Contents Index

"My Hideous Progeny: The Lady and the Monster"

Mary Poovey

Chapter 4 of The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer: Ideology as Style in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1984), pp. 114-42

{114} In 1838 Mary Shelley entered in her journal the following elaborate defense of her refusal to speak out for liberal political causes:
In the first place, with regard to "the good cause" -- the cause of the advancement of freedom and knowledge, of the rights of women, & -- I am not a person of opinions. I have said elsewhere that human beings differ greatly in this. Some have a passion for reforming the world; others do not cling to particular opinions. That my parents and Shelley were of the former class, makes me respect it . . . For myself, I earnestly desire the good and enlightenment of my fellow-creatures, and see all, in the present course, tending to the same, and rejoice; but I am not for violent extremes, which only bring on an injurious reaction . . . Besides, I feel the counter-arguments too strongly . . . ; besides that, on some topics (especially with regard to my own sex), I am far from making up my mind. I believe we are sent here to educate ourselves, and that self-denial, and disappointment, and self-control, are a part of our education; that it is not by taking away all restraining law that our improvement is to be achieved; and, though many things need great amendment, I can by no means go so far as my friends would have me. When I feel that I can say what will benefit my fellow-creatures, I will speak: not before. . . .

To hang back, as I do, brings a penalty. I was nursed and, fed with a love of glory. To be something great and good was the precept given me by my Father: Shelley reiterated it. Alone and poor, I could only be something by joining a party; and there was much in me -- the woman's love of looking up, and being guided, and being willing to do anything if any one supported and brought me forward -- which would have made me a good partisan. But Shelley died, and I was alone. My Father, from age and domestic circumstances, could not "me faire valoir." My total friendlessness, my horror of pushing, and inability to put myself forward unless led, cherished and supported, -- all this has sunk me in a state of loneliness no other human being ever before, I believe, endured -- except Robinson Crusoe. . . .

If I write the above, it is that those who love me may hereafter know that I am not all to blame, nor merit the heavy accusations cast on me for not putting myself forward. I cannot do that; it is against my nature. As well cast me from a precipice and rail at me for not flying.1

{115} Mary Shelley's defense of her political quiescence is really a defense of her character. That character, as she defines it for her future reader, is a remarkable combination of stereotypical feminine reticence and unconventional self-assertion. She aggressively defends her behavior, but she defines her character primarily in negative terms: "I am not a person of opinions," "I am not for violent extremes," "I am far from making up my mind," "I can by no means go so far as my friends would have me." Shelley's one unqualified affirmation about herself is that she accepts the conventional wisdom especially pertinent to female education: life is a school of instructive negation; a woman matures by disciplining and denying herself. And yet, even as she defends her retreat from public notice, the way in which she characterizes her situation and her needs transforms what looks like commonplace helplessness into a posture worthy of dramatic presentation: in her extreme loneliness, Shelley is genuinely remarkable -- like no one else, in fact, except the omnicompetent victim-vanquisher, Robinson Crusoe himself.

Mary Shelley's entire literary career is characterized by the two competing impulses we see in this passage. On the one hand, she repeatedly bowed to the conventional prejudice against aggressive women by apologizing for or punishing her self-assertion: she claimed that her writing was always undertaken to please or profit someone else, she dreaded exposing her name or personal feelings to public scrutiny, and subjected her ambitious characters to pain and loneliness. On the other hand, both in her numerous comments about her profession and by her ongoing literary activity, Mary Shelley demonstrated that imaginative self-expression was for her an important vehicle for proving her worth and, in that sense, for defining herself.

Shelley's characteristic ambivalence with regard to female self-assertion was largely a response to her very particular position within the competing value systems of the turbulent first decades of the nineteenth century. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley internalized two conflicting models of behavior that became sharply delineated in the wake of the French Revolution. As the daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft and the lover, then the wife, of Percy Shelley, Mary was always encouraged to live up to the Romantic ideal of the creative artist, to prove herself by means of her pen and her imagination. As she herself put it, she was "Nursed and fed with a love of glory," was given again and again the precept "to be something great." Her stepsister Claire Clairmont described the same pressure in characteristically less qualified terms: "In our family," she wryly remarked, "if you cannot write an epic poem or novel, that by its originality knocks all other novels on the head, you are a despica- {116} ble creature, not worth acknowledging."2 This pressure to be "original" and "great" was, however, exerted by a relatively small number of artists and radicals; far more pervasive was what we have already seen to be the increasingly rigid social expectation that a woman should conform to the conventional model of feminine propriety.

For the young Mary Shelley, the collision between what we now call the "Romantic" model of originality and the "Victorian" model of feminine domesticity was particularly dramatic. Not only did the public backlash against Mary Wollstonecraft provoke in her daughter an intense combination of pride and shame, anger and fear, but the social conservatism her father embraced after Wollstonecraft's death became as much a part of the young Mary Godwin's situation as her mother's ambiguous legacy. Moreover, the events of Mary's adolescence made her situation complicated, public, and explosive. Percy Shelley epitomized in many ways the independence and self-confidence that Mary Wollstonecraft had celebrated; indeed, as a man and an aristocrat, he was able to assert those principles and act upon them even more flamboyantly than Wollstonecraft had done. Thus, when Mary Godwin eloped with this outspoken radical, she simultaneously followed her mother's example, alienated her father, and brought her private life to the attention of polite society. The scandal of her life was intensified when, through Percy, she met and, for a time, lived in close physical and intellectual proximity to perhaps the most notorious of all the Romantic rebels, Lord Byron. Because of all of these factors, Mary Shelley not only was forced to respond to the general ideological configuration that pitted a model of acquiescence against whatever aggressive desires a young woman might have; she also had to deal with competing psychological, familial, and public claims about who and what she was.

Each of Shelley's novels embodies to a greater or lesser degree her ambivalence about female self-assertion, but what the overall development of her career reveals is the way that a certain kind of literary self-expression could accommodate a woman's unorthodox desires to the paradigm of the Proper Lady. After composing the novels that show most clearly the influence of her mother's self-confidence and Percy Shelley's aesthetic -- Frankenstein (1818), Mathilda (1819), Valperga (1823), and The Last Man (1826) -- Mary Shelley began to use her literary career both to defend her behavior and, more significantly, to so characterize it that it would need no defense; in other words, she sought to make her behavior conform to conventional expectations of what a woman should be. Her last three novels -- Perkin Warbeck (1830), Lodore (1835), and Falkner (1837) -- demonstrate the refinement of this strategy. Through thinly disguised autobiographical characterizations of herself as a docile, domestic heroine, Mary {117} Shelley was able, in these novels, both to court the approval of a middle-class, largely female audience and to achieve the personal satisfaction of expressing a self that was "original" only in its exemplary propriety.

Because Mary Shelley conceptualized her relationship to her professional activity slightly differently from the way her mother had, her life and art must be examined from a slightly different critical point of view. For while both Wollstonecraft and Shelley were self-conscious about the professional nature of their mature writing, and while both needed the money that writing produced, Mary Shelley did not consistently use her writing to express either polemical positions or even her own unmediated personal feelings. Mary Wollstonecraft seems to have thought that writing was a vehicle for producing an important public effect even when that entailed exposing personal and psychological complexities that exceeded her interpretive powers. It is as if, by exposing these complexities, Wollstonecraft hoped to work through them to their underlying social and ideological causes. As a consequence, in her works, as in her life, Wollstonecraft herself is the best argument for the political reforms she advocates.3 By contrast, especially after 1830, Mary Shelley considered writing to be less a vehicle for urging her audience to criticize conventions or even for exploring themselves (or herself, for that matter) than a means of covering over whatever psychological complexities might challenge conventional propriety. Her autobiographical allusions, then, are the extreme opposite of unself-conscious. In these late novels Shelley rigorously compartmentalizes her "self" into a private, domestic Mary and a public author- persona, and the characters who, represent the former in the productions of the latter serve primarily to revise the real Mary Shelley's past inadequacies and indiscretions so as to make her conform, in every sense, to the ideal of feminine propriety. Whereas Wollstonecraft's works were largely unself-consciously aggressive -- politically and personally -- Shelley's late novels are, for the most part, self-consciously defensive. The works of both women can be considered didactic, but the lessons they impart are very different.

Because Shelley's late works serve in many ways, as strategies both to defend herself against public criticism (or her own censure) and to accommodate her personal desires to the conventional paradigm of propriety, they often strive to domesticate -- or even eliminate -- her personal and sometimes startlingly aggressive and "unladylike" feelings. Instead of exploring the psychological or situational complexities she introduces in these novels, Shelley often dismisses them altogether by providing simplistic, formulaic answers. The residues of her less orthodox impulses do show up, of course -- either in the {118} actions of minor characters or, more consistently, in her personal letters and journal. This subtext of personal feeling, which repeatedly ruptures Wollstonecraft's works, is most often relegated to a completely separate, private domain in Shelley's. The private records thus provide an even more crucial complement to Shelley's published writings than Wollstonecraft's letters did for her works. Indeed, only by viewing Shelley's public persona in the context of her private comments and actions can we fully appreciate the paradigmatic place this very unusual woman occupied in the final triumph of Victorian propriety. For in the tensions between the public Mary Shelley and the private one we can identify both some of the sacrifices a young woman had to make in order to conform to propriety and the stages by which unladylike feelings could be reformulated so as never to exceed a woman's proper, altogether tractable, desires.

