Contents Index

Frankenstein and the "Good Cause"

Jane Blumberg

In Mary Shelley's Early Novels (Iowa City: Univ. of Iowa Press, 1993), pp. 30-56

The birth of Frankenstein and of its Monster are among the most celebrated events in literary and popular history. In fact, the latter event occupies a few understated lines in the novel, but the former took place over the course of a long, wet summer that represented a watershed in Shelley's life. The entry of Lord Byron into their circle introduced a new and exciting intellectual stimulus for Shelley. She was impressed by his poetry, intrigued by his life, pleased that he recognized her mother and father's brilliance and that he expected to find it in her. After initiating the famous ghost-story competition he evidently continued to push her for her contribution after the others had lost interest. She was flattered and gratified but more importantly, Byron's irreverence encouraged her to question the radical ideology. Although Frankenstein is undeniably a novel constructed out of the currency of the radical movement, it is also a critique of that system and of the personalities of the men who were its proponents. With Frankenstein Shelley began to think independently and with the confidence that characterizes all of her projects. In this way it follows on from the "History of the Jews"; she challenges and debates the moral value of many of the ideas that her father (particularly as a young man) and husband cherished. Though PBS played an important role by encouraging the book and editing it, and Shelley was more deeply in love with him than ever, Frankenstein is the seedbed of Shelley's doubt and represents the beginning of her original thought. At the same time that she was intellectually tied to PBS, she was testing her own voice and questioning many of the ideas that she had hitherto taken for granted.

As the reading lists have shown, Shelley was well-versed in Godwinism even at the age of sixteen. She absorbed the concepts {31} of rationalism and of perfectibility but whether she was instructed by PBS or by her father she was ultimately to reject those precepts despite both their enthusiasm for them. In most of the criticism that deals with Shelley's novels as a whole, there is general agreement that following her "radical" writings, Frankenstein, Valperga and The Last Man, Shelley became abruptly conservative and conformist in both her lifestyle and her art. Mary Poovey, in The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer is the most recent advocate of this evaluation. Modern, and even her contemporary critics, (such as Trelawny and Hogg), believed that after the completion of The Last Man, she 'turned traitor' to the radicals and that this is nowhere more evident than in her revised version of Frankenstein. The third edition of Frankenstein (1831) was altered by Shelley to a degree more consistent, so her critics believe, with her status as Victorian matron. She did make several changes that appear to pander to 'respectability'. She removed the dedication to Godwin and the suggestion of incest; Elizabeth is no longer Victor's cousin, but a foundling of no relation. Yet the greatest change is represented by the new and extended introduction which replaced the one that PBS wrote for the original (and which remained in the edition of 1823). The new introduction gives an elaborate explanation for the origin of her story and an account of the ghost story competition (including the figure of Byron was a shrewd marketing move), then finally reveals how the story actually came to her:

When I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw -- with shut eyes, but acute mental vision, -- I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. (p. 9)
But this visionary smoke-screen actually serves to distance Shelley from the responsibility of consciously creating her story; an old trick, used by Coleridge in his preface to Kubla Khan. By 1831, Shelley wished to formally disassociate herself from the blasphemous and the radical; she was signaling the separation of her ideas from her husband's and father's. Yet this retrospective distancing has acted {32} as evidence for those who wish to diminish Shelley's role in the creation of her novel; she obliges by denying her responsibility for its invention. They are free to regard Frankenstein as the result of automatic writing, in which the application of art was unnecessary. After admitting that PBS was away for most of the novel's composition, that he flatly denied having had any hand in the original drafting of the novel, and that we find his later editorial corrections only on publisher's proofs and in a few places on the original draft, Christopher Small can still ask, "How far his help went in actual composition we cannot be sure".1 James Rieger epitomizes the reluctance with which many critics are prepared to concede authorship to Shelley. He asserts that PBS "worked on Frankenstein at every stage, from the earliest drafts through the printer's proofs . . . We know that he was more than an editor. Should we grant him the status of collaborator?"2

But the 1831 introduction also helps to divide Shelley's career neatly in two: her radical youth and her disappointing middle-aged conservatism, to the complete satisfaction of most critics. The greatest grudge held against the poet's widow is that she somehow betrayed her husband's sacred beliefs and prostituted herself to the demands of conventional society. This is a misconception in two respects; Shelley was never a passionate radical like her husband and her later lifestyle was not abruptly assumed nor was it a betrayal. She was in fact challenging the political and literary influences of her circle even in her first work. Frankenstein is in many respects a subtle parody of Godwinian rebellion, rationality and perfectibility.

The book is often described as a gothic novel, even as the epitome of that genre. It is also enthusiastically analyzed as a psychological oddity that flowed directly from the author's subconscious onto the page, and all the more interesting because it was written by a teenager. But Frankenstein is also a political novel which responds directly to the radical circle from which it came. Written by a politically aware novelist of ideas, Frankenstein can be considered as an analytical lever to prise open a door to the recent past. The Terror, though unmentioned, lours over the novel. It is set in and therefore looks back to the 1780s and 90s, and to the literary generation which preceded it, and which produced the Jacobin novel: Elizabeth Inchbald's A Simple Story (1791), Thomas Holcroft's Anna St. Ives (1792) and Robert Bage's Hermsprong (1796) among others.

{33} But Frankenstein was written in the post-Napoleonic war years, the years during which the second generation Romantics both mourned the failure of the Revolution and looked forward to new reforms and revolutions across Europe. Frankenstein is a product of that disappointment, but it is not necessarily full of the corresponding hope that impassioned PBS and others. At the same time that she signalled her radical associations with Frankenstein, Shelley also cast doubt on and rejected outright many of the ideals dear to her husband and to her father. Frankenstein anticipates Shelley's own intellectual career and belies the standard and narrow critical evaluation that would reduce it to yet another mouthpiece for the radical ideas of the Shelley circle. Thus, Frankenstein is written in a kind of radical code, but it sustains a critique of that same radicalism throughout.

Frankenstein self-consciously associates itself with the Jacobin tradition, the complex of radical literature -- the "war of ideas"3 -- which grew up in England as an enthusiastic response to the French Revolution. On its title page, and in its dedication, it signposts itself, quite extravagantly, as part of the radical canon. However, as we shall see later, Shelley undermines those very radical ideals which she initially highlights. In the original 1818 edition Frankenstein's dedication read:

Author of Political Justice, Caleb Williams, &c.
Are respectfully inscribed
Godwin's Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) proposed an egalitarian future made possible by man's natural inclination towards reason. Godwin believed that once persuaded, humanity would be motivated exclusively by reason and the desire for truth. All government was necessarily hostile to reason. This premise is obviously founded on the optimistic notion of humanity's potential for good and his work attracted, among other idealistic young men, the nineteen-year-old radical Percy Shelley, recently sent down from Oxford for publishing the pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism in 1811.4 But Godwin and PBS met many years after the tremendous popularity of Political Justice and the novel Caleb Williams were forgotten. In {34} fact, the young atheist was surprised to learn that his hero was still alive.

