Contents Index

Promethean Politics

Anne Mellor

Chapter 4 of Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters (New York: Methuen, 1988), pp. 70-88

{70} When Mary Shelley subtitled her novel "The Modern Prometheus," she forcefully directed our attention to the book's critique both of the promethean poets she knew best, Byron and Percy Shelley, and of the entire Romantic ideology as she understood it. Victor Frankenstein's failure to mother his child has both political and aesthetic ramifications. The father who neglects his children can be seen as the archetype of the irresponsible political leader who puts his own interests ahead of those of his fellow citizens. Victor Frankenstein's quest is nothing less than the conquest of death itself. By acquiring the ability to "bestow animation upon lifeless matter" and thus "renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption" (49), Frankenstein in effect hopes to become God, the creator of life and the gratefully worshipped father of a new race of immortal beings. In his attempt to transform human beings into deities by eliminating mortality, Victor Frankenstein is himself participating in the mythopoeic vision that inspired the first generation of Romantic poets and thinkers. William Blake had insisted that the human form could become divine through the exercise of mercy, pity, love, and imagination; Coleridge had stated that human perception or the primary imagination is an "echo of the Infinite I AM;" Wordsworth had argued that the "higher minds" of poets are "truly from the Deity;" while both Godwin and his disciple Percy Shelley had proclaimed that man was perfectible. In their view, the right use of reason and imagination could annihilate not only social injustice and human evil but even, through participation in symbolic thinking or what Blake called the "divine analogy," the consciousness of human finitude and death itself.1 Victor Frankenstein's goal can be identified with the radical desire that energized some of the best known English {71} Romantic poems, the desire to elevate human beings into living gods.

In identifying Victor Frankenstein with Prometheus, Mary Shelley was alluding to both versions of the Prometheus myth: Prometheus plasticator and Prometheus pyrphoros. In the first version, known to Mary Shelley through Ovid's Metamorphoses which she read in 1815, Prometheus created man from clay:

Whether with particles of Heav'nly fire
The God of Nature did his Soul inspire,
Or Earth, but new divided from the Skie,
And, pliant, still, retain'd the Aethereal Energy;
Which Wise Prometheus temper'd into paste,
And mix't with living Streams, the Godlike Image caste. . .
From such rude Principles our Form began;
And Earth was Metamophos'd into Man. (I:101-106, 111-12)
In the alternate, more famous version of the myth, Prometheus is the fire-stealer, the god who defied Jupiter's tyrannical oppression of humanity by giving fire to man and was then punished by having his liver eaten by vultures until he divulged his secret foreknowledge of Jupiter's downfall. By the third century A.D., these two versions had fused; the fire stolen by Prometheus became the fire of life with which he animated his man of clay.2 As both the creator and/or savior of man and the long-suffering rebel against tyranny, Prometheus was an often invoked self-image among the Romantic poets. Blake visually identified his heroic rebel and spokeswoman Oothoon with the tortured Prometheus in his design for Plate 6 of "Visions of the Daughters of Albion," while Coleridge's Ancient Mariner echoes Prometheus both in his transgression of an established moral order and in his perpetual suffering that he may teach mankind to be both sadder and wiser. Even more directly, Goethe in both his verse drama Prometheus and his monologue "Bedecke deinen Himmel, Zeus" portrayed Prometheus as a self-portrait of the artist who has liberated himself from serving dull, idle gods and who rejoices instead in his own creative powers.

Mary Shelley specifically associated her modern Prometheus with the Romantic poets she knew personally. During the summer in which she began writing Frankenstein, Byron composed his poem "Prometheus," a celebration of the god's defiance of Jupiter which emphasizes Prometheus' unyielding will, noble suffering, and concern for mankind qualities with which Byron clearly identified himself.3 Mary Shelley copied this poem and carried it to Byron's publisher John Murray when she returned to England in August 1816. Byron's Promethean persona appeared again in Manfred, which Mary Shelley read soon after its publication on June 16, 1817. Manfred's Faustian thirst for {72} unbounded experience, knowledge, and freedom leads him, like Victor Frankenstein, to steal the secrets of nature. As Manfred confesses:

         [I] dived,
In my lone wanderings, to the caves of death,
Searching its cause in its effect; and drew
From wither'd bones, and skulls, and heap'd up dust,
Conclusions most forbidden.
(Manfred II.ii.173-77)
Manfred's quest also enchained him in a Promethean suffering for his lost sister Astarte, a painful remorse that articulates Byron's guilty conscience over his incestuous affair with his half-sister Augusta Leigh. In his defiance of Ahrimanes and all other deities, Manfred proclaims Byron's personal belief in the ultimate creative power and integrity of the human imagination, using phrases that Mary Shelley condensed into that single "spark of being" infused by her modern Prometheus into the lifeless creature at his feet:
The mind, the spirit, the Promethean spark,
The lightning of my being, is as bright,
Pervading, and far darting as your own,
And shall not yield to yours, though coop'd in clay!
(Manfred I, i, 154-57)
In England, Mary Shelley met another poet who became a close friend and associate of both Byron and the Shelleys, Leigh Hunt, who intensified the identification of the Romantic poet with the Prometheus myth. Hunt commented in 1819 after the publication of Frankenstein that he too had thought of writing a poem entitled Prometheus Throned in which Prometheus would successfully defy the gods and be depicted as "having lately taken possession of Jupiter's seat."4

Above all, Mary Shelley associated her modern Prometheus with Percy Shelley, who had already announced his desire to compose an epic rebuttal to Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound when he reread the play in 1816, although he did not begin writing Prometheus Unbound until September 1818, after Frankenstein was published.5 As William Veeder has most recently reminded us, several dimensions of Victor Frankenstein are modelled directly from Percy Shelley.6 Victor was Percy Shelley's pen-name for his first publication, Original Poetry; by Victor and Cazire (1810). Victor Frankenstein's family resembles Percy Shelley's: in both, the father is married to a woman young enough to be his daughter; in both the oldest son has a favorite sister (adopted sister, or cousin, in Frankenstein's case) named Elizabeth. Frankenstein's education is based on Percy Shelley's: both were avid {73} students of Albertus Magnus, Paracelsus, Pliny, and Buffon; both were fascinated by alchemy and chemistry; both were excellent linguists, acquiring fluency in Latin, Greek, German, French, English, and Italian.7 By sending Victor Frankenstein to the University of Ingolstadt, Mary Shelley further signalled his association with the radical politics advocated by Percy Shelley in Queen Mab (1813), "Feelings of a Republican on the Fall of Bonaparte" (1816), and Laon and Cythna (1817). Ingolstadt was famous as the home of the Illuminati, a secret revolutionary society founded in 1776 by Ingolstadt's Professor of Law, Adam Weishaupt, that advocated the perfection of mankind through the overthrow of established religious and political institutions. Percy Shelley had eagerly endorsed Weishaupt's goals -- namely, "to secure to merit its just rewards; to the weak support, to the wicked the fetters they deserve; and to man his dignity" by freeing all men from the slavery imposed by "society, governments, the sciences, and false religion" when he read Abbé Barruel's vitriolic attack on the Illuminati, Memoires, pour servir a L'Histoire du Jacobinisme (1797), during his honeymoon journey with Mary in 1814. He had even used Barruel's account of the Illuminati, reading white where Barruel wrote black, as the basis of the utopian society depicted in the novel entitled The Assassins that he began during the summer of 1814.8