Mary Shelley's childhood was spent in a turbulent household, presided over by a demanding and uncongenial stepmother, peopled by five children of assorted parentage, and beleaguered by chronic shortages of money.4 What Shelley was later to characterize as an "excessive & romantic attachment to [her] Father"5 seems largely to have gone unanswered; in 1812, Godwin described his typical behavior toward Mary as "sententious and authoritative" and claimed that he did not know her very well.6 The only sustained and reliable domestic affection Mary Shelley seems to have enjoyed came from the William Baxter family, whom she visited in Scotland during 1812 and 1813. So appealing was their domestic harmony that, in the 1831 introduction to the revised Frankenstein, Shelley dramatized her sojourn in Scotland in such a way as to cast its happiness retroactively over her entire childhood.7 In May 1814, on her return from the last of these visits, Mary first met Percy Shelley, the self-proclaimed atheist, political radical, and "heir to £6,000 per annum." Percy, already disenchanted with his first wife, Harriet, responded immediately to what he called the "originality & loveliness of Mary's character." The couple eloped to the Continent on 28 July -- even though Mary was only sixteen and Percy was still legally married. They took Claire Clairmont, Mary's stepsister, along with them. His own professed skepticism about the institution of marriage notwithstanding, Godwin's disapproval was immediate, uncompromising, and long-lived. Writing to one of his creditors on 27 August of that summer, Godwin stated that he could "not conceive of an event of more accumulated horror." "Jane [Claire] has been guilty of indiscretion only," Godwin continued, parceling out his wrath; "Mary has been guilty of a crime."8

Godwin's censure was to haunt Mary Shelley for much of the rest of her life. But it was merely the first of the clouds that shadowed the {119} young couple's domestic establishment during their early months together. After six weeks in Europe, Percy, Mary, and Claire returned to London on 13 September. There they discovered the extent of Godwin's condemnation (he would not let anyone in the family visit or write them, and, though he continued to pester Percy for money, he did not want to see his name and Percy's on the same check);9 they also suffered the practical consequences of the debts Percy had contracted against his anticipated inheritance. Intermittently separated from Percy so that he could avoid the bailiffs, Mary felt increasingly isolated and rejected. As she watched her domestic ties dwindle to the single, unsanctioned, alliance with Percy, Mary begged her lover to stand in for the family she seemed to have lost. "Press me to you and hug your own Mary to your heart," she begged him; "perhaps she will one day have a father till then be every thing to me love" (MSL, 1:3; 28 October 1814). Even when united with Percy, Mary's domestic troubles continued. Presumably to prove herself an apt pupil of her lover's belief in "Free Love in the abstract," Mary, pregnant at seventeen, at least playfully accepted -- if she did not return -- the attentions of Percy's close friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg during the last months of 1814 and the beginning of 1815. In February of that year Mary gave birth to her first child -- a girl; four days later, she woke to find the baby dead. Thoughts of the dead baby and her uncertain role ("I am no longer a mother now" [MSL, 1:11; 6 March 1815] ) continued to haunt the young woman until she found herself pregnant again, two months later. In January 1816 she gave birth to her second child, William, named after her still unrelenting father. In May of that year, harassed by loneliness, Percy's creditors, and public rumors that Percy was responsible for Claire Clairmont's illegitimate pregnancy, the three left for Europe again, this time to take Claire to Lord Byron, the father of the child she was carrying.

Throughout this period of domestic disruption and sorrow, Mary Shelley was almost continuously engaged in another pursuit: making herself "worthy" of her learned lover and her famous parents. Her carefully catalogued list of the books she read in 1814 reveals an eclectic and voracious taste and includes four works by Mary Wollstonecraft and three by William Godwin. October of that year finds her promising Percy, "I will be a good girl and never vex you any more. I will learn Greek" (MSL, 1:3; 28 October 1814), and her even longer reading list for 1815 (which includes all twelve volumes of Gibbon's Decline and Fall) indicates that she possessed enough linguistic skill to read "Ovid's Metamorphoses in Latin" (MSJ, p. 47). Percy Shelley, of course, actively promoted Mary's intellectual endeavors. Their very first meeting, he explained to Hogg in October 1814, convinced him of her perfectibility. "She is gentle, to be convinced {120} & tender . . . I do not think that there is an excellence at which human nature can arrive, that she does not indisputably possess, or of which her character does not afford manifest intimations. I speak thus of Mary now -- & so intimately are our natures now united, that I feel whilst I describe her excellencies as if I were an egoist expatiating upon his own perfections."10 Percy's identification with Mary is especially important, for his desire to perfect an absolute union with her colored her conception of their relationship. After his death, this ideal was to prove a mixed blessing, but now it fueled Mary's desire to improve her own intellectual capacities. In the first year of their relationship, Percy and Mary shared a journal and read and even wrote together. Mary's first published work, History of a Six Weeks Tour, was an anonymous account of their "honeymoon" excursion, drawn from both Percy's letters and her own. Percy was enthusiastic about examining the "productions of her mind that preceded our intercourse" (MSJ, p. 5), and when Mary began a novel (revealingly entitled Hate), he was ecstatic: "Mary begins 'Hate,' and gives Shelley the greater pleasure," their mutual journal records (MSJ, p. 14).

Numerous critics have commented on Mary Shelley's complicated relationship with her remarkable literary family.11 Her brief, secret courtship with Percy Shelley was largely conducted in St. Pancras' Churchyard, where Mary took her books to read beside her mother's grave; she read and reread the works of both her father and her mother while she was growing up; and her letters to Percy show an ongoing concern both with his works and with her own. Two less easily documentable considerations are equally important for the light they shed on Mary's attitude toward her family of authors. The first is that much of what she read must have alternately sanctioned and condemned her adolescent ambition and thus served to enhance the ambivalence she was to continue to display toward any kind of personal assertions. Reading Wollstonecraft's Maria and The Rights of Woman, Godwin's Memoirs of her mother or his Political Justice, undoubtedly provided intellectual justification for Mary Shelley's defiance of social values. Yet, even before Godwin's angry reprisal, she must have anticipated that polite society, at the very least, would judge her unusual conduct harshly; for the public response to her mother's Memoirs, in which Godwin revealed Wollstonecraft's affair with Imlay and the illegitimacy of her daughter Fanny, had been almost universally abusive, and Mary Godwin had now committed virtually the same "crime."12 The second important consideration about Mary Shelley's relationship to her family is that, at least in retrospect, she felt extreme pressure to measure up to the standards they set. In her 1831 introduction to Frankenstein, Shelley records the expectations that, more than a decade later, constituted some of her most vivid {121} memories of her young adulthood. "My husband . . . was from the first, very anxious that I should prove myself worthy of my parentage, and enrol myself on the page of fame. He was for ever inciting me to obtain literary reputation" (F, p. 223). This injunction -- not only to write but to "obtain literary reputation" -- reinforced Shelley's persistent association of writing with an aggressive quest for public notice. Moreover, the expectation she sensed in her most intimate companion and projected onto herself, perhaps from the example of her parents, continued to drive Mary Shelley to develop a self-definition based at least in part on the assertive activity of professional writing.

When she was in Switzerland in the summer of 1816, Mary Shelley's creative energies were finally rerouted from "travelling, and the cares of a family" (F, p. 223) to this all important activity of writing. Living next to Lord Byron, listening to -- though not participating in -- the conversations of the two poets ("incapacity and timidity always prevented my mingling in the nightly conversations," she said [MSJ, p. 184]), and no doubt inspired by Percy's example, Mary Shelley began to compose steadily. After 24 July 1816, her journal frequently contains the important monosyllable, "Write," and the attention Percy devoted to the novel's progress, its revisions, and, eventually, its publication reveals that his support for the project was as enthusiastic as Mary could have wished.13 But the narrative that Mary Shelley wrote between that "eventful" summer and the following April was less a wholehearted celebration of the imaginative enterprise she had undertaken in order to prove her worth to Percy than a troubled, veiled exploration of the price she had already begun to fear such egotistical self-assertion might exact. Frankenstein occupies a particularly important place in Shelley's career, not only because it is by far her most famous work, but because, in 1831, she prepared significant revisions and an important introduction, both of which underscore and elaborate her initial ambivalence. By tracing first the contradictions already present in the 1818 edition and then the revisions she made after Percy's death and her return to England, we can begin to see the roots and progress of Shelley's growing desire to accommodate her adolescent impulses to conventional propriety. Taken together, the two editions of Frankenstein provide a case study of the tensions inherent in the confrontation between the expectations Shelley associated, on the one hand, with her mother and Romantic originality and, on the other, with a textbook Proper Lady.

The 1818 Frankenstein

Even though they praised the power and stylistic vigor of Frankenstein, its first reviewers sharply criticized the anonymous novelist's failure to moralize about the novel's startling, even blasphemous subject. The reviewer for the Quarterly Review, for example, complained that
Our taste and our judgment alike revolt at this kind of writing, and the greater the ability with which it may be executed the worse it is -- it inculcates no lesson of conduct, manners, or morality; it cannot mend, and will not even amuse its readers, unless their taste have been deplorably vitiated -- it fatigues the feelings without interesting the understanding, it gratuitously harasses the heart, and only adds to the store, already too great, of painful sensations.14
Presumably because it was unthinkable that a woman should refuse to moralize, most critics automatically assumed that the author of Frankenstein was a man -- no doubt a "follower of Godwin," according to Blackwood's, or even Percy Shelley himself, as the Edinburgh Magazine surmised.15 These reviewers, however, were too preoccupied with the explicit unorthodoxy of Frankenstein's subject to attend carefully to the undercurrents in that it that challenged their opinion. Like her mother and many male Romantics, Mary Shelley had chosen to focus on the theme of Promethean desire, which has implications for both the development of culture and the individual creative act; but when Frankenstein is considered alongside contemporary works that display even some degree of confidence in imaginative power, it proves to be more conservative than her first readers realized. Indeed, Frankenstein calls into question, not the social conventions that inhibit creativity, but rather the egotism that Mary Shelley associates with the artist's monstrous self-assertion.16

Like Wollstonecraft and most male Romantics, Shelley discusses desire explicitly within a paradigm of individual maturation: Frankenstein is Shelley's version of the process of identity-formation that Wollstonecraft worked out in her two Vindications. Keats called this maturation "soul-making," and Wordsworth devoted his longest completed poem to it. In the 1818 text, Shelley's model of maturation begins with a realistic depiction of Lockean psychology; young Victor Frankenstein is a tabula rasa whose character is formed by his childhood experiences. The son of loving, protective parents, the companion of affectionate friends, he soon finds the harmony of his childhood violated by what he calls a "predilection" [1.1.6] for natural philosophy. Yet even though this "predilection" seems to be innate, Frankenstein locates its origin not in his own disposition but in a single childhood event -- the accidental discovery of a volume of Cornelius Agrippa's occult speculations. The "fatal impulse" [1.1.7] this volume sparks is then {123} kindled into passionate enthusiasm by other accidents: Frankenstein's father neglects to explain Agrippa's obsolescence, a discussion provoked by a lightning bolt undermines his belief in the occult, and "some accident" [1.1.10] prevents him from attending lectures on natural philosophy. Left with a craving for knowledge but no reliable guide to direct it, Frankenstein's curiosity is kept within bounds only by the "mutual affection" [1.1.10] of his domestic circle.

