Contents Index

Bearing Demons: Frankenstein's Circumvention of the Maternal

Margaret Homans

Chapter 5 of Bearing the Word: Language and the Female Experience in Nineteenth-Century Women's Writing (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986), 100-19

{100} Married to one romantic poet and living near another, Mary Shelley at the time she was writing Frankenstein experienced with great intensity the self-contradictory demand that daughters embody both the mother whose death makes language possible by making it necessary and the figurative substitutes for that mother who constitute the prototype of the signifying chain. At the same time, as a mother herself, she experienced with far greater intensity than did any of the authors considered so far a proto-Victorian ideology of motherhood, as Mary Poovey has shown.1 This experience leads Shelley both to figure her writing as mothering and to bear or transmit the words of her husband.2 Thus Shelley not only practices the daughter's obligatory and voluntary identification with the literal, as do Dorothy Wordsworth and Charlotte and Emily Brontë, but she also shares with George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell (and again with Charlotte Brontë) their concern with writing as literalization, as a form of mothering. It is to Shelley's handling of these contradictory demands, and to her criticism of their effect on women's writing, that my reading of Frankenstein will turn.

Frankenstein portrays the situation of women obliged to play the role of the literal in a culture that devalues it. In this sense, the novel is simultaneously about the death and obviation of the mother and about the son's quest for a substitute object of desire. The novel criticizes the self-contradictory male requirement that that substitute at once embody and not embody (because all embodiment is a reminder of the mother's powerful and forbidden body) the object of desire. The horror of the demon that Frankenstein creates is that it is the literalization of its {101} creator's desire for an object, a desire that never really seeks its own fulfillment.

Many readers of Frankenstein have noted both that the demon's creation amounts to an elaborate circumvention of normal heterosexual procreation -- Frankenstein does by himself with great difficulty what a heterosexual couple can do quite easily -- and that each actual mother dies very rapidly upon being introduced as a character in the novel.3 Frankenstein's own history is full of the deaths of mothers. His mother was discovered, as a poverty-stricken orphan, by Frankenstein's father. Frankenstein's adoptive sister and later fiancée, Elizabeth, was likewise discovered as an orphan, in poverty, by Frankenstein's parents.4 Elizabeth catches scarlet fever, and her adoptive mother, nursing her, catches it herself and dies of it. On her deathbed, the mother hopes for the marriage of Elizabeth and Frankenstein and tells Elizabeth, "You must supply my place to my younger children" (chap. 3). Like Shelley herself, Elizabeth is the death of her mother and becomes a substitute for her. Justine, a young girl taken in by the Frankenstein family as a beloved servant, is said to cause the death of her mother; and Justine herself, acting as foster mother to Frankenstein's little brother, William, is executed for his murder. There are many mothers in the Frankenstein circle, and all die notable deaths.

The significance of the apparently necessary destruction of the mother first emerges in Frankenstein's account of his preparations for creating the demon, and it is confirmed soon after the demon comes to life. Of his early passion for science, Frankenstein says, "I was . . . deeply smitten with the thirst for knowledge" (chap. 2). Shelley confirms the oedipal suggestion here when she writes that it is despite his father's prohibition that the young boy devours the archaic books on natural philosophy that first raise his ambitions to discover the secret of life. His mother dies just as Frankenstein is preparing to go to the University of Ingolstadt, and if his postponed trip there is thus motivated by her death, what he finds at the university becomes a substitute for her: modern scientists, he is told, "penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding-places" (chap. 3). Frankenstein's double, Walton, the polar explorer who rescues him and records his story, likewise searches for what sound like sexual secrets, also in violation of a paternal prohibition. Seeking to "satiate [his] ardent curiosity," Walton hopes to find the "wondrous power which attracts the needle" (letter 1). Frankenstein, having become "capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter," feels that to arrive "at once at the summit of my desires was the most gratifying consummation of my toils" [1.3.4]. And his work to create the demon {102} adds to this sense of an oedipal violation of Mother Nature: dabbling "among the unhallowed damps of the grave," he "disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame" (chap. 4). This violation is necrophiliac. The mother he rapes is dead; his researches into her secrets, to usurp her powers, require that she be dead.5

Frankenstein describes his violation of nature in other ways that recall what William Wordsworth's poetry reveals when read in conjunction with Dorothy Wordsworth's journals. Of the period during which he is working on the demon, Frankenstein writes,

The summer months passed while I was thus engaged, heart and soul, in one pursuit. It was a most beautiful season; never did the fields bestow a more plentiful harvest or the vines yield a more luxuriant vintage, but my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature. . . . Winter, spring, and summer passed away during my labours; but I did not watch the blossom or the expanding leaves -- sights which before always yielded me supreme delight -- so deeply was I engrossed in my Occupation. (chap. 4)
Ignoring the bounteous offering nature makes of itself and substituting for it his own construction of life, what we, following Thomas Weiskel, might call his own reading of nature, Frankenstein here resembles William Wordsworth, reluctantly and ambivalently allowing himself to read nature, to impose on nature apocalyptic patterns of meaning that destroy it. Dorothy Wordsworth herself makes an appearance in the text of Frankenstein, if indirectly, and her presence encodes a shared women's critique of the romantic reading of nature. Much later in the novel, Frankenstein compares his friend Clerval to the former self William Wordsworth depicts in "Tintern Abbey," a self that he has outgrown but that his sister remains. Shelley quotes (with one major alteration) the lines beginning, "The sounding cataract / Haunted him like a passion" [ll. 77-78] and ending with the assertion that the colors and forms of natural objects (rock, mountain, etc.) were
          a feeling, and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, or any interest
Unborrow'd from the eye. [ll. 80-84]6
If Clerval is like Dorothy, then Frankenstein is like William, regrettably destroying nature by imposing his reading on it.

{103} When, assembled from the corpse of nature, the demon has been brought to life and Frankenstein has recognized -- oddly only now that it is alive -- how hideous it is, Frankenstein falls into an exhausted sleep and dreams the following dream:

I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, 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 grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel. I started from my sleep with horror. (chap. 5)
He wakes to see the demon looking at him, hideous, but clearly loving. The dream suggests that to bring the demon to life is equivalent to killing Elizabeth, and that Elizabeth dead is equivalent to his mother dead. Elizabeth may have been the death of the mother, but now that she has replaced her, she too is vulnerable to whatever destroys mothers.7 And, indeed, the dream is prophetic: the demon will much later kill Elizabeth, just as the demon's creation has required both the death of Frankenstein's own mother and the death and violation of Mother Nature. To bring a composite corpse to life is to circumvent the normal channels of procreation; the demon's "birth" violates the normal relations of family, especially the normal sexual relation of husband and wife. Victor has gone to great lengths to produce a child without Elizabeth's assistance, and in the dream's language, to circumvent her, to make her unnecessary, is to kill her, and to kill mothers altogether.