Caleb Williams dramatizes the principles set forth in Political Justice; Godwin had hoped to popularize his radical arguments and make people understand them, if not embrace them altogether. His political convictions were strong and he barely escaped the prosecution and imprisonment that plagued his friends during Pitt's repressive government, when sympathy with the French revolutionaries represented treason (as well as a sinister collusion with Catholicism and Clericism). Holcroft, Robert Thelwell and Horne Tooke were all arrested in May 1794 with the suspension of Habeus Corpus. It is popularly believed that Godwin avoided arrest because of the elitist nature of his work; even he was aware that it was not only the treatise's high price that made it unlikely that it would be appreciated, much less understood, by more than a well-educated few.

Caleb Williams was a success, but perhaps not for the reasons that Godwin had intended. The psychological study of the pursued and the obsessive pursuer impressed its contemporary critics as it does today. The book may have been written for political ends, but its success lies in its transcendence of its genre on the psychological level. It is in fact one of the few, if not the only quintessentially Jacobin novel, which is still read with any popularity today. Gary Kelly has pointed out that "the novel's chief excellence, then as now, is precisely that balance between psychological interest and English Jacobin social criticism which most English Jacobin novels failed to maintain".5

The political implications of Caleb Williams find their origins in Political Justice, a nearly comprehensive theoretical and practical revolutionary handbook. As David McCracken explains, Godwin:

found virtually all man's institutions radically corrupt and corrupting -- not just the monarchy, aristocracy, legislature, court system, and war, but the entire legal system, blame and punishment, all forms of government, customary promises, even disease, all these misshapen growths of history were unnecessarily blocking the way of the Godwinian desiderata, reason and justice.6
Caleb Williams addresses almost all of these separate but related issues in a manner that fleshes out the austere reasoning of the {35} treatise, making many of the same political points in a complex and sophisticated allegory.7 Political Justice and Caleb Williams combined, represent a powerful statement against conservatism and the eloquence of its greatest proponent at the time, Edmund Burke. Godwin's goal, as he himself wrote, was to simplify "the social system, in the manner which every motive, but those of usurpation and ambition, powerfully recommends; render the plain dictates of justice level to every capacity; remove the necessity of implicit faith . . .". As a result one could ". . . expect the whole species to become reasonable and virtuous".8

Broadly, Godwin directed his attack against what he described as the tyrannical and despotic; the entire illegitimate power of government. Thus Tyrrel, the boorish country squire of Caleb Williams, has his own set of self-serving laws which supersede those of the kingdom. The "understood conventions of the country gentleman" (CW, p. 68) saw that the tenant "was required by his landlord to vote for the candidate in whose favour he had himself engaged" (CW, p. 66). What is more, the hypocrisy of these illegal "laws" is such that Tyrrel is condemned by his fellow gentry when he allows his new tenant Hawkins to maintain his independent political allegiance.

In his attack upon government, Godwin claims that injustice is the guiding force of the system, the subversion of justice is the norm. Tyrrel never expects to be challenged in a court by one poorer than himself, firmly believing that "it would . . . be the disgrace of a civilized country, if a gentleman, when insolently attacked in law by the scum of the earth, could not convert the cause into a question of the longest purse . . ." (CW, p. 73). Godwin had explained earlier in Political Justice that in "many countries justice is avowedly made a subject of solicitation, and man of the highest rank and the most splendid connections almost infallibly carries his cause . . . the man with the longest purse is proverbially victorious" (PJ, Vol. I, p. 18). The first magistrate that the falsely accused Caleb turns to refuses to even hear his case against his master, the wealthy and landed Falkland.

In painting Tyrrel as the proverbial tyrant however, Godwin is also careful to show that he is human -- he expresses affection for his niece and ward Emily Melville. Thus, Godwin may support his earlier statement from Political Justice that man "is not originally vicious", the necessity for governments to exercise authority "does not appear to arise out of the nature of man, but out of the {36} institutions by which he has been corrupted" (PJ, Vol. II, p. 210). Godwin implies therefore that men only become evil by succumbing to the corrupting pressures of government, and similarly are capable of great heroism, as in Caleb's case (at least until the end of the second, published version of the novel's conclusion), by defying the imposed system of law.

Particularly striking in its political implications, as well as its relevance to Frankenstein, is Godwin's preoccupation with the pursuit of truth. Caleb's decision to assert his autonomy by thinking for himself descends into a Victor Frankenstein-like gratification when his curiosity, "a principle that carries its pleasures as well as its pains along with it" (CW, p. 122), causes him to pry into the affairs of his master, thus instigating his own destruction. Yet Godwin maintains that it is only through the pursuit of truth that one may challenge the tyranny of government. He portrays this pursuit as a natural pleasure and maintains that the "acquisition of truth, the perception of the regularity with which proposition flows out of proposition, and one step of science leads to another, has never failed to reward the man who engaged in this species of employment" (PJ, Vol. I, p. 308). The gaining of knowledge becomes an almost sensual pleasure.

Shelley was to point out the irony of this. Victor is carried away by the intellectual ecstasy of his pursuit, uncovering the ultimate knowledge of life and death. However, he receives no reward for it or even a moment of gratification. On the contrary, he destroys all those he loves and loses his own life prematurely. Victor embraced the Godwinian idea of the noble pursuit of knowledge too eagerly and too uncritically.

Political Justice, with Godwin's firm belief in the perfectibility of man, is unquestionably optimistic. He maintained that the potential for political and social harmony lies naturally within each individual. The means of stimulating that potential, to achieve the final goal of justice, are education and the subsequent desire for truth. In fact Caleb fails to achieve satisfactory justice in both versions of the conclusion to Caleb Williams: in the first unpublished ending he dies in jail; in the printed ending, he bears the guilt of Falkland's death, having succumbed to governmental tyranny by seeking justice in a court of law. But Caleb's failure is entirely due to the fact that neither he nor the society in which he lives have attained that state of philosophical grace in which justice would be automatically available. By denying his hero the fruits of his proposed reforms, {37} Godwin is not saying that they will not achieve the desired results; on the contrary, he is emphasizing how necessary they are.

However, Shelley did not share her father's optimism nor his faith in the necessarily noble potential of man, an idea that was fundamentally unchanged in the modified editions of Political Justice. Despite the criticism which assumes Frankenstein's ideology to be purely Godwinian, Shelley did not set out to do exactly what her father had done. Caleb Williams is Godwin's attempt to shape a popular novel out of a system of political theories. The novel is also a call-to-arms to a public which its author hoped was eager for reform or even revolution. Frankenstein is not polemical. Rather, it is a discourse on the value of revolution and reform, not simply a recommendation or incitement. While her father was eager to bring about a radical social change, Shelley was interested in the phenomenon of radical change itself, all its potential benefits and dangers.

Shelley studied the theories and systems that her circle embraced (Locke, Hume, Rousseau and others) and her understanding of Godwinism, as illustrated in Frankenstein, represents her most complete acknowledgement of systematic radicalism. 9 Burton Pollin has commented, her "first novel particularly revealed a respectable philosophic intent and an intellectual ingenuity, although it was the work of a girl of nineteen".10 Making use of Godwinian concepts, Shelley begins to take optimism, idealism and revolution subtly to task in Frankenstein. In the novels that followed, her criticisms became bolder and more confident.