More important, Victor Frankenstein embodies certain elements of Percy Shelley's temperament and character that had begun to trouble Mary Shelley. She perceived in Percy an intellectual hubris or belief in the supreme importance of mental abstractions that led him to be insensitive to the feelings of those who did not share his ideas and enthusiasms. The Percy Shelley that Mary knew and loved lived in a world of abstract ideas; his actions were primarily motivated by theoretical principles, the quest for perfect beauty, love, freedom, goodness. While Mary endorsed and shared these goals, she had come to suspect that in Percy's case they sometimes masked an emotional narcissism, an unwillingness to confront the origins of his own desires or the impact of his demands on those most dependent upon him. Percy's pressure on Mary, during the winter and spring of 1814-15, to take Hogg as a lover despite her sexual indifference to Hogg; his indifference to the death of Mary's first baby on March 7, 1815; his insistence on Claire's continuing presence in his household despite Mary's stated opposition -- all this had alerted Mary to a worrisome strain of selfishness in Percy's character, an egotism that too often rendered him an insensitive husband and an uncaring, irresponsible parent.

Percy Shelley's self-serving "harem psychology" may have originated as some Freudian critics have suggested, in an unresolved Oedipal {74} desire to possess the mother. This desire emerges in his poem "Alastor" (1816) as a wish to return to the gravelike womb of Mother Earth. Mary Shelley's insight into this dimension of Percy's psyche informs the dream she assigns to Victor Frankenstein immediately after the creation of the monster:

I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of lngolstadt. 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. (53)
Like Percy Shelley's, Victor Frankenstein's strongest erotic desires are not so much for his putative lover as for his lost mother. Percy unwittingly revealed this incestuous desire during the troubled period after his expulsion from Oxford. Barred from his mother's and sisters' company, he violently accused his mother of having an affair with his sister Elizabeth's "music master" and of trying to conceal the affair by marrying Elizabeth to him.9 Percy seems here to have projected onto his innocent friend Edward Fergus Graham his own erotic fantasy: to be the lover of both mother and favorite sister. His efforts to marry Elizabeth to his best friend Hogg can be seen as yet another attempt to close the sexual circle between himself and his sister. Percy Shelley's persistent desire to be the sexual partner of every woman he admired was not only self-indulgent. It also revealed a fundamental inability to separate his ego from his mother's and to function normally without the unquestioning emotional and sexual support of a devoted woman.10 Mary Shelley projected her irritation with this facet of Percy's character into her portrait of Victor Frankenstein.

But even as Mary Shelley modelled Victor Frankenstein upon Percy Shelley, she introduced into her novel an entirely flattering portrait of her beloved mate. Henry Clerval is both an alter-ego of Victor Frankenstein and the embodiment of all the qualities of Percy Shelley that Mary most loved. By splitting her husband into two characters, Mary Shelley registered her perception of a profound contradiction in Percy's personality as well as her intense ambivalence toward the man she loved. Clerval, in whom Victor Frankenstein recognizes "the image of my former self; . . . inquisitive, and anxious to gain experience and instruction" (155-6), possesses a "refined mind" (39), a passionate love of natural beauty, a fascination with languages and literature, and above all a capacity for empathy. He is a poet. As a child he studied books of chivalry and romance and wrote fairy tales, plays, and verse. In the novel he becomes a positive archetype for the Romantic poet, {75} with a mind "replete with ideas, imaginations fanciful and magnificent, which formed a world, whose existence depended on the life of its creator" (154). As Frankenstein eulogizes him, Clerval

was a being formed in the "very poetry of nature." His wild and enthusiastic imagination was chastened by the sensibility of his heart. His soul overflowed with ardent affections, and his friendship was of that devoted and wondrous nature that the worldly-minded teach us to look for only in the imagination. But even human sympathies were not sufficient to satisfy his eager mind. The scenery of external nature, which others regard only with admiration, he loved with ardour: . . . "The sounding cataract haunted him like a passion." (153-54)
Identified with both Leigh Hunt and Wordsworth in this passage, Clerval embodies Mary Shelley's heroic ideal, the imaginative man who is capable of deep and abiding love and who takes responsibility for those dependent upon him. Clerval both embarks on "a voyage of discovery to the land of knowledge" and also immediately delays that voyage to nurse his sick friend back to health. He thus combines intellectual curiosity with a capacity for nurturing others. Unlike Percy Shelley, Clerval does not openly defy his provincial father's injunctions. Instead, he uses his powers of persuasion to convince his affectionate father to let him attend university. Clerval and Victor Frankenstein together comprise the Percy Shelley with whom Mary Godwin had fallen in love. But the murder of Clerval annihilates the most positive dimensions of Percy Shelley in the novel, leaving Frankenstein as the image of all that Mary Shelley most feared in both her husband and in the Romantic project he served.

For Victor Frankenstein is above all a creator. In a replica of Percy's editorial control over Mary's manuscript, Victor Frankenstein exerts final authority over Walton's journal account of his experiences. As Walton tells us:

Frankenstein discovered that I made notes concerning his history: he asked to see them, and then himself corrected and augmented them in many places; but principally in giving the life and spirit to the conversations he held with his enemy. "Since you have preserved my narration," said he, "I would not that a mutilated one should go down to posterity." (207)11
Victor Frankenstein thus becomes an author, and like Percy Shelley, justifies his defiance of convention (scientific, social, and literary) as the quest for a new and deeper truth. Frankenstein's goal, to discover "whence . . . did the principle of life proceed" (46), specifically echoes the goal of the Narrator of Percy Shelley's poem "Alastor, or The Spirit {76} of Solitude," composed at Marlow during the previous autumn of 1815. At the beginning of "Alastor," the Narrator expresses ambitions identical to Frankenstein's:
Mother of this unfathomable world!
Favour my solemn song, for I have loved
Thee ever, and thee only; I have watched
Thy shadow, and the darkness of thy steps,
And my heart ever gazes on the depth
Of thy deep mysteries. I have made my bed
In charnels and of coffins, where black death
Keeps record of the trophies won from thee,
Hoping to still these obstinate questionings
Of thee and thine, by forcing some lone ghost
Thy messenger, to render up the tale
Of what we are. In lone and silent hours,
When night makes a wierd sound of its own stillness,
Like an inspired and desperate alchymist
Staking his very life on some dark hope,
Have I mixed awful talk and asking looks
With my most innocent love, until strange tears
Uniting with those breathless kisses, made
Such magic as compels the charmed night
To render up thy charge.
(ll. 18-37)
Mary Shelley's Note on "Alastor," which she describes as "the outpouring of his [the author's] own emotion," suggests that she did not see the ironic distance charted between Percy Shelley and the Narrator by such modern critics as Earl Wasserman and Lisa Steinman.12 In her view, both the Narrator and Victor Frankenstein desire to penetrate Mother Earth, to discover the secret of "what we are," of life and death.13 By so doing, Frankenstein becomes "the author of unalterable evils" (87).