Frankenstein's creation, then, depends on and then perpetuates the death of the mother and of motherhood. The demon's final, and greatest, crime is in fact its murder of Elizabeth, which is, however, only the logical extension of its existence as the reification of Frankenstein's desire to escape the mother. The demon is, to borrow a phrase from Shelley's Alastor, "the spirit of" Frankenstein's "solitude." Its greatest complaint to Frankenstein is of its own solitude, its isolation from humanity, and it promises that if Frankenstein will make it a mate, "one as hideous as myself. . . . I shall become a thing of whose existence everyone will be ignorant" (chap. 17). That is, no longer solitary, the demon will virtually cease to exist, for its existence is synonymous with its solitude. But, on the grounds that "a race of devils would be propagated upon the earth," Frankenstein destroys the female demon he is in the process of creating, thus destroying yet another potential mother, and the demon promises, {104} "I shall be with you on your wedding-night" (chap. 20). If the demon is the form taken by Frankenstein's flight from the mother, then it is impossible that the demon should itself find an embodied substitute for the mother, and it will prevent Frankenstein from finding one too.

The demon's promise to be present at the wedding night suggests that there is something monstrous about Frankenstein's sexuality. A solipsist's sexuality is monstrous because his desire is for his own envisionings rather than for somebody else, some other body. The demon appears where Frankenstein's wife should be, and its murder of her suggests not so much revenge as jealousy. The demon's murder of that last remaining potential mother makes explicit the sequel to the obviation of the mother, the male quest for substitutes for the mother, the quest that is never intended to be fulfilled. Elizabeth suggests in a letter to Frankenstein that his reluctance to marry may stem from his love for someone else, someone met, perhaps, in his travels or during his long stay in Ingolstadt. "Do you not love another?" she asks (chap. 22). This is in fact the case, for the demon, the creation of Frankenstein's imagination, resembles in many ways the romantic object of desire, the beloved invented to replace, in a less threatening form, the powerful mother who must be killed.8 This imagined being would be an image of the self, because it is for the sake of the ego that the mother is rejected in the first place. Created right after the death of the mother to be, as Victor says, "a being like myself" (chap. 4), the demon may be Adam, created in God's image. Indeed, this is what the demon thinks when it tells Frankenstein, "I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel" (chap. 10). But it is also possible, as Gilbert and Gubar suggest, that the demon is Eve, created from Adam's imagination.9

When the demon takes shelter in the French cottager's shed, it looks, repeating Milton's Eve's first act upon coming to life, into the mirror of a "clear pool" and is terrified at its own reflection: "I started back" (chap. 12). Here is the relevant passage from Milton, from Eve's narration in book 4 of her memory of the first moments of her creation.10 Hearing the "murmuring sound / Of waters issu'd from a Cave and spread / Into a liquid Plain," Eve looks

          into the clear
Smooth Lake, that to me seem'd another Sky.
As I bent down to look, just opposite,
A Shape within the wat'ry gleam appear'd
Bending to look on me, I started back,
It started back, but pleas'd I soon return'd . . .
(4. 458-63)
{105} But the disembodied voice instructs her, "What there thou seest fair Creature is thyself" (468), and tells her to follow and learn to prefer him "whose image thou art" (471-72). Christine Froula argues that the fiction of Eve's creation by a paternal God out of the flesh of Adam values the maternal and appropriates it for the aggrandizement of masculine creativity.11 Frankenstein revises this paradigm for artistic creation: he does not so much appropriate the maternal as bypass it, to demonstrate the unnecessariness of natural motherhood and, indeed, of women. Froula points out that in this "scene of canonical instruction," Eve is required to turn away from herself to embrace her new identity, not as a self, but as the image of someone else.12 Created to the specifications of Adam's desire, we later learn -- "Thy likeness, thy fit help, thy other self, / Thy wish, exactly to thy heart's desire" (8. 450-51) -- Eve is, like Frankenstein's demon, the product of imaginative desire. Milton appropriates the maternal by excluding any actual mother from the scene of creation. Eve is the form that Adam's desire takes once actual motherhood has been eliminated; and in much the same way, the demon is the form taken by Frankenstein's desire once his mother and Elizabeth as mother have been circumvented. These new creations in the image of the self are substitutes for the powerful creating mother and place creation under the control of the son.

That the demon is, like Eve, the creation of a son's imaginative desire is confirmed by another allusion both closer to Shelley and closer in the text to Elizabeth's question, "Do you not love another?" Mary Poovey has argued that the novel criticizes romantic egotism, specifically, Percy Shelley's violation of the social conventions that bind humans together in families and societies. As the object of desire of an imaginative overreacher very like Percy Shelley himself, the demon substitutes for the fruitful interchange of family life the fruitlessness of self love, for what Frankenstein loves is an image of himself. The novel was written when Percy Shelley had completed, of all his major works besides Queen Mab, only Alastor, the archetypal poem of the doomed romantic quest, and it is to this poem that Mary Shelley alludes.13 Just before Frankenstein receives Elizabeth's letter, just after being acquitted of the murder of his friend Clerval, Frankenstein tells us, "I saw around me nothing but a dense and frightful darkness, penetrated by no light but the glimmer of two eyes that glared upon me" (chap. 21). This is a direct allusion to a passage in Alastor in which the hero, who has quested in vain after an ideal female image of his own creation, sees

         two eyes,
Two starry eyes, hung in the gloom of thought, {106}
And seemed with their serene and azure smiles
To beckon him.

In Alastor, these eyes belong to the phantom maiden, the "fleeting shade" whom the hero pursues to his death, a beloved who is constructed out of the poet's own visionary narcissism. The girl he dreams and pursues has a voice "like the voice of his own soul / Heard in the calm of thought" (153-54), and like him, she is "Herself a poet" (161). In the novel, the starry eyes become glimmering, glaring eyes, alternately the eyes of the dead Clerval and the "watery, clouded eyes of the monster, as I first saw them in my chamber at Ingolstadt" (chap. 21). This conflation of the eyes of the poet's beloved with the eyes of the demon suggests, even more surely than the allusion to Eve, that the demon is the form, not only of Frankenstein's solipsism, of his need to obviate the mother, but also of the narcissism that constitutes the safety of the ego for whose sake the mother is denied. The monster is still the object of Frankenstein's desire when Elizabeth writes to him, just as its creation was the object of his initial quest.14 It is this monster, the monster of narcissism, that intervenes on the wedding night, substituting Frankenstein's desire for his own imagining for the consummation of his marriage, just as the visionary maiden in Alastor takes the place both of the dead Mother Nature of the poet's prologue and of the real maiden the hero meets, attracts, and rejects in the course of his quest.