Nevertheless, the first reviews of Frankenstein placed the novel firmly within the Godwin camp. The Edinburgh Magazine began its review:

Here is one of the productions of the modern school in its highest style of caricature and exaggeration. It is formed on the Godwinian manner, and has all the faults, but many likewise of the beauties of that model . . . There was never a wilder story imagined, yet, like most of the fictions of this age, it has an air of reality attached to it, by being connected with the favourite projects and passions of the times.11
The review went on to point out the novel's specific Godwinian associations, as well as its general political concerns. Other reviews, especially those of Tory journals like the Quarterly, reacted with {38} hostility to Frankenstein's obvious Godwinian characteristics, and continued its relentless attack on PBS and all his published associates.

The book was dedicated to Godwin himself and most assumed that it was the work of PBS, his notorious disciple (and, as rumour would have it, the buyer, for one thousand pounds, of his two daughters). In fact, PBS's own anonymous review (1818) points out the intentional echoes of Godwin in the new novel:

Treat a person ill, and he will become wicked. Requite affection with scorn; -- let one being be selected, for whatever cause, as the refuse of his kind -- divide him, a social being, from society, and you impose upon him the irresistible obligations -- malevolence and selfishness . . . The encounter and argument between Frankenstein and the Being on the sea of ice, almost approaches, in effect, to the expostulation of Caleb Williams with Falkland. It reminds us, indeed, somewhat of the style and character of that admirable writer, to whom the author has dedicated his work, and whose productions he seems to have studied.12
The two novels have many thematic similarities, not to mention those of style, pointed out unflatteringly by Kiely who asserts that Shelley's "prose style is solemn, inflated and imitative, an unhappy combination of Godwin's sentence structure and [PBS's] abstract vocabulary".13 Some evaluations of Godwin's 'contribution' to Frankenstein betray a larger prejudice against Shelley as an independent thinker and writer. In addition to citing the "almost deadpan prose that Frankenstein inherited from her father"14 (a prose which Walter Scott specifically applauded for its straight-forwardness and simplicity), Locke seems loathe to give Shelley any credit for her novel at all. He maintains that Frankenstein is "the archetypal Godwinian novel, more Godwinian than Godwin's own",15 its primary focus the story of injustice and the corruption of natural goodness. Locke goes on to quote De Quincey who said, "Most people felt of Mr. Godwin . . . with the same alienation and horror as . . . of the Monster created by Frankenstein".16

But both novels have at their centre the story of an obsessive pursuit where the pursued and the pursuer exchange roles and as A. D. Harvey has pointed out, have a crucial symbiotic relationship with each other.17 Falkland and Victor both function and are acknowledged as "father" to their "sons", but Victor the father is {39} similar to Caleb the son in his obsessive quest for hidden knowledge and in his subsequent victimization. At the same time, Caleb is placed in the paternal role when, after discovering his secret, he gains ascendency over Falkland. In fact, the reader is never able to fix clearly on the relative positions; who is the father and who the son, who the master, who the slave, who the people, who the tyrant (or government) in both novels, though Frankenstein is particularly fluid in this respect. Victor and the Monster continuously exchange roles after their meeting on the glacier.

First, the Monster commands Victor to create a female and follows him to the Orkney Islands to see that the job is carried out. He is obeyed until Victor rebels and destroys the work in progress. Victor's sense of horror at his gruesome project is not wholly untouched by a familiar proud defiance:

I thought with a sensation of madness on my promise of creating another like to him, and trembling with passion, tore to pieces the thing on which I was engaged. The wretch saw me destroy the creature on whose future existence he depended for happiness, and, with a howl of devilish despair and revenge, withdrew . . . 'Begone! I do break my promise; never will I create another like yourself, equal in deformity and wickedness.18
The tables turn again. The Monster reminds him:
Slave, I before reasoned with you, but you have proved yourself unworthy of my condescension. Remember that I have power; you believe yourself miserable, but I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you. You are my creator, but I am your master; -- obey! (p. 167)
The chase into the Arctic reverses Victor's dominant position in the first half of the novel. Victor pursues the Monster, swearing to kill it and make the world safe. (Once again the vehemence of Victor's personal ambition and egoism is obscured by protestations of altruistic intent.) The Monster leaves food, warm clothes and clues to his direction along the trail and seems to protect his creator on his quest. The Monster is triumphant and provocative during this episode -- a complete contrast to his behaviour at Victor's death. Before Victor's corpse he is completely subdued, he feels no sense of victory:
{40} 'That is also my victim!' he exclaimed: 'in his murder my crimes are consummated; the miserable series of my being is wound to its close! Oh, Frankenstein! generous and self-devoted being! what does it avail that I now ask thee to pardon me? I, who irretrievably destroyed thee by destroying all thou lovedst. Alas! he is cold, he cannot answer me'. (p. 219)
The Monster is finally cowed by his creator's death and, as he indicates, seeks himself only to die. Victor's ultimate passivity in death removes any possibility of struggle and confrontation with the Monster.

In life, the Monster and Victor are engaged in an endless struggle for supremacy; the notion of resolve or compromise is impossible. The Monster's symbolic rape of Elizabeth on her wedding night seals Victor's humiliation and subjugation and the Monster's (temporary) ascendency -- like the practice of a victorious army's systematic rape of their enemy's women. Analogous to a class struggle between the irrepressible proletariat and the ruling class, as Franco Moretti has suggested,19 the contest between the Monster and Victor can never be productively resolved. In fact, Shelley did not imagine a satisfactory conclusion to her character's fight or to the larger socio-political struggle. She offered no solution, no conclusion, no proof of the Monster's death, no hint that Victor had somehow learned from his momentous errors.

The similarities between Caleb Williams and Frankenstein are many, but others have found similarities in Frankenstein to Godwin's later novels. In his March 1818 review of Frankenstein for Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine Walter Scott refers to St. Leon (1799):

assuming the possibility of the transmutation of metals and of the elixir vitae, the author has deduced, in the course of his narrative, the probable consequences of the possession of such secrets upon the fortunes and mind of him who might enjoy them. Frankenstein is a novel upon the same plan with St. Leon.
St. Leon also features a protagonist whose Faustian ambition is fulfilled with dire consequences, but unlike Frankenstein it relies on the supernatural. By contrast, Frankenstein is a naturalistic or explained gothic in the manner of the novels of the American Charles Brockden Brown; Wieland (1798), Edgar Huntley (1799) and Ormond (1799). There are no supernatural agencies.

{41} Pollin stresses the fact that both St. Leon and Frankenstein are set in Switzerland. However, the Alps, like Radcliffe's Pyrennes, became one of the favourite environments of the Gothic and Romantic novel. They seemed to epitomize the sublime in nature and the genuine danger of travelling through them, as well as their forbidding aspect, ensured that their presence in the novel would contribute to a threatening atmosphere. What is more, Shelley's experience of those mountains had made a deep impression on her (and of course on PBS). They figure largely in her journal of the time and in her first published journalistic piece, History of a Six Weeks' Tour (1817),20 following the adventures of her elopement with PBS and Clare Clairmont. Certainly, by the turn of the eighteenth century, the landscape of Switzerland and the Alps was a stock Romantic feature and fascination with the sublime in nature, as epitomized by huge, snow-clad mountains, predates Godwin. Nevertheless, St. Leon gives us a magic elixir, Pollin points out, that has the power both to create life and to restore it. What is more, he maintains that like Godwin's Fleetwood (1805), Frankenstein's moral is the importance of love and companionship.

