Contents Index

Otherness in Frankenstein: The Confinement/Autonomy of Fabrication

Jerrold E. Hogle

From Structuralist Review, 2 (1980), 20-45

The universe is a monster of energy, without beginning or end; a fixed and brazen quantity of energy which grows neither bigger nor smaller, which does not consume itself, but only alters its face . . . this, my Dionysian world of eternal self-creation, of eternal self-destruction. . . .

(Nietzsche, The Will to Power)
We should begin by taking rigorous account of this being held within [prise] or this surprise: the writer writes in a language and in a logic whose proper system, laws, and life his discourse by definition cannot dominate absolutely. He uses them only by letting himself, after a fashion and up to a point, be governed by the system.

(Derrida, Of Grammatology)
The ignorance of the early philosophers on these and several other points served to decrease their credit with me: but I could not entirely throw them aside, before some other system should take their place in my mind. [1.1.8]

(Victor Frankenstein)
[{20}] In the preface-after-the-fact by the author's author-husband, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein presents itself as a call for "domestic affection" (p. 7).1 And since the book's three narrators finish their stories in the loneliness of an icebound vessel, the call does go out: obsessive quests for Truth beyond the domus lead to the drift of alienation and the cold prison of self-involvement.2 To say that, however, is not to uncover a moral presence or a presence of {21} mind that clearly precede the language of the text. It is really to expose the novel's denial of presence in the face of its own fabrication and in the face of fabrication as the basis of human effort. For even as the narrators try to find the origins of things, the "birthplace" of what they do is always a locus of writing that refers elsewhere, and the "end" they apparently seek is always deferred as one production of signs gives way to another. Robert Walton's quest for the source of magnetism is spawned by "a history of all the voyages made for the purpose of discovery" (p. 11); Frankenstein's lust for "the causes of life" is engendered by the works of the best-known alchemists (pp. 32-3); and, at the famous midpoint of the novel's concentric arrangement (pp. 122-7), the creature's drive to locate his own genesis is rooted in Plutarch's Lives, Goethe's Werther, Milton's Paradise Lost, and his maker's laboratory journal, all of which are themselves "rooted" in other narratives. Moreover, instead of arriving at the profound knowledge offered by some of their books, the narrators tell tales to one another that expand on their basic texts. The search for the origin is put off in new chains of language that supplement previous chains, with the "central" chain grounding itself in a library of documents and honing in on the journal of a fabricator who admits his involvement in earlier fabrications. What the reader finally gets is an errant packet from a confused navigator, a group of letters cut off from a source already adrift on a surface of signs,3 that repeats a mélange of rhetorical acts within its own act of rhetoric. The speakers are indeed alienated and imprisoned, but the movement of figuration is the ostracizer and keeper as it holds out a fulfilling completion that it also prevents. Whether it is called an "origin," a "cause," or a "moral truth," the underlying presence in Frankenstein is nothing but a pretension within writing on top of writing, an absent objective lost from the start "in darkness and distance" (the last phrase of the book [Walton 17].

So far, though, only Peter Brooks has taken on the rhetorical problem at the base of this novel.4 He has aptly seen the monster as a sign of the non-meanings in Nature (human and otherwise), searching for community and coherence in a language that offers merely a play of differences. But even this view presumes an aberration, however ineffable, that somehow exists prior to composition. For me the monstrosity in Frankenstein is the very act of {22} composition -- be it a story, a charted voyage, or a fabricated man -- as it confines itself within previous compositions that question the maker's authority and as it becomes autonomous from all authority in the drive of its own repetitions. Instead of an unmediated Nature, after all, what the novel offers primarily is a sequence of performances designed to persuade others on the basis of already conventional "persuasions." Morality and Human Nature are talked about, yet only as they are fathered by verbal patterns that the narrators have drawn from their reading; when Victor articulates his penchant for "raising ghosts and devils" (pp. 34-5), his desire goes after "a promise liberally accorded by my favourite authors . . . Cornelius Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, and Paracelsus, who have so long reigned the lords of my imagination" [1.1.9]. Ultimately each of the narrators in the book enacts the machine of sign-production defined by Jacques Lacan: "in the labor which [the speaker] undertakes to reconstruct [his Nature] for another, he finds again the fundamental alienation which made him construct it like another one, and which has destined [his construct] to be stripped from him by another."5 Thus fabrication throughout the novel is the making of an Imaginary Self, an "other one," in configurations allowed by the Other (the intersubjective-intertextual ground of articulation). This process literally subjects the composer to the signs of a dead past that differs from him, divorcing him from a product that observers will decipher in terms of the Other and not the author. Mary Shelley seems to accept just that in her introduction to the 1831 version as she bids her "hideous progeny go forth" into a world of readers having "nothing to do" with her own life (p. 229). And so I want to follow out the purely performative gambits in Frankenstein as they insist, despite their pretensions, on their own ineffability and their own ways of giving birth to an aberration.


Among his several duties as the "framing" figure in the book, Walton has the first chance to define the vocabularies that control the movement of the text. What he reveals in the process is the charting of his own course within a conflict of systems:
[The North Pole that I seek] ever presents itself to my imagination as the region {23} of beauty and delight . . . there snow and frost are forever banished; and sailing over a calm sea, we may be wafted to land surpassing in wonders and in beauty every region hitherto discovered on the habitable globe. Its productions and features may be without example, as the phenomena of the heavenly bodies undoubtedly are in those undiscovered solitudes. [Further,] I may there discover the wondrous power that attracts the needle: and may regulate a thousand celestial observations that may require only this voyage to render their seeming eccentricities consistent for ever.(pp. 9-10)
On the one hand, Walton can project what he does at this point because he accepts a rhetoric of telos or anagogy. Here every word presupposes an End, a final Revelation of Meaning, which lies beyond example and yet provides the standard for inadequate but visible pre-dictions of it. Mundane nature in these terms is simply a gallery of signs holding out "a foretaste of those icy climes" (p. 9) in metaphoric emblems that mystify and promise all at once.6 The mystery, in fact, is bound up with the promise, for the emblem resists the approach of investigation even as it vows to initiate the investigator. In any case, human perception and human action can only reach their goals under this inscription if they attain the primal space that completes and conflates all metaphors. Mary Shelley even cements these notions in her 1823 addenda to the novel, where the Pole is cited as proof that "the aspect of nature differs essentially [or 'at the essential level'] from anything of which we have experience" (p. 10). 0n the other hand, Walton also intones a rhetoric of tabula or representation, something like the episteme that Michel Foucault has found in major texts of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.7 Now the ground of truth is not the Essential Sign but the capacity in language for charting the memory-traces of the mind. Under these conditions the explorer seeks meaning by recording and arranging names for his observations, trying always to dissolve "eccentricities" by rendering old data consistent with new perceptions. The Transcendent Standard remains, but only as an assurance of the chart's emerging validity. As Descartes suggests, It provides a guarantee whereby the reason can claim an Origin (or God) as the prototype of itself, a presence behind the self-presence that represents in a gradual process. There is, of course, some duplicity here; the desire that seeks the fullness of Nature in a developing table already assumes a Nature complete in itself. Yet, whatever the case, telos and tabula are very different ways of {24} pursuing self-fulfillment.8 In the former, power and value depend on the nearness of the self to the Essence. Representation demands little more than the progressive and consistent expansion of itself.