In this dramatization of Victor Frankenstein's childhood, Mary Shelley fuses mechanistic psychological theories of the origin and development of character with the more organic theories generally associated with the Romantics. Like most contemporary Lockean philosophers, she asserts that circumstances activate and direct an individual's capacity for imaginative activity; the inclination or predilection thus formed then constitutes the basis of identity.17 But when Shelley combines this model with the notion (implied by Wollstonecraft's Letters Written . . . in Sweden and by the poetry of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, and Percy Shelley) that an individual's desire, once aroused, has its own impetus and logic, she comes up with a model of maturation that contradicts the optimism of both mechanists and organicists. More in keeping with eighteenth-century moralists than with either William Godwin or Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley characterizes innate desire not as neutral or benevolent but as quintessentially egotistical. And, unlike Mary Wollstonecraft, she does not conceive of imaginative activity as leading through intimations of mortality to new insight or creativity. Instead, she sees imagination as an appetite that can and must be regulated -- specifically, by the give-and-take of domestic relationships. If it is aroused but is not controlled by human society, it will project itself into the natural world, becoming voracious in its search for objects to conquer and consume. This principle. which draws both mechanistic and organic models under the mantle of conventional warnings to women, constitutes the major dynamic of Frankenstein's plot. As long as domestic relationships govern an individual's affections, his or her desire will turn outward as love. But when the individual loses or leaves the regulating influence of relationship with others, imaginative energy always threatens to turn back on itself, to "mark" all external objects as its own and to degenerate into "gloomy and narrow reflections upon self" (F, p. 32).

Shelley's exposition of the degeneration of incipient curiosity into full-fledged egotism begins when Frankenstein leaves his childhood home for the University of Ingolstadt. At the university he is left to "form [his] own friends, and be [his] own protector" (p. 40), and, given this freedom, his imagination is liberated to follow its natural course. To the young scholar, this energy seems well-directed, for Frankenstein assumes that his ambition to conquer death through science is {124} fundamentally unselfish. With supreme self-confidence, he "penetrate[s] into the recesses of nature" [2.2.6] in search of the secret of life. What he discovers in the "vaults and charnel houses" [1.3.3] he visits, however, is not life but death, the "natural decay and corruption of the human body." [1.3.3] In pursuing his ambition even beyond this grisly sight, Frankenstein proves unequivocally that his "benevolent" scheme actually acts out the imagination's essential and deadly self-devotion. For what he really wants is not to serve others but to assert himself. Indeed, he wants ultimately to defy mortality, to found a "new species" that would "bless [him] as its creator and source." "No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve their's," he boasts (p. 49).

Frankenstein's particular vision of immortality and the vanity that it embodies have profound social consequences, both because Frankenstein would deny relationships (and women) any role in the conception of children and because he would reduce all domestic ties to those that center on and feed his selfish desires. Given the egotism of his ambition, it comes as no surprise that Frankenstein's love for his family is the first victim of his growing obsession; "supernatural enthusiasm" [1.3.3] usurps the place of his previous domestic love. "I wished, as it were, to procrastinate all that related to my feelings of affection until the great object, which swallowed up every habit of my nature, should be completed" (p. 50). Frankenstein isolates himself in a "solitary chamber" [1.3.6], refuses to write even to his fiancee, Elizabeth, and grows "insensible to the charms of nature" [1.3.7]. "I became as tired as a love-sick girl," he realizes, in retrospect, "and alternate tremor and passionate ardour took the place of wholesome sensation and regulated ambition" (p. 51).

Despite what the reviewers thought, in her dramatization of the imaginative quest Mary Shelley is actually more concerned with this antisocial dimension than with its metaphysical implications. In chapter 5, for example, at the heart of her story, she elaborates the significance of Frankenstein's self-absorption primarily in terms of his social relationships. After animating the monster, product and symbol of self-serving desire, Frankenstein falls asleep, only to dream the true meaning of his accomplishment: having denied domestic relationships by indulging his selfish passions, he has, in effect, murdered domestic tranquillity.

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. [P. 53]
{125} Lover and mother, as the presiding female guardians of Frankenstein's "secluded and domestic" [1.2.3] youth, are conflated in this tableau of the enthusiast's guilt. Only now, when Frankenstein starts from his sleep to find the misshapen creature hanging over his bed (as he himself will later hang over Elizabeth's) does he recognize his ambition for what it really is: a monstrous urge, alien and threatening to all human intercourse.

In effect, animating the monster completes and liberates Frankenstein's egotism, for his indescribable experiment gives explicit and autonomous form to his ambition and desire. Paradoxically, in this incident Shelley makes the ego's destructiveness literal by setting in motion the figurative, symbolic character of the monster. We will see later the significance of this event for the monster; for Frankenstein, this moment, which aborts his maturation, has the dual effect of initiating self-consciousness and, tragically, perfecting his alienation. Momentarily "restored to life" [1.4.7] by his childhood friend Clerval, Frankenstein rejects the "selfish pursuit [that] had cramped and narrowed" [1.5.9] him and returns his feeling to its proper objects, his "beloved friends" [1.5.8]. But ironically, the very gesture that disciplines his desire has already destroyed the possibility of reestablishing relationships with his loved ones. Liberating the monster allows Frankenstein to see that personal fulfillment results from self-denial rather than self-assertion, but it also condemns him to perpetual isolation and, therefore, to permanent incompleteness.

This fatal paradox, the heart of Mary Shelley's waking nightmare, gives a conventionally "feminine" twist to the argument that individuals mature through imaginative projection, confrontation, and self-consciousness. In the version of maturation that Wollstonecraft sketched out in her two Vindications and in Letters Written . . . in Sweden and that Wordsworth set out more fully in The Prelude, the child's innate desires, stirred and nurtured by the mother's love, are soon projected outward toward the natural world. Desire takes this aggressive turn because in maternal love and in the receptivity this love cultivates "there exists / A virtue which irradiates and exalts / All objects through all intercourse of sense" (1805 Prelude, book 2, lines 258-60). As a result of both the child's growing confidence in the beneficence of the questing imagination and nature's generous response, the child is able to effect a radical break with the mother without suffering irretrievable loss.

No outcast he, bewildered and depressed;
Along his infant veins are interfused
The gravitation and the filial bond
Of Nature that connect him with the world.
[Prelude, 2. 261-64]
{126} The heightened images of the self cast back from nature then help the child internalize a sense of autonomous identity and personal power.

In marked contrast, Mary Shelley distrusts both the imagination and the natural world. The imagination, as it is depicted in Frankenstein's original transgression, is incapable of projecting an irradiating virtue, for, in aiding and abetting the ego, the imagination expands the individual's self-absorption to fill the entire universe, and, as it does so, it murders everyone in its path. In Frankenstein, the monster simply acts out the implicit content of Frankenstein's desire: just as Frankenstein figuratively murdered his family, so the monster literally murders Frankenstein's domestic relationships, blighting both the memory and the hope of domestic harmony with the "black mark" of its deadly hand. William Frankenstein, Justine Moritz, Henry Clerval, even Elizabeth Lavenza are, as it were, literally possessed by this creature; but, as Frankenstein knows all too well, its victims are by extension his own: Justine is his "unhappy victim" (p. 80); he has murdered Clerval (p. 174); and the creature consummates his deadly desire on "its bridal bier" (p. 193).

By the same token, Mary Shelley also distrusts nature, for, far from curbing the imagination, nature simply encourages imaginative projection. Essentially, Mary Shelley's understanding of nature coincides with those of Wordsworth, Wollstonecraft, and Percy Shelley. But where these three trust the imagination to disarm the natural world of its meaninglessness by projecting human content into it, Mary Shelley's anxiety about the imagination bleeds into the world it invades.18 In the inhospitable world most graphically depicted in the final setting of Frankenstein, nature is "terrifically desolate" [2.2.2], frigid, and fatal to human beings and human relationships. These fields of ice provide a fit home only for the monster, that incarnation of the imagination's ugly and deadly essence.