Mary Shelley sharpens her identification of Frankenstein's scientific quest with Percy Shelley's poetic quest by specifying that both of Frankenstein's alter-egos in the novel, Clerval and Walton, are aspiring poets.14 Walton shares Frankenstein's desire to "break through" boundaries. Where Frankenstein seeks to eliminate the "ideal bounds" between life and death (49), Walton seeks to "tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man" (10). Walton would, moreover, wrest Frankenstein's own secret from him if he could: "I endeavoured to gain from Frankenstein the particulars of his creature's formation; but on this point he was impenetrable" (207). Above all, Walton desires to create or discover a perfect world. As a youth, he reminds his sister, "I also became a poet, and for one year lived in a Paradise of my own creation" (11). Blocked in his ambition to become a second Homer or Shakespeare, he redirects this desire to the discovery of the North Pole, {77} a land "surpassing in wonders and in beauty every region hitherto discovered on the habitable globe" (10), a land where in his imagination "snow and frost are banished" and Eden is regained. To fulfill this desire to bring to mankind a land of perpetual fire and light, radiant with the Aurora Borealis, Walton like Prometheus has defied his father's final injunction. On his deathbed, Walton's father proscribed a "sea-faring life" for his son. Walton is thus another Promethean poet, seeking to create a more perfect humanity by revealing a new land of fire and light to man.

Once she has carefully excluded Clerval, the poet who brings no fire and defies no one, but seeks only to please others and to become his father's partner, a "very good trader" yet with "a cultivated understanding" (39), Mary Shelley offers a critique of this Romantic project through her calculated identification of Frankenstein, Walton, and Percy Shelley with the "modern Prometheus." For both Prometheus plasticator and Prometheus pyrphoros transgressed the boundaries of the established order in their desire to create a better world. In Frankenstein, the modern Prometheus who seeks to know and bestow life itself is explicitly identified with the two greatest overreachers and usurpers of God's divine prerogatives within the Judeo-Christian tradition, Faust and Satan. In his attempt to create a homunculus, Frankenstein, like Faust, has sold his soul to gain forbidden knowledge. As Frankenstein admits, "I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit" (50). Walton too has allowed his "senseless curiosity" (207) to lead him into a "mad" search both for Frankenstein's secret and for a nonexistent tropical paradise at the North Pole, a search that first separates him from his beloved sister and finally alienates him from his crew. Rewriting Paradise Lost, Mary Shelley insistently links Victor Frankenstein with Satan. Having usurped God's creative power, Frankenstein is forever cursed: "like the archangel who aspired to omnipotence, I am chained in an eternal hell" (208). Walton's voyage to paradise, departing from Archangel, is similarly cursed by his willingness to sacrifice the lives of his crew to his own ambition, a point underlined in a passage inserted in the 1831 edition of Frankenstein in which Walton proclaims:

I was easily led by the sympathy which he evinced to use the language of my heart, to give utterance to the burning ardour of my soul, and to say with all the fervour that warmed me, how gladly I would sacrifice my fortune, my existence, my every hope, to the furtherance of my enterprise. One man's life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought, for the dominion I should acquire and transmit over the elemental foes of our race. (231-32)
{78} Both Walton and Frankenstein are thus numbered among the damned. Both are associated with Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, whom Mary Shelley saw as a type of the wandering Jew, forever ostracized from the human community for killing an innocent creature (14, 54) -- Victor finds himself unable to enter the marriage festival "with this deadly weight yet hanging round my neck" (149). Frankenstein is further identified with Cain, the original murderer. "Blasted and miserable" (187), he laments that "I had turned loose into the world a depraved wretch, whose delight was in carnage and misery; had he not murdered my brother?" (72).

Mary Shelley's modern Prometheus is also a fire-bringer. Lévi-Strauss emphasized the anthropological significance of fire as the separator of the cooked from the raw, of culture from nature, of that which human beings organize and domesticate from that which is free of human control. Fire thus becomes the instrument of civilization and political power. When Prometheus pyrphoros stole fire from Jupiter and gave it to man, he violated the divine order and thereby created a world where men might defy the gods. When Victor Frankenstein steals "a spark of being" from nature to infuse into the lifeless thing lying before him, he creates a being who need not die, a creature who has the capacity to do great good or great evil. But to appreciate the subtlety of Mary Shelley's criticism of the modern Prometheus pyrophorus, we must track the crossing paths of fire in this novel.

The creature raised from the dead by Victor Frankenstein's stolen "spark," after having gradually learned to distinguish between differing sensations and ideas, encounters a fire left by some wandering beggars. His first reaction to Prometheus' gift is intense delight at its warmth; his second reaction, after having thrust his hand into the live embers, is intense pain. His judgment, "How strange, I thought, that the same cause should produce such opposite effects!" (99), focuses the moral dilemma of the novel: was the cause that Frankenstein served, the creation of life from death, good or evil or both? The creature's use of fire thus becomes emblematic. Initially, the creature tries to achieve a reunion with both the natural and the human order by domesticating fire. He learns to tame his fire to his own purposes, using it to provide warmth, light during the night, and heat for cooking his raw nuts and roots. More important, he attempts to ingratiate himself with the De Lacey family by bringing them love-gifts of firewood. But finally, this "tamed" fire and what it represents -- the possibility of including the creature around the family hearth or within the circle of civilization -- is refused by the De Laceys. In his despair, the creature reverts to raw nature: "I gave vent to my anguish in fearful howlings. I was like a wild beast that had broken the toils; destroying the objects that {79} obstructed me, and ranging through the wood with a stag-like swiftness" (132).

Fire now becomes the agency of destruction. The creature, learning that the De Laceys will never return to their cottage and filled with "feelings of revenge and hatred," burns down the only home he has ever known.

I lighted the dry branch of a tree, and danced with fury around the devoted cottage. . . . I waved my brand; [the moon] sunk, and, with a loud scream, I fired the straw, and heath, and bushes, which I had collected. The wind fanned the fire, and the cottage was quickly enveloped by the flames, which clung to it, and licked it with their forked and destroying tongues. (135)
Fire, with its forked tongue, is now the instrument of Satan. As such, it recurs in the last moments of the novel, when the creature promises Walton (perhaps falsely) that he shall "consume to ashes this miserable frame" [Walton 16] in his funeral pyre at the North Pole.

As Andrew Griffin has observed, Mary Shelley thus denies the romantic dream of fusing the contraries of fire and ice, life and death, in a triumph of the divine poetic imagination. Despite Kubla Khan's "miracle of rare device,/ A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice," despite Walton's image of a tropical paradise at the North Pole where "snow and frost are banished," Mary Shelley's Mariner discovers only mutinous betrayal and destruction at the North Pole while her creature sees only death in the coming together of snow and fire.15 The romantic attempt to marry opposites, to unite the mortal and the immortal in a transcendental dialectic, to create the human form divine, is seen by Mary Shelley as pure fantasy, no more real than Walton's dream.