Still more to the point, as Walton continues to use both schemes for encoding himself and his voyage, his "resolutions" become "as fixed as fate" (p. 15), confining his account within their textual demands and their opposition to each other. While he plays the hero of a teleological quest, he has to see the Pole as a blend of established metaphors for the primal kingdom. Thus it combines elements of Hyperborea, Eden, Heaven itself, and even the Mount of the Muses. Walton can thereby talk of his failed poems as a groundless "Paradise of my own creation" in need of that center from which the inspired can draw the original Word (p. 11). At the same time, Captain Walton must plan his itinerary by way of "St Petersburg" and "Archangel" (pp. 9 and 13); he must give his crewmen places in such a scheme by describing them as noble savages (pp. 14-15); and, when he maps the route he will follow into the polar region, he has to arrive at "plains of ice, which seem to have no end" (p. 17). He has made a prideful advance toward Heaven on his own power and must be cleansed from the guilt of presumption in Cocytus, the frozen core of Dante's Inferno. Naturally his only way out is a harrowing of Hell by a Christ figure, so Victor is subjected to the role once he is taken on board. "Such a man has a double existence," Walton says; "he may suffer misery, and be overwhelmed by disappointments; yet when he is retired into himself, he will be like a celestial spirit, that has a halo around him, within whose circle no grief or folly ventures" (p. 23). But even as he proceeds through his own Commedia, Walton must undercut that vocabulary in the most obvious ways. Just as telos urges him to search for heat in the very extremes of the North, tabula leads him to note "the southern gales" that "breathe a degree of renovating warmth which I had not expected" (p. 16). He must also cite empirical grounds for his voyage that have nothing to do with the Muses, and so he lists his qualifications in "mathematics, the theory of medicine, and those branches of physical science from which a naval adventurer might derive the greatest practical advantage" (p. 11). In this light the failure of his effort is caused, not by presumption, but by his miscalculations regarding the polar ice-cap. Even worse by the standards of tabula, these mistakes result {25} from an interest in telos that is both antisocial in its mysticism and impractical in its methodology.9

Yet the real "causes" of the failure are aporia (the hesitation between rhetorical modes) and the resulting parabasis (the foregrounding of articulation as mere performance). Within their own boundaries, first of all, telos and tabula make problematic assumptions about reference; one offers signs that indicate nothing but a privileged emblem, the metaphor at the apex, while the other represents mental associations that are themselves representations of other things. When the two clash openly they expose each other's duplicities, thereby shattering their own illusions of an accessible Truth beyond or before sign-ification. What appears instead is a return of the repressed: the primordial otherness, the deferral of meaning at the point of origin, that signifiers promise to mitigate and fail to mitigate by their very nature. For Walton, the truth about the Pole has to emerge as an absence the moment Victor asks if the ice will soon break. "I could not answer," the Captain must say, "with any degree of certainty" (p. 21). Walton's passions, the movement of his own mind, will not surface on paper, for writing "is a poor medium for the communication of feeling" (p. 13). Because his voyage and his letters, then, are mere trackings of what is always somewhere else, the only goal that Walton can really pursue is verbal transmission for its own sake. "You may deem me romantic," he writes to his sister, "but I bitterly feel the want of a friend. I have no one near me, gentle yet courageous, possessed of a cultivated as well as of a capacious mind, whose tastes are like my own, to amend or approve my plans" (p. 13 again). In the words of Coleridge, one of Mary Shelley's favorite writers, "my nature requires another nature for its support, [and] reposes only in another from the necessary indigence of its being."10 The "I AM" is a lack in need of a mediator, its fabrication perceived by someone else, and everywhere in this dialectic the meaning is relational and deferred. The self is constituted by the other just as the other points back to the self, but without (in Frankenstein, at least) the Aufhebung that dissolves the Otherness in Hegel. By saying that he is "romantic" in his desire for a friend, Walton may be hoping for the telos projected in quest-romances. Yet the exchange when it comes (with Victor Frankenstein) can only be an occasion for supplementing -- "approving" or "amending" -- {26} what is already supplemental ("plans"). With his "hopes blasted" and his "purpose unfulfilled" (p. 213), Walton must finally be nothing but a signifier, the conduit of a dead man's tale and the catalyst of another's reaction. "I will endeavor", he concludes, "to detail these bitter circumstances to you, my dear sister; and while I am wafted towards England, and towards you, I will not despond" [Walton 8]. In the end he is left with the very thing he has tried to escape: a production of writing as groundlessly grounded as the poems of his "own creation" [Letter 13].

Perhaps the best figure for Walton's situation, however, appears in his second letter home. There he alludes in the most reckless way to another text by Coleridge: "I am going to unexplored regions, to 'the land of mist and snow,' but I shall kill no albatross, therefore do not be alarmed for my safety" (p. 15). Now, granted, Walton keeps some of the details in his promise. Yet he speaks of the creature's arrival right at the juncture where the ice closes in (p. 17), the very point at which the Ancient Mariner sights his bane for the first time. From then on, again like his counterpart, Walton is "lost in surprise and admiration" (p. 207), overwhelmed by symbols that destroy his self-assurance as they cry out for decipherment and recomposition. His future, too, is much like his predecessor's; he must return to England with a failure "shamefully" on his mind (p. 213) and expiate this curse by telling his tale and nothing more. And the irony goes beyond a pattern of avoiding and resembling the Mariner. Walton is also repeating a text that obscures its own ground in concentric ripples of interpretation (the Mariner's, the Wedding-guest's, the narrator's, the reader's),11 making it less a quest for knowledge and more a search for words. There is no uncovering of the "prior causes" for the killing of the Albatross, nor does the Mariner behold the Spirit that supposedly inhabits the depths and drives the ship of fate. Instead the Mariner is mainly answering a question, :wherefore stopp'st thou me?" (Mariner, l. 4), and articulating a moral after the fact to explain a sea of signifiers. Nonetheless, Walton takes on the sins of the Mariner anyway without even committing the deed that activates the torment in the poem. His guilt has no rationale besides the one in the Rime; a command displaced from Biblical writing to provide a basis for the self. In addition to the stain of presumption, Walton accepts the guilt of failing to love "things both great and small" (Mariner, l. 615) {27} simply because a text has a powerful hold on his psyche. Indeed Walton admits as much in the 1831 revision when he faces the vertigo of desire as both aroused and engulfed by a symbolic order. "You will smile at my allusion," he says, "but I will disclose a secret. I have often attributed my attachment to, my passionate enthusiasm for, the dangerous mysteries of ocean, to that production of the most imaginative of symbolic poets. There is something at work in my soul which I do not understand" (p. 231). What is at work, of course, is a pattern of desire and repression generating guilt, but all these "motivations" are the results of the pre-text that encourages and denies exploration for the sake of confronting the self as a production of language.12 Walton clearly projects himself "like another one" in terms of a contradictory "other" that is also other than itself, and if that is not frightening enough, he doubles that duplicity by playing the Wedding-guest to Frankenstein, who himself cites the Rime as one basis of his discourse (p. 54). Walton's "self," if it emerges at all, is really dismembered and parceled out in several aspects of composition. He is a repeater of other texts, an interpreter of existing symbols, a rhetorician in need of an audience, and an audience beholding a rhetorician -- all of which replay the deferred status of the Mariner supplementing previous signs and waiting to be supplemented himself.