In fact, there are a number of literary allusions and sources that may have contributed to the story of Frankenstein, though too often comprehensive listings of such sources are offered in place of critical analysis and further contribute to the trivializing of Shelley's authorship. Nonetheless, a sampling of Shelley's wide reading. is interesting.

Shelley read Ovid's Metamorphoses in Latin in 1815 and in the following year Mme. de Genlis' "Nouvelles Nouvelles" with its story of Pygmalion and Galatea. Marlowe's Dr. Faustus was no doubt known to her but it is not included in the lists. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which Shelley read in 1814 and again in 1821, deeply impressed her. Its implications for Frankenstein, not least of all its Arctic scenes, are important, most significantly in the novel's pervasive atmosphere of isolation and alienation. Shelley certainly had it in mind when writing, and drew her readers' attention to the poem in Letter Two and Chapter Five. Also at this time the Royal Navy's search for a North West passage included the unlikely quest for the "Open Polar Sea". It was imagined to be a "temperate ocean, free of ice, surrounding the Pole and walled off from the rest of the world by a frozen barrier".21 This is the object of Walton's pursuit.

Shelley would have known Artegall's iron-man in The Faerie Queen and of automatons, mechanical clockwork dolls, sometimes {42} life-size, which were popular parlour curiosities. What is more, Albertus Magnus (1193 or 1206-1280), one of the "lords" of Victor's imagination, was said to have created a mechanical man. Shelley may also have heard of the legend of the Golem (perhaps from M. G. Lewis), a man of clay animated by the invocation of the secret name of God by a rabbi of sixteenth-century Prague.

Shelley's reading of The Tempest in 1818 (and again in 1820), that play which so inspired PBS, may have suggested some aspects of both Victor and the Monster in Ariel and Caliban. Christopher Small has devoted his book to the Ariel-PBS-Caliban relationship which he believes Shelley exploited in Frankenstein.22

Ketterer also suggests that Shelley was familiar with the sixteenth-century play The Honorable Historie of Frier Bacon and Frier Bungay in which the two philosophers create a brass head which they animate with the help of the devil. Shelley did apparently know that Thomas Bungay (or Friar Bungay (fl.1290)) was a Franciscan who lectured on divinity at Oxford and Cambridge, the former the place of Victor and Clerval's visit.23 PBS's margin notes on the manuscript of Frankenstein indicate the story of Bungay and his reputed discovery of gunpowder.

Shelley, like PBS and Byron, was interested in the scientific research of her day. She read Humphrey Davy's Elements of Chemical Philosophy (1812) in 1816 and though it does not appear in the reading lists, she was probably familiar with Erasmus Darwin's epic botanical love poem, The Botanic Garden (1791) and his prose work Zoonomia (1794-96), on the evolutionary principle in plant and animal life.24

But Frankenstein had other obvious radical associations. By drawing the reader's attention to Godwin, Shelley was also indirectly alluding to her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, whose memoirs, written by Godwin, had caused a scandal when they were published in 1798. Contemporary readers would have associated Frankenstein with Mary, A Fiction (1788), Wollstonecraft's novel about the enslavement of marriage and the oppression of women. They would also have been reminded of Wollstonecraft's participation in the "war of ideas" and her pamphlets A Vindication of the Rights of Man (1790) followed by A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), which entered into the heated debate sparked off by Thomas Paine's Rights of Man and Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. She was deeply involved with the politics and experience of the French Revolution as her An Historical and {43} Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution (1794) shows.

The tell-tale information on the title pages continues with the novel's epigraph and subtitle. In one of its most consistent themes, Frankenstein adopts a familiar Romantic preoccupation, that with Milton's Paradise Lost, from which the epigraph is taken:

Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?
PL, X, 743-45)
The second generation Romantics regarded Milton's interpretation of Genesis as a latent celebration of the defiance of authority and generally shared Blake's view that "Milton was of the Devil's party".25 Lucifer's defiant act was heroic; challenging oppression and sacrificing personal happiness -- a place in heaven -- to lead the cause of liberty.26 Byron was seen as the principle proponent of the "Satanic School" of poetry and Shelley was particularly enthusiastic about his verse dramas. In Manfred (1816) the eponymous hero has the powers of a necromancer and summons the spirits of the elements, Arimanes, the Destinies and Nemesis to his castle in the mountains. In Cain (1821) Lucifer tempts Abel's murderer with the eternal life forfeited by Adam and Eve and in The Deformed Transformed (1822), a humorous verse drama that Shelley fair-copied for Byron, a cripple sells his soul to the devil in exchange for physical perfection. PBS also chose epigraphs from Paradise Lost for his pot-boiler Zastrozzi (1810) and for Chapter 3 of St. Irvyne, or, The Rosicrucian (1810-11).

The character of Victor owes much to Milton's Satan. Victor's vaunting ambition defies God as creator of man. His good intentions become clouded by his own vanity:

Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs. (p. 54)
He attempts to usurp the monolithic power of the establishment -- God -- and assert the supremacy of mortal man. This is Satan's appeal {44} to the radicals. PBS's epigraph selection for Zastrozzi expresses the same distaste for a tyrannical God as Shelley in her selection for Frankenstein:
          That their God
May prove their foe, and with repenting hand
Abolish his own works -- This would surpass
Common revenge.

PL, II, 368-71)27
But one is struck by Shelley's choice of quotation -- it is not the revolutionary hero Satan but the usually hapless Adam in an uncharacteristic moment of defiance and anger. He is incensed at the cruelty and seemingly arbitrary power of his creator. Milton's God, as represented in this epigraph, is that same cruel manipulator taken to task in Shelley's early manuscript essay; he does not consult his people or consider their desires before imposing his will. It is the same tyrant that PBS's Wandering Jew defies with his rebellious curse and the same reviled in Queen Mab. By selecting that passage, epitomizing original defiance against the sting of injustice, Shelley immediately identifies her outward theme and allegiance.

The epigraph is preceded by the novel's subtitle, "the Modern Prometheus", which refers to Victor's role as creator. It also acknowledges Prometheus's dual role, as both creator and defier of the gods, characteristics that he shares with Victor. Victor's misguided ambitions serve to disrupt mankind, whether he is functioning as Prometheus plasticator -- maker of man, or Prometheus pyrphoros, stealer of the gods' fire. Shelley might also have had in mind Ovid and Catullus who implied that Prometheus's work was flawed, as man's nature is base and animal. At least some of Prometheus's efforts are undeniably beneficial to man, but always, like Victor, at extreme personal cost.

At the same time that Shelley was working on her novel, Byron wrote "Prometheus" at Diodati, and entrusted her to take the manuscript to John Murray in the autumn. In that poem, Prometheus is a divine hero, but one who inspires common humanity with his own example to defy death:

Thou art a symbol and a sign
To Mortals of their fate and force;
Like thee, Man is in part divine,
A troubled stream from a pure source;
And Man in portions can forsee
His own funereal destiny;
His wretchedness, and his resistance,
And his sad unallied existence:
To which his Spirit may oppose
Itself -- and equal to all woes,
And a firm will, and a deep sense,
Which even in torture can descry
Its own concentered recompense,
Triumphant where it dares defy,
And making Death a Victory.