Worse, as Frankenstein suggests, it is a very dangerous fantasy. Hidden behind Godwin's and Percy Shelley's dream of human perfectibility and immortality is a rampant egoism, the cardinal sin of the Satanic Prometheus. For Godwin and Percy Shelley, as for Coleridge and Blake, it was the mission of the philosopher-poet to guide mankind toward salvation, to participate in the Infinite I AM, and to destroy the mind-forged manacles of society. Mary Shelley had seen just how self-indulgent this self-image of the poet-savior could be. Her father had withdrawn from his children in order to pursue his increasingly unsuccessful writing career and had remorselessly scrounged money from every passing acquaintance in order to pay his growing debts; her father's friend Coleridge had become a parasite on his admirers, unable to complete his Magnum Opus; Byron had callously compromised numerous women, including her stepsister {80} Claire; Percy Shelley had abandoned his first wife and daughter in his quest for intellectual beauty and the perfect soul-mate, and might do the same again to Mary; and even the amiable Leigh Hunt tormented his wife with his obvious preference for her more intellectual sister Bessy Kent. Mary Shelley perceived that the Romantic ideology, grounded as it is on a never-ending, perhaps never successful, effort to marry the finite and the infinite through the agency of the poetic imagination,16 too frequently entailed a sublime indifference to the progeny of that marriage. Even before Percy Shelley in his Defense of Poetry dismissed the composed poem as a "fading coal" of its originary inspiration, Mary Shelley understood that the romantic affirmation of the creative process over its finite products could justify a profound moral irresponsibility on the part of the poet. When Percy Shelley's dream of a utopian community or free love and intellectual creativity foundered on Harriet Shelley's ignorance of Mary Godwin's and Claire Clairmont's mutual jealousy, Percy Shelley seemed oblivious to the pain he caused; so too Victor Frankenstein callously fled from the outstretched arms of his loving, needful, freakish son.

A Romantic ideology that represented its own poems as self-consuming artifacts within a never-ending dialectical process, that valued the creative act above the created product, and that allowed the poet to attack the past in the name of an unrealizable future, was not in Mary Shelley's eyes a moral ideology. She believed that a poet must take responsibility for his actions, for the predictable consequences of his poems, as well as for the abstract ideals he serves. Percy Shelley's inability to satisfy fully the emotional and financial needs of his first wife, her children, Mary Godwin, Claire Clairmont, and Mary's own children is represented in his second wife's novel in Victor Frankenstein's inability to love and care for his monster. However much she shared her husband's desire for a better world, Mary Shelley conveyed in Frankenstein her conviction that it could not be achieved by simply ignoring or destroying past relationships. Instead one must take full and lasting responsibility for all one's offspring and continue to care for the family one engenders.

Mary Shelley's critique of romantic Prometheanism thus has direct social and political ramifications. Encoded in the Romantic poets' use of the Promethean myth is an affirmation of revolution, of rebellion against the established social order. Prometheus defied Jupiter's will in order to liberate humanity from tyranny. For Byron, Leigh Hunt, and Percy Shelley, the figure of Prometheus connoted a radical democratic stance, a defiance of the existing monarchy and inegalitarian class system, and a recognition of the equal rights and freedoms of all individuals. Mary Shelley's "modern Prometheus" embraces the {81} political principles of Locke, Rousseau, and Godwin. Not only does he seek his education at the University of Ingolstadt where Illuminism or Jacobinism flourished, but his effort to create a perfect, immortal being entails a profound revolution in the concept of human nature itself. As Lee Sterrenburg has suggested, Victor Frankenstein is a latter-day Godwinian and his creation can be seen as the force of Jacobinism let loose in the land.17 For Frankenstein's creature articulates one of the fundamental tenets of Jacobin ideology, a belief in every individual's innate capacity for reason, benevolence, and justice. As the creature insists to Walton:

Once my fancy was soothed with dreams of virtue, of fame, and of enjoyment. Once I falsely hoped to meet with beings, who, pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of bringing forth. I was nourished with high thoughts of honour and devotion. . . . my own desires . . . were for ever ardent and craving; still I desired love and fellowship, and I was still spurned. Was there no injustice in this? (219)
One can see Victor Frankenstein's creation as an attempt to achieve the final perfecting of Rousseau's natural man, to produce an immortal being of great physical strength and powerful passions who transcends the chains of social oppression and death.18 And indeed, Frankenstein's creature might even be invoking Rousseau's Social Contract when he claims that social injustice has corrupted his natural affection for others -- "I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend" -- (95) and that, given the sympathy of other human beings, and especially of a like-minded female companion, he would again be vlrtuous.

But the creature cannot obtain the human sympathy he craves and is driven to violence by the constant suspicion, fear, and hostility he encounters. He thus becomes an emblem for the French Revolution itself. Originating in the democratic vision of liberty, equality, and fraternity disseminated by the idealistic and benevolent Girondists -- Condorcet, Mirabeau, Lafayette, Talleyrand -- the Revolution failed to find the parental guidance, control, and nurturance it required to develop into a rational and benevolent state. Unable to accommodate their historical resentments toward the aristocracy and the clergy, the Girondists could not create a state which recognized the rights and freedoms of all its citizens or find a legitimate place in the revolutionary social order for the dispossessed aristocrats and clergymen. Unable to reconcile the old order to the new, the Girondists unleashed a political movement that -- spurned by the King and his ministers -- resorted to brute force to attain its ends, climaxing in the {82} violence of the September massacres and the executions of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Mary Shelley conceived of Victor Frankenstein's creature as an embodiment of the revolutionary French nation, a gigantic body politic originating in a desire to benefit all mankind but abandoned by its rightful guardians and so abused by its King, Church, and the corrupt leaders of the ancien régime that it is driven into an uncontrollable rage manifested in the blood-thirsty leadership of the Montagnards -- Marat, St. Just, Robespierre and the Terror. Frankenstein's creature invokes the already existing identification of the French Revolution with a gigantic monster troped in the writings of both Abbé Barruel and Edmund Burke. Barruel warned the readers of his final volume:

Meanwhile, before Satan shall exultingly enjoy this triumphant spectacle [of complete anarchy] which the Illuminizing Code is preparing, let us examine how . . . it engendered that disastrous monster called Jacobin, raging uncontrolled, and almost unopposed, in these days of horror and devastation.19
And Edmund Burke, in his widely distributed Letters on a Regicide Peace (1796), proclaimed:
. . . Out of the tomb of the murdered monarchy in France has arisen a vast, tremendous, unformed spectre, in a far more terrific guise than any which ever yet have overpowered the imagination, and subdued the fortitude of man. Going straight forward to its end, unappalled by peril, unchecked by remorse, despising all common maxims and all common means, that hideous phantom overpowered those who would not believe it was possible she could at all exist. (my italics)20
(Note that for Burke, as for Victor Frankenstein, the most hideous monster of all is female). That Mary Shelley had intended to associate her creature with the French Revolution is suggested by the account of Godwin's radical politics in 1789 that she gave after his death in 1836:
The giant now awoke. The mind, never torpid, but never rouzed to its full energies, received the spark which lit it into an unextinguishable flame. Who can now tell the feelings of liberal men on the first outbreak of the French Revolution. In but too short a time afterwards it became tarnished by the vices of Orleans -- dimmed by the want of talent of the Girondists -- deformed & blood-stained by the Jacobins. But in 1789 & 1790 it was impossible for any but a courtier not to be warmed by the glowing influence.21
In fact, the representation of the French Revolution as a male giant {83} was initiated by the National Convention itself. In November 1793, one year after Victor Frankenstein gave birth to his creature "on a drear night in November" in the year 179222 (midway between the September Massacres and the execution of Louis XVI on January 21, 1793), the National Convention in Paris publicly denounced the Catholic Church (on November 7, 1793 several priests and bishops among the deputies to the Convention abjured their clerical offices), held the first Festival of Reason in Nôtre Dame Cathedral, and proclaimed a new symbolic image for the radical Republic. That image, proposed by the painter David, was a colossal statue of Hercules to be erected on the Pont-Neuf and depicted on the new seal of the Convention: "This image of the people standing should carry in his other hand the terrible club with which the Ancients armed their Hercules!"23 Hercules was thus intended to represent, as transparently as possible, the strength, courage, labors, and unity of the common man (or sans-culottes) as he destroyed the many-headed Hydra of monarchical, aristocratic, and clerical tyranny.24 The Herculean metaphor had already appeared in radical discourse, in Fouché's description in June 1793 of the victory of the people of Paris over the Girondists:
The excess of oppression broke through the restraints on the people's indignation. A terrible cry made itself heard in the midst of this great city. The tocsin and the cannon of alarm awakened their patriotism, announcing that liberty was in danger, that there wasn't a moment to spare. Suddenly the forty-eight sections armed themselves and were transformed into an army. This formidable colossus is standing, he marches, he advances, he moves like Hercules, traversing the Republic to exterminate this ferocious crusade that swore death to the people.25
As Lynn Hunt comments, we can see in this passage how the power of the people has become to the very men who released it both a gigantic liberating energy and a potential monster, the Terror incarnate in the strength and irrational fury of a sublime Hercules.26 This ambivalent image received perhaps its most vivid graphic representation in an engraving for the journal Revolutions de Paris in 1793 entitled "Le Peuple Mangeur de Rois" (see Plate VIII, top) in which the giant Hercules, clad "sans-culottes" in rolled-up trousers and Phrygian cap, bare-chested, club in hand, cooks the child-sized figure of the king over an open Regency pyre. This engraving powerfully prefigures Mary Shelley's images of the gigantic creature firing the De Lacey cottage and strangling the child William Frankenstein by the throat; it thus points up the novel's encoded representation of the French Revolution and the Terror as a monstrous male giant.

{84} By representing in her creature both the originating ideals and the brutal consequences of the French Revolution, Mary Shelley offered a powerful critique of the ideology of revolution. An abstract idea or cause (e.g. the perfecting of mankind), if not carefully developed within a supportive environment, can become an end that justifies any means, however cruel. As he worked to restore life where death had been, Victor Frankenstein never considered what suffering his freakish child might later endure. By 1816, Mary Shelley could see that the Girondists, in their eagerness to end monarchical tyranny and social injustice, had given insufficient thought to the fates of the aristocrats, clergymen, and peasants who would necessarily be hurt, even killed, during the process of social upheaval. She had seen at first hand the suffering inflicted on the French villagers by fifteen years of warfare when she travelled through France with Percy Shelley on her elopement journey to Switzerland in the summer of 1814. She had then found the village of Echemine "a wretched place . . . [which] had been once large and populous, but now the houses were roofless, and the ruins that lay scattered about, the gardens covered with the white dust of the torn cottages, the black burnt beams, and squalid looks of the inhabitants, presents in every direction the melancholy aspect of devastation."27 Two years later, in 1816, she perceived a further deterioration in the manners of the Parisians as a result of the recent foreign invasion: "the discontent and sullenness of their minds perpetually betrays itself."28 While correcting the proofs of Percy Shelley's Prometheus Unbound for publication in 1839, she commented that her husband "had indulged in an exaggerated view of the evils of restored despotism; which, however injurious and degrading, were less openly sanguinary than the triumph of anarchy, such as it appeared in France at the close of the last century."29 And that same year she criticized Condorcet, in her Lives of the most Eminent Literary and Scientific Men of France, for his failure to recognize the probable consequences of the political enactment of his beliefs:

Condorcet . . . showed his attachment to all that should ameliorate the social condition, and enlarge the sphere of intellect among his fellow-creatures. He did not, in his reasonings, give sufficient force to the influence of passion, especially when exerted over masses, nor the vast power which the many have when they assert themselves, nor the facility with which the interested few can lead assembled numbers into error and crime.30
What Mary Shelley realized, looking back in 1816 at the Terror and Napoleon's restoration of the monarchy after the coup d'etat of 18th Brumaire, was that means become ends: no political ideology can be {85} detached from its modes of production. At every step one must balance the abstract ideal one serves against a moral obligation to preserve the welfare of living individuals, especially those family members most dependent upon one.

For Mary Shelley, this ethical position was powerfully reinforced by her rereading of Godwin's Political Justice in the year before composing Frankenstein. In the most famous passage of the first edition of Political Justice (1793), Godwin had insisted on utilitarian grounds that in the case of a fire, one had an obligation to rescue first the person most likely to benefit humanity (in his example, the Archbishop Fénélon, radical humanist and author of Telemachus) rather than an immediate relative (e.g. Fenelon's chambermaid -- or valet in the second edition of Political Justice (1795) who just happened to be one's mother, or brother). Godwin had insisted upon this logical conclusion to his utilitarian theory of justice until he fell in love with Mary Wollstonecraft in the spring of 1796. He then revised his position to acknowledge that the "private affections" were a virtue in themselves. In a passage first published in his Memoirs of Wollstonecraft in 1798 and regarded by Godwin as so crucial to his developing political theory that he reprinted it verbatim both in St. Leon (1799) and in his Reply to Parr (1801), Godwin announced

a sound morality requires that "nothing human should be regarded by us as indifferent;" but it is impossible we should not feel the strongest interest for those persons whom we know most intimately, and whose welfare and sympathies are united to our own. True wisdom will recommend to us individual attachments; for with them our minds are more thoroughly maintained in activity and life than they can be under the privation of them, and it is better that man should be a living being, than a stock or a stone. True virtue will sanction this recommendation; since it is the object of virtue to produce happiness, and since the man who lives in the midst of domestic relations, will have many opportunities of conferring pleasure, minute in the detail, yet not trivial in the amount, without interfering with the purposes of general benevolence. Nay, by kindling his sensibility, and harmonising his soul, they may be expected, if he is endowed with a liberal and manly spirit, to render him more prompt in the service of strangers and the public.31
Mary Shelley clearly endorsed Godwin's later position, which she may well have attributed to her mother's superior understanding of human nature.