Victor embodies the same predicament even more, and not just because he mediates the creature's tale and is mediated by Walton's letters. He is the quintessential fabricator, carried away by methods of production beyond his control to the point of giving them a new life exceeding and threatening his own while claiming that life as "his" nevertheless. His exordium to Walton points right to that paradox: "I ardently hope that the gratification of your desires may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been" (p. 24). He takes his desire to be personal, yet here it repeats a version of Original Sin, a function from a teleological rhetoric that forces Victor to see himself as an eater of forbidden fruit. He is indeed a Faust-figure as many have said, but only because he believes the alchemical writers who reign as "the lords of [his] imagination" [1.1.9]. For Magnus, Agrippa, and Paracelsus, the "natural magician" is not really free to find the materia prima in {28} the moldering depths of Mother Earth.13 Though he holds out that very picture in his creation of a homunculus, Paracelsus outlaws his own effort. The source of life, he claims, is "one of the greatest secrets, and it should remain a secret until the days approach when all the secrets will be known."14 The Christian language of telos is both the harbinger and the concealer of Revelation; any fabricator who violates the opacity of sacred signs will confront his own Satanic projection as the allegory of his guilt. Consequently, when Victor sets out "to mock the stupendous mechanism of the creator of the world" (Mary's introduction, p. 228), he must defile a sanctified region (the sepulchers of a church-yard) and raise a Devil who reduplicates the Lord of Cocytus Himself. "Oh! no mortal could support that countenance," cries Victor; "it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived" (p. 53). The creature is thus a repetition-with-a-difference who has to look as he does. The prescriptions of his maker demand a monster as the ritual-trace of a broken taboo, the echo of the Father's Word repressing unlicensed desire.

Victor even builds up this rhetorical masochism by styling his creation as the act of a "modern Prometheus" (the subtitle of the novel), for just as he wonders if "a new species would bless me as its creator and source" (p. 49), he enters another text of fated catastrophe, especially in its Christian refractions. The third Earl of Shaftesbury presents the Already-Written in The Moralists (1709): "shall we mind the poets when they sing thy tragedy, Prometheus! Who with thy stolen celestial fire, mixed with vile clay didst mock heaven's countenance, and in the abusive likeness of the immortals madest the compound man: that wretched mortal, ill to himself and cause of ill to all."15 Victor, of course, carries out this figuration to the letter, all the way to the "abusive likeness" at odds with itself and its parentage. And even as Hesiod shows how women and violence came to punish Promethean hubris,16 Victor's presumption comes back to haunt him in the prospect of a female creature. Starting with only a vision of two monsters on the loose, Frankenstein imagines "a race of devils" for which "future ages might curse me as their pest" (p. 163), a wrenching yet built-in reversal of the self-image that he had once projected beyond his own death. As the arche-text demands, the Promethean act has made the new creator an outcast from {29} Paradise yet again. But now the sentence is passed by some constructs at the base of Victor's effort, by his confinement in verbal chains that make his fabrications painfully his and painfully other at the same time.

On top of all that, too, Victor has to see "the Modern Prometheus" as a contradiction in terms. "It may appear very strange," he admits, that a student of ancient mythology "should arise in the eighteenth century" (p. 34), since the age-old metaphors defining the causes of man stand "entirely exploded" by a "system of science" that is "real and practical" by contrast [1.1.7]. The exploding mechanism, naturally, is tabula, and Professor Waldman explains that to Victor at the University of Ingolstadt. There the Moderns respect the Ancients just enough "to give new names and arrange in connected classifications, the facts which [our Fathers] in a great degree had been the instrument of bringing to light" (p. 43). Only by making the shift himself can Victor speak to Walton of "a scientific pursuit [that offers] continual food for discovery and wonder" (p. 46). This is hardly the telos view of time, after all; repetitive sin and the Gift of Revelation are here covered over by an accumulation of data that is, by definition, never complete. Now Victor's road to the origin has entered the texts of Erasmus Darwin and Sir Humphrey Davy, where the source of life is never beheld as a singular essence and is yet available in the emerging laws of attraction that pull disparate elements into living wholes. These laws, in turn, are based on the symbolic relation of chemical affinities and electrical polarities, a system of differences that underwrites the experimental galvanising of dead tissue.17 Once into this scheme Victor strives "to infuse a spark of being" into "a lifeless thing" (p. 52) and thereby grants all powers of decision to a programme (or proscription) that dismantles the early codes of his desire. First, instead of the primal seed in the primal Mother, he is "led to examine the cause and progress of decay" in specimens from a crypt (p. 47). Then, when he tries to reverse this progress in an act of representation, he is only "encouraged to hope that my present attempts would at least lay the foundations of future success," and he is really kept from perfection under empirical dicta by "the minuteness of parts" that he must confront in making the body of a man (p. 49). Again the creature has to be ugly, but the grounds are different. Tabula forces Victor to make something rough, oversized, and {30} deferred, transforming a brave new world into a demonstration that requires improvement at some other time. Aporia reigns once more as the Promethean dream dissolves in the face of a laboratory patchwork and as Victor recoils from the patchwork in the name of his dream.

At the same time, because of this nexus, the well known "lessons" of Victor's story break apart to reveal the poses of the schemes that generate them. Indeed his most famous pronouncement is a blatant mix of inconsistent postures. "If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections," he tells Walton, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind" (p. 51). Here of course is a repetition of the most eternal Law, the Injunction at the Tree of Knowledge. Here too is an echo of John Locke, for whom the proper training of the young is easily clouded by a strange "Connexion of Ideas wholly owing to Chance or Custom" that "fills their heads with false views, and their Reasonings with false consequences."18 Victor, in fact, has already placed himself in this pattern when he recalls finding "a volume of Cornelius Agrippa" during a storm at Thonon (p. 32). Except for this circumstance, he says, "the train of my ideas would never have received the fatal impulse that led to my ruin" (p. 33). It seems the psyche composes tables because the table is its given method, and if an aberrant sign infects the matrix started by Nature, a disease has begun that has to pervert the expansion of the mind thereafter. But the development of chance impressions is not a primordial Fall, so Victor can keep the two together only by leaps of rhetoric. The supreme indication, as we might expect, comes when he remembers his ultimate discovery: "I paused, examining all the minutiae of causation . . . until from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me" (p. 47). All at once Revelation appears to dissipate the metonymic table and carry the soul to forbidden regions beyond the powers of representation. Though he ascribes his downfall to a ruined education much of the time, Victor never speaks of his greatest secret as a mistaken association. It is always as "impenetrable" as the Mysteries of Heaven (p. 207). Thus it is no surprise when Victor's final speech becomes an oxymoronic dance; with the proper name of his goal always and already supplanted by the initial repressions of his own languages, he urges Walton to {31} "avoid ambition" under the standards of telos, yet he hopes that "another may succeed" in filling out the table that he has helped to augment (p. 215). By this point, though, his terms have called more attention to themselves than they have to their "contents," leading Walton to take his visitor's words as more often purely persuasive than strictly informative. Victor's "eloquence is forcible and touching," we find, and, especially when he recounts a dream, he "gives solemnity to his reveries that render them to me almost as imposing and as interesting as truth" (p. 208).