Thus Shelley does not depict numerous natural theaters into which the individual can project his or her growing desire and from which affirmative echoes will return to hasten the process of maturation. Instead, she continues to dramatize personal fulfillment strictly in terms of the child's original domestic harmony, with the absent mother now replaced by the closest female equivalent: ideally, Elizabeth would link Frankenstein's maturity to his youth, just as Mrs. Saville should anchor the mariner Walton. Ideally, in other words, the beloved object would be sought and found only within the comforting confines of preexisting domestic relationships. In this model, Shelley therefore ties the formation of personal identity to self-denial rather than self-assertion; personal identity for her entails defining oneself in terms of relationships (not one but many) -- not, as Wollstonecraft {127} and Wordsworth would have it, in terms of self assertion, confrontation, freedom, and faith in the individualistic imaginative act.19

Shelley repeatedly stresses the fatal kinship between the human imagination, nature, and death by the tropes of natural violence that describe all kinds of desire. Passion is like nature internalized, as even Frankenstein knows:

When I would account to myself for the birth of that passion, which afterwards ruled my destiny, I find it arise, like a mountain river, from ignoble and almost forgotten sources; but, swelling as it proceeded, it became the torrent which, in its course, has swept away all my hopes and joys. [F, p. 32]
Ambition drives Frankenstein "like a hurricane" as he engineers the monster (p. 49) and, after its liberation, he is a "blasted tree," "utterly destroyed" [1.1.9] by a lightning blast to his soul. Through these metaphoric associations, Shelley is laying the groundwork for the pattern acted out by the monster. Like forces in the natural world, Frankenstein's unregulated desire gathers strength until it erupts in the monster's creation; then the creature actualizes, externalizes, the pattern of nature -- Frankenstein's nature and the natural world, now explicitly combined -- with a power that destroys all society. In other words, the pattern inherent in the natural world and figuratively ascribed to the individual becomes, through the monster, Frankenstein's literal "fate" or "destiny."

The individual's fatal relationship to nature is further complicated by the egotistical impulse to deny this kinship. In retrospect, Frankenstein knows that the winds will more likely yield a storm than calm, but in the blindness of his original optimism he believes that nature is hospitable to humanity, that it offers a Wordsworthian "ennobling interchange" that consoles and elevates the soul. Still trusting himself and the natural world, Frankenstein cries out with "something like joy" [2.2.3] to the spirit of the Alps, as if it were a compassionate as well as a natural parent: "Wandering spirits . . . allow me this faint happiness, or take me, as your companion, away from the joys of life" [2.2.3]. But Frankenstein's belief in natural benevolence, like his earlier confidence in the benevolence of his desire, proves a trick of the wishful imagination. His request is answered by the true spirit of this and every place untamed by social conventions -- the "superhuman," "unearthly" monster. Lulled once more by vanity and desire, Frankenstein recognizes the character of his bond with nature only when it again stands incarnate before him.

In order to understand why Mary Shelley's first readers did not fully appreciate what seems, in comparison to Romantic optimism, to be {128} an unmistakable distrust of the imagination, we must turn to the monster's narrative. For Shelley's decision to divide the novel into a series of first-person narratives instead of employing a single perspective, whether first-person or omniscient, has the effect of qualifying her judgment of egotism. Because she dramatizes in the monster -- not in Frankenstein -- the psychological consequences of imaginative self-assertion, the reader is encouraged to participate not only in Frankenstein's desire for innate and natural benevolence but also in the agonizing repercussions of this misplaced optimism.

In the monster's narrative, Shelley both recapitulates Frankenstein's story and, ingeniously, completes it. Influenced by external circumstances that arouse, then direct, their desire for knowledge, both beings find that their imaginative quests yield only the terrible realization of an innate grotesqueness. But, unlike Frankenstein, the monster is denied the luxury of an original domestic harmony. The monster is "made" not born, and, as the product of the unnatural coupling of nature and the imagination, it is caught in the vortex of death that will ultimately characterize Frankenstein as well. Moreover, as the product, then the agent of Frankenstein's egotism, the monster is merely a link in the symbolic "series" of Frankenstein's "self-devoted being," not an autonomous member of a natural, organic family.20 Given a human's nobler aspirations without the accompanying power, the monster struggles futilely to deny both its status as a function of Frankenstein and the starkness of its circumscribed domain; the creature yearns to experience and act upon its own desires and to break free into the realistic frame that Frankenstein occupies. But the monster cannot have independent desires or influence its own destiny because, as the projection of Frankenstein's indulged desire and nature's essence, the creature is destiny. Moreover, because the monster's physical form literally embodies its essence, it cannot pretend to be something it is not; it cannot enter the human community it longs to join, and it cannot earn the sympathy it can all too vividly imagine. Paradoxically, the monster is the victim of both the symbolic and the literal. And, as such, it is doubly like a woman in patriarchal society -- forced to be a symbol of (and vehicle for) someone else's desire, yet exposed (and exiled) as the deadly essence of passion itself.

For the monster, then, self consciousness comes with brutal speed, for it depends, not on an act of transgression, but on literal self perception. An old man's terror, a pool of water, a child's fear, all are nature's mirrors, returning the monster repeatedly to its grotesque self, "a figure hideously deformed and loathsome . . . a monster, a blot upon the earth" (pp. 115-16). When the creature discovers its true origin -- not in the literary works it finds and learns to read but {129} in the records of Frankenstein's private experiments -- it can no longer deny the absolute "horror" of its being, the monstrous singularity of egotism: "the minutest description of my odious and loathsome person is given, in language which painted your own horrors, and rendered mine ineffaceable" (p. 126). From this moment on, the monster's attempts to deny its nature are as futile as they are desperate. In its most elaborate scheme, the creature hides in a womblike hovel, as if it could be born again into culture by aping the motions of the family it spies upon. Although the monster tries to disguise its true nature by confronting only the blind old father, De Lacey's children return and recognize the creature's "ineffaceable" monstrosity for what it literally is. Their violent reaction, which the monster interprets as rejection by its "adopted family," at last precipitates the creature's innate nature; abandoning humanity's "godlike science" [2.4.3] -- the language of society it so diligently learned -- for its natural tongue -- the nonsignifying "fearful howlings" [2.8.1] of beasts -- the monster embarks on its systematic destruction of domestic harmony. The creature makes one final attempt to form a new society; but when Frankenstein refuses to create a female monster, it is condemned, like its maker, to a single bond of hatred. After Frankenstein's death, the monster disappears into the darkness at the novel's end, vowing to build its own funeral pyre; for it is as immune to human justice as it was repulsive to human love.

The monster carries with it the guilt and alienation that attend Frankenstein's self-assertion; yet, because Shelley realistically details the stages by which the creature is driven to act out its symbolic nature from its point of view, the reader is compelled to identify with its anguish and frustration. This narrative strategy precisely reproduces Mary Shelley's profound ambivalence toward Frankenstein's creative act; for by separating self-assertion from its consequences, she is able to dramatize both her conventional judgment of the evils of egotism and her emotional engagement in the imaginative act. Indeed, the pathos of the monster's cry suggests that Shelley identified most strongly with the product (and the victim) of Frankenstein's transgression: the objectified imagination, helpless and alone.

Although in an important sense, objectifying Frankenstein's imagination in the symbolic form of the monster delimits the range of connotations the imagination can have (it eliminates, for example, the possibilities of transcendent power or beneficence), this narrative strategy allows Shelley to express her ambivalence toward the creative act because a symbol is able to accommodate different, even contradictory, meanings. It is important to recognize that Shelley is using symbolism in a quite specific way here, a way that differs markedly from Percy Shelley's description of symbolism in his pref- {130} ace to the 1818 Frankenstein. In his justification for the central scene, Percy stresses not the ambivalence of the symbol but its comprehensiveness: "However impossible as a physical fact, [this incident] affords a point of view to the imagination for the delineating of human passions more comprehensive and commanding than any which the ordinary relations of existing events can yield" (p. 6). Although we know from the Shelleys' letters and from the surviving manuscript of Frankenstein that Percy was instrumental in promoting and even revising the text, Mary did not uncritically or wholeheartedly accept the aesthetic program of which this self-confident use of symbolism was only one part. Instead, she transforms Percy's version of the Romantic aesthetic in such a way as to create for herself a nonassertive, and hence acceptable, voice.

Percy Shelley defended his aesthetic doctrines, as part of his political and religious beliefs, with a conviction Mary later called a "resolution firm to martyrdom."21 Scornful of public opinion, he maintained that a true poet may be judged only by his legitimate peers, a jury "impaneled by Time from the selectest of the wise of many generations."22 Society's accusation that an artist is "immoral," he explains in the "Defence of Poetry" (1821), rests on "a misconception of the manner in which poetry acts to produce the moral improvement of man." The audience's relationship to poetry is based not on reason but on the imagination; true poetry does not encourage imitation or judgment but participation. It strengthens the individual's moral sense because it exercises and enlarges the capacity for sympathetic identification, that is, for establishing relationships. Following Plato, Percy declares that the primary reflex of the moral imagination is the outgoing gesture of love.

The great secret of morals is Love; or a going out of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own. A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination; and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon the cause.23
Each of Percy Shelley's aesthetic doctrines comes to rest on this model of the imagination as an innately moral, capacious faculty. Because the imagination, if unrestrained, naturally supersedes relative morals (and in so doing compensates for the inhumaneness of the natural world), the poet should not discipline his or her poetic efforts according to a particular society's conceptions of right and wrong. Because the imagination tends to extend itself, through sympathy, to truth, the poet should simply depict examples of truth, thus drawing {131} the audience into a relationship that simultaneously feeds and stimulates humanity's appetite for "thoughts of ever new delight."

This model of the artwork as an arena for relationships is the only aspect of Percy's aesthetics that Mary Shelley adopts without reservation. It seems to have been particularly appealing to her not only because it conforms to Percy's ideal but also because it satisfies society's conventional definition of proper feminine identity and proper feminine self-assertion. In doing so, it also answered needs and assuaged fears that seem to have been very pressing for Mary Shelley. As we have seen, she did not agree with Percy that the imagination is inherently moral. By the same token, she seems to have doubted that the abstract controls that Wollstonecraft described in her two Vindications and her Letters Written . . . in Sweden were capable of governing an individual's desire or disciplining the imagination. The factors that reinforced Shelley's doubts were probably as complicated as the anxieties themselves, but we can surmise that Percy Shelley's outspoken atheism helped undermine Mary's confidence in orthodox religion, that society's denigration of women's reasoning ability weakened her trust in that faculty, and that society's judgment and her own conflicting emotions conspired to make her doubt the morality of female feeling. For Mary Shelley, then, the only acceptable or safe arena in which to articulate her feelings, exercise her reason, and act out her unladylike ambition was that of personal relationships. In addition to the aesthetic purpose it serves, the narrative strategy of Frankenstein also provides just such a network of relationships. Because of its three-part narrative arrangement, Shelley's readers are drawn into a relationship with even the most monstrous part of the young author; Shelley is able to create her artistic persona through a series of relationships rather than a single act of self-assertion; and she is freed from having to take a single, definitive position on her unladylike subject. In other words, the narrative strategy of Frankenstein, like the symbolic presentation of the monster, enables Shelley to express and efface herself at the same time and thus, at least partially, to satisfy her conflicting desires for self-assertion and social acceptance.