That the demon is a revision of Eve, of emanations, and of the object of romantic desire, is confirmed by its female attributes. Its very bodiliness, its identification with matter, associates it with traditional concepts of femaleness. Further, the impossibility of Frankenstein giving it a female demon, an object of its own desire, aligns the demon with women, who are forbidden to have their own desires. But if the demon is really a feminine object of desire, why is it a he? I would suggest that this constitutes part of Shelley's exposure of the male romantic economy that would substitute for real and therefore powerful female others a being imagined on the model of the male poet's own self. By making the demon masculine, Shelley suggests that romantic desire seeks to do away, not only with the mother, but also with all females so as to live finally in a world of mirrors that reflect a comforting illusion of the male self's independent wholeness. It is worth noting that just as Frankenstein's desire is for a male demon, Walton too yearns, not for a bride, but for "the company of a man who could sympathize with me, whose eyes would reply to mine" (letter 2).15

It may seem peculiar to describe the demon as the object of Frankenstein's romantic desire, since he spends most of the novel suffering from {107} the demon's crimes. Yet in addition to the allusions to Eve and the "fleeting shade" in Alastor that suggest this, it is clear that while Frankenstein is in the process of creating the demon, he loves it and desires it; the knowledge that makes possible its creation is the "consummation" of his "toils." It is only when the demon becomes animated that Frankenstein abruptly discovers his loathing for his creation. Even though the demon looks at its creator with what appears to be love, Frankenstein's response to it is unequivocal loathing. Why had he never noticed before the hideousness of its shape and features? No adequate account is given, nor could be, for as we shall see, this is what most mystifies and horrifies Shelley about her own situation. Frankenstein confesses, "I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart" (chap. 5). The romantic quest is always doomed, for it secretly resists its own fulfillment: although the hero of Alastor quests for his dream maiden and dies of not finding her, his encounter with the Indian maid makes it clear that embodiment is itself an obstacle to desire, or more precisely, its termination. Frankenstein's desire for his creation lasts only so long as that creation remains uncreated, the substitution for the too-powerful mother of a figure issuing from his imagination and therefore under his control.

To return to the terms with which we began in chapter 1, we might say that the predicament of Frankenstein, as of the hero of Alastor, is that of the son in Lacan's revision of the Freudian oedipal crisis. In flight from the body of the mother forbidden by the father, a maternal body that he sees as dead in his urgency to escape it and to enter a paternal order constituted of its distance from the mother, the son seeks figurations that will at once make restitution for the mother and confirm her death and absence by substituting for her figures that are under his control. Fundamentally, the son cannot wish for these figurative substitutes to be embodied, for any body is too reminiscent of the mother and is no longer under the son's control, as the demon's excessive strength demonstrates; the value of these figurations is that they remain figurations. In just this way, romantic desire does not desire to be fulfilled, and yet, because it seems both to itself and to others to want to be embodied, the romantic quester as son is often confronted with a body he seems to want but does not.15 Thus Frankenstein thinks he wants to create the demon, but when he has succeeded, he discovers that what he really enjoyed was the process leading up to the creation, the seemingly endless chain of signifiers that constitute his true, if unrecognized, desire.

Looking at Alastor through Frankenstein's reading of it, then, we see that the novel is the story of a hypothetical case: what if the hero of Alastor actually got what he thinks he wants? What if desire were {108} embodied, contrary to the poet's deepest wishes? That Shelley writes such a case suggests that this was her own predicament. In real life, Percy Shelley pursued her as the poet and hero of Alastor pursue ghosts and as Frankenstein pursues the secrets of the grave. That he courted the adolescent Mary Godwin at the grave of her mother, whose writing he admired, already suggests that the daughter was for him a figure for the safely dead mother, a younger and less powerfully creative version of her. Yet when he got this substitute, he began to tire of her, as he makes quite explicit in Epipsychidion, where he is not embarrassed to describe his life in terms of an interminable quest for an imaginary woman. Mary starts out in that poem as one "who seemed / As like the glorious shape which I had dreamed" (277-78) but soon becomes "that Moon" with "pale and waning lips" (309). The poet does not seem to notice that each time an embodiment of the ideal turns out to be unsatisfactory, it is not because she is the wrong woman, but because the very fact of embodiment inevitably spoils the vision. Emily, the final term in the poem's sequence of women, remains ideal only because she has not yet been possessed, and indeed at the end of the poem, the poet disintegrates and disembodies her, perhaps to save himself from yet one more disappointment. Shelley was for herself never anything but embodied, but for Percy Shelley it seems to have been a grave disappointment to discover her substantiality, and therefore her inadequacy for fulfilling his visionary requirements. Frankenstein is the story of what it feels like to be the undesired embodiment of romantic imaginative desire. The demon, rejected merely for being a body, suffers in something of the way that Shelley must have felt herself to suffer under the conflicting demands of romantic desire: on the one hand, that she must embody the goal of Percy's quest, and on the other, his rejection of that embodiment.

Later in the novel, when the demon describes to Frankenstein its discovery and reading of the "'journal of the four months that preceded my creation," the discrepancy between Percy's conflicting demands is brought to the fore. The demon notes that the journal records "the whole detail of that series of disgusting circumstances" that resulted in "my accursed origin," and that "the minutest description of my odious and loathsome person is given, in language which painted your own horrors and rendered mine indelible" (chap. 15). This summary suggests that while Frankenstein was writing the journal during the period leading up to the demon's vivification, he was fully aware of his creature's hideousness. Yet Frankenstein, in his own account of the same period, specifically says that it was only when "I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart" (chap. 5). If Frankenstein is right about his feelings here, why should his journal be {109} full of "language which painted [his] horrors"? Or, if the account in the journal is correct, if Frankenstein was aware from the start of his creature's "odious and loathsome person," why does he tell Walton that the demon appeared hideous to him only upon its awakening? If the text of this journal is, like Alastor, the record of a romantic quest for an object of desire, then the novel is presenting us with two conflicting readings of the poem -- Frankenstein's or Percy's and the demon's or Shelley's -- confirming our sense that Shelley reading Alastor finds in it the story of Percy's failure to find in her the object of his desire, or the story of his desire not to find the object of his desire, not to find that she is the object.