Hence, despite the continuing fiction that a "truth" which never appears is somehow the sine qua non, Victor's tale can be thrown open to a reading of its fabrications as empty reinscriptions. The monster, as a case in point, is a metaphor for the origin in the most radical sense. He condenses in his own visage a panoply of metaphors that are themselves alluding to metaphors of the origin, and Victor beholds that process in the dream that follows his act of creation:

I saw Elizabeth [his fiancée] walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her; but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the graveworms crawling in the folds of the flannel. I started from my sleep with horror [and] beheld the wretch -- the miserable monster whom I had created. (p. 53)
As the Freudian critics have noted, the figures for love and decay in this passage are blended into one icon by the end of the dream, a single face that incarnates both the desire and the repulsion that Victor feels in his approach to the "original" states of non-difference (sexual union and death).19 Clearly enough, the creature's image is an outgrowth of memory-traces that displace and subsume each other in Victor's psyche as he seeks to join himself to the most fundamental Other he can find. But that machinery only makes the monster's conception a play of textual surfaces. Once he confronts fabrication as related to generation, Victor recalls the already-written script of his marriage to Elizabeth, and that recollection is linked to the moment of death in which that script was composed. He promises to marry Elizabeth, after all, in spite of her adoption as his sister when his mother appoints the girl as a surrogate for herself and then joins {32} the hands of her two "children" in the final statement of her life (p. 38). As a result, to embrace his primary (and partially forbidden) symbol of love is also to reach out for the traces of his lost origin (his buried mother). Yet the Signs of the Mother have already been offered by the alchemists without the tainted mediation of Elizabeth if Victor will simply plumb the depths of the earth. The actual digging, in turn, comes when the table of minute observation -- a close look at the features of death -- has repressed alchemy as Victor's standard discourse. So the excavation (or penetration) that leads to the creature is a kind of sexual climax, a return to the womb, a grasping for an absent wholeness, a wish for death, a gathering of data, a journey to the logos, a violation of Sacred Mysteries, a bid for immortality, and a search for some alternative to the lack of finality in life, but all these are performed only in figurative ways and only on the basis of other figural patterns that reveal no Formal Cause prior to figuration. When he is finally put together out of vestiges from the grave, themselves already signs of an absence at the beginning, the monster is a "cryptic" production in every conceivable way: a simulacrum of the body composed of decomposed tissues, a figure of many other faded figures, and an interweaving, fabrication, or textus of the conflicting rhetorics engulfing his maker. The real horror is not so much his sewn-up appearance as what his face reveals about Victor's main objective. The primal Other is now discovered as nothing but a symbolic order, a plethora of fragments referring to themselves, where the source remains forever lost and yet where the origin always beckons within the multiplicity of signs as the dark and distant object of desire.20

If Victor admits this Otherness in his narrative, though, he does it only indirectly. Most of the time he strives to place the supporting cast in roles that suit his tropologies, turning his parents into the monarchs of a Paradise regained (pp. 27-8), Elizabeth into a Beatrice who sheds "radiance from her looks" (p. 235), and Henry Clerval, "the brother of soul" (p. 31), into a young Amadis and a sympathetic expert on "the sensations of others" (p. 63). All of these serve Frankenstein as elements in a "sacred" Beginning (p. 31), as synecdoches whose progressive deaths incarnate a Paradise lost and an education gone wrong. Still, on those occasions when Victor relaxes his rhetoric, he grants these characters some freedom from the schemes he {33} provides and even allows them to define their own abilities as supplementers of an absence. While "the world was to me a secret which I desired to discover," Elizabeth takes life as "a vacancy, which she sought to people with imaginations of her own" (p. 30). She finally becomes so acquainted with the groundless nature of fabrication that she can dissect the posturings of the law at the trial of the maid Justine: "Oh! How I hate its shews and mockeries! When one creature is murdered, another is immediately deprived of life in a slow, torturing manner . . . They call this retribution" (p. 83).21 Clerval, for his part, is most at home in the endless play of empty symbols. He finds "consolation in the works of the orientalists," based as they are on the deferral of desire ("the fire that consumes your own heart"), and he takes on "languages [as] his principal study" merely "to open a field for self-instruction" (p. 64). Thus, by joining in a celebration of sign-production as radically other and never complete, Victor gives in here and there to fabrication as a freedom confined only within its methods of operation. For those few moments he accepts Percy Shelley's call for the "abolition of personal slavery";22 he becomes "a portion of that beauty which we contemplate" and permits an other to be locus of his changeable significance without insisting on the presence of an Absolute as the basis of his self-definition.

When he confronts himself alone, however, he cannot accept significance as deferred. At such times the fear of non-meaning, the terror of a possible vacancy at the center of existence, begets a vertigo that only an eschatology can alleviate. "Alas!" he exclaims in recalling his journey to the Mer de Glace, "why does man boast of sensibilities superior to those apparent in the brute; it only renders them more necessary beings. If our impulses were confined to hunger, thirst and desire, we might nearly be free; but now we are moved by every wind that blows, and a chance word or scene that word may convey to us" (pp. 92-3). He also quotes Shelley in the same breath: "We feel, conceive, or reason; laugh or weep,/ Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away;/ It is the same: for, be it joy or sorrow,/ The path of its departure still is free" (lines 11-14 of "Mutability"). None of these figurations will grant him an absolute presence; in fact, that problem is their subject. All they can show is the distance of man from any "necessary" basis save the movement of desire, and that movement is a constant irony where even the mind is as different from itself {34} as any sign that seems to describe it. Actually symbols have more justification than those who use them, since people insist on being swayed by a "chance word" and what it claims to project. Whence Victor, seeking some permanence in contemplation at least, rushes into a conventional plea for union with the cosmos by asking "wandering spirits [to] allow me this faint happiness or take me, as your companion, away from the joys of life" (p. 93). Again, as in Victor's dream, a love of beauty and a lust for death appear as sides of the same coin, both offering an end to the self's continual otherness in figures that promise a non-difference they cannot really grant. Even so, in the face of perceptions that are never more than signifiers of his own finitude, Victor sees only two means of transcendence as he beholds the opaque surface of Montanvert. Either he can try to dissolve into Nature and be a part of what is curtained from his sight, or he can force the closure of self-consciousness by seeking his own demise.

Yet the answer to this prayer is what it has to be: a revelation of difference instead of union. As if responding directly to Victor's plea, the monster emerges from his Alpine retreat as a shocking emblem of what occurs when apotheosis is attempted with the aid of mere signs (p. 94). Victor has tried to call forth the object of his heart's desire, but instead he is placed in the hands of the machine he has made for that very purpose, the engine of his autoeroticism that has taken on a life of its own. Indeed, from the start, Frankenstein's effort has been a masturbational strategy designed to bypass mortal insemination for the sake of disseminating ultimate causes in a rhetorical display. Now the product of his phallic push for a metaphoric child has become so autonomous from the "father" that it renders Victor helpless (in a way, castrated) in the face of the patterns built into it. It carries out unconscious aggression while the conscious mind is passive, yet only in pursuit of the schemes that Victor has espoused to constitute a symbol for the source. The creature is the agent, after all, who works through the telos and tabula plots that Victor has claimed for himself, completing a tragedy and a perversion of ideas by killing those who offer mediation instead of the origin. In doing so the monster obscures his proximity to causes by aping the systems that compose him against the will of the maker who has set him into motion. As a presence in his creation Victor is emasculated, drained of personal power, cut up into his pre-texts, {35} and finally effaced altogether; the "child," in turn, is cut off from the parent to find his own way as a supplement of rhetorical chains. No wonder Victor oscillates among sympathy, rejection, and self-abuse in reacting to what he has made. The creature is so much an extension of his creator, so entirely the incestuous product of a self-centered desire, that he appears as another self looking back at the self.23 On the other hand, he is manifestly different as he acts out the scripts that have torn Victor apart even while they have spawned the act of composition. The author creator must be punished -- by himself, if necessary -- for repeating the desire of his progenitor-texts in spite of their warnings against repetition, and the symbol of this violation must have its own compulsion to repeat that grinds down and supersedes the fabricator in the very fulfillment of his fabrication.24