Byron's Prometheus inspires mortal man to defy his narrow measure of existence and Victor Frankenstein responds to his call.

As Paul Cantor has pointed out,29 Frankenstein draws upon the two central, western creation myths; the myth of the Greek Titan who moulds mankind, and Milton's account of Christian creation taken from Genesis. Shelley appropriates these two myths to propose a subversive and reflexive version of creation -- the role of God is diminished and man celebrated as his own creator. Thus, Prometheus is both divine in his God-like role as creator of man, and the quintessential rebel in his defiance of his own master. Shelley weaves a new Romantic myth from those already established, but she does not accept Prometheus unconditionally as a role model. In Prometheus Unbound PBS embraced the Titan as a radical icon, though an imperfect one. Shelley is still more circumspect and weighs the consequences of his action with considerable caution.

Shelley's recreation of Promethean man, celebrated and damned, is not simply a variation of Godwinisim or her husband's idealism. Victor's desire to have sole responsibility for his 'son's' creation and his refusal to reproduce in the far simpler and natural way is a desire, Cantor maintains, to see his creation "as solely a projection of himself".30 He would like to see his entire creative impulse, his very being made flesh, objectified so it may be possessed. However, he is disgusted by the results of the hideous Monster that he had hoped to make beautiful. Cantor reminds us that this gap between inspiration and composition, the idea and the reality, is a recognizable fear in PBS -- "Frankenstein beholding his creature is like a Shelleyan poet, disgusted by the fixed form into which his {46} imaginative inspiration has sunk. The corrupting medium of human flesh has distorted Frankenstein's creation into a grotesque mockery of his original vision".31 In this way, Frankenstein is a mockery of PBS's impossible poetical (and political) ideal. And it is also true that Shelley's criticism has a personal element; Mellor identifies Shelley's criticism of the Romantic imagination as the result of her personal dissatisfaction with PBS.

But to return to the features which betrayed Frankenstein as a product of radical thought; it departs strikingly from the feminine novel. Frankenstein "brought a new sophistication to literary terror, and it did so without a heroine, without even a female victim", points out Ellen Moers.32 Shelley was not at this period artistically concerned with the social problems of love and marriage, nor did she reaffirm that marriage was the simple solution to all a woman's troubles. Other writers such as Fanny Burney (1752-1840) and Elizabeth Inchbald (1753-1821) had progressive views for women, and they reflected them by allowing their women a wide range of character, education or experience. Nonetheless, they focussed in the main on the heroine and a love story. Even Mary Hays's daring and unconventional eponymous heroine of The Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796) who demands to be as well educated as a man succumbs, at her own admission, to an unrealizable love. In her significant shift of focus away from this convention Shelley was less feminine or ladylike than any of the prominent and radical women writers of her time.

Beneath the obvious radical labels and invocation of radical arguments, Frankenstein reveals some scepticism about Godwin's and PBS's beliefs. It certainly speaks to the reader in the parlance of radical circles, yet Frankenstein contains a dialectic on radicalism and revolution in general. More narrowly Frankenstein is at once a satire and a criticism of the consequences of Godwinism. It is the beginning of Shelley's move away from idealized political theories, or at the very least, her expression of disappointment in those who initially led and then abandoned the Revolution. Though the indications of Shelley's growing independence in Frankenstein are subtle, once highlighted they undermine the Godwinian elements in the novel.33

David Ketterer and Iain Crawford34 have suggested that Victor and Henry Clerval's visit to the tomb of John Hampden (1594-1643), a civil war hero, reflects Shelley's disappointment with the revolutionary cause. Victor goes to the tomb in Oxford, keen to be inspired {47} by the spirit of liberty and justice that the figure represented to the radicals and liberals during the period in which the novel is set. The exercise is a failure -- "For an instant I dared to shake off my chains, and look around me with a free and lofty spirit; but the iron had eaten into my flesh, and I sank again, trembling and hopeless, into my miserable self" (p. 160). Victor does not find the solace in righteous justice that he had hoped and at the same time, he feels sympathy with the overthrown Charles I, the opponent, at Hampden's time, of liberty: "The memory of that unfortunate king, and his companions . . . gave a peculiar interest to every part of the city, which they might be supposed to have inhabited" (p. 159).35

Victor Frankenstein shares the rebellious characteristics of Satan and Prometheus, two figures of positive action to the second generation Romantic psyche. Though Victor and his family appear to be uninterested in religion throughout the novel, like Charles Brockden Brown's Constantia36 of Ormond (1799) -- "Religion was regarded by her, not with disbelief, but with absolute indifference"37 -- Victor nonetheless defies the creator in his own attempt and eventual success at giving life.38 His rebellious instincts are good in Godwinian terms; he celebrates man creating his own life, choosing his own destiny and shaping the world through science (a tool for autonomy) to suit his needs. However, his relentless ambition is a self-delusion, clothed as a quest for truth. He appears to be the dedicated promoter of the Godwinian ideal that would witness the manifestation of political justice. He pursues the "truth" as hotly and as passionately as Caleb Williams, but Victor's intellectual curiosity seeks to satisfy his own vanity. His ambition blots out his entire family, first symbolically than literally -- his pursuit of the truth is grotesque in Shelley's novel.

Therefore, Victor's anarchic challenge and the revolution in knowledge that he hoped to bring about -- "I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation" (p. 48) -- is a failure, not because his endeavour resulted in an unsatisfactory outcome, but because it was ill-conceived. Instead of Victor's scientific advancement contributing to human knowledge and the broadening of man's experience, it leads to capitulation and limitation.39 Through Victor's example Walton is at first inspired to proceed against the wishes of his crew but finally agrees to return home and forget his intellectual fantasy of a new horizon. He abandons his search for the calm, iceless sea surrounding the Pole (an obvious chimera) and returns {48} to the familiar safety, and claustrophobia, of his sister's parlour. One imagines his return to a sterile, static and predictable world, so unlike the vistas of shifting, floating ice and sea that surround his imaginative quest.

Victor's grandiose challenge, which like the angel Lucifer once sparkled with radiance, has been censured and abandoned. His revolution perpetrates not just a return to the status quo, but the continued descent into an archaic womb of ignorance. If Political Justice represents Godwin's vision of potential reality, and Caleb Williams, with its depressing warning, is Godwin's spurring-on of the masses, then his belief in a revolution in political and social spheres (even physical, he believed that the entire nature of human disease would change) was fantastically optimistic. Shelley presents this revolutionary optimism in Frankenstein but draws her own doomed conclusion for the rebellious spirit.