From Mary Shelley's ethical perspective, we can see that if Victor Frankenstein had been able to love and care for his creature, he might have created a race of immortal beings that would in future times have blessed him. And if the Girondists had been able to reconcile the King, {86} the nobility, and the clergy to their new republic and to control the suspicion, hostility, and fears of the people, the French Revolution they engendered might have become the just and benevolent democracy they envisioned. As Victor Frankenstein finally acknowledges, in a passage that functions in the novel as both authorial credo and moral touchstone:

A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind, and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquillity. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to this rule. If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections, and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind. If this rule were always observed; if no man allowed any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the tranquillity of his domestic affections, Greece had not been enslaved; Caesar would have spared his country; America would have been discovered more gradually; and the empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed. (51)
No revolutionary herself,32 Mary Shelley clearly perceived the inherent danger in a Promethean, revolutionary ideology: commitment to an abstract good can justify an emotional detachment from present human relationships and family obligations, a willingness to sacrifice the living to a cause whose final consequences cannot be fully controlled, and an obsession with realizing a dream that too often masks an egotistical wish for personal power. As she later observed of Condorcet
like all French politicians of that day, he wished to treat mankind like puppets, and fancied that it was only necessary to pull particular strings to draw them within the circle of order and reason. We none of us know the laws of our nature; and there can be little doubt that, if philosophers like Condorcet did educate their fellows into some approximation to their rule of right, the ardent feelings and burning imaginations of man would create something now unthought of, but not less different from the results he expected, than the series of sin and sorrow which now desolates the world.33
Mary Shelley grounded her alternative political ideology on the metaphor of the peaceful, loving, bourgeois family. She thereby implicitly endorsed a conservative vision of gradual evolutionary reform, a position articulated most forcefully during her times by Edmund Burke. In her view, if political decisions are based on the "domestic affections" -- or on what Carol Gilligan has recently {87} described as an "ethic of care" -- on a genuine concern to protect the legitimate interests and welfare of every member of the family politic, then tyranny, war, and cultural imperialism can be prevented and the historical examples of national enslavement and military destruction which Shelley cites Greece, Rome, native America, Mexico, Peru will not recur. By unveiling the pattern of psychological desire, self-delusion, and egotism that informed Frankenstein's revolutionary goals, Mary Shelley drew our attention to the extent to which a political ideology serves the psychic as well as the economic interests of a specific class: in the case of Frankenstein, the class of the male bourgeois capitalists who would profit from the overthrow of the aristocracy and monarchy. She thus subverts any claim a political ideology might make to serve the universal interests of humanity.

Mary Shelley's own political ideology would serve instead the interests of the family; she thus encourages the active participation of women in the body politic. However, her conservative program of gradual reform, grounded on the preservation of the loving family-politic, necessarily replicates the inequalities inherent in the hierarchical structure of the bourgeois family, whether based on gender or on age. These inequalities were clearly manifested in the nineteenth-century British class system, a social hierarchy which Mary Shelley found acceptable. We must recognize that Shelley's commitment to political reform modelled on bourgeois family relationships, in which no activity interferes with the tranquillity of the domestic affections, entails the acceptance of the domination of parents over children even in an egalitarian family in which husband and wife are regarded as equals. In other words, implicit in Shelley's ideology of the polis-as-family is the constitution of certain political groups as "children" who must be governed. Her endorsement of this hierarchy is tellingly revealed both in her revulsion from the lower classes, particularly those of foreign nations -- the German peasants whose "horrid and slimy faces" she found "exceedingly disgusting" during her honeymoon voyage along the Rhine in 1814 and in her unquestioned assumption that she belonged to "society," the upper-middle-class world of her husband's gentry ancestors, rather than to the artisan and dissenting lower-middle classes of her own parents.

Since the personal is the political, it is not surprising that Mary Shelley's political ideology embodies the same contradiction between caring and controlling, between equality and domination, manifested in the dream that engendered Frankenstein. Mary Shelley there identified both with the abandoned monster and with the student of unhallowed arts who abandons him. This dream, together with the murder of little William Frankenstein in the novel, articulates her {88} horrified recognition that she was capable of asserting the final domination of a parent over a child, infanticide; just as her Journal comments on her German boat companions articulate her unself-conscious willingness to destroy other human beings whom she finds distasteful: "our only wish was to absolutely annihilate such uncleanly animals."

Inherent in Mary Shelley's ideology of the bourgeois family politic is an affirmation of the power of parents over children, an affirmation that endorses the preservation of a class system. In her view, parents have the right, even the obligation, to punish as well as to nurture and protect their children. When she voices through Frankenstein her belief that America should "have been discovered more gradually," (51) she impIicitly casts America in the role of a newborn child-continent that should have been cautiously developed under the loving parental care of its new explorer-rulers. She does not say that America should have been left undiscovered, uncolonized, unexploited, but only that this process of imperial conquest should have occurred more slowly, perhaps less painfully.

Mary Shelley's celebration of the loving and egalitarian bourgeois family as the basis of political justice -- embodied in Frankenstein by the De Laceys34 fails to take into account the innate injustice of the hierarchical structure of the bourgeois family. From the ideological perspective provided by modern socialist-feminist theory, we can posit an alternative model of family and class relationships to that presented in Mary Shelley's fiction. This is the model of the working-class family in which children are raised to pass into adult responsibility and to contribute to the financial resources of the household as quickly as possible. In contrast to the bourgeois family in which paternal authority based on property ownership and legal rights creates a static hierarchy in which fathers govern their children (and even their wives), the nineteenth-century British working-class family provides an alternative paradigm for political relationships, namely, a dynamic evolution of cooperation among shifting social groups or classes working together for the good of the entire society. This socialist alternative is powerfully represented in the industrial novels of Elizabeth Gaskell, most notably Mary Barton (1848). From this perspective, we can vividly see the glaring contradiction in Mary Shelley's political ideology: the conflict between an ethic of care and an ethic of control, between a system of justice grounded on mutual rights and responsibilities and a system of justice grounded on the authority of the elders.


1. See Anne K. Mellor, Blake's Human Form Divine (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), for a discussion of the "divine analogy" and the "human form divine" in William Blake's poetry and art.

2. Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book I, lines 101-06, 111-12, translated by John Dryden, The Works of John Dryden, ed. A. B. Chambers and W. Frost (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), IV:378-79. For Mary Shelley's reading of Ovid, see her Journal, ed. Frederick L. Jones (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1947), entries between April 8-May 13, 1815, pp. 43-47. Burton Pollin first identified Ovid as Mary Shelley's source for the Prometheus plasticator myth, "Philosophical and Literary Sources of Frankenstein," Comparative Literature 17 (1965): 102. For helpful discussions of the use of the Prometheus myth in Frankenstein, see David Ketterer, Frankenstein's Creation: The Book, the Monster, and the Human Reality (Victoria, British Columbia: Victoria University Press -- English Literature Studies Number 16, 1979); and M.K. Joseph, Introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1969, repr. 1984).