Before turning to the 1831 revisions, we need to examine the last of the three narrators of Frankenstein; for if the scientist and the monster lure the reader ever deeper into the heart of ambition, Robert Walton, the mariner, reminds us that Frankenstein's abortive enthusiasm is not the only possible product of human energy. Walton's epistolary journal literally contains and effectively mediates the voices of the other two narrators, and so he may be said to have the last -- if not the definitive -- word. Like Henry Clerval and Felix De Lacey, Walton provides an example of the domesticated male, the {132} alternative to Frankenstein's antisocial ambition. But because Walton bears closer affinities to his adopted friend than either Clerval or De Lacey does, his ability to deny his selfish desire and to replace it by concern for others stands as Shelley's most explicit criticism of Frankenstein's imaginative self-indulgence.

Like Frankenstein, Robert Walton is from his youth motivated by an imaginative obsession that scorns a literal-minded, superficial conception of nature. Despite known facts to the contrary, he believes that the North Pole is a "region of beauty and delight" (p. 9), and he longs to "satiate [his] ardent curiosity" [Letter 1.2] by penetrating its secrets. Like Frankenstein's, Walton's ambition masquerades as a benevolent desire to benefit society, although it too is really only the egotist's desire for "glory." In his experiments, Frankenstein transgresses metaphysical boundaries; in his exploration, Walton defies geographical limitations; but for both, indulging desire is actually a transgression against domestic relationships. Walton's only living relative is Margaret Saville, the sister with whom his letters initially connect him; but as his ship sails farther into the icy wastes, his narrative becomes nearly as self-contained as Frankenstein's monologue, and the social gesture of writing letters gradually gives way to the more "self-devoted" habit of keeping a journal -- a letter to his own future self.

Despite the similarities, however, Walton's ambition remains only an embryonic version of Frankenstein's murderous egotism, for ultimately he does not allow his obsession to destroy relationships. The crucial difference between them resides in Walton's willingness to deny his desire when it jeopardizes his social responsibilities or his relational identity. Walton constantly thinks of himself in terms of relationships: he is from childhood an "affectionate brother" [Letter 1.5], and he conceives of maturity as entailing extensions of this regulating influence. The "evil" he laments is not the mortality of the individual (as death was the "most irreparable evil" [1.2.2] to Frankenstein) but the insufficiency that characterizes everyone.

But I have one want which I have never yet been able to satisfy; and the absence of the object of which I now feel as a most severe evil. I have no friend, Margaret: when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success, there will be none to participate my joy . . . I desire the company of a man who could sympathize with me; whose eyes would reply to mine . . . My day dreams are . . . extended and magnificent; but they want (as the painters call it) ) keeping; and I greatly need a friend who would have sense enough not to despise me as romantic, and affection enough for me to endeavour to regulate my mind. [Pp. 13-14]
When his ship rescues the "wretched" Frankenstein from the frozen ocean, Walton immediately begins to "love him as a brother" (p. 22), to thaw his icy silence, to nurse him back to intermittent sympa- {133} thy and generosity. But by this time Frankenstein's ambition has already shriveled his social passions into hatred and a craving for revenge ("I -- I have lost everything," he cries, "and cannot begin life anew" [p. 23] ). Only Walton is still capable of redirecting his involuted ambition outward into self-denying love, for he himself has never permitted his desire to escape completely from the regulating influence of social relationships. For example, in an early letter he claimed that his resolution was "as fixed as fate," but in that same letter he assured his sister that his concern for others would always override his ambition (p. 15). And, in the end, of course, Walton capitulates to the pleas of his sailors -- his family of the sea -- and agrees to return south, to safety and civilization. Walton "kill[s] no albatross" [Letter 2.5]; he realizes that denying his ambition will be painful, even humiliating, but he does not commit the antisocial crime of indulging his egotistic curiosity. Finally, his journal even opens outward again and addresses Margaret Saville directly (p. 206). Walton's letters, as the dominant chain of all the narrations, preserve community despite Frankenstein's destructive self-devotion, for they link him and his correspondents (Mrs. Saville and the reader) in a relationship that Frankenstein can neither enter nor destroy.

The 1831 Revisions

The revisions Mary Shelley prepared for the third edition of Frankenstein, which was published as part of Colbum and Bentley's Standard Novels Series in 1831, reveal that during the thirteen-year interval her interests had changed in two significant ways. The most extensive revisions, some of which were outlined soon after Percy's death in 182224 occur in chapters 1, 2, and 5 of Frankenstein's narrative; their primary effects are to idealize the domestic harmony of his childhood and to change the origin -- and thus the implications -- of his passionate ambition. As a consequence of the first alteration, Frankenstein's imaginative self-assertion becomes a more atrocious "crime"; as a result of the second, he is transformed from a realistic character to a symbol of the Romantic overreacher. Shelley's revisions thus extend her criticism of imaginative indulgence, already present in the 1818 text, and direct it much more pointedly at the blasphemy she now associates with her own adolescent audacity. Yet, paradoxically, even as she heightens the domestic destruction the egotist causes, she actually qualifies his responsibility. For in her new conception of Frankenstein's development she depicts him as the helpless pawn of a predetermined "destiny," a fate that is given, not made. The 1831 Frankenstein seems quintessentially a victim, like the monster, who now more precisely symbolizes what this kind of individual is rather {134} than what he or she allows himself or herself to become. In both the text and her "Author's Introduction," Shelley suggests that such an individual has virtually no control over destiny and that, therefore, he or she is to be pitied rather than condemned.

The alteration almost all critics have noted is Shelley's reformulation of the relationship between Frankenstein and his fiancée Elizabeth. Originally a cousin, Elizabeth becomes a foundling in 1831 -- no doubt partly to avoid insinuations of incest -- but also to emphasize the active benevolence of Frankenstein's mother, who, in adopting the poor orphan, is now elevated to the stature of a "guardian angel" [1.1.10]. This alteration, however, is only one of a series of changes that idealize the harmony of Frankenstein's childhood home. In this edition, for example, Shelley gives more space to the protectiveness of his parents (pp. 233-34) and to the happiness of his childhood ("My mother's tender caresses, and my father's smile of benevolent pleasure while regarding me, are my first recollections" [p. 234]). Not surprisingly, Elizabeth, as the potential link between Frankenstein's childhood and his mature domesticity, receives the most attention. In 1831 she becomes much more like the Victorian Angel of the House; she is "a being heaven-sent," "a child fairer than pictured cherub" (p. 235). Elizabeth is both Frankenstein's guardian and his charge; explicitly, she embodies the regulating reciprocity of domestic love. "She was the living spirit of love to soften and attract: I might have become sullen in my study, rough through the ardour of my nature, but that she was there to subdue me to a semblance of her own gentleness" (p. 237). By emphasizing Elizabeth's pivotal role in what is now an ideal domestic harmony, Shelley prepares to heighten the devastating social consequences of Frankenstein's imaginative transgression and to further underscore the loss he suffers through his willful act.

Despite this idealization of the family, in the 1831 version the seeds of Frankenstein's egotism germinate more rapidly within the home, for Shelley now attributes his fall not primarily to accidents or to his departure but to his own innate "temperature" [1.1.6] or character. "Deeply smitten with the thirst for knowledge" [1.1.5], Frankenstein is now from his birth set apart from his childhood companions. Unlike the "saintly" [1.1.6] Elizabeth or the "noble spirit[ed]" [1.1.6] Clerval, Frankenstein has a violent temper and vehement passions. His accidental discovery of Agrippa is now preceded by a description of a more decisive factor, the determining "law in [his] temperature"; it is this innate predilection that turns his imagination "not toward childish pursuits, but to an eager desire to learn the secrets of heaven and earth" (p. 237). In 1831 Shelley retains Frankenstein's suggestion that his father's negligence contributed to his "fatal impulse" [1.1.7], but almost every alteration {135} contradicts the implication that circumstances can substantially alter innate character. In 1831 Frankenstein resists modern science not because "some accident" [1.1.10] prevents him from attending lectures but because "one of those caprices of the mind" [1.1.9] distracts him from scientific speculations. By further emphasizing the moralists' description of the imagination's irrepressible energy, Shelley radically reduces the importance of external circumstances and underscores the inevitability of the overreacher's fall. At the same time, she also pushes what had been a realistic narrative, framing the symbolic story of monstrous egotism, in the direction of allegory.

Shelley graphically dramatizes the "fatality" of Frankenstein's character in terms of a contest.