In fact Shelley's mordant parody of perfectibility looks like her most deliberate blow. Perfectibility was an ideal of PBS's which Shelley always associated with Godwin and it was still dear to her husband's heart while she was composing Frankenstein. St. Clair has emphasized PBS's attachment to the concept and to his early 'worship' of Godwin: "The word perfectibility was seldom far from his lips. He longed for the day, he told his friends, when Man would live in accordance with Nature and with Reason and in consequence with Virtue."40 Shelley explains PBS's notion of perfectibility, as she understood it, in her editorial notes to Prometheus Unbound:

The prominent feature of Shelley's theory of the destiny of the human species was, that evil is not inherent in the system of the creation, but an accident that might be expelled . . . Shelley believed that mankind had only to will that there should be no evil, and there would be none . . . That man could be so perfectionized as to be able to expel evil from his own nature, and from the greater part of the creation, was the cardinal point of his system.41
Victor plans for his creation to be physically ideal and gathers the necessary parts from other bodies accordingly. As he explains: "His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful" (p. 57). The images of the half-crazed scientist (Victor describes a near delirious state) sorting through the dismembered corpses of charnel houses and tombs to select ideal features from dead faces {49} and limbs represent in effect a grotesque satire of perfectibility. It also reminds the reader of the gruesome political cartoons produced in England during the French Revolution depicting, among other atrocities, families of sans culottes feasting on the limbs and entrails of the recently executed aristocracy. Victor uses dead bodies; the very materials for building a new and better humanity, which for both (the early) Godwin and PBS would have meant Reason and Truth, are already filthy and corrupted.42 The idea that man can take a fundamental and commanding role in the improvement of man is undermined by the doomed and sordid nature of Victor's undertaking. There is no way of starting afresh. All flesh, all spirit, is tainted.

It is ironic too that Victor fails completely to see the merits of his creation, that the Monster is intelligent, eager to learn and affectionate. He is abandoned and let loose, untrained, upon the world. Like the intellectual architects of the Revolution, Rousseau for example, Victor forsakes his project. Shelley was angry not just with the ideals of her immediate family, but, like Byron, as expressed in Canto III of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, with the irresponsible proponents and motivators of the Revolution. Shelley was particularly moved by Byron's (Harold's) ambiguous and complicated reflections on Waterloo and Napoleon's fatal flaw of vanity and over-reaching ambition:


  There sunk the greatest, nor the worst of men,
  Whose spirit, antithetically mixt
  One moment of the mightiest, and again
  On little objects with like firmness fixt,
  Extreme in all things! hadst thou been betwixt,
  Thy throne had still been thine, or never been;
  For daring made thy rise as fall: thou seek'st
  Even now to re-assume the imperial mien,
And shake again the world, the Thunderer of the scene!


  Conqueror and captive of the earth art thou!
  She trembles at thee still, and thy wild name
  Was ne'er more bruited in men's minds than now
  That thou art nothing, save the jest of Fame,
  {50} Who wooed thee once, thy vassal, and became
  The flatterer of thy fierceness, till thou wert
  A god unto thyself; nor less the same
  To the astounded kingdoms all inert,
Who deem'd thee for a time whate'er thou didst assert.


  Oh, more or less than man -- in high or low,
  Battling nations, flying from the field;
  Now making monarchs' necks thy footstool, now
  More than thy meanest soldier taught to yield;
  An empire thou couldst crush, command, rebuild,
  But govern not thy pettiest passion, nor,
  However deeply in men's spirits skill'd,
  Look through thine own, nor curb the lust of war,
Nor learn that tempted Fate will leave the loftiest star.
Byron also expresses his disappointment with Rousseau, whose memory is evoked by Harold's view of Lake Leman:


  Here the self-torturing sophist, wild Rousseau,
  The apostle of affliction, he who threw
  Enchantment over passion, and from woe
  Wrung overwhelming eloquence, first drew
  The breath which made him wretched; yet he knew
  How to make madness beautiful, and cast
  O'er erring deeds and thoughts, a heavenly hue
  Of words, like sunbeams, dazzling as they past
The eyes, which o'er them shed tears feelingly and fast.


  For then he was inspired, and from him came,
  As from the Pythian's mystic cave of yore,
  Those oracles which set the world in flame,
  Nor ceased to burn till kingdoms were no more:
  Did he not this for France? which lay before
  Bowed to the inborn tyranny of years?
  Broken and trembling, to the yoke she bore,
  {51} Till by the voice of him and his compeers,
Roused up to too much wrath, which follows o'er grown fears?


  They made themselves a fearful monument!
  The wreck of old opinions -- things which grew
  Breathed from the birth of time: the veil they rent,
  And what behind it lay, all earth shall view.
  But good with ill they also overthrew,
  Leaving but ruins, wherewith to rebuild
  Upon the same foundation, and renew
  Dungeons and thrones, which the same hour re-fill'd
As heretofore, because ambition was self-will'd.
Shelley shared Byron's doubts without being supported by her husband. In fact, in PBS's poem Julian and Maddalo (composed in 1818-19, first published in 1824), the PBS character, Julian, though chastened and educated by his experience, finds the Byron character insufficiently radical.

To Shelley, the Monster is the dark, destructive and unrestrained manifestation of the Revolution ("more or less than man"), which, had it not been abandoned by educators and guides, might have been the saviour of mankind. But Victor refuses to educate his offspring, just as his own father neglected to guide him. In this way, Shelley takes Rousseau to task; the Monster is also an attack on the idea of the noble savage. He is given all the politically and aesthetically correct books to read: The Ruins of Empire and Plutarch's Parallel Lives open his eyes and sensitize him to history and to injustice. Goethe's Sorrows of Werther even prepares him for an appreciation and understanding of sensibility and passion. But the Monster still runs amok. In fact, the Monster's 'accidental' education is woefully inadequate and his exclusive dependence on radical texts so ill-equips him for the world that he can only react in the most primitive way. Victor has the same kind of limitations in his own education. His information is too narrow, and the gathering of it unguided. He is left to his own devices and he too wreaks havoc.

Mellor suggests that the date of the Monster's birth and the events of the novel correspond to the key events of the French Revolution {52} and points out that Ingolstadt, the Monster's birthplace, was the home of the revolutionary Illuminati and much Jacobin ferment, underscoring Shelley's deliberate association of the Monster with the bloody progress of the Revolution.43 She gives another example of this association on Shelley's part. In her memoirs of Godwin, Shelley discussed his early radical politics. As Mellor quotes:

The giant now awoke. The mind, never torpid, but never rouzed to its full energies, received the spark which lit it into an unextinguishable flame. Who can now tell the feelings of liberal men on the first outbreak of the French Revolution. In but too short a time afterwards it became tarnished by the vices of Orleans -- dimmed by the want of talent of the Girondists -- deformed & blood-stained by the Jacob ins. But in 1789 & 1790 it was impossible for any but a courtier not to be warmed by the glowing influence.44
Though Mellor takes no account of Shelley's temporal, emotional and ideological distance, writing in 1836 of her father's experience of the Revolution, it is clear that Shelley came to reject revolutionary ideals completely. Instead of bringing humanity into a new age, Victor, like the disappointing Napoleon, plunges it back into darkness.45

Shelley's critique of revolution continues. Victor's lack of irony persists beyond his suffering. He warns the ambitious Walton against proceeding with his quest, but at the same time urges on his men. With one voice he appears to accept the supremacy of the quest for truth (as described in Political Justice) but tempers it with a caution:

A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind, and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquillity. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to this rule. (pp. 55-56)46
Victor could be speaking to Caleb, as well as to himself.

Yet Victor's action, as usual, overcomes and obliterates his good intentions. The voice of reason that sees the possibility of emotional and intellectual tranquillity continues to press the worn-out crew to glory; ". . . Are you then so easily turned from your design? Did you not call this a glorious expedition? And wherefore was it {53} glorious? . . . because danger and death surrounded it, and these you were to brave and overcome" (p. 214).