A famous anecdote about the Shelleys from a few days after the beginning of the ghost story contest in which Frankenstein originated lends support to this impression of Shelley's experience. Byron was reciting some lines from Coleridge's Christabel about Geraldine, who is, like the demon, a composite body, half young and beautiful, half (in the version Byron recited) "hideous, deformed, and pale of hue." Percy, suddenly shrieking and putting his hands to his head, ran out of the room with a candle." Brought to his senses, he told Byron and Polidori that "he was looking at Mrs. Shelley" while Byron was repeating Coleridge's lines, "and suddenly thought of a woman he had heard of who had eyes instead of nipples."17 If disembodied eyes are, in Alastor, what are so alluring to the hero about his beloved, eyes in place of nipples may have been Percy's hallucination of the horror of having those ideal eyes reembodied in the form of his real lover. This is an embodiment that furthermore calls attention to its failure to be sufficiently different from the mother, whose nipples are for the baby so important a feature. An actual woman, who is herself a mother, does not fit the ideal of disembodied femininity, and the vision of combining real and ideal is a monster. Mary's sense of herself viewed as a collection of incongruent body parts -- breasts terminating in eyes -- might have found expression in the demon, whose undesirable corporeality is expressed as its being composed likewise of ill- fitting parts. Paradise Lost, Alastor, and other texts in this tradition compel women readers to wish to embody, as Eve does, imaginary ideals, to be glad of this role in masculine life; and yet at the same time, they warn women readers that they will suffer for such embodiment.

It requires only a transposing of terms to suggest the relevance of this reading of Frankenstein to the myth of language we traced in chapter 1 in its form as the romantic quest. The demon is about the ambivalent response of a woman reader to some of our culture's most compelling statements of woman's place in the myth. That the mother must vanish and be replaced by never quite embodied figures for her is equivalent to {110} the vanishing of the referent (along with that time with the mother when the referent had not vanished) to be replaced by language as figuration that never quite touches its objects. Women's role is to be that silent or lost referent, the literal whose absence makes figuration possible. To be also the figurative substitute for that lost referent is, Shelley shows, impossible, for women are constantly reminded that they are the mother's (loathed, loved) body, and in any case, "being" is incompatible with being a figure. The literal provokes horror in the male poet, or scientist, even while he demands that women literalize his vision.

That Shelley knew she was writing a criticism, not only of women's self-contradictory role in androcentric ontology, but also of the gendered myth of language that is part of that ontology, is suggested by the appearance of a series of images of writing at the very end of the novel. Once again, the demon is the object of Frankenstein's quest, pursued now in hate rather than in love. Frankenstein is preternaturally motivated in his quest by an energy of desire that recalls his passion when first creating the demon, and that his present quest depends on the killing of animals recalls his first quest's dependence on dead bodies. Frankenstein believes that "a spirit of good" follows and directs his steps: "Sometimes, when nature, overcome by hunger, sank under the exhaustion, a repast was prepared for me in the desert that restored and inspirited me. . . . I will not doubt that it was set there by the spirits that I had invoked to aid me" (chap. 24). He says this, however, directly after pointing out that the demon sometimes helped him. Fearing "that if I lost all trace of him I should despair and die, [he] left some mark to guide me," and Frankenstein also notes that the demon would frequently leave "marks in writing on the barks of the trees or cut in stone that guided me and instigated my fury." One of these messages includes the information, "You will find near this place, if you follow not too tardily, a dead hare; eat and be refreshed." Frankenstein, it would seem, deliberately misinterprets the demon's guidance and provisions for him as belonging instead to a spirit of good: his interpretation of the demon's marks and words is so figurative as to be opposite to what they really say. The demon, all body, writes appropriately on the body of nature messages that refer, if to objects at a distance, at least at not a very great distance ("you will find near this place . . ."). Frankenstein, however, reads as figuratively as possible, putting as great a distance as possible between what he actually reads and what he interprets. His reading furthermore puts a distance between himself and the object of his quest, which he still cannot desire to attain; figurative reading would extend indefinitely the pleasure of the quest itself by forever putting off the moment of capture. Just at the moment when Frankenstein thinks he is about to reach the demon, the demon is {111} transformed from a "mark," as if a mark on a page, into a "form," and Frankenstein seeks to reverse this transformation. One of Frankenstein's sled dogs has died of exhaustion, delaying him; "suddenly my eye caught a dark speck upon the dusky plain"; he utters "a wild cry of ecstasy" upon "distinguish[ing] a sledge and the distorted proportions of a well-known form within" (chap. 24). Frankenstein's response, however, is to take an hour's rest: his real aim, which he does not admit, is to keep the demon at the distance where he remains a "dark speck," a mark on the white page of the snow, his signification forever deferred.18

At the same time that Frankenstein is about a woman writer's response to the ambiguous imperative her culture imposes upon her, it is also possible that the novel concerns a woman writer's anxieties about bearing children, about generating bodies that, as we have seen with reference to Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, would have the power to displace or kill the parent. Ellen Moers first opened up a feminist line of inquiry into the novel by suggesting that it is a "birth myth," that the horror of the demon is Shelley's horror, not only at her own depressing experience of childbirth, but also at her knowledge of the disastrous consequences of giving birth (or of pregnancy itself) for many women in her vicinity.19 The list is by now familiar to Shelley's readers. First, Mary Wollstonecraft died eleven days after she gave birth to Mary; then, during the time of the writing of the novel, Fanny Imlay, Mary's half-sister, drowned herself in October 1816 when she learned that she was her mother's illegitimate child by Gilbert Imlay; Harriet Shelley was pregnant by another man when she drowned herself in the Serpentine in December 1816; and Claire Clairmont, the daughter of the second Mrs. Godwin, was, scandalously, pregnant by Byron, much to the embarrassment of the Shelleys, with whom she lived.20 Illegitimate pregnancy, that is, a pregnancy over which the woman has particularly little control, brings either death to the mother in childbirth (Wollstonecraft) or shame, making visible what ought to have remained out of sight, the scene of conception (Claire), a shame that can itself result in the death of both mother (Harriet Shelley) and child (Fanny).