Soon, with this realization pressing upon him, Victor begins to welcome death as more than a closure of consciousness. "This hour," he says to Walton, "when I momentarily expect my release, is the only happy one which I have enjoyed for several years. The forms of the beloved dead flit before me, and I hasten to their arms" (p. 215). Of course his necrophilia is still a craving for lost plentitude and a lust for non-difference, but all of this makes death at the same time the foundation and ultimate "truth" of fabrication. By projecting self-completion into the future of his own absence, Victor is admitting how every production of desire presupposes the death of the producer. To be sure, he has always assumed as much, for he has constantly worked through dead letters to get beyond the level of signs, and that process demands that he be somewhere else when his composition presents itself. The creature is the prime example, since he is made to reveal the sources of life to future generations in a body made from fragments that point to the death of their sources. And Victor's last words carry that effort on by proposing an ultimate union in phrases that deny the permanent presence of the self within them. Signs of love and decay come together once again, but only because they hold out the fulfillment of the speaker and then defer it to a point when the "I" will signify the living death of a textual function. Thus Victor is pleased in the end when his fabrication leads him to the real "basis" of monstrosity: the erasing of the fabricator from the product of his aspirations, from the text of his immortality that is also his {36} epitaph. When all is said and done, Victor has located what he seeks, and yet he has merely beheld the hollow ground (the original "crypt") of a performance that reveals nothing besides the nature of performance.


The monster's story, in its turn, is a highly appropriate center for Frankenstein. It apparently shows the coming-to-awareness of a primitive mind, the dawning of a seminal man (the progeny of a Prometheus). As a result, it becomes a thematic core for the life surrounding it, unfolding the origin on a sea of ice that prefigures the apex of the world and the outskirts of the novel. Yet with all its focus on beginnings, it is only (as Edward Said would say) a "gift inside language,"25 a reproduction of beginnings in words that are after the fact and already circumscribed by other words. If the monster is the most original of all the narrators, he is also the most derived and displaced. He is first a point of departure composed by another rhetorician and then he is a victim of succeeding narrators dispossessed of a statement that comes to the reader at least twice refracted by different voices. The creature can be an origin only as a representation re-presented by other representations. He "begins" for himself as a lack, a set of signs, which needs additional signs in order to mean at all. And he "ends" as a fabrication of beginnings that owe their existence to fabrications already begun. The concept that comes closest to his "essence" is Jacques Derrida's monstrous (non)concept the supplément, for the creature centers his text by looming as a violent exorbitance, an initial figure that is secondary to start with, and by holding out his transcendent origin as a myth to be imposed by signs that both repeat and supplant him.

Within itself, moreover, the creature's tale is an allegory of selfhood-as-language. The monster occupies the place of the source by composing his youth entirely out of the rhetorics he learns to speak, so much so that everything he says can be removed from him and traced back to a single text or a textual system in his "library." His growing self-awareness, for example (pp. 97-100), is recalled in the patterns of the first book he discovers, the Comte de Volney's Ruins of Empires (1791; noted initially on p. 114). {37} Volney himself begins with pre-scriptions from Diderot, Rousseau, and Condillac among others,26 and thus he renders the first man as a figure "like animals, without experience of the past [or] foresight of the future." The archetypal person comes to himself in "the forest, guided only and governed by the affections of his nature" including "the pain of hunger" and the need to "cover his body"[Volney 6].27 The creature, when he remembers with "difficulty" the "original area of my being" (p. 97), therefore starts with "the forest near Ingolstadt" and with the anguish of "hunger and thirst" (p. 98). He then adds at this point (not before) how a "sensation of cold" drove him to find clothing in Victor's apartment. This representation is blatant reinscription, as it determines temporality by a pretext and not by "what actually happened." In a wider vein, too, the creature accounts for his moral inclinations partly by accepting Volney's main rhetorical mode. This allows him to encipher his entire journey as a tabulation of perceptual growth that demands certain results to complete its operation. Hence the De Lacey cottage becomes the schoolroom where the creature learns first to link actions with his own sensations and later to repeat "the names that were given [to] familiar objects of discourse" (p. 107). After that, when the early steps have been organized by a symbolic order, the creature can represent to himself the motives, routines, histories, and possibilities that constitute a life with a meaningful logic, even though his representations may generate this logic as a way of justifying themselves. He can now produce a topos in which to encode the mystery of his own appearance and the revulsion of human beings, thereby spawning a set of decisions based more on the mechanics of tabula than a knowledge of his own mind. He concludes, for one thing, that circumstances make the soul, that it feels only what impressions and physical needs have allowed it to produce. If a world that once seemed worthy of love is altered by acts of rejection and abuse, then the responder is bound to cultivate the new propensities himself (as Volney specifically teaches the monster on p. 115). Concurrently, though, the monster projects a cure in the interlaced community that representation is always pursuing. "It was in intercourse with man alone," he cries, "that I could hope for pleasurable sensations" (p. 114). Consequently he can say to Victor, "make me happy, and I will be virtuous" (p. 95); then he can ask for a counterpart as a means {38} of securing that virtue. With her "I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary to my being" (p. 140) and there develop the list of relations that all men can attain if they fulfill the ethics of empirical-tabular language.

Not surprisingly, however, the creature makes just as many claims in the rhetoric of telos, which he encounters in Paradise Lost and which he readily adopts as the basis of "true history" (p. 125). Here he can take on a meaning that is constant instead of additive.

I often referred [Milton's characters], as their similarity struck me, to [myself]. Like Adam, I was created apparently united by no link to any other being in existence; but his state was far different from mine in every other respect. He had come forth from the hands of God a perfect creature, happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial care of his Creator; he was allowed to converse with, and acquire knowledge from beings of a superior nature; but I was wretched, helpless, and alone. Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition; for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me. (p. 125 again)
Naturally the creature regards this "emblem" as a related sign of what he has already become. Yet the sign really directs him to adopt it as a beginning, a fated excuse for what he is and does at all times. And so it describes his status well before his account of Paradise Lost, especially when a prospect of shelter looks "as Pandemonium appeared to the demons of hell" (p. 101). The monster sees himself as damned from the start, foredoomed in the absence of Creator and community to assume a metaphoric origin that confronts him by chance. He actually starts, of course, with his own non-meaning, but Milton provides an Expulsion by the Father to explain even that; the poem thereby engenders a lust for primal chaos (since the Father is not there) as a fitting response to the terror of primordial separation. "I, like the arch fiend, bore a hell within me," the creature decides, "and finding myself unsympathised with, wished to tear up the trees, spread havoc and destruction around me; and then to have sat down and enjoyed the ruin" (p. 132). At the same time, since the feelings in this outcry are only the projected desires of a text, an upending of that text generates a reverse kind of anticipation. The monster upends it himself, in fact, by composing the history of the De Laceys in a teleological fashion (p. 117-22). He sees the heroism of Felix {39} De Lacey as rewarded by his reunion with Safie, who flees the chaos of the pagan east for the Christian world of her mother's line, thus recovering her lost origin and her predestined other. Aided in this fabrication by Milton's picture of prelapsarian love, the monster now has a construct to offer as a scheme for dissolving his Satanic posture. When he finally delivers his story to his creator, then, he asks for a Paradise regained complete with a new Eve and a new Eden for a would-be Adam longing for the pleasure of the text. Nothing could be more completely rhetorical, for this appeal is not only a reference to mere figures. It is also a crafty sliding from a language of need to a language of destiny. Victor has every reason, it would seem, both to admire his creature's eloquence (p. 144) and to suspect its inconsistencies as "treachery" against mankind (p. 206).