Victor's desire to protect an unfortunately kindred spirit from his own misery is overruled by his passion for defiance and his uncontrollable desire to strike out against conformity -- he is enraged by consensus and the will of the many who decide to abandon the dangerous voyage. His imagination, despite full knowledge of its consequences, and an understanding of the benefits of its control, is irrepressible. In all the hundreds of pages of Political Justice and in the optimistic belief in man's potential shared by Godwin and PBS, Shelley could not find any treatment of the problem of egoism, personal ambition and the desire not to conform or to realize expectations. What proof have they of man's natural inclination towards Reason? Frankenstein shows the consequences of this central lacuna at the heart of Godwin's argument. Walton's victorious failure, his decision to abandon the voyage, is a greater achievement in human terms than Victor's 'successful' experiments. However, his victory is won at the cost of the complete suppression of his imaginative impulses. Shelley seems to be saying that no system, least of all her father's, can accommodate the reality of the imagination; one is either its slave or its crushing tyrant.

Finally, we see in Victor's ultimate misery the end result of the persistent quest for truth. As a very young man he selected a goal which he pursued relentlessly. He acquired knowledge systematically and, we are meant to believe, scientifically, until he unlocked the secret of life, the symbol, certainly to the medieval philosopher-alchemist, of all the knowledge of the universe. The eponymous hero of St. Leon receives the philosopher's stone and the elixir vitae, which causes his eternal suffering.47 Victor and St. Leon are doubtless related in this respect but it is the naturalism of Frankenstein, its attempt, in what is perhaps a parody of Godwin's emphatic trust in rationality, to rationally explain Victor's work without the supernatural support of Godwin's mythical story which sets it apart. Godwin's view of over-reaching ambition finds expression in classic gothic style. By contrast, Shelley's 'reality' has a purpose. Indeed, when he begins his investigations Victor is at first attracted to such myths and determines to discover the philosopher's stone, only rejecting this course when he turns to science. This also represents, in some sense, Shelley's rejection of her father's fantasy. Shelley presents us with a human being who is destroyed by his own impulses towards knowledge and truth. {54} Political Justice does not see how the free pursuit of knowledge, truth and perfection can be anything but good. Shelley shows us the dangers of the anarchic personal quest that seems to her to inform Political Justice.

Though always considered a radical at this stage in her career, Shelley was already committed to the idea of domestic responsibility and one's accountability to others. The thoughtless rejection of family in the pursuit and perpetration of universal perfectibility deeply disturbed her and it is clear that she often resented PBS, as we shall see later, for his frequent refusal to be intellectually, artistically or spiritually compromised by a family's needs. Her insight into what she may have seen as the insidious implications of Political Justice is theoretically grounded, but it is also based on personal experience and emotion. Kiely is correct when he remarks, "Neither her father's trust in system nor her husband's unworldliness seemed satisfactory to her. On the contrary, judging from the events of her novel, both alternatives were too likely to lead to that single-mindedness which, when carried to the extreme, was a kind of insanity".48

In Frankenstein Shelley initiated a fundamental criticism, not only of her husband, which was emotionally painful, but of Romanticism as she understood it. She saw into and attempted to expose what Cantor calls the Romantic myth. An element of her creative nightmare is the "nightmare of Romantic idealism, revealing the dark underside to all the visionary dreams of remaking man that fired the imagination of Romantic myth-makers".49 Shelley was not an idealist, her real vision of human potential is dark and pessimistic. An emotional outburst in her journal from October 21, 1838 has often misled prejudiced critics:

I have been so abused by pretended friends for my lukewarmness in the "Good Cause", that though I disdain to answer them, I shall put down here a few thoughts on this subject . . . In the first place with regard to the "good Cause" -- the cause of the advancement of freedom & knowledge -- of the Rights of Women &c -- I am not a person of Opinions. I have said elsewhere that human beings differ greatly in this -- some have a passion for reforming the world: others do not cling to particular opinions. That my Parents & Shelley were of the former class, makes me respect it -- I respect such when joined to real disinterestedness (toleration) & a clear understanding; -- My accusers -- after such {55} as these -- appear to me mere drivellers. For myself, I earnestly desire the good & enlightenment of my fellow creatures . . . but I am not for violent extremes . . . I have never written a word in disfavour of liberalism. . . . I have no wish to ally myself to the Radicals -- they are full of repulsion to me. Violent without any sense of justice -- selfish in the extreme -- talking without knowledge -- rude, envious & insolent -- I wish to have nothing to do with them.
Shelley's thoughts on radicalism at this late date are no doubt influenced by the political climate of parliamentary reform of the late 1830s, as well as by her personal desire to disappear quietly from the limelight of notoriety. But she did not suddenly and inexplicably embrace conservatism nor did she betray her husband; her life was a struggle between her unqualified love for him and for the expression of her intellectual independence. We must take her journal at its word in this instance, and understand her very early criticism of a group of values and individuals that she eventually came to reject completely. Her liberalism could not condone violence -- the terror that the Monster unleashes, despite our feelings of sympathy for him and our understanding of his frustration, is represented by Shelley as emotive, arbitrary cruelty. PBS condemned the imperialist's war but may well have accepted that blood must be shed in the overthrow of oppression, at least until 1817. Indeed, in his Essay on Christianity he betrays sympathy for Caesar's assassins:
It was in affection, in inextinguishable love for all that is venerable and dear to the human heart, in the names of country, liberty, and virtue; it was in serious and solemn and reluctant mood that these holy patriots murdered their father and their friend. They would have spared his violent death if he could have deposited the rights which he had assumed. His own selfish and narrow nature necessitated the sacrifice they made.50
Though PBS changed his mind about acceptable bloodshed, eventually finding it ultimately unproductive, Shelley always had profound doubts about this kind of justifiable violence, and about the inflexibility of radical ideals, and Frankenstein remains her earliest personal debate on the success and morality of radicalism; in public that is. We have seen that her uneasiness regarding bloody revolution was manifested very early in the "History of the Jews".

{56} In Frankenstein Shelley denies the possibility of man's self-creation, of the success and glory to be found in the remaking of the world and the defiance of God -- the essentials of a radical ideal. But at the same time she does not promise fulfilment or happiness in the acceptance of established religion and the worship of God. On the contrary, she refuses to envision fulfillment or happiness at all, most of all in the idealistic theories and fantasies favoured by her circle. We will discover how, in the novels that followed Frankenstein, her counter-revolutionary pessimism, as well as her equally firm doubts about the efficacy of establishment ideals, leads her to further studies of decay and dissolution. We will see how her work finally escalates into total global annihilation, the final and natural process of the "workshop of filthy creation" (p. 55) that is her artistic world.


1. Christopher Small, Ariel Like a Harpy (London: Victor Gollancz, 1972), p. 100.

2. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus, ed., James Rieger (New York: Bobbs-Merrill 1974), p. xliv.

3. Marilyn Butler, Jane Austen and the War of Ideas (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975).

4. The Necessity of Atheism was not inspired specifically by Godwin, rather, its origins were Hume and the French philosophes.

5. Gary Kelly, The English Jacobin Novel, 1780-1805 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), p. 180.

6. William Godwin, Things as They Are, or, the Adventures of Caleb Williams, ed., David McCracken (1970; rpt, Oxford; Oxford University Press, 1982), p. viii. Hereafter the novel will be cited as CW and with the page reference, will be included within the body of the text.