At the time of the conception of the novel, Mary Godwin had herself borne two illegitimate children: the first, an unnamed girl, died four days later, in March 1815 the second was five months old. In December 1816, when Harriet Shelley died and Shelley had finished chapter 4 of the novel, she was pregnant again. With but a single parent, the demon in her novel is the world's most monstrously illegitimate child, and this illegitimate child causes the death of that parent as well as of the principle of motherhood, as we have seen. Read in connection with the history of {112} disastrous illegitimacies, the novel's logic would seem to be this -- to give birth to an illegitimate child is monstrous, for it is the inexorable life of these babies, especially those of Mary Wollstonecraft and of Harriet Shelley, that destroys the life of the mother. Subsequently, as Marc Rubenstein argues, the guilty daughter pays for the destruction of her own mother in a fantasy of being destroyed by her own child.21

In Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, we saw that the image of childbirth is associated with the uncontrollability of real things. Once a conception has taken objective form, it has the power to destroy its own source, to transform the mother herself into the literal. In the Brontës' novels, childbirth is structurally equivalent to (and indeed also often situated in) the coming true of dreams, which has, like childbirth, an ironic relation to the original conception. Shelley's 1831 introduction to her novel makes a comparable equation of giving birth, the realization of a dream, and writing. As many readers have pointed out, this introduction to her revised version of the novel identifies the novel itself with the demon, and both with a child.22 She tells of being asked every morning if she had thought of a story, as if a story, like a baby, were necessarily to be conceived in the privacy of the night. And at the close of the introduction she writes, "I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper," and she refers to the novel in the next sentence as "the offspring of happy days" [Introduction 12]. The genesis of the novel, furthermore, is in a dream that she transcribes, a dream moreover that is about the coming true of a dream. One night, she says, after listening to conversation about the reanimation of corpses, "Night waned upon this talk. . . . 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" [Introduction 10]. Then follows her account of the famous dream of "the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together," the "hideous phantasm of a man" stirring "with an uneasy, half-vital motion," and the "artist" sleeping and waking to behold "the horrid thing . . . looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes" [Introduction 10]. Waking in horror from her dream, she at first tries "to think of something else," but then realizes that she has the answer to her need for a ghost story: "'What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.' . . . I began that day with the words, 'It was on a dreary night of November,' making only a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream" [Introduction 11]. Making a transcript of a dream -- that is, turning an idea into the "machinery of a story" -- a dream that is about the transformation of a "phantasm" into a real body, is equivalent here to conceiving a child. She makes it very clear that her dream takes the place of a sexual act ("Night waned. . . . When I placed my head on my pillow . . . I saw the pale {113} student."), just as the book idea she can announce the next day substitutes for a baby. The terrifying power of the possibility that her dream might be true encodes the terrifying power of conception and childbirth. In Deutsch's language, "she who has created this new life must obey its power; its rule is expected, yet invisible, implacable."23

Despite Ellen Moers's delineation of the resemblance of the demon to the apprehensions a mother might have about a baby, it is the introduction that supplies the most explicit evidence for identifying demon and book with a child. Mary Poovey has demonstrated that this introduction has a significantly different ideological cast from the original version of the novel (or even from the revised novel). Written in 1831, fourteen years after the novel itself and following the death of Percy Shelley (as well as the deaths of both the children who were alive or expected in 1816-17), the introduction takes pains to distance itself from the novel, and it aims to bring the writing of the novel further within the fold of the conventional domestic life Shelley retrospectively substitutes for the radically disruptive life she in fact led.24 Referring obliquely to her elopement with Percy and its effect on her adolescent habit of inventing stories, for example, she writes, "After this my life became busier, and reality stood in place of fiction" [Introduction 4]. Echoed later by Robert Southey's remark to Charlotte Brontë, that "literature cannot be the business of a woman's life," Shelley's busyness refers largely to her responsibilities as a mother and wife. When she describes her endeavor to write a ghost story she repeats this term for family responsibility: "I busied myself to think of a story" [Introduction 7]. This echo suggests that her busyness with story writing is somehow congruent with, not in conflict with, her "busier" life as a wife and mother. It makes the novel, "so very hideous an idea," seem somehow part of the busy life of a matron. It is this effort, to domesticate her hideous idea, that may be at the bottom of her characterizing it as a "hideous progeny." If the novel read in this light seems, like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, to be full of a horror of childbirth, that may only be the result of the impossibility of changing the basic story of the 1817 novel, the result of assembling mismatched parts.

Thus the novel may be about the horror associated with motherhood, yet this reading seems unduly influenced by the superimpositions of the introduction, and furthermore it ignores the novel's most prominent feature, that the demon is not a child born of woman but the creation of a man.25 Most succinctly put, the novel is about the collision between androcentric and gynocentric theories of creation, a collision that results in the denigration of maternal childbearing through its circumvention by male creation. The novel presents Mary Shelley's response to the expectation, manifested in such poems as Alastor or Paradise Lost, that {114} women embody and yet not embody male fantasies. At the same time, it expresses a woman's knowledge of the irrefutable independence of the body, both her own and those of the children that she produces, from projective male fantasy. While a masculine being -- God, Adam, Percy Shelley, Frankenstein -- may imagine that his creation of an imaginary being may remain under the control of his desires, Mary Shelley knows otherwise, both through her experience as mistress and wife of Percy and through her experience of childbirth. Shelley's particular history shows irrefutably that children, even pregnancies, do not remain under the control of those who conceive them.

Keats writes that "the Imagination may be compared to Adam's dream -- he awoke and found it truth."26 In Paradise Lost, narrating his recollection of Eve's creation, Adam describes how he fell into a special sleep -- "Mine eyes he clos'd, but op'n left the Cell / Of Fancy my internal sight" (8. 460-61) -- then watched, "though sleeping," as God formed a creature,

Manlike, but different sex, so lovely fair,
That what seem'd fair in all the World, seem'd now
Mean, or in her summ'd up.

This is "Adam's dream." But what of "he awoke and found it truth"? Adam wakes, "To find her, or for ever to deplore / Her loss" (479-80), and then, "behold[s] her, not far off, / Such as I saw her in my dream" (481-82), yet what Keats represses is that the matching of reality to dream is not so neat as these lines suggest.27 Eve comes to Adam, not of her own accord, but "Led by her Heav'nly Maker" (485), and as soon as he catches sight of her, Adam sees Eve turn away from him, an action he ascribes to modesty (and thus endeavors to assimilate to his dream of her) but that Eve, in book 4, has already said stemmed from her preference for her image in the water. Though designed by God for Adam "exactly to thy heart's desire" (8. 451), Eve once created has a mind and will of her own, and this independence is so horrifying to the male imagination that the Fall is ascribed to it.