Thus strangely are our souls constructed, and by such slight ligaments are we bound to prosperity or ruin. When I look back, it seems to me as if this almost miraculous change of inclination and will was the immediate suggestion of the guardian angel of my life -- the last effort made by the spirit of preservation to avert the storm that was even then hanging in the stars, and ready to envelope me . . . It was a strong effort of the spirit of good; but it was ineffectual. Destiny was too potent, and her immutable laws had decreed my utter and terrible destruction. [P. 239]
Characterizing Frankenstein's psyche as a battleground between the personified "spirit of good" [1.1.10] and "destiny" [1.1.6] blurs the distinction between personal ambition and external coercion and gives the impression that, in an important sense, Frankenstein is merely the passive victim of powerful forces. This impression is reinforced by other crucial alterations in the l831 text. When Frankenstein sets out for Ingolstadt, for example, he characterizes himself as being hostage to an irresistible "influence," to which he attributes a relentless intentionality: "Chance -- or rather the evil influence, the Angel of Destruction . . . asserted omnipotent sway over me from the moment I turned my reluctant steps from my father's door" (p. 240). This "influence" has its counterpart in Frankenstein's own ambition, but, once more, Shelley personifies its workings so as to make Frankenstein seem a victim:
Such were the professor's words -- rather let me say such the words of fate, enounced to destroy me. As he [M. Waldman] went on, I felt as if my soul were grappling with a palpable enemy; one by one the various keys were touched which formed the mechanism of my being: chord after chord was sounded, and soon my mind was filled with one thought, one conception, one purpose. So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein, -- more, far more, will I achieve . . . I closed not my eyes that night. My internal being was in a state of insurrection and turmoil; I felt that order would thence arise, but I had no power to produce it [P. 241]
This remarkable passage suggests that one's "soul" can be taken over by an invading enemy, who, having taken up residence within, effectively becomes one's "fate." The "palpable enemy," which we know to be imaginative desire, is no stranger to its chosen victim; but Shelley's repeated use of the passive voice and her depiction of the "soul" as a vessel to be filled, then objectified, makes this "resolution" [1.2.7] seem a visitation rather than an act of self-indulgence. Dramatizing the fragmentation of Frankenstein's psyche foreshadows, of course, the literal splitting off of the monster; but, equally important, it suggests that Frankenstein cannot be held responsible for the "destiny" he is powerless to resist.

In 1831 Shelley also elaborates Frankenstein's misunderstanding of the natural world; but by extending his blindness to the most innocent of all the characters, Elizabeth, Shelley now makes him seem only one victim of nature's treachery. In the revised version of the scene in the Alps, Frankenstein's deception is all the more cruel because nature now specifically invokes memories of his harmonious childhood and even presents the face of his deceased mother: "The very winds whispered in soothing accents, and maternal nature bade me weep no more . . . The same lulling sounds acted as a lullaby to my too keen sensations . . . [The forms of nature] gathered around me, and bade me be at peace" (pp. 248-49). But this nature still holds only the monster; and when Frankenstein's trust and betrayal are generalized to Elizabeth, his delusion becomes an inevitable curse of the human condition, not simply a production of his own unleashed imagination. In her revised letter in chapter 6, Elizabeth celebrates nature's benevolent constancy: "The blue lake, and snow-clad mountains, they never change; -- and I think our placid home, and our contented hearts are regulated by the same immutable laws" (p. 243). But when Justine is executed, Elizabeth also learns the bitter truth. In this context, her heart-rending speech (". . . misery has come home, and men appear to me as monsters" [p. 88] ), retained from the 1818 text, now emphasizes less that Elizabeth is Frankenstein's victim than that all humans are unwitting victims of nature's violence and their own natural frailty.

As one might expect, in 1831 Shelley also alters her portrait of Robert Walton in order to remove the alternative of self-control she now wants to deny to Frankenstein. Walton's victory over egotism becomes less a triumph over his own ambition than the consequence of a mysterious internal revolution. Initially Walton describes himself as a man driven by two conflicting tendencies:

There is something at work in my soul, which I do not understand. I am practically industrious -- pains-taking, -- a workman to execute with perseverence and labour: -- but besides this, there is a love for the marvellous, a belief {137} in the marvellous, intertwined in all my projects, which hurries me out of the common pathways of men, even to the wild sea and unvisited regions I am about to explore. [P. 231]
Walton too is a pawn of internal forces, forces which seem to originate from outside him ("there is a love . . . which hurries me"). Thus, although in 1831 Walton's ambition is more pronounced, more like the young Frankenstein's, he is not wholly responsible for his actions. Just as M. Waldman was the external catalyst to precipitate Frankenstein's "destiny," so Frankenstein serves as the critical agent for Walton. Frankenstein's narrative resolves Walton's internal conflict and restores to him the domestic affection that has all along formed the innate "groundwork of [his] character" [Letter 2.4]. Walton does not really assert himself or actively choose; rather, true to his character, his original self-denying nature, he allows himself to be acted on by others: to respond to the needs of Frankenstein, then to the sailors in his charge.

Of the three narrations that compose Frankenstein, the monster's history receives the least attention in the 1831 revisions -- no doubt because Mary Shelley sympathized even more strongly with the guilt and alienation that shadow the egotist's crime. Moreover, by implication, the monster is now the appropriate extension of the curse of the creative artist, not the product of the self-indulged imagination. The monster's grotesqueness and its singularity are still signs of an essential transgression, but its pathetic powerlessness is now a more appropriate counterpart to the helplessness of Frankenstein himself.

We can begin to understand the significance these changes held for Mary Shelley by examining the introduction she added to the 1831 text. Her primary desire in this introduction is to explain -- and justify -- the audacity of what now seems to her like blasphemy; she wants to answer, and thus forever silence, the question that, repeatedly asked, insistently raises the ghost of her former self: "How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?" (p. 222). Even this explanation must be justified, however, for Mary Shelley wants most of all to assure her readers that she is no longer the defiant, self-assertive "girl" who once dared to explore ambition and even to seek fame herself without the humility proper to a lady. Now "infinitely indifferent" [Introduction 4] to literary reputation, Shelley claims to be "very averse to bringing [her]self forward in print" [Introduction 1]. Her commentary is permissible only because she introduces it as coming from and explaining her author persona, that other self, which is, strictly speaking, not the "personal" Mary Shelley at all: "as it will be confined to such topics as have connection with my authorship alone, I can scarcely accuse myself of a personal intrusion" [Introduction 1]. This {138} splitting of herself into two personae replicates Shelley's narrative strategy of apportioning her sympathies among the various characters in the novel. Just as she did -- and did not -- identify with the monster, so she is -- and is not -- responsible for giving substance to her dream.

Her 1831 version of the dream that inspired the novel makes clear what Shelley is so eager to disavow: the monster's creator, now referred to specifically as an artist, transgresses the bounds of propriety through his art. This transgression (now characterized as blasphemy) is followed by the artist's fear and revulsion, for he recognizes in his "odious handywork" the essential meaning of artistic creation: the "yellow, watery, but speculative eyes" that mirror the artist's own are the signs not only of transgression but of a fundamental deficiency common to creature and creator alike.

I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handywork, horror-stricken. He would hope that, left to itself the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade; that this thing which had received such imperfect animation, would subside into dead matter, and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench for ever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life. He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains, and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes. [P. 228]
The boldness with which Shelley once pursued metaphysical speculations now seems, first of all, a defiance of one's proper place -- here the male's in relation to God, but also, by extension, woman's in relation to the family. Clearly here, as in the thematic emphasis of the novel, Shelley expresses the tension she feels between the self-denial demanded by domestic activity and the self-assertiveness essential to artistic creation. Before 1816, she explains, she did not respond to Percy's encouragement that she write because "travelling, and the cares of a family, occupied [her] time" (pp. 223-24). Now that she has pursued his designs, she finds literary production to be a perverse substitute for a woman's natural function: a "hideous corpse" usurps what should be the "cradle of life."25

But the "speculative" monster is also an objectification of the artist's creative self, and as such it raises disturbing associations for the real Mary Shelley. Because this society tends to objectify women in cultural forms ranging from symbols of property to poetic muses, {139} the temptation to think of oneself as an object constitutes a particularly seductive danger for women.26 Certainly Mary Shelley's personal testimony proves that self-objectification was both an alluring and a terrifying temptation for her for some very specific reasons. In her culture, objects and nature and women and the literal, as versions of the Other in opposition to which the Subject seeks definition, are all on the same side of the conceptual axis.27 And for Shelley, as we have seen, the common denominator of all of these is death. Objectification for Shelley therefore means not only conforming to the masculine stereotype of women but, more ominously, exiling herself into the object world of nature -- ironically, "maternal nature" -- which harbors both the murderous egotism Shelley feared in herself and the deadly blight of the literal. As Mary Shelley imagines her female self, she gives her own conflicted energy the form of a monster, a vivified corpse that is capable of commanding pity but that, in all its actions and despite its intentions, destroys every living being it touches. And as she imagines the act of creativity, she imagines exiling her own imaginative energy into a landscape that is fatal to figuration and that freezes all attempts to transform or disguise the self. In such a world, the monster -- and, by extension, the female artist -- is doomed; in the object world of nature, even one who longs to speak and who acquires eloquence from the tablescraps of patriarchal culture, finds that language loses its power to create more than curiosity or revulsion.

As this description suggests, however, the terror that Shelley associates with artistic creation comes not just from the guilt of exceeding one's proper role or from the fatal claims of the literal; it comes also from the fear of failure that accompanies such presumption. The creation Shelley imagines is "odious," "horrid," "hideous," imperfectly animated" -- a failure for all to see. Earlier in the 1831 introduction she had also suggested that the anxiety generated by artistic creation emanates in large part from its profoundly public nature. There she distinguished between her youthful, private fantasies of pure imagination ("waking dreams . . . which had for their subject the formation of a succession of imaginary incidents" [p. 222]) and the stories she actually wrote down, the "close imitations" [Introduction 2] she shared with her childhood friend, Isabel Baxter. "My dreams were at once more fantastic and agreeable than my writings" [Introduction 2], she explains. "The airy flights of . . . imagination," in fact, she considers her only "true compositions," for what she wrote was in "a most common place style" [Introduction 3]. Whereas Mary Wollstonecraft, in The Rights of Woman at least, conceived of writing as confrontation with authorities, for Shelley, to write is necessarily to imitate, and her models, almost all masculine, are both intimidating and potentially judgmental of her audacious {140} foray into their domain. Thus Shelley automatically anticipates their censure of what seems even to her to be the monstrous inadequacy of her objectified self. The fear of public scrutiny and judgment lies behind most of Shelley's disclaimers of the artistic enterprise: "What I wrote was intended at least for one other eye -- my childhood's companion and friend; but my dreams were all my own; I accounted for them to nobody; they were my refuge when annoyed -- my dearest pleasure when free" (p. 223). For Mary Shelley, when the imagination is placed in the service of a text, a discomforting transformation occurs: what had been a harmless pastime becomes tantamount to a transgression, and, fueling the attendant guilt, the fear surfaces that if she does compete she will be found inadequate. Only the unbound and therefore nonbinding imagination can escape censure and thus protect the dreamer against exposure and pain.