Yet Victor is not really being fair. Like his maker, the monster persuades others only insofar as he is persuaded himself on the best methods of self-construction. He decides on his Satanic argument, we discover, only after debating the varied alternatives that he confronts in one place at the midpoint of his tale. In addition to Paradise Lost and its offer of a mythos with Beginnings and Ends, the creature beholds the textual "selves" of Plutarch, Goethe, and Frankenstein, though only as they are verbal matrices naming an absence and only as they hold out different promises of meaning with no foundations aside from linguistic assumptions. The offer closest to Milton's is presented in the Parallel Lives, where ancient leaders are compared across enormous gulfs of time on the basis of moral absolutes that transcend temporality; any monarch "who remits or extends his authority," Plutarch claims, "is no longer a king or ruler [but in fact] a demagogue or despot" ["R & T"].28 To statements of such surety, where the sign claims to "let you in" on a Permanence, Goethe's hero has to retort with questions: "Can you say 'this is,' when everything is transitory, when everything rolls by with the speed of a tempest [?] . . . What is man, that vaunted demigod? . . . When he soars in joy or sinks in suffering, is he not arrested in both, brought back to dull, cold cons ciousness at the very moment when he yearns to lose himself in the infinite?"29 This time the creature opens up a tabulation of passions, but one cut off from constant referents, indeed from anything except death and the sliding of signifiers over signifieds that are not really present to {40} themselves. Humanity exists merely as different from a fullness that exists merely as different from the finite. And Victor's journal, no surprise, presents a variation on the same problem. Even as it gives the monster his "accursed origin," it also makes him nothing but a repetition that is different, a "filthy type" of his author "more horrid from its very resemblance" (p. 126). Worse yet, the exact nature of the (dis)connection is unclear, for the journal is replete with rhetorical shifts from the "language which, painted [Victor's] horrors" to "accounts of domestic occurrences" [2.7.4] If the maker's disgust renders the monster's disgust "ineffaceable" [2.7.4] it is mainly because the creature is a mangled reflection of an entangled text (the patchwork of a patchwork). In the end the journal only provides its reader with an unanswered question, "Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust?" (p. 126 again), restating the very lack that the creature has been searching to fill. Since Werther offers nothing more secure, the monster must fall back on the guarantees of Plutarch, who takes "a firm hold on my mind" (p. 125), and the emblems of Milton, who turns lack into an affront. "I remembered Adam's supplication to his Creator," the monster says, "but where was mine? He had abandoned me, and in the bitterness of my heart, I cursed him" (p. 127). From here on, because he is committed to the absolutes of rhetorical choices and because the Creator "remits his authority" by denying a new Paradise, evil becomes the creature's good in the drive of a language that comes to underlie his every act.

Still, for all that, the monster does acknowledge the nature and the ground of his longings. Just before he recounts the subscription to Milton, he provides a sense of his "real" beginnings by quoting his author's quotation of another author and finding the significance that such a (non)origin reveals. "I was dependent on none, and related to none," he concludes, for "the path of my departure was free"; and there was none to lament my annihilation. [Then] who was I? Whence did I come? What way my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to resolve them" (p. 124). He has not read Victor's journal at the time these queries appear to surface, but he has when he raises them before his maker; the result establishes the "past" as the present of his citations, the "present" as the deference of his lamentation, and the "future" as an answer-on-the-way full of {41} previous figurations. His argument for a mate, then, is actually circular. In the unguarded moment when he sees the fictionality of his telos and tabula projections, he holds out his counterpart as a near-duplicate of his own nature: "I now indulge in dreams of bliss that cannot be realised. [Therefore] I demand a creature of another sex, but as hideous as myself; the gratification is small, but it is all I can receive, and it shall content me" (pp. 141-2). The road to a meaningful self for the creature must look forward as well as backward to repetition, since a mind without a presence to ground it has to defer its significance to a self-reflecting image yet to be completed. m Now even his own questions about his identity manifest the peculiar "spacing" of the fabricated "I." The self-composer is always in search of a founding past, and yet that quest is the making of a rhetoricized future, where difference can only operate as repetition and repetition can only operate as part of the play of differences.

Consequently, the novel's readers are more incisive than they know when they see the monster as "uncanny" to himself and to others. Freud defines the Unheimlich, after all, as the looming of repressed otherness, the confrontation of man with his own compulsion to repeat and his own sense of death (or imminent castration) at the heart of differential desire.30 The monster, clearly enough, incarnates this ugly secret precisely because he embodies fabrication. First he is created in a "primal scene" of multiple repetitions that exposes its ground as fragments of death at every turn. After that he differs from people as they are thought to be while resembling them as products of a symbolic order, and so he is held at a distance by acts of repression and names that are not specific. Soon his difference, however, begins to reflect the same thing in everyone else. Standing as he often does for the systems that others pursue, he mirrors the rhetorics of characters who use him -- and need him -- to finish their own deferred histories. He is the father of a new race to Victor, a fabulous savage to Walton, a beneficent spirit to the De Laceys, and later a demon to each of these, constantly doubling in his own duplicity the lack of permanent value in all of his detractors. He beckons his observers and himself, in fact, toward the prospect they most fear: a vision of man effaced by his own fabrications and forced to accept continual displacement, a Nietzschean energy of repetition that kills, as the only basis of a selfhood that will never be fully {42} present. As Derrida has said, "the future can only be anticipated in the form of absolute danger. It is that which breaks absolutely with constituted normality and can only be proclaimed, presented, as a sort of monstrosity."31 The creature therefore answers his own questions about himself when he starts the drift toward absence at the close of the book. Once he can burn himself to ashes, he decides, "my spirit will sleep in peace; or if it thinks it will not surely think thus" (p. 221). This in itself is a quest for non-difference that is monstrously different from its own claims, for not only is it split in half by a blatant aporia and headed for the signs (the ashes) of lack instead of transcendent thought; it also is a tearing of existing figures out of the religious text that holds them, a violent displacement of a "constituted normality" resulting in the salvation of mere rhetoric. The creature may be projecting a recovery of his own origins in the finality of dead tissue, but all he can really do is produce a set of signifiers by being a signifier repeating other signifiers. What remains of him is chiefly a pre-figure for the later displacement of readings and rewritings, some of them in the novel and some after its publication. Monstrosity by definition is never finished, even with itself. As the uncanny "basis" of fabrication -- or as an endless remaking of Frankenstein films -- it always demands the confinement of reproductions within its frightening difference even while it has to give way to the autonomy of different reproductions.