It is neither the visionary male imagination alone that Mary Shelley protests, then, nor childbirth itself, but the circumvention of the maternal creation of new beings by the narcissistic creations of male desire. While Keats can gloss over the discrepancy between Adam's dream and its fulfillment, Shelley cannot. As Frankenstein is on the verge of completing the female demon, it is for her resemblance to Eve that he destroys her. Just as Adam says of Eve, "seeing me, she turn'd" (8. 507), Frankenstein {115} fears the female demon's turning from the demon toward a more attractive image: "She also might turn with disgust from him to the superior beauty of man" (chap. 20). Also like Eve, who disobeys a prohibition agreed upon between Adam and God before her creation, she "might refuse to comply with a compact made before her creation," the demon's promise to leave Europe. Frankenstein typifies the way in which the biological creation of necessarily imperfect yet independent beings has always been made to seem, within an androcentric economy, monstrous and alarming. Although Mary Wollstonecraft would in any case have died of puerperal fever after Mary's birth, her earlier pregnancy with Fanny and the pregnancies of Harriet Shelley, Claire Clairmont, and Mary Godwin would have done no harm had they not been labeled "illegitimate" by a society that places a premium on the ownership by a man of his wife's body and children. The novel criticizes, not childbirth itself, but the male horror of independent embodiment. This permits us to speculate that the horror of childbirth in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights stems from the Brontës' identification with an androcentric perspective. To a certain extent, as a writer in a culture that defines writing as a male activity and as opposite to motherhood, Shelley too must share the masculine perspective, with its horror of embodiment and its perennial reenacting of Adam's affront at Eve's turning away. For whatever reason, however, perhaps because of her direct experience of the mother's position, Shelley is able to discern the androcentrism in her culture's view of the relation of childbearing to writing, and thus she enables us to interpret her own painful exposure of it.

At the site of the collision between motherhood and romantic projection another form of literalization appears as well. While it is important how Shelley reads texts such as Alastor and Paradise Lost, it is also important to consider, perhaps more simply, that her novel reads them. Like the Brontës' novels, whose gothic embodiments of subjective states, realizations of dreams, and literalized figures all literalize romantic projection, Shelley's novel literalizes romantic imagination, but with a different effect and to a different end. Shelley criticizes these texts by enacting them, and because enactment or embodiment is both the desire and the fear of such texts, the mode of her criticism matters. Just as the heroes of these poems seem to seek, but do not seek, embodiments of their visionary desires, these poetic texts seem to seek embodiment in "the machinery of a story." For in the ideology of postromantic culture, it is part of a woman's duty to transcribe and give form to men's words, just as it is her duty to give form to their desire, or birth to their seed, no matter how ambivalently men may view the results of such projects. In the same {116} passage in the introduction to the novel in which Shelley makes the analogy between the book and a child, between the conception of a story and the conception of a baby, and between these things and the coming true of a dream, she also identifies all these projects with the transcription of important men's words. Drawing on the ideology of maternity as the process of passing on a male idea, Shelley describes her book-child as the literalization of two poets' words:

Many and long were the conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener. During one of these, various philosophical doctrines were discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated. . . . Perhaps a corpse would be reanimated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth. [Introduction 9]
Directly following this passage appears her account of going to bed and vividly dreaming of the "student of unhallowed arts" and the "hideous phantasm," the dream of which she says she made "only a transcript" in transferring it into the central scene of her novel, the dream that equates the conception of a book with the conception of a child.

Commentators on the novel have in the past taken Shelley at her word here, believing, if not in her story of transcribing a dream, then certainly in her fiction of transcribing men's words.28 Mario Praz, for example, writes, "All Mrs. Shelley did was to provide a passive reflection of some of the wild fantasies which, as it were, hung in the air about her."29 Harold Bloom suggests that "what makes Frankenstein an important book" despite its "clumsiness" is "that it contains one of the most vivid versions we have of the Romantic mythology of the self, one that resembles Blake's Book of Urizen, Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, and Byron's Manfred, among other works."30 It is part of the subtlety of her strategy to disguise her criticism of such works as a passive transcription, to appear to be a docile wife and "devout listener" to the conversations of important men. Indeed, central to her critical method is the practice of acting out docilely what these men tell her they want from her, to show them the consequences of their desires. She removes herself beyond reproach for "putting [her]self forward," by formulating her critique as a devout transcription, a "passive reflection," a "version" that "resembles." She inserts this authorial role into her novel in the form of a fictive M. S., Walton's sister, Margaret Saville, to whom his letters containing {117} Frankenstein's story are sent and who silently records and transmits them to the reader.

Now that we have assembled the parts of Shelley's introductory account of the novel's genesis, we can see that she equates childbearing with the bearing of men's words. Writing a transcript of a dream that was in turn merely the transcript of a conversation is also giving birth to a hideous progeny conceived in the night. The conversation between Byron and Shelley probably represents Shelley's and Byron's poetry, the words, for example, of Alastor that she literalizes in her novel. That the notion of motherhood as the passive transcription of men's words is at work here is underscored by the allusion this idea makes to the Christ story. "Perhaps a corpse would be reanimated" refers initially, not to science's power, but to that occasion, a myth but surely still a powerful one even in this den of atheists, when a corpse was reanimated, which is in turn an allusion to the virgin birth. Like the creations of Adam and Eve, which excluded the maternal, Christ's birth bypassed the normal channels of procreation. It is this figure, whose birth is also the literalization of a masculine God's Word, who serves as the distant prototype for the reanimation of corpses. And within the fiction, the demon too is the literalization of a word, an idea, Frankenstein's theory given physical form. As Joyce Carol Oates remarks, the demon "is a monster-son born of Man exclusively, a parody of the Word or Idea made Flesh."31 The book-baby literalizes Shelley's and Byron's words, the words of their conversation as figures for Shelley's words in Alastor, just as the demon-baby literalizes Frankenstein's inseminating words. Christ literalizes God's Word through the medium of a woman, Mary, who passively transmits Word into flesh without being touched by it. Literalizations again take place through the medium of a more recent Mary, who passively transcribes (or who seems to), who adds nothing but "the platitude of prose" and "the machinery of a story" to the words of her more illustrious male companions who for their own writing prefer "the music of the most melodious verse." And yet, as we will see again with Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, it is precisely the adding of this "machinery," which would seem only to facilitate the transmission of the ideas and figures of poetry into the more approachable form of a story, that subverts and reverses what it appears so passively to serve.

The demon literalizes the male romantic poet's desire for a figurative object of desire, but it also literalizes the literalization of male literature. While telling Frankenstein the story of its wanderings and of its education by the unknowing cottagers, the demon reports having discovered in the woods "a leathern portmanteau containing . . . some books. I eagerly seized the prize and returned with it to my hovel" (chap. 15). The {118} discovery of these books -- Paradise Lost, Plutarch's Lives, and The Sorrows of Werther -- is followed in the narrative, but preceded in represented time, by the demon's discovery of another book, Frankenstein's "journal of the four months that preceded [the demon's] creation."32 Both Frankenstein, the book as baby, and the demon as baby literalize these books, especially Paradise Lost -- the demon is Satan, Adam, and Eve, while Frankenstein himself is Adam, Satan, and God -- as well as a number of other prior texts, among them, as we have seen, Alastor, but also the book of Genesis, Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound, Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey," William Godwin's Caleb Williams, and many others. At the same time and in the same way, the demon is the realization of Frankenstein's words in the journal of his work on the demon, a journal that is in some ways equivalent to (or a literalization of) Alastor, since both record a romantic quest for what was "desired . . . with an ardor that far exceeded moderation" [1.4.2]. The demon, wandering about the woods of Germany carrying these books, the book of his own physical origin and the texts that contribute to his literary origin, embodies the very notion of literalization with which everything about him seems to be identified. To carry a book is exactly what Mary Shelley does in bearing the words of the male authors, in giving birth to a hideous progeny that is at once book and demon. Carrying the books of his own origin, the demon emblematizes the literalization of literature that Shelley, through him, practices.