Shelley's distinction between imagination and imaginative creation would have surprised many of her male contemporaries. In his "Defence of Poetry," for example, Percy Shelley does not even consider the possibility of keeping imaginative insights private, for, in his theory, poets have a profoundly public responsibility; they are the "unacknowledged legislators of the world."28 Percy's description centers on the self-expressive function of art; he derives his authority from a masculine tradition of poet-prophets and his self-confidence from the social approval generally accorded to masculine self-assertion. Lacking the support of both tradition and public opinion, however, and lacking her mother's determination, Mary Shelley separates the permissible, even liberating expression of the imagination from the more egotistical, less defensible act of public self-assertion.29 For Mary Shelley, the imagination is properly a vehicle for escaping the self, not a medium of personal power or even self-expression. She therefore associates the imagination with images of flight, escape, and freedom; writing she associates with monstrosity, transgression, and failure. If her male peers would have found this distinction incomprehensible, her mother would have understood it all too well; for Shelley's ideal "art" is very like the "feminine" artistry that Wollstonecraft criticized in Maria: it not only lacks "substance," but it is completely ineffectual as well.

Mary Shelley did not, of course, wholly reject the artistic enterprise, no matter how genuine her anxieties and no matter how abject her apologies. As we will see, by 1831 Shelley was an established professional author; she was supporting herself and her son almost exclusively by writing; and her numerous reviews and stories, as well as her three novels, had earned her a considerable reputation. Nor does she totally disavow kinship with her younger self, the more defiant Mary Godwin. It is with felt intensity that Shelley vividly {141} recalls her feeling of power when, having dared to imagine a "frightful . . . success," the younger Mary triumphantly silenced her male critics: "Swift as light and as cheering was the idea that broke in upon me. 'I have found it!' . . . On the morrow I announced that I had thought of a story" (p. 228). But in 1831, the mature Mary Shelley is able to countenance the creation of Frankenstein -- and, in effect, the creation of her entire artistic role -- only because she can interpret these creations as primarily the work of other people and of external circumstances. Thus Shelley "remembers" (sometimes inaccurately) the origin of Frankenstein in such a way as to displace most of the responsibility for what might otherwise seem willful self-assertion; essentially she offers a story that depicts the young Mary Godwin as a creation of others, a pawn, like Frankenstein, of forces larger than herself. Twice she insists on Percy's role in her project, his repeated desire that she "prove [herself] worthy of [her] parentage, and enrol [herself] on the page of fame": "He was for ever inciting me to obtain literary reputation," she adds (p. 223). She also (incorrectly) recalls the pressure her companions at Diodati exerted on her to produce a ghost story for their contest. The degree of embarrassment she records and the vividness of this inaccurate recollection suggest both the extent to which she internalized the expectations she assumed her companions would have and how important it was that the impetus for her creativity should come from outside. "Have you thought of a story? I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative" [Introduction 7].30 To protect herself, however, Shelley assures herself and the reader that she never entered directly into competition with her intimidating male companions. "The illustrious poets," Byron and Percy Shelley, soon tired of the "platitude of prose," and "poor Polidori" [Introduction 6] is hardly worth considering (perhaps because both poets openly ridiculed the doctor). "The machinery of a story" is the humblest of all inventions, she continues, diminishing her accomplishment to what she now considers its appropriate stature. All invention, in fact, she reduces to mere piecework: "invention, it must be humbly admitted . . . can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but it cannot bring into being the substance itself" (p. 226). Even the "substance" of her story, she is quick to add, comes from external sources: initially, her dream was inspired by a conversation between Byron and Percy, "to which [Mary] was a devout but nearly silent listener" [Introduction 9]. Finally, Shelley dramatizes her own contribution to these ideas ("moulding and fashioning" [Introduction 8]) as if it were nearly involuntary:

When I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual {142} bounds of reverie. I saw -- with shut eyes, but acute mental vision, -- I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling before the thing he had put together. [Pp. 227-28]
Then follows the text of the dream quoted above.

The waking vision "possesses" Shelley, just as the fateful, "palpable enemy" [1.2.7] possessed the 1831 Frankenstein. "Horror-stricken" [Introduction 10] like her imagined artist, Shelley tries to "exchange the ghastly image of [her] fancy for the realities around" -- "the dark parquet, the closed shutters" [Introduction 11] of her room. But she finds that she cannot escape the "hideous phantom" except by "transcribing" her "waking dream" [Introduction 11]. In other words, she can exorcise the specter of her own egotistical imagination only by giving in to it as if to a foreign power -- no matter how guardedly, with no matter what guilt.

In 1831, then, when Shelley revised her depiction of Frankenstein, she invested him with both the guilt she had come to associate with her original audacity and the feeling of helplessness she had learned to invoke in order to sanction and explain that audacity. In her need to justify her metaphysical boldness, she employs an almost Godwinian notion of Necessity: Frankenstein's "character" is Fate incarnate; the artist, driven by Necessity, shadowed by guilt, is the powerless midwife to the birth of such "fatality" within human society itself. Paradoxically, this wholehearted acceptance of an essentially subordinate and passive role -- like the symbolic presentation of the monster -- affords Mary Shelley precisely the grounds she needed to sanction her artistic career. For the claim to powerlessness provides a socially acceptable rationale for self-aggrandizement and thus a means of satisfying, simultaneously, her need for social approval and her desire to "prove [herself] worthy" of her parents and Percy Shelley. In her depictions of the monster and the 1831 Frankenstein, Mary Shelley elevates feminine helplessness to the stature of myth. The elaboration of that myth -- and her own place within it -- proves to be the task of the remainder of Shelley's literary career. As a young girl she discovered both the monstrosity and the price of her own ambitions; as a grown woman she experienced a persistent desire to disguise that aggression beneath the manners of the proper lady her society promised that every girl could grow up to be.


1. Mary Shelley's Journal, ed. Frederick L. Jones (Norman: University Oklahoma Press, 1947), pp. 204-6. Subsequent references will be to this volume.

2. Claire Clairmont, quoted by Mrs. Julian Marshal in The Life and Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, 2 vols. (London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1889), 2:248.

3. We have already seen this at work in Maria. One passage from her novel Mary will suffice to demonstrate Wollstonecraft's persistent desire to analyze the place her own distress occupies in the prevalent ideological configuration. This novel is sometimes hyperbolically sentimental, and Wollstonecraft ends by endorsing Mary's sentiment (partly, no doubt, because it specifically recapitulates her own love and grief for Fanny Blood). Yet passages like the following urge us to exercise the kind of judgment that she cannot yet consistently apply to herself. The narrator describes novels as "those most delightful substitutes for bodily dissipation" and then continues: "If my readers would excuse the sportiveness of fancy, and give me credit for genius, I would go on and tell them such tales as would force the sweet tears of sensibility to flow in copious showers down beautiful cheeks, to the discomposure of rouge, &c. &c. Nay, I would make it so interesting, that the fair peruser should beg the hair-dresser to settle the curls himself, and not interrupt her" (Mary, a Fiction, ed. Gary Kelly [1798; London: Oxford University Press, 1976], pp. 2, 3).

4. Discussing a woman whose husband is more well known than she is presents a problem when it comes to names. In Mary Shelley's case, this difficulty is compounded by the fact that she referred to her husband as "Shelley" and by the fact that she was still Mary Godwin during the early part of their relationship. I refer to Mary Shelley as "Shelley" -- even when discussing events before her marriage -- except when clarity demands that I designate her simply as "Mary." The five children in the household she grew up in included, in addition to herself, Charles and Mary Jane (who is also called Jane and Claire) Clairmont, children of Mary's stepmother either out of wedlock or by a former marriage; Fanny Imlay, daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and Gilbert Imlay; and William Godwin, son of Mary's stepmother and William Godwin.

5. Shelley, letter of 30 October 1834, cited in the Introduction to The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, ed. Betty T. Bennett, 2 vols, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 1:xiii (hereafter cited as MSL). In Frederick Jones's edition of the letters, this phrase appears in a letter of 17 November 1834 (The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, ed. Frederick L Jones, 2 vols. [Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1944], 2:88) (hereafter cited as MWSL).

6. Godwin, letter to William Baxter; 8 June 1812, quoted by Muriel Spark in Child of Light: A Reassessment of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Hadleigh, Essex: Tower Bridge, 1951), p. 19.

7. See "Mary Shelley's Introduction to the Third Edition (1831)" in Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, ed. James Rieger (1818 and 1831; Indianapolis and New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1974; Phoenix Paperback ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 223. All future references to Frankenstein will be to this edition (abbreviated as F), which follows the 1818 text and provides the 1831 revisions in a convenient appendix.

8. The Elopement of Percy Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin as Narrated by William Godwin, published with a commentary by H. Buxton Forman (London: Privately printed, 1911), pp. 10, 16.

