of grasping imaginatively the new complexities of the modern world and especially the motive forces of industrial expansion, forces whose impersonal and invisible movements concealed themselves behind the phenomena they produced and which were therefore not readily accessible to realist representation. Melville's resort to myth in Moby Dick is not an atavistic invocation of primeval archetypes but a remarkably modern effort to dramatize the dynamics of nineteenth-century industrial expansion.

In many respects the achievement of Moby Dick invites comparison with that of a contemporary work which also attempts to assimilate romance and industrial life: Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton. According to Gaskell's preface, this novel was born from the realization of 'how deep might be the romance in the lives of some of those who elbowed me daily in the busy streets of the town in which I resided'.20 The strength of its earlier chapters lies in a realist commitment to reproducing the speech, manners, domestic environment, and personal histories of the Manchester factory-workers and their families. Yet along with this element in Mary Barton goes an element of romance, of the kind which rapidly curdles into melodrama. These two sides of the novel sit so uneasily together that it is almost possible to divide Mary Barton into a first half of powerful and sympathetic reportage and a second half of melodramatic degeneration. The crucial dividing line falls, very significantly, across the discussion in Chapter 15 of John Barton's support for Chartism.

Gaskell had originally intended John Barton to be the hero of the novel and the central object of our sympathies but, partly under her publishers' pressure and partly because of her own problems with the character, she discarded this plan as the book took shape. The first part of Mary Barton tries to lead readers to understand the disaffection and protests of workers like John Barton, but it reaches {85} a conclusion and a crisis of a kind which obliges Gaskell to dislodge this character from the centre of sympathy and to substitute for him his daughter Mary, who takes over as the beautiful romance heroine. The discarding of John Barton is a rapid and even spectacular operation: he becomes an opium addict, a Chartist, and a trade-unionist in quick (and, we are left to infer, logical) succession. Gaskell's commentary reveals several of her motives for the sudden change of direction: [ILLUSTRATION!!!]

{86} John Barton's overpowering thought, which was to work out his fate on earth, was rich and poor; why are they so separate, so distinct, when God has made them all? It is not His will, that their interests are so far apart. Whose doing is it?

And so on into the problems and mysteries of life, until, bewildered and lost, unhappy and suffering, the only feeling that remained clear and undisturbed in the tumult of his heart, was hatred to the one class and keen sympathy with the other.

But what availed his sympathy? No education had given him wisdom; and without wisdom, even love, with all its effects, too often works but harm. He acted to the best of his judgement, but it was a widely-erring judgement.

The actions of the uneducated seem to me typified in those of Frankenstein, that monster of many human qualities, ungifted with a soul, a knowledge of the difference between good and evil.

The people rise up to life; they irritate us, they terrify us, and we become their enemies. Then, in the sorrowful moment of our triumphant power, their eyes gaze on us with a mute reproach. Why have we made them what they are; a powerful monster, yet without the inner means for peace and happiness? (MB, 219)

In a novel which offers a considered response to the sufferings of the Manchester workers, and an effort to sympathize with them, such a passage has considerable significance. It is the point at which a class at first represented as suffering passively now 'rises up into life' in protest, and has therefore to be distanced and reinterpreted as a monster, strong but childishly misguided. The working class now becomes 'the uneducated'; at the moment when it tries to overcome its subordination it has to be told that its actions are based upon a fundamental ignorance of Manchester Political Economy and its eternal truths: 'Distrust each other as they may, the employers and employed must rise or fall together. There may be some difference as to chronology, none as to fact.' (MB, 221.)21

In Gaskell's allusion to Frankenstein we have a prominent example of a creative misreading which wrenches the myth into new patterns {87} while applying it directly to the central tensions of an industrializing social order. The misreading here is more than just a matter of calling the monster by the name of his maker; it brings in too the stage versions' redefinition of the monster as a soulless being and as an inarticulate child. This allows Gaskell to represent the working class as an unfortunate but morally irresponsible creature which lashes out blindly and mutely at its begetter in the deluded belief that the employers are in some way to blame for its misery. It is no more human than Mary Wollstonecraft's blind elephant, although Gaskell does allow it the charitable condescension due to a child. If the employers are to blame, it is, according to Gaskell, only for failing to provide their workers with 'soul' in the form of religious example, and with an education which could explain that their miseries are the necessary consequences of immutable market forces, their prosperity tied forever to that of their masters. The repeated refrain which Gaskell raises against working-class violence in Mary Barton is 'They know not what they do' (MB, 223,439). What begins as an account of the sufferings of the working class ends by equating the passion of the crucified Christ with that of the Manchester bourgeoisie.22