Some of my readers, of course, will attack the erasure of Mary Shelley from much of what I say here. And naturally I can retort with the example of Victor Frankenstein, who exposes authorship as a self-involvement that only disperses and effaces the self involved. Yet I cannot deny the worth of the recent studies that see Frankenstein as the product of a birth-anxiety.32 For if Mary Shelley was always afraid that birth was the prelude to an inscription in stone, then she confronted the same terrors in the act of writing. Indeed in the 1831 preface, the essay that calls her fictional "progeny" something "hideous" [Introduction 12], she reflects in revealing ways on how fabrication is like reproduction. One parallel is the "anxiety of influence"; she speaks of Shelley "inciting" her to "prove myself worthy of my parentage, and enrol myself on the {43} page of fame" (p. 223). The progenitor always has his or her progenitors, be they actual ancestors or inspiring writer-husbands, and the achievements of those who come before may suffocate the one who follows in operations (or pages) that have already been produced. The moment conception is considered, in fact, all sorts of priorities are inescapable: "invention," Mary adds, "does not consist in creating out of a void, but out of chaos; the material must in the first place be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but it cannot bring into being the substance itself" (p. 226). For the woman especially, the inseminator is generally thought of as someone else, and so in this passage where she tries to develop something already begun by Cicero's inventio and the Book of Genesis, Mary Shelley is obviously in the situation of her own narrators, subsumed as they all are in an onslaught of predecessors who deny original meaning and offer only prefigurations.33 Worse still, the ensuing "child" is always duplicitous in aping previous authorities and yet keeping the new parent from possessing what is forever other ("the substance itself"). The ultimate loss of child-possession and work-possession, then, is another similarity in the creative trauma of both. What comes forth can be regarded as "yours," but it is also not "yours" when it finally supersedes the maker's control and the maker's life. As it happens, Mary Shelley sees the autonomy of Frankenstein well before her son (the namesake of her dead husband) is independent of her. In 1823 she writes to Leigh Hunt from London on the stage production of her novel at The English Opera House. "The story is not well managed," she finds, and what remains most vividly from the book is "the nameless way of naming the unnameable" when the creature is listed as a blank on the playbill.34 Even that, in point of fact, supplants the shifting nomenclature of the monster and thus underlines primarily the eliding of the author by her interpreters, the covering up (nay, interring) that she readily faces when she resigns her "offspring" to her readers in 1831 (p. 228). Whatever she may claim elsewhere, the Mary Shelley who appears in connection with her product understands only too well the entirely consuming and entirely separate memorial that the spawning of a fabrication must finally produce.

Conversely, she also sees the breach between fabrication and insemination. The first disseminates the signs of the something {44} deferred, while the second offers at least the hope of an emerging presence. And that disparity, if anything, is the most constant "theme" in Frankenstein in spite of -- and because of -- its deconstruction of itself. Even though the author cannot unite the telos and tabula schemes that confine her, both of them agree on mediation, the operation of the signifier, as more pressing and more attainable than the ultimate "presence within." The narrators are frustrated and destructive only because their drive for an absolute leads them to reject the mediators that hold It out and keep It hidden at the same time. If Victor's avoidance of Elizabeth and Walton's absence from Margaret Saville have often been stretched into Mary's attack on a preoccupied Shelley, it is no stretch to see that avoidance as a flight from the mere otherness (the incompleteness of "domestic affection" [Preface 2]) that constitutes much of human life. Victor ought to love his monster on the same grounds, the grounds of desire as always different from its objectives and from itself, always aroused by an Other that denies fulfillment even as it offers the pleasure of symbolic exchange. The supreme locus of this moral non-presence, though, is the poet Henry Clerval, who stands as a reinscription of the uncorrupted self in Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey":

The sounding cataract
Haunted him like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to him
An appetite: a feeling, and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, or any interest
Unborrowed from the eye.

(ll. 76-83 of the poem; p. 154 of the novel)
The signs on every line of this passage are always and only mediators, announcing their difference not only from themselves and the desiring self (the locus of an "appetite" directed elsewhere), but also from a "remoter charm," a presence "far more deeply interfused" that announces its absence the moment it is signified. The poet and his repetition in Clerval, both of whom start as figures for a previous text, thereby present their focus as the attempted but fragile "likeness" of themselves and what differs from them. They offer a world of mere signs displacing {45} other signs and calling for a rhetorical communion, all of which looks out for a lost origin without any attempt to recover it.35 Victor follows this citation, not surprisingly, with a verbal attempt to recover Clerval, who has now been killed by the mediating engine that is made to push mediators aside. Yet the resulting eulogy is another fabrication of an absent presence and a fragmentation of the speaking self into a desire for another text beyond the one in progress, a vivid example of the angle I suggest for approaching the entire novel that is Frankenstein. As a further result, too, I cannot really offer this suggestion as any sort of absolute. It is only, like the novel that it displaces and re-enciphers, a sub-scription to a group of signs. It is working out its own confinement and its own autonomy from the author in the pursuit of desires generated by other texts, and its only goals are the energizing exchange of another's reading and the possible understanding of its own monstrosity.


1. All my citations from the novel and its prefaces come from Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, ed. James Rieger (Indianapolis, 1974), the only version to date that includes the text of 1818, the addenda of 1823, and the substantial revisions of 1831.

2. Several studies have argued this conclusion as evidence of a moral presence in the novel. See especially M. A. Goldberg, "Moral and Myth in Mrs. Shelley's Frankenstein," Keats-Shelley Journal, 8 (1959), 27-38, and James Rieger, The Mutiny Within (New York, 1967), pp. 81-9.

3. On the absence and drift of letters and epistolary fiction, see Homer Obed Brown, "The Errant Letter and the Whispering Gallery," Genre, 10 (1977), 573-99; on "the necessary Nachtäglichkeit of voyaging," see John Carlos Rower, "Writing and Truth in Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym," Glyph II (Baltimore, 1977), pp. 102-21.

4. See "'Godlike Science/Unhallowed Arts': Language, Nature and Monstrosity," in George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher eds., The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel (Berkeley, 1979), pp. 205-20. I am grateful to Professor Brooks for sending me a copy of his article prior to publication. Something in this direction is also attempted by L. J. Swingle in "Frankenstein's Monster and Its Romantic Relatives: Problems of Knowledge in English Romanticism," Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 15 (1973-4), 51-65, but this effort ignores the inherent mystery of rhetoric itself.

5. Jacques Lacan, "The Function of Language in Psychoanalysis," trans. Anthony Wilden, in The Language of the Self (Baltimore, 1968), p. 11.

6. For the best study yet of the Puritan emblematics that Mary Shelley draws from her father, see J. Paul Hunter, The Reluctant Pilgrim: Defoe's Emblematic Method and Quest for Form in Robinson Crusoe (Baltimore, 1966). I am also indebted personally to Professor Hunter for comments on Frankenstein and on my present effort.

7. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences, trans. anon. (New York, 1970), esp. 50-77.

8. Some intimations of this conflict (though not in the rhetorical terms) appear in John A. Dussinger, "Kinship and Guilt in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," Studies in the Novel, 8 (1976), 38-55; Irving H. Buchen, "Frankenstein and the Alchemy of Creation and Evolution," The Wordsworth Circle, 8 (1970), 103-12; David Ketterer, Frankenstein's Creation: The Book, The Monster, and Human Reality, ELS Monograph No. 16 (Univ. of Victoria, 1979) pp. 9-44; and George Levine, "The Ambiguous Heritage of Frankenstein," The Endurance of Frankenstein, pp. 3-30.

9. For an attack on "Polar fantasies" using these very standards, see the anonymous "Polar Ice and the North-West Passage" in The Edinburgh Review, 30 (June-Sept, 1818), 1-59.