7. Critics argue that Caleb Williams was also an opportunity for Godwin to modify some of his views of the preceding year.

8. William Godwin, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on Morals and Happiness, 3 vols, ed., F. E. L. Priestley (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1946), Vol. II., pp. 210-11. Hereafter the book will be cited as PJ and with the page reference, will be included within the body of the text.

9. Ronald Paulson, "Gothic Fiction and the French Revolution", Journal of English Literary History, 48 (1981), pp. 532-53, using a Freudian model, maintains that as a Jacobin novel, Frankenstein examines the implications of revolution, the French Revolution in particular. He describes the "Frankenstein syndrome" as the usurpation of the divine role of creator, the destruction of the family, property and life. He sees the novel as an allegory of the contemporaneous revolution in its focus on reason, Godwinian reason, as the single source of creation, ignoring the paternal and maternal.

10. Burton R. Pollin, "Philosophical and Literary Sources of Frankenstein", Comparative Literature, 17 (1965), pp. 97-108.

11. Edinburgh Magazine, 2nd Series, 2 (March 1818), 249-53.

12. Percy Bysshe Shelley, "On Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus" in The Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, eds, Roger Ingpen and Walter E. Peck, (London: Ernest Benn Ltd., 1929), Vol. VI, p. 264.

13. Ibid., p. 172. More recent analysis of Frankenstein has addressed the particular problem of Shelley's prose style. Devon Hodges, in "Frankenstein and the Feminine Subversion of the Novel", Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, 2 (1983), 155-64, has suggested that Shelley's problematic style is a deliberate "violation of the literary propriety" (p. 157) in an attempt to find a new feminine voice within the context of male language and literature. The stilted and patched-together nature of Shelley's prose is seen as analogous to the patched-together Monster, assembled from the pilfered segments of other bodies. Mellor on the other hand attributes some of the inelegancies of the prose to PBS's not always superior alterations to the manuscript.

14. Don Locke, [A Fantasy of Reason: The Life and Thought of William Godwin (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980)] p. 280.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid., pp. 280-81.

17. A.D. Harvey, "Frankenstein and Caleb Williams", Keats-Shelley Journal 29 (1980), pp. 21-27.

18. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus, ed., M.K. Joseph (1969; rpt, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), pp.166-67. This edition is used throughout. Hereafter, page references will appear within the body of the text. I have chosen this text for reasons of availability. The use of the 1818 text is not crucial to my purposes; where it is called for, I have indicated differences in the two texts.

19. Franco Moretti, "Dialectic of Fear" in Signs Taken for Wonders, Essays in the Sociology of Literary Forms (London: Verso Editions and NLB, 1983).

20. Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley, History of a Six Weeks' Tour through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland: with Letters Descriptive of a Sail round the Lake of Geneva, and of the Glaciers of Chamouni (London: T. Hookham, Jr. and C. and J. Ollier, 1817). PBS was co-author but most of the volume was excerpted from Shelley's journal and letters.

21. Pierre Berton, The Arctic Grail. The Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909 (New York: Viking, 1988), p. 20.

22. Shelley mentions reading The Tempest on October 6, 1818, nine months after Frankenstein's publication. However, she apparently read "Shakespeare's works" in 1814, 15, 16 and 19 and was no doubt familiar with the play during the novel's composition.

23. Shelley and Godwin also went to visit the tomb of John Hampden in Oxford in October 1817 while Frankenstein was being prepared for the press.

24. As related in a letter to Hobhouse, July 29, 1810, Byron met Francis Darwin, Erasmus' son, on passage from Athens to Smyrna in March 1810. Leslie Marchand, ed., Byron 's Letters and Journals (London: John Murray, 1973-1980), Vol. 2, p. 7.

25. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, plates 5-6.

26. In his article, "Milton, Mary Shelley and Patriarchy", Bucknell Review, 28 (1983), 19-47, Burton Hatlen seeks to show how Frankenstein, as a radical text, uncovers and exposes the true radicalism of Milton's epic and strips it of the conservative interpretations that it had acquired. He maintains that the Romantics seized on Paradise Lost as a fundamental rejection of patriarchal power and that "Frankenstein represents . . . both a powerful synthesis of the responses to Milton . . . and an important step forward in the dialogue (a dialogue centred upon the themes of authority and equality) between the Romantics and Milton" (p. 24).

27. Percy Bysshe Shelley, Zastrozzi, A Romance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 3.

28. Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works, 5 vols, ed., Jerome J. McGann (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980-1986). This edition will be used throughout in discussion of all Byron's published poetry.

29. Paul Cantor, Creature and Creator: Myth-Making and English Romanticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).

30. Ibid., p. 111.

31. Ibid., p. 117.

32. Ellen Moers, Literary Women (London: The Women's Press Ltd., 1978), pp. 91-92.

33. Mellor regards Frankenstein as a critique of revolutionary ideology, though she does not carry this line of argument into a discussion of the subsequent novels.

34. Iain Crawford, "Wading Through Slaughter: John Hampden, Thomas Gray, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein", Studies in the Novel, 3 (Fall), 1988, 249-61.

35. After Frankenstein was completed and published and the Shelleys had left England for Italy, PBS urged Shelley to write a drama about Charles 1. In the end, he took up the project in 1820-21, but never finished it.

36. Brown's heroine also suggests an origin for PBS's "Constantia" poems to Claire Clairmont.

37. Charles Brockden Brown, Ormond, ed., Ernest Marchand (London: Hafner Publishing Co., 1937), p. 148.

38. Victor's sinful presumption against God is highlighted in the edition of 1831.

39. Victor's crime is even a sin against the spirit of scientific research. His investigation began with a solution in sight. He never designed and tested hypothesis. His research was prejudiced from its inception and corrupted with his desire for its preconceived outcome.

40. St. Clair, p. 317.

41. Mary Shelley, ed., The Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley comprised of The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Essays, Letters From Abroad, Translations and Fragments (London: Edward Moxon, 1854). Hereafter referred to as The Poetical Works and Essays

42. PBS would have added "Love" to Reason and Truth. He meant not just romantic and sexual love, but "the bond and the sanction which connects not only man with man but with everything which exists." From Essay on Love in Shelley's Prose, pp. 169-71.

43. Mellor, pp. 82-83.

44. Ibid., p. 82.

45. Readers may think of the name "Victor" as a purposeful echo of PBS's juvenile poem Victor and Cazire (1810), yet Shelley's selection of her protagonist's name is perhaps more sophisticated. The irony of "victor", in the context of the great failure at the heart of the novel, seems more likely and shows something of Shelley's mordant humour.

46. One is reminded of Wordsworth's 1802 Preface to Lyrical Ballads with its concern for the separation of the emotions and the creative-intellectual faculty, another example of the Romantic fear of the imagination, as Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar might point out.

47. In Shelley's short story, The Mortal Immortal (1834), the hero is punished for drinking the elixir vitae and retaining his youth while his beloved wife grows old, foolish and resentful.

48. Kiely, p. 170.

49. Cantor, p. 109.

50. Percy Bysshe Shelley, Essay on Christianity, in Shelley's Prose, pp. 196-214.