3. Byron had long admired Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound, which he asked Percy Shelley to translate from the Greek for him in July, 1816. In "Prometheus," Byron both identifies Prometheus as "a symbol and a sign/ To Mortals of their fate and force" (ll. 45-46) and projects his own distress at his divorce and the loss of his daughter into his description of Prometheus' "silent suffering": "All that the proud can feel of pain,/ The agony they do not show,/ The suffocating sense of woe,/ Which speaks but in its loneliness" (lines 8-11; Diodati, July 1816).

The link between Victor Frankenstein and Byron is further strengthened in the 1831 edition, where Mary Shelley borrows Byron's self-image of the poet as a greater Newton, no longer picking up pebbles on the seashore but venturing out onto the "ocean of eternity" (Don Juan 10:4), for Frankenstein himself:

"I have described myself as always having been embued with a fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature. In spite of the intense labour and wonderful discoveries of modern philosophers, I always came from my studies discontented and unsatisfied. Sir Isaac Newton is said to have avowed that he felt like a child picking up shells beside the great and unexplored ocean of truth. Those of his successors in each branch of natural philosophy with whom I was acquainted, appeared even to my boy's apprehensions, as tyros engaged in the same pursuit" (238).
4. Shelley and His Circle 1773-1822, ed. Kenneth Neill Cameron and Donald H. Reiman (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961-73), VI:841.

5. Mary Shelley's Journal, ed. Frederick L. Jones, p. 73. Mary Shelley's perception of a link between Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound, Percy Shelley's poetic persona, and her own novel may underlie her Journal entry for July 13, 1817: "Shelley translates 'Prometheus Desmotes' and I write it" (Bodleian Library: Abinger MS. Dep. d. 311/2). This entry is erroneously printed in Mary Shelley's Journal, p. 82.

6. Peter Dale Scott, "Vital Artifice: Mary, Percy, and the Psychopolitical Integrity of Frankenstein," The Endurance of Frankenstein, ed. George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher (Berkeley and Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1979), pp. 175-83; William Veeder, Mary Shelley & Frankenstein -- The Fate of Androgyny (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), pp. 92-95, 112-23, passim. See also Christopher Small, Ariel Like a Harpy: Shelley, Mary and Frankenstein (London: Gollancz, 1972); Richard Holmes, Shelley -- The Pursuit (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1975), pp. 331-32; and Judith Weissman, "A Reading of Frankenstein as the Complaint of a Political Wife," Colby Library Quarterly XII (December 1976): 171-80.

7. For Percy Shelley's reading of Albertus Magnus, Paracelsus, Pliny, and Buffon, see Newman Ivey White, Shelley (London: Secker and Warburg, 1941; revised edition, 1947), I:41, 50-52, 158; on Shelley's obsession with alchemy and chemistry, see Thomas Jefferson Hogg's account of his Oxford days, The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley (London: Edward Moxon, 1858), I:33-34, 58-76.

8. On the association of the Illuminati and the University of Ingolstadt, see Ludwig Hammermayer, "Die letzte Epoche der Universität Ingolstadt: Reformer, Jesuiten Illuminaten (1746-1800)," in Ingolstadt: Die Herzogsstadt -- Die Universitätsstadt -- Die Festung, ed. Theodor Muller and Wilhelm Reissmuller (Ingolstadt: Verlag Donau Courier, 1974), pp. 299-357. The goals of the Illuminati are stated by L'Abbé Augustin Barruel in Memoirs, Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, trans. Robert Clifford (London, 1797-98), III:117, 228. For Percy Shelley's reading of Barruel, see Mary Shelley's Journal, ed. Federick L. Jones, entries for 23, 25 August and 9, 11 October, 1814. On Percy Shelley's use of Weishaupt's revolutionary doctrines, see Gerald McNiece, Shelley and the Revolutionary Idea (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969), pp. 22-23, 97-101. For an account of Percy Shelley's revolutionary doctrines in "The Assassins," see Newman Ivey White, Shelley, I:682-83. On the impact of Barruel on Frankenstein, see Burton R. Pollin, "Sources of Frankenstein," p. 103 n23; and Horst Meller, "Prometheus im romantischen Heiligen-Kalendar," in Antike Tradition und Neuere Philologien, ed. Hans-Joachim Simmermann (Heidelberg: Carl Winter-Universitätsverlag, 1984), pp. 163-69.

9. On 22 October 1811, Percy Shelley wrote to his mother thus: "I suspect your motives for so violently so persecutingly desiring to unite my sister Elizabeth to the music master Graham, I suspect that it was intended to shield yourself from that suspicion which at length has fallen on you. If it is unjust, prove it" (The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Frederick L. Jones [Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1964], 1:155). For a discussion of the injustice of this charge, see Newman Ivey White, Shelley, 1:48, 166-67; on Percy Shelley's relationship with Edward Fergus Graham, see Shelley and His Circle, ed. Kenneth Neill Cameron and Donald H. Reiman, II:621-25, 646-48.

10. D. W. Harding identified Percy Shelley's "regressive yearnings" as a "longing for the return of an infantile kind of bliss in union with a mother-figure" (Introduction to From Blake to Byron, ed. Boris Ford [London: Pelican Books, 1957], pp. 208-9). See also Edward Carpenter and George Barnefield, The Psychology of the Poet Shelley (London: Allen and Unwin, 1925); A. M. D. Hughes, The Nascent Mind of Shelley (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1947); and Eustace Chesser, Shelley and Zastrozzi -- Self-Revelation of a Neurotic (London: Gregg/Archive, 1965). William Veeder reaches similar conclusions concerning Percy Shelley's psychological profile (Mary Shelley & Frankenstein, Chap. 2, passim).

11. Here Mary Shelley's resentment of her husband's unquestioning assumption of superior literary judgment may erupt in her choice of "mutilated," a word that focuses both her irritation and her guilt at making a monster. The identification of Frankenstein as an author is strengthened by the images that link him both to the cursed, tale-telling Ancient Mariner and to Coleridge himself. Frankenstein explicitly identifies with the Mariner pursued by a "frightful fiend" (54); he also finds himself alone on a wide, wide sea and at the sight of land at last, "tears gushed from my eyes" (169). Moreover, Frankenstein uses Coleridge's image of the poet's mind as "the sole unquiet thing" in "Frost at Midnight" to define his own mental state: "I was often tempted, when all was at peace around me, and I the only unquiet thing that wandered restless in a scene so beautiful and heavenly . . . to plunge into the silent lake" (87).

12. The relationship between the Wordsworthian Narrator of "Alastor" and Percy Shelley is a vexed critical question. Earl R. Wasserman argued for an ironic distance between the Narrator and the author, in Shelley -- A Critical Reading (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971), pp. 11-46; Lisa Steinman saw a more complex irony in which both Narrator and visionary poet are modes of Percy Shelley's own skepticism concerning the limits and contradictions of consciousness, in "Shelley's Skepticism: Allegory in 'Alastor'," ELH 45 (1978): 225-69; while Lloyd Abbey has reiterated an older critical tradition which assumed, as did Mary Shelley, that the Narrator spoke for the author, in his Destroyer and Preserver -- Shelley's Poetic Skepticism (Lincoln, Nebraska and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1979), pp. 20-30.