In this extraordinary series of mythological displacements Gaskell herself manages to double up as both Victor Frankenstein and Pontius Pilate. While her intended message in Mary Barton is one of sympathy and brotherhood, ironically she comes to wash her hands of her proletarian hero and to recoil from him as a monster when he appears to be asserting his independence from his employers and from his literary creator. Gaskell enacts, in other words, the same repudiation of the monster and his claims of which Victor Frankenstein had been guilty. She accompanies this gesture with a litany of disclaimers on behalf of the employers' class, shifting responsibility to the eternal laws of supply and demand, which her ideology identifies in turn with the injunctions of Christian charity: when it is weak and incapable, the working class deserves pious sympathy, but when it is in a position to assert itself, it is to be reviled as a monstrous beast. The result is that just when John Barton is about to transform himself from passive victim to articulate champion of his class, Gaskell has to drug him and turn him into {88} a mute and vengeful monster. His form of class resistance is narrowed into a personal grudge and dramatized as the reflex savagery of an inarticulate assassin. Mary Barton falls asunder into reportage on the one side and lurid melodrama on the other, split apart by Gaskell's recoiling from and silencing of the working-class monster.

That Melville is able to overcome the danger of such a split in Moby Dick, that he can mythicize the everyday reality of the whaling industry while preserving its authenticity, can be attributed ultimately to his radical-democratic reinterpretation of the grand style and of tragic propriety.

If, then, to meanest mariners, and renegades and castaways, I shall hereafter ascribe high qualities, though dark; weave round them tragic graces; if even the most mournful, perchance the most abased, among them all, shall at times lift himself to the exalted mounts; if I shall touch that workman's arm with some ethereal light; if I shall spread a rainbow over his disastrous set of sun; then against all mortal critics bear me out in it, thou just Spirit of Equality, which has spread one royal mantle of humanity over all my kind! (ch. 26.)
Melville is able to elevate his mariners in this way because he believes in their 'democratic dignity', and because he himself has been formed by their experiences, viewing the world of his novels from the forecastle rather than from the bridge. It is not just that, as a matter of their personal experience, Melville was able to describe actual labour whereas Gaskell -- along with other misnamed 'industrial' novelists in Britain -- could give us only the domestic sickbed or the riot at the factory gates. It is also a matter of instinctive identifications: unlike Gaskell, Melville has no occasion to recoil from his 'monsters', the crew and the whale. His impatience with the anti-democratic rhetoric of popular monstrosity is highlighted in the repartee of his idealized mariner Jack Chase in White-Jacket. The ship's poetaster Lemsford bewails the philistinism of a public which ignores him:
'Blast them, Jack, what they call the public is a monster, like the idol we saw in Owhyhee, with the head of a jackass, the body of a baboon, and the tail of a scorpion!'

'I don't like that,' said Jack; 'when I'm ashore, I myself am part of the public.'23

The difference is resolved by an evasive distinction between public and people, but Melville's democratic reservation still stands, signalling {89} his suspicion of the traditionally reactionary uses to which the 'monstrous' has been put, and reminding us of his own place within the monstrous body of democracy. Himself a renegade, castaway, and deserter, Melville can give the outcasts and victims of industrial Prometheanism a human voice, while Gaskell silences them or relegates them to a faltering infancy.

The point at which Elizabeth Gaskell transforms her workers from reasonable beings into Gothic banditti in Mary Barton has a certain ironic significance. During the negotiations between the employers and a trade union delegation, Mary's prospective seducer Harry Carson vigorously opposes the workers' right to organize, and scribbles a caricature of the lean and hungry delegates for the amusement of his fellow-capitalists. This cartoon is later picked up by one of the workmen, and it inflames them to the point of drawing lots for Carson's assassination. Although we are meant to take Carson's caricature as another sign of his callous insensitivity, a portrayal of the workers of just the kind that Gaskell wants to supersede in her own work, it comes instead to set the tone of Gaskell's subsequent treatment of her workers: in her portrayal of working-class organization as a murderous conspiracy Gaskell herself degenerates into literary 'caricature'. Such contradictions in her treatment of the working class revolve around the ambivalence of her central and repeated insistence upon the mutual dependence between masters and men. As it appears in her other 'industrial' novel, North and South, Gaskell's argument formulates a Christian paternalist qualification to the laissez-faire doctrines of Manchester: Margaret Hale tells the employer Thornton that 'the most isolated of your Darkshire Egos has dependants clinging to him on all sides; he cannot shake them off. . .'24 Through her heroine Gaskell espouses here what could be called the official morality of the Victorian novel, chiding liberal individualism in the name of social responsibility. But the reminder of Christian brotherhood has its more sinister underside, which Gaskell's appeal to the Frankenstein myth in Mary Barton brings into focus. For if the capitalists truly cannot shake off the terrifying power which they have brought into being (and since they live off its labour, they cannot) then they are saddled, like Victor Frankenstein, with a threatening monster who will never leave them in peace. Gaskell's [ILLUSTRATION!!!] {91} use of the Frankenstein myth announces the awful recognition by the Victorian bourgeoisie that its prosperity is inescapably haunted.