10. The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Kathleen Cobrun (New York, 1957-61), I, no. 1679. For more on the place of Coleridge in Frankenstein see Robert Kiely, The Romantic Novel in England (Cambridge, Mass., 1972), pp. 166-73.

11. This succession of displacements also includes the gloss, though Frankenstein probably does not quote the poem from the 1817 text. See Lawrence Lipking, "The Marginal Gloss," Critical Inquiry, 3 (1977), 609-21. I cite the Rime, by the way, from the 1798 version in The Annotated Ancient Mariner, ed. Martin Gardner (New York, 1965).

12. For a wider discussion of guilt as the consequence of textuality, see Paul de Man, "The Purloined Ribbon," Glyph, 1 (Baltimore, 1977), pp. 28-49, an essay to which I owe much.

13. For the best statement of the promise, see Henry Cornelius Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy or Magic: Book One -- Natural Magic, ed. Willis F. Whitehead (1897; rpt. London, 1971), p. 34. For the interdiction of what he has just said, see Agrippa again, Of the Vanitie and Uncertaintie of Arts and Sciences, ed. Catherine M. Dunn (Northridge, 1074).

14. Quoted in translation by Radu Florescu, In Search of Frankenstein (Boston, 1976), p. 227. In addition to the homunculus, there is a pre-text for Victor's work in the mechanical figure by Albertus Magnus that points to the same warning. See William Godwin (Mary Shelley's father) in Lives of the Necromancers (London, 1834), pp. 260-3 and 359-61.

15. Included in Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Time, ed. John M. Robertson (Indianapolis, 1964), II, 10.

16. See the Theogony in Hesiod, The Homeric Myths, and Homerica, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White (New York, 1914), pp. 122-23 Z11, 585-612.

17. The clearest exposition of Darwin's approach to spontaneous generation appears in the Additional Notes to The Temple of Nature (1803; rpt. London, 1973), esp. pp. 1-13 and 46-79. Indeed on p. 3 of these mini-essays he describes how "microscopic animals are produced" through "infusions [of] vegetable matter" by "electrical scientists." And it is just such experiments that Mary Shelley connects with Darwin in her introduction to Frankenstein (p. 228). Davy pursues "the dependence of electrical and chemical action" during the Elements of Chemical Philosophy (1812) in The Collected Works, ed. John Davy (1840; rpt. New York, 1972), IV, esp. 91-131. This book also prefigures Waldman by arguing the displacement of alchemy through "observation, experiment, and analogy" (IV, 2). For her reading of this very section, see Mary Shelley's Journal, ed. Frederick L. Jones (Norman, 1947), p. 73.

18. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter H. Nidditch (Oxford, 1975), pp. 395 and 397. Mary even notes a reading of this text while she composes Frankenstein in the Journal, pp. 74-5.

19. A good summary of the usual Freudian readings appears in Martin Tropp, Mary Shelley's Monster: The Story of Frankenstein (Boston, 1976), pp. 11-83. The most often used (though uncited) ground for such responses, of course, is Beyond the Pleasure Principle in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. and ed. James Strachey et al. (London, 1953-66), XVII, 7-64.

20. Lacan even regards this kind of discovery as an unmasking of "the true monstrum horrendum," a divulging of "what is destined by nature to signify the annulment of what it signifies," See the "Seminar on 'The Purloined Ribbon,'" trans. Jeffrey Mehlman, Yale French Studies,48 (1972), 63 and 71.

21. Such a statement, of course, is not original with Elizabeth. It is one of several allusions to Godwin's Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, 3rd edn, ed. F. E. L. Priestly (Toronto, 1946), this one echoing volume 1, 322-46. Yet it also reflects the concern of Mary Shelley's father that existing systems have no basis in anything except their own rhetoric. Frankenstein, after all, does resemble Caleb Williams (1794), Godwin's tale of a servant pursued by a fiendish master, both of whom have created themselves in textual images. By the end of that novel the speaker is led to wonder if a solid definition of self is possible at all in the modern world. See Caleb Williams, ed. David McCracken (London, 1970), p. 326, and Jerrold E. Hogle, "The Texture of the Self in Godwin's Things as They Are," boundary 2, 7, No. 2 (Winter 1979), 261-81.

22. See "A Defence of Poetry" in Shelley's Poetry and Prose, ed. Donald H. Reiman and Sharon B. Powers (New York, 1977), pp. 496-7. Further citations from Shelley's work have been checked against this book.

23. Too many critics, however, have stopped at this point in assessing the creature as a Doppelgänger. The group even includes Harold Bloom in "Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus," Partisan Review, 32 (1965), rpt. in Bloom's The Ringers in the Tower (Chicago, 1971), pp. 118-29. This essay neatly shows how Victor voids himself by giving all his powers of desire to his creature, yet it does not see how Victor pursues creation expressly to achieve a definition of self that needs fabrication to ground it. For me the monster is a double for something already double, a second other that embodies Victor's complex relation to the Other of his textual options.

24. On these problems of "authorship" I am much indebted to John T. Irwin, Doubling and Incest/Repetition and Revenge: A Speculative Reading of Faulkner (Baltimore, 1975), pp. 158-72.

25. A notion developed out of Nietzche in Beginnings: Intention and Method (New York, 1975), p. 43.

26. These authors guide the epistemology of Mary Shelley in Burton R. Pollin, "Philosophical and Literary Sources of Frankenstein," Comparative Literature, 17 (1965), 97-108. Pollin does cite some persuasive parallels, without a doubt; but in concentrating on these writers as "influences" (forces flowing into Mary Shelley's mind as presences of thought), he misconstrues their relation to Frankenstein. I find Mary entering into the verbal possibilities of their texts, and this view is supported by the creature's own "entrance" into Volney, a writer whom Pollin scarcely mentions.

27. Comte de Volney, Les ruines, ou meditation sur les révolutions des empires, in Oeuvres completes de C. F. Volney (Paris, 1821), I, 29-30. The translation is mine.

28. From "Theseus and Romulus" in Parallel Lives, trans. Bernadette Perrin (Cambridge, Mass, 1914), I,193. This is one of the Lives, incidentally, mentioned in the creature's tale.

29. The Sufferings of Young Werther, trans. Harry Steinhauer (New York, 1970), pp. 38 and 72.

30. See "The "Uncanny" in Standard Edition XVII, 219-52, plus Derrida, "La double séance," in La Dissémination (Paris, 1972), pp. 300-1.

31. Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore, 1976), p. 5. Frances Ferguson also connects this statement with Frankenstein (though briefly) in "Reading Heidegger: Paul de Man and Jacques Derrida," boundary 2, 4 (1976), 605.

32. See especially Ellen Moers, "Female Gothic: The Monster's Mother," The New York Review of Books, 21 March 1974, 24-8, and Marc A. Rubenstein, "'My Accursed Origin': The Search for the Mother in Frankenstein," Studies in Romanticism, 15 (1976), 165-94.

33. See Mary Poovey, "'My Hideous Progeny': Mary Shelley and the Feminization of Romanticism," PMLA (1980), 332-47.

34. The Letters of Mary W. Shelley, ed. Frederick L. Jones (Norman, 1994), I, 259.

35. See Paul de Man, "International Structure of the Romantic Image," in Harold Bloom (ed.), Romanticism and Consciousness (New York, 1970), pp. 65-77, and Frances Ferguson, Wordsworth: Language as Counter-spirit (New Haven, 1977), pp. 126-54.