13. For a brilliant discussion of how Frankenstein reads "Alastor" as the story of Percy Shelley's desire not to find the female object of his desire embodied in his wife, see Margaret Homans, Bearing the Word -- Language and Female Experience in Nineteenth-Century Women's Writing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), pp. 105-9.

14. For a detailed and insightful account of Walton's role in the novel, see Peter McInerney, "Frankenstein and the Godlike Science of Letters," Genre 13 (1980): 455-75.

15. Andrew Griffin has discussed the imagery of fire and ice in Frankenstein and Jane Eyre in "Fire and Ice in Frankenstein," in The Endurance of Frankenstein, ed. George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher, pp. 49 -- 73; see also Irving Massey, The Gaping Pig -- Literature and Metamorphosis (Berkeley and Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1976), pp. 131-34.

16. Behind this necessarily simplistic description of the romantic ideology lie the more detailed and precise formulations contained in Mario Praz's The Romantic Agony (1933; trans. Angus Davidson, New York: Meridian Books, 1956); M.H. Abrams's Natural Supernaturalism -- Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature (New York: Norton, 1971); my English Romantic Irony (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980); and Jerome J. McGann's The Romantic Ideology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983).

17. Lee Sterrenburg, "Mary Shelley's Monster: Politics and Psyche in Frankenstein," in The Endurance of Frankenstein, ed. George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher, pp. 143-71. See also Ronald Paulson, "Gothic Fiction and the French Revolution," ELH 48 (1981): 532-54.

18. On the impact of Rousseau on Frankenstein, see Paul A. Cantor, Creature and Creator: Myth-making and English Romanticism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), pp. 119-28; Jean de Palacio, Mary Shelley dans son oeuvre (Paris: Klincksieck, 1969), pp. 209 -- 11; and Milton Millhauser, "The Noble Savage in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," Notes and Queries CXC (1946): 248-50.

19. L'Abbé Augustin Barruel, Memoirs, Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, trans. Robert Clifford, III:414.

20. Edmund Burke, Letters on the Proposals for Peace with the Regicide Directory of France, Letter I (1796), in The Works and Correspondence of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke (London, 1852), V:256.

21. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, "Life of William Godwin," p. 151 (Abinger Dep. c. 606/1); Mary Shelley never completed or published her biography of Godwin.

22. If Walton's first encounter with Frankenstein's creature takes place on Monday, July 31, 1797, as argued in the previous chapter, then on the basis of (not always consistent) internal evidence we might date the following events in Mary Shelley's narrative thus:

Summer-Autumn, 1789 -- Frankenstein, now seventeen, decides to attend the University of Ingolstadt; mother dies (37-38)
January, 1790 -- Frankenstein enters University of Ingolstadt (39)
February, 1791 -- Frankenstein discovers the secret of life (45 17)
November, 1792 -- Frankenstein animates his creature (52)
Thursday, May 7, 1794 -- Death of William Frankenstein (67)
August, 1794 -- Frankenstein encounters creature in Alps (94)
March 27, 1795 -- Frankenstein goes to Oxford (156-157)
July-November, 1795 -- Frankenstein constructs female creature in Orkney lsland (163)
January-March, 1796 -- Frankenstein in prison in Ireland (179)
June, 1796 -- Frankenstein marries Elizabeth Lavenza (188)
July,-1796-July, 1797 -- Frankenstein pursues creature north along Rhine, through Russia, to Arctic (200-4)
Monday, July 31, 1797-Walton's crew see creature passing ship (17)
August 1, 1797 -- Frankenstein taken aboard Walton's ship (206)
September 11, 1797 -- Death of Frankenstein (214).
The time frame of Mary Shelley's novel thus embraces the major events of the French Revolution, from its initiation by another Genevan, Necker (who persuaded Louis XVI to convene the Estates General in August, 1788) and the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789; through the defeat of the Girondins by the Montagnards (May 31, 1793); the Terror; the execution of Robespierre (July 28, 1794); and the Coup of 18 Fructidor, Year V (September 4, 1797). In this context, we might see the creature's funeral pyre, "lost sight of . . . in the darkness and distance," as the final coup de grace of the French Revolution, Bonaparte's coup of 18-19 Brumaire (November 9-10, 1799).

23. M. J. Guillaume, ed., Proces-verbaux du Comité d'Instruction publique de la Convention Nationale 2 (17 brumaire an lI) (Paris, 1894): 779.

24. For a full discussion of the representation of the French Revolution as Hercules, see Lynn Hunt, Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), Chap. 3.

25. Joseph Fouché, "Declaration aux Citoyens de la Departmente de l'Aube," 29 June 1793, Archives Parlementaires (Troyes) 68:73; trans. Lynn Hunt.

26. Lynn Hunt, Politics, Culture and Class in the French Revolution, p. 101.

27. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, History of A Six Weeks Tour through a part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland, with Letters descriptive of a Sail round the Lake of Geneva, and of the Glaciers of Chamouni (London: T. Hookham, Jr., and C. and J. Ollier, 1817), pp. 22-23.

28. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Six Weeks Tour, p. 86.

29. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, "Notes" to the First Collected Edition of The Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1839), reprinted in The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Thomas Hutchinson (London: Oxford University Press, 1905; repr. 1960), p. 273 n 1.

30. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Lives of the most Eminent Literary and Scientific Men of France, for The Cabinet Cyclopedia, conducted by Rev. Dionysius Lardner (London: Longman et. al., 1838-39), Il:179.

31. William Godwin, Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (London, 1798), pp. 127-28, Second edition corrected; St. Leon: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century (London: G. G. & J. Robinson, 1799), Preface, x-xii; Thoughts Occasioned by a Perusal of Dr. Parr's Spital Sermon (London, 1801), pp. 25-26. For a useful discussion of what Charles Lamb called "the famous fire cause," see Don Locke, A Fantasy of Reason -- The Life and Thought of William Godwin (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980), pp. 141 16, 167-79, 197-204.

32. For an insightful analysis of Mary Shelley's political position, see Jean de Palacio, Mary Shelley dans son oeuvre, pp. 185-236; Palacio concludes that "la position de Mary se situe entre ces extremes: c'est la position moyenne d'un esprit essentiellement libéral, mais non militant ni surtout revolutionnaire" (236). A far less convincing argument that Mary Shelley merely contradicted herself has been put forth by Sylvia Bowerbank in "The Social Order vs. The Wretch: Mary Shelley's Contradictory-Mindedness in Frankenstein," ELH 46 (1979) 418-31.

33. Mary Shelley, Lives of the . . . Men of France, II:186.

34. Perhaps I should explain why I have defined the De Lacey family as bourgeois rather than as working class. Despite their recent impoverishment by the French government and their descent into the peasant or lower classes, the De Laceys retain the education and culture of the middle classes, as their literary and musical activities demonstrate. The novel presents their decline in social status as unjust, thus implying that they rightfully-belong to a higher class. Moreover, as I have tried to show in this chapter, Mary Shelley's sympathies are consistently with the educated and cultured classes, not with the workers or peasants whom she found vulgar and disgusting. Here she distanced herself from her mother's more democratic principles, believing not that every individual was born equal but rather that females should receive the same education and cultural opportunities as the men of their class.