9. "I return your cheque," Godwin wrote to Percy in 1816, "because no consideration can induce me to utter a cheque drawn by you and containing my name . . . I hope you will send me a duplicate of it by the post which will reach me on Saturday morning. You may make it payable to Joseph Hume or James Martin, or any other name in the whole directory" (quoted by R. Glynn Grylls in Mary Shelley: A Biography [New York: Oxford University Press, 1938], p 55).

10. The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Frederick L. Jones, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), 1:402.

11. See, especially, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), pp. 222-24; Betty T. Bennett, Introduction to MSL, 1:xii-xiii; and U. C. Knoepflmacher, "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), pp. 88-119.

12. "A philosophical wanton," The European Magazine had called Wollstonecraft, who advocated principles that, according to the Anti-Jacobin Review, were "as old as prostitution" (The European Magazine, and London Review, Containing the Literature, History, Politics, Arts, Manners & Amusements of the Age 33 [January-June 1798]: 246; the Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine, or, Monthly Political and Literary Censor 1 [July-December 1798]: 97). One of the most amusing responses to Wollstonecraft's works appears in The Lady's Monthly Museum, or Polite Repository of Amusement and Instruction. A reader, one "J. M.," a mother of four daughters, complains that The Rights of Woman has destroyed her family. "For some days after they [her daughters] had read that fatal book I thought they had lost their senses . . . Their father, unhappily, was infected with the same madness, and encouraged them in it. The equality of the sexes is rung in my ears from morning till night." One of the daughters, Harriet, takes up horse-racing, she loses "all that softness so amiable in a woman, and not unfrequently is seen rubbing down her horse like a stable boy." Maria, "naturally of a more sedate turn than her sister, applies herself to books . . . and declares herself a disciple of Zoroaster." Clara begins a course of anatomical study "and, one evening disguised in a suit of boy's cloaths, went to a Lecture on that horrid subject. Since which she thinks she herself is able to dissect," her mother laments; "and I now cannot keep dog or cat alive in the house." And Lucy, the youngest, whom the mother hoped, "from her sweet infantile sprightliness, would have been the delight of my life, is now an animal with the boisterous roughness of the other sex, and the feminine weakness {261} of her own." She swears she will obtain military training "and is positive that she has in her arm strength sufficient to knock an ox down." Recently, Lucy challenged a man who offended her to a duel, and, when he declined, she "cursed him for a cowardly puppy, not worth her vengeance." J. M. obviously intends this letter to serve as a warning to mothers and daughters attracted to Wollstonecraft's philosophy or character: "In my family they may see it in practice; and see, also, how odious and ridiculous it makes my children to all who know them, excepting those who are so silly as themselves" (Lady's Monthly Museum 3 [December 1799]: 433-34, 435). Numerous novels, poems, and satires, among them Maria Edgeworth's Belinda (1801), George Walker's The Vagabond (1798), Richard Polwhele's "The Unsex'd Females" (1798), and Thomas Taylor's A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes (1792), pilloried Mary Wollstonecraft in a more permanent and readily accessible form than these reviews. Even though Ralph M. Wardle points out that by 1812 the name of Wollstonecraft was no longer automatically synonymous with female villainy, the young Mary Godwin was undoubtedly very familiar with the reception Wollstonecraft's writing and life had received (see Wardle, Mary Wollstonecraft: A Critical Biography [Lawrence, Kans.: University of Kansas Press, 1951], p. 331).

13. For a discussion of Percy Shelley's participation in the revision of Frankenstein, see Rieger's Introduction. Rieger goes so far as to assert that Percy's "assistance at every point in the book's manufacture was so extensive that one hardly knows whether to regard him as editor or minor collaborator" (F, p. xviii). The microfilms of the Frankenstein manuscript, which I have examined in Duke University's Perkin Library (Abinger Collection, reel 11), suggest that, while Percy made many marginal suggestions and probably helped recopy the manuscript, his contributions were largely stylistic and grammatical.

14. Quarterly Review, January 1818, quoted by Grylls, Mary Shelley, p. 316.

15. Grylls, Mary Shelley, p. 315.

16. Shelley's reading of her contemporaries' egotism, while certainly colored by the inhibitions that she, as a woman, had internalized, is an understandable interpretation. For example, Coleridge's depiction of the artistic act as a repetition of "the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM" appropriates godlike power for the poet, whatever Coleridge's self-doubts might have been in practice. The Byron of Childe Harold, parading his bleeding heart before all of Europe, also conveys the impression of his own importance, and Percy Shelley's image of the artist as priest-lawgiver-prophet assumes that the poet is all-powerful, or ought to be. In The Madwoman in the Attic Gilbert and Gubar discuss this masculine image of the poet and the "anxiety of authorship" it causes in women. Although I think that the dilemma was intensified by the contradictions between the Romantic image of the artist as creator and the conventional ideal of the self-effacing woman, I essentially agree with Gilbert and Gubar's perceptive analysis of the self-doubts this image caused women, who read into male poets' claims more confidence than their poems sometimes reveal (see Madwoman, esp. pp. 45-64, and the discussion of Frankenstein, pp. 213-47). For another, quite different, interpretation of the treatment of domesticity in Frankenstein, see Kate Ellis, "Monsters in the Garden: Mary Shelley and the Bourgeois Family," in The Endurance of "Frankenstein", pp. 123-42 (see n. 11, above). In this same collection of essays, Lee Sterrenburg points out the extent to which Frankenstein is a criticism of Godwin's optimistic political theories ("Mary Shelley's Monster: Politics and Psyche in Frankenstein," The Endurance, pp. 143-71), and Peter Dale Scott discusses Frankenstein as an ambivalent response to Percy Shelley ("Vital Artifice: Mary, Percy, and the Psychopolitical Integrity of Frankenstein," The Endurance, pp. 172-202).

17. Shelley seems to be answering, among others, William Godwin and David Hartley.

18. Contrast, for example, the final scene of Frankenstein with Percy Shelley's depiction of the same scene in "Mont Blanc." For Percy, nature is also a citadel of death.

         there, many a precipice,
Frost and the Sun in scorn of mortal power
Have piled: dome, pyramid, and pinnacle,
A city of death, distinct with many a tower
And wall impregnable of beaming ice.
Yet not a city, but a flood of ruin
Is there, that from the boundaries of the sky
Rolls its perpetual stream; vast pines are strewing
Its destined path, or in the mangled soil
Branchless and shattered stand.
Yet, unlike Percy, Mary Shelley does not envision this landscape humanized by imaginative power. Here is Percy Shelley again:
And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,
If to the human mind's imaginings
Silence and solitude were vacancy?
19. Although there are significant complexities in The Prelude, Wordsworth's model of maturation reminds us of Freud's paradigm of oedipal confrontation. Mary Shelley, on the other hand, implies the kind of psychological accommodation Nancy Chodorow describes as the female equivalent of male confrontation. See Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), pp. 192-93; see also above, p. 254, n. 118. For a discussion of Wordsworth's oedipal struggle against traditional social forms, see Michael H. Friedman, The Making of a Tory Humanist: William Wordsworth and the Idea of Community (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979), pp. 4-5 and passim. Mary Shelley would have had an even more obvious and immediate example of male oedipal relations in Percy Shelley's open rebellion against his father, his father's religion, his father's class, and the university that institutionalized this authority.

20. For a discussion of the chains of signification that make up Frankenstein, see Peter Brooks, "Godlike Science / Unhallowed Arts: Language and Monstrosity in Frankenstein," New Literary History 9 (1978): 591-605.

21. Mary Shelley, Preface to the Second Collected Edition of Percy Shelley's Poetry (1839), in Shelley: Poetical Works, ed. Thomas Hutchinson, new edition corrected by G. M. Matthews (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. xxi.

22. "A Defence of Poetry, or Remarks Suggested by an Essay Entitled 'The Four Ages of Poetry,'" in Shelley's Poetry and Prose, ed. Donald H. Reiman and Sharon B. Powers, Norton Critical Edition (New York: W. W. Norton, 1977), p. 486.

23. "Defence of Poetry," pp. 487-88.

24. See Reiger's Introduction to the Bobbs-Merrill edition, pp. xxii-xxiii.

25. Ellen Moers, in Literary Women: The Great Writers (Garden City: Doubleday/Anchor, 1977), proposes that Frankenstein is specifically "a birth myth," that the novel is "most feminine . . . in the motif of revulsion against newborn life, and the drama {263} of guilt, dread, and flight surrounding birth and its consequences" (p. 142). While Moers's insights seem to me suggestive, I think her equation of the monster and the newborn too limiting. Child-bearing is only one kind of extension or projection of the self, and Shelley conflates several meanings in this central incident.

26. Margaret Homans, "Dreaming of Children: Literalization in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights" (unpublished essay, Yale University, 1979), pp. 1-2. According to Homans, women "cannot participate in [the dualism of self and other, or of self and object] as subjects as easily as men can. The feminine self is on the same side of that dualism with what is traditionally other. Women who do conceive of themselves as subjects -- that is, present, thinking women rather than 'woman' -- must continually guard against fulfilling those imposed definitions by being transformed back into objects."

27. See Margaret Homans, Women Writers and Poetic Identity: Dorothy Wordsworth, Emily Brontë, and Emily Dickinson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), pp. 12-29.

28. "Defence of Poetry," p. 508.

29. Shelley's endorsement of the liberated imagination is clear both from her portrait of Clerval, "a boy of singular talent and fancy" [1.1.5] who gives up his childish composition of stories to become simply a connoisseur of natural beauty (p. 159), and from this journal entry of 1834: "My imagination, my Kubla Khan, my 'pleasure dome,' occasionally pushed aside by misery but at the first opportunity her beaming face peeped in and the weight of deadly woe was heightened" (MSJ, p. 203).

30. In his Introduction (p. xvii), Rieger explains that Shelley is incorrect in remembering this mortification: "Polidori's Diary . . . records on 17 June, 'The ghost stories are begun by all but me.'"