I pointed out earlier that Mary Shelley, unlike the Brontës, would not see childbirth itself as inherently threatening apart from the interference in it by a masculine economy. Likewise, writing or inventing stories is not inherently monstrous -- witness her retrospective account in the introduction of how, before her life became "busier," she used to "commune with the creatures of my fancy" and compose unwritten stories out of doors: "It was beneath the trees of the grounds belonging to our house, or on the bleak sides of the woodless mountains near, that, my true compositions, the airy flights of my imagination, were born and fostered" [Introduction 3]. Like both Cathys in Wuthering Heights in their childhood, indeed, probably like the young Bronteës themselves, Mary Shelley's imagination prior to the fall into the Law of the Father -- in her case, elopement, pregnancy, and marriage -- is at one with nature and also does not require to be written down. The metaphor of composition as childbirth -- "my true compositions . . . were born and fostered" appears here as something not only harmless but celebratory. It is only when both childbirth and a woman's invention of stories are subordinated to the Law of the Father that they become monstrous; it is only when such overpowering and masculinist texts as Genesis, Paradise Lost, {119} and Alastor appropriate this Mary's body, her female power of embodiment, as vehicle for the transmission of their words, that monsters are born. When God appropriates maternal procreation in Genesis or Paradise Lost, a beautiful object is created; but through the reflex of Mary Shelley's critique, male circumvention of the maternal creates a monster. Her monster constitutes a criticism of such appropriation and circumvention, yet it is a criticism written in her own blood, carved in the very body of her own victimization, just as the demon carves words about death in the trees and rocks of the Arctic. She is powerless to stop her own appropriation and can only demonstrate the pain that appropriation causes in the woman reader and writer. As we turn now to Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, which takes up like Frankenstein the question of a woman writer's -- and her heroine's -- literalization of powerful masculine texts, we will see that Eliot shares much of Shelley's sense of the necessity and the high cost of a woman's literalization, as well as of its power as a criticism of that which appropriates.


1. Mary Poovey, The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 114-42. Hereafter I will refer to Mary Shelley as Shelley (except where her unmarried name is necessary for clarity) and to her husband as Percy.

2. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's reading of the novel focuses on its "apparently docile submission to male myths" and identifies it specifically as "a fictionalized rendition of the meaning of Paradise Lost to women" (The Madwoman, pp. 219, 221). Although my interest in Shelley as a reader of prior, masculine texts, as well as some of my specific points about the novel's reading of Milton, overlaps with theirs, I am putting these concerns to uses different from theirs.

3. For example, Robert Kiely writes that Frankenstein "seeks to combine the role of both parents in one, to eliminate the need for the woman in the creative act, to make sex unnecessary" (The Romantic Novel in England [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972], p. 164). Marc Rubenstein remarks on "the series of motherless family romances which form the substance of Frankenstein's past" ("'My Accursed Origin': The Search for the Mother in Frankenstein," Studies in Romanticism 15 [1976], 177). The general argument of his psychoanalytic reading of the novel is that the novel represents Shelley's quest for her own dead mother. U. C. Knoepflmacher, in the course of arguing that the novel portrays a daughter's rage at her parents, mentions "the novel's attack on a male's usurpation of the role of mother" ("Thoughts on the Aggression of Daughters," in The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel, ed. George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979], p. 105). Mary Jacobus writes that "the exclusion of woman from creation symbolically 'kills' the mother" ("Is There a Woman in This Text?" p. 131). Barbara Johnson suggests that the novel focuses on "eliminations of the mother" as well as on "the fear of somehow effecting the death of one's own parents" ("My Monster/My Self," Diacritics 12 (1982): 9). Christine Froula's argument about the maternal in Milton, although it focuses on the author's appropriation of the maternal for masculine creativity (as differentiated from its circumvention or elimination) helped to stimulate my thinking. See Froula, "When Eve Reads Milton," pp. 321-47.

4. I am following, in this reading, the 1831 revised text of the novel; in the 1818 version, Elizabeth is Frankenstein's cousin. All quotations from the novel will be from the Signet edition (Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Or The Modern Prometheus [New York: NAL, 1965]), which prints the text of 1831. Future references will be cited in the text by chapter number or by letter number for the letters that precede the chapter sequence. See also James Reiger's edition of the 1818 version, with revisions of 1823 and 1831 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982).

5. Rubenstein notes the sexual nature of Walton's quest, as well as the maternal associations of those aspects of nature on which Frankenstein carries out his research ("My Accursed Origin," pp. 174-75, 177). Kiely notes the necrophilia of the passage from Alastor's invocation to Mother Nature (discussed here in chapter 1), and suggests its similarity to Frankenstein's "penetrating the recesses of nature" (The Romantic Novel, pp. 162-63).

6. Quoted p. 149; Frankenstein quotes lines 76-83 of the poem, altering the original "haunted me like a passion" to fit a third person.

7. In the context of arguing that the novel critiques the bourgeois family, Kate Ellis shows that Frankenstein's mother passes on to Elizabeth her "view of the female role as one of constant, self-sacrificing devotion to others," and she suggests that "Elizabeth's early death, like her adopted mother's, was a logical outgrowth of the female ideal she sought to embody" ("Monsters in the Garden: Mary Shelley and the Bourgeois Family," in The Endurance of Frankenstein, p. 131). My argument would explain why what created this "female ideal" also determined the interchangeability of mother and daughter.

8. Harold Bloom suggests the resemblance between the demon and Blake's emanations or Shelley's epipsyche, in his afterword to the Signet edition of the novel, p. 215. The essay is reprinted in Ringers in the Tower (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), pp. 119-29. Peter Brooks makes a similar point when he writes, "fulfillment with Elizabeth would mark Frankenstein's achievement of a full signified in his life, accession to plenitude of being -- which would leave no place in creation for his daemonic projection, the Monster" ("Godlike Science/ Unhallowed Arts: Language and Monstrosity in Frankenstein," New Literary History 9 [1978]: 599). Ellis also suggests, though for different reasons, that the demon is a representative for Elizabeth ("Monsters in the Garden," p. 136). Jacobus writes that Frankenstein "exchang[es] a woman for a monster," and she discusses Frankenstein's preference for imagined over actual beings ("Is There a Woman in This Text?" p. 131).