It is this indelible historical fear that Harry Carson's professional counterparts -- the cartoonists of the Victorian press -- play upon in their adaptations of Frankenstein's monster. True to the older traditions of the monstrous as a visible vice, they depict in their political allegories a creature who embodies pure brutal menace. The most vicious of their caricatures were reserved for the Irish nationalists, always regarded in Britain as mindless and primitive brutes; but the Frankenstein myth also appears in cartoons which depict the sometimes linked threat of the British working class, as in Tenniel's 'The Brummagem Frankenstein'. Tenniel preserved in his two Frankenstein cartoons the Burkean prophecy which warns that middle-class radicals (here, the Irish nationalist Charles Stewart Parnell and the Liberal orator John Bright) will surely be overwhelmed by the uncontrollable masses they incite. Frankenstein had come to stand as the reflected image of the Victorian bourgeois order as it faced nervously the Irish and the working class stirring into independent political life.


1. Honore de Balzac, The Quest of the Absolute, trans. Ellen Marriage (London, 1908), 80-2.

2. Goethe's Faust itself, in its second part, follows the same path to modern industry, as Berman emphasizes in All That Is Solid, 37-86.

3. Tales of Hoffmann, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, Stella and Vernon Humphries, and Sally Hayward (Harmondsworth, 1982), 95-6. Subsequent page references in the text are to this edition, abbreviated as TH.

4. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Selected Tales and Sketches, ed. Hyatt H. Waggoner (New York, 1964), 193. Subsequent page references in the text are to this edition, abbreviated as STS.

5. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance (Harmondsworth, 1983), 55 (ch. 7).

6. Ibid., 218 (ch. 25).

7. Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (New York, 1967), 267-9.

8. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Selected Essays, ed. Larzer Ziff (Harmondsworth, 1982), 84-5.

9. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Poems (Boston, 1904), 78.

10. Henry David Thoreau, Walden, and Civil Disobedience (Harmondsworth, 1983),136,99, 76,80.

11. The Writings of Margaret Fuller, ed. Mason Wade (New York, 1941), 359-60.

12. Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Sailor and Other Stories, ed. Harold Beaver (Harmondsworth, 1967), 213. Subsequent page references in the text are to this edition, abbreviated as BBS.

13. References to Moby Dick are by chapter rather than by page. My text is Harold Beaver's Penguin edition (Harmondsworth, 1972).

14. Herman Melville, White-Jacket, ed. Hennig Cohen (New York, 1967), 246 (ch. 61).

15. Ibid., 215 (ch. 52).

16. H. Bruce Franklin, The Victim as Criminal and Artist: Literature from the American Prison (New York, 1978), 31-2.

17. Melville, White-Jacket, 296 (ch. 71).

18. Charles Olson, Call Me Ishmael (New York, 1947), 59.

19. Melville was of course not a Marxist but a radical democrat of a sceptical disposition. However, the common objection to Marxist readings of Moby Dick -- that Melville also celebrates capitalist industry's heroic achievements as well as condemning its recklessness -- is quite misplaced, since the same is true of Marx and Engels themselves in their Communist Manifesto.

20. Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life, ed. Stephen Gill (Harmondsworth, 1970), 37. Subsequent page references in the text art to this edition, abbreviated as MB.

21. Despite such confident expositions of economic fact against the childish imaginings of the workers, Gaskell claims in her Preface that she knows 'nothing of Political Economy, or the theories of trade' (MB, 38), soon after remarking upon the 'unhappy state of things between those so bound to each other by common interests, as the employers and the employed must ever be' (MB, 37). The illusion of disinterestedness here in taking for granted the common interest of contending classes is a perfect instance of ideological blindness.

22. Cf. the inverted pieta which Gaskell contrives at the end of the riot scene in Chapter 22 of her North and South.

23. Melville, White-Jacket, 191-2 (ch. 45).

24. Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South, ed. Dorothy Collin (Harmondsworth, 1970), 169.