9. Gilbert and Gubar suggest first that "the part of Eve is all the parts" and then discuss at length the demon's resemblance to Eve (The Madwoman, pp. 230, 235-44. However, in describing this resemblance, they focus primarily on the patriarchal rejection of women's bodies as deformed and monstrous, as well as on Eve's motherlessness, but not, as I do here, on Eve as Adam's imaginative projection. Joyce Carol Oates also suggests the demon's resemblance to Eve, also using the scene I am about to discuss, in "Frankenstein's Fallen Angel," Critical Inquiry 10 (1984): 547.

10. Quotations from Paradise Lost are from Complete Poems and Major Prose of John Milton, ed. Merritt Hughes (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1957), and are cited in the text by book and line numbers. Other critics have noted Shelley's allusion to this Miltonic scene; see, for example, Brooks, "Godlike Science," p. 595.

11. Froula writes, "Through the dream of the rib Adam both enacts a parody of birth and gains possession of the womb by claiming credit for woman herself." Milton, she goes on to argue, reenacts Adam's solution to his "womb envy" by analogously repressing female power in his account of the origin of his poem: "The male Logos called upon to articulate the cosmos against an abyss of female silence overcomes the anxieties generated by the tension between visible maternity and invisible paternity by appropriating female power to itself in a parody of parthenogenesis" ("When Eve Reads Milton," pp. 332, 338; and see passim pp. 326-40).

12. Ibid., pp. 326-28.

13. All quotations from Shelley's verse are from the Reiman and Powers edition of his works.

14. Gilbert and Gubar also discuss narcissistic love in the novel, although with reference only to the potentially incestuous relation between Frankenstein and Elizabeth, not with reference to the demon (The Madwoman, p. 229). My reading would suggest that Frankenstein's relation to Elizabeth is far less narcissistic, than his relation to the demon; in his descriptions of Elizabeth, he focuses on her difference from him, which is what I believe makes her like the mother and therefore threatening.

15. Jaya Mehta pointed out to me the significance of this aspect of Walton, in a seminar paper at Yale in 1984.

16. Kiely discusses "the sheer concreteness" of the demon, though his concern is with the mismatching between ideal and real in the novel (The Romantic Novel, p. 161).

17. The Diary of Dr. John William Polidori, ed. W. M. Rossetti (London: Elkin Matthews, 1911), pp. 128-29, entry for 18 June 1816. Cited also by Rubenstein, who reads it as a story about "maternal reproach" and connects it with Frankenstein's dream of his dead mother ("My Accursed Origin," pp. 184-85). I am grateful to Marina Leslie for her discussion of this episode in a seminar paper at Yale in 1984.

18. Peter Brooks's essay on Frankenstein also connects the plot of desire with the plot of language in the novel, but to a somewhat different effect. Brooks argues that the demon's acquisition of the "godlike science" of language places him within the symbolic order. Trapped at first, like any baby, within the specular order of the imaginary, the demon is first judged only by its looks; it is only when it masters the art of rhetoric that the monster gains sympathy. But, Brooks continues, despite the promise that the symbolic seems to hold, the monster's failure to find an object of love removes its life from the signifying "chain" of human interconnectedness and makes of it instead a "miserable series," in which one signifier refers always to another with "no point of arrest." Thus Brooks sees the monster as a dark and exaggerated version of all life within the symbolic, where desire is never satisfied and where there is no transcendental signified. Although I agree with much of what Brooks writes, I would argue that in its materiality and its failure to acquire an object of desire, the demon enters the symbolic primarily as the (dreaded) referent, not as signifier. The negative picture of the demon's materiality is a product of its female place in the symbolic, and not of any lingering in the realm of the imaginary (which Brooks, with other readers of Lacan, views as tragic). I would also argue that the novel presents, not a vision of the condition of human signification, but a targeted criticism of those in whose interests the symbolic order constitutes itself in the ways that it does.

19. Ellen Moers, Literary Women (New York: Doubleday, 1977), p. 140.

20. Ibid., pp. 145-47.

21. This is the general tendency of Rubenstein's argument, carrying the material Moers presents into a psychoanalytic frame.

22. See Rubenstein, "My Accursed Origin," pp. 168, 178-81; Poovey, The Proper Lady, pp. 138-42.

23. Deutsch, Motherhood, p. 215.

24. One of the central tenets of Poovey's argument concerns Shelley's endeavor in her 1831 revisions to make the novel more conservative, more in keeping with a proto-Victorian ideology of the family (see The Proper Lady, pp. 133-42). Poovey argues, however, that both versions of the novel oppose romantic egotism's assault on the family.

25. Gilbert and Gubar assert as part of their argument that everyone in the novel is Eve that "Frankenstein has a baby" and that as a consequence he becomes female (The Madwoman, p. 232). I would argue, to the contrary, that Frankenstein's production of a new life is pointedly masculine, that it matters to the book that he is a man circumventing childbirth, not a woman giving birth.

26. Letter of 22 November 1817 to Benjamin Bailey, in Letters of John Keats, ed. Robert Gittings (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 37.

27. I am indebted to Suzanne Raitt for her discussion of this point in a seminar at Yale in 1984.

28. Rubenstein also argues that Shelley deliberately created the impression that she merely recorded Percy and Byron's conversation as part of a project to make her creativity seem as passive and maternal as possible. He discusses at length the analogy she sets up between conceiving a child and conceiving a book, and he specifically suggests that the men's words in conversation are like men's role in procreation, which was, in the early nineteenth century, thought to involve the man actively and the woman only passively: "She is trying to draw for us a picture of her imagination as a passive womb, inseminated by those titans of romantic poetry" ("My Accursed Origin," p. 181). I would agree with everything Rubenstein says, although I am using this idea for a somewhat different purpose: he is using it to show how the novel is about Shelley's effort to make restitution for her dead mother.

29. Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony, trans. Angus Davidson (London: Oxford University Press, 1933), p. 114. Cited by Moers and also by Rubenstein in support of his argument discussed in note 28 above.

30. Harold Bloom, "Afterword," Frankenstein, p. 215. It is worth noting that Frankenstein preceded Prometheus Unbound and was of course written in ignorance of the Book of Urizen.

31. Oates, "Frankenstein's Fallen Angel," p. 552.

32. Gilbert and Gubar, who focus much of their argument on Shelley's reading of Paradise Lost, connect that reading to the demon's reading of the poem, as well as connecting Shelley's listening to her husband and Byron with the demon's listening to the DeLaceys.