Contents Index

The Negative Oedipus: Father, Frankenstein, and the Shelleys

William Veeder

Critical Inquiry 12 (Winter 1986), 365-390

It was Grandfather's and when Father gave it to me he said, Quentin, I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire. . . . I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it.

--Quentin Compson, in William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

A son can never, in the fullest sense, become a father. Some amount of amateur effort is possible. A son may after honest endeavor produce what some people might call, technically, children. But he remains a son. In the fullest sense.

-- Donald Barthelme, The Dead Father
{365} Defining the role of father in Mary Shelley has been both fostered and impeded by recent criticism. Feminist theory with its recognition of the importance of mother has prevented any overrating of father. In the context of Kleinian arguments by Nancy Chodorow and Dorothy Dinnerstein that Freud's neglect of the pre-oedipal years caused him to seriously undervalue the maternal role in child development, literary critics such as Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, Mary Jacobus, Mary Poovey, Marc A. Rubenstein, and Janet M. Todd have established convincingly the importance of Mary Wollstonecraft for Mary Shelley.1 Feminist readings can, however, go too far in this direction. Mother can achieve such prominence that father is cast into shadow. Poovey's chapters are {366} the best overall appraisal of Mary Shelley's novelistic career that I know, but I cannot agree that "in Mary Shelley's own youth and in Falkner (and, in a slightly different sense, in Frankenstein) the motherless daughter's relationship with the father carries the burden of needs originally and ideally satisfied by the mother; in a sense, the relationship with each father is only an imaginative substitute for the absent relationship with the mother."2 Mary Shelley in fact insisted upon the superiority of a father's tuition for daughters, devoted much of her fiction to father-directed emotions and events, confessed privately to untoward affection for Godwin, and expressed this affection so shockingly in Mathilda that her father suppressed the novel.

A second approach to Mary Shelley, that of the psychoanalytic critics of Frankenstein, does give prominence to father, since the oedipal model presupposes generational conflict. Preeminence, however, is once again accorded to mother. The primary object of Frankenstein's affection is presumed to be his mother Caroline, and the primary object of his scientific labors is presumed to be the discovery of a principle of life which would bring her back from the dead. Despite unquestionably valuable insights by J. M. Hill, Gordon D. Hirsch, Morton Kaplan and Robert Kloss, Rubenstein, U. C. Knoepflmacher, and others, the oedipal model has tended to occlude deeper levels of the psyche where Mary Shelley moves beyond mother love.3 Here Freud's "negative" Oedipus provides a more useful paradigm, because here the son desires to murder mother in order to get to father.4

My study of Mary Shelley and father includes her husband because Percy Shelley's obsessions with patriarchy, with "'GOD, AND KING, AND LAW'" [The Mask of Anarchy l. 37], influenced profoundly Mary's* art and life. Percy's idealizations of father in The Revolt of Islam and Prince Athanase indicated ways of resolving familial antagonisms which Mary adopted and developed in her later fiction. Percy's relationship with Frankenstein is still more intricate. Recognizing that her husband's obsessions with father and self-creation {367} were contributing to the deterioration of their marriage, Mary represents these obsessions (among many others, including her own) in Victor Frankenstein -- partly to vent in art the anger which would have further damaged the marriage, and partly to show Percy before it was too late the errors of his ways. It was too late. Percy responded to Frankenstein in Prometheus Unbound and The Cenci with a reaffirmation of sonship which has been largely unrecognized by scholars.

Father looms so large for both Mary and Percy Shelley that no one critical approach can account for him fully. At their most idealistic -- and thus most traditional -- the Shelleys encourage a critical methodology which integrates the traditional disciplines of biographical and close textual analyses. By taking this approach to Mary's later fiction and to Percy's The Revolt of Islam, I can not only confirm the prominence of father for the Shelleys but also establish the ideal against which their most subversive and important art was created. Reading this indirect, overdetermined art in light of the negative Oedipus will help answer important questions about Frankenstein, Prometheus Unbound, and The Cenci and will, I hope, add to our understanding of the vexed role of father in the Romantic period and in subsequent generations whose children we are.

1. The Ideal

In a biographical nexus as amazing as the persons involved, Percy's intricate conflicts with father are illuminated by Mary's incestuous attractions to father. Mary's admiration for Mary Wollstonecraft, unquestionable though it is, cannot match the intensity of what she called "my excessive and romantic attachment to my Father."5 Mary, like her Mathilda, "clung to the memory of my parents; my mother I should never see, she was dead: but the idea of [my] unhappy, wandering father was the idol of my imagination." The primacy of father is confirmed by Mathilda's knowledgeable steward: "'You are like her [your mother] although there is more of my lord in you.'"6 Although she reveres Mary Wollstonecraft as a theorist of pedagogy, Mary Shelley insists upon the advantages of a father's tuition. "There is a peculiarity in the education of a daughter, brought up by a father only, which tends to develop early a thousand of those portions of mind, which are folded up, and often destroyed, under mere feminine tuition."7 In her last novels Mary continues to insist how much fathers love daughters. Perkin Warbeck features the heroic mariner De Faro who "could not prevail on himself to leave his lovely, unprotected girl behind"; Falkner attests that "no father ever worshipped a child so fervently" as the title character does his Elizabeth.8 Mary never gets over Godwin's coldness. She is forty-one years old when she says "My Father, from age and domestic circumstances, could not 'me faire {368} valoir.'"9 Even in middle age, Mary can bring herself to this terrible admission only by insulating the reality in French phrasing (when English would suffice), in italics (which she does not always apply to foreign expressions), in quotation marks (which are unnecessary), and by atoning for the aggression by capitalizing "My Father" (which she by no means always does).

Percy too makes father paramount. The intensity of his feelings -- which finds negative expression in The Mask of Anarchy's rage at "'GOD, AND KING, AND LAW'"10 and at his father, Sir Timothy -- expresses itself positively in Percy's lifelong search for lawgivers. After Dr. James Lind, who taught science, occult lore, and the right to be different, comes Thomas Jefferson Hogg. "I [Percy] took you for one who was to give laws to us poor beings who grovel beneath."11 Then Percy finds Godwin. The older man's enormous authority comes in part from his confirming what the young philosopher needs to believe -- that reason can control passion and assure perfection. But Godwin also answers the needs of a rebellious son. Jean Overton Fuller has it backward when she says that "from the time he [Shelley] read this [Political Justice], he regarded the circumstances of his birth as shaming, and only possible to live down by the dedication of his mind and position to the elevation of those less endowed."12 Percy's rebelliousness predates his reading of Political Justice because his anger was father-directed before it was political. Godwin thus serves less to generate rebellion than to legitimize it. He lessens the guilt while encouraging the crime.13 Godwin allows the son both to have him as new father and to have a nonpsychological and thus largely guiltless rationale for rejecting the old father.

Mary can see so accurately into Percy because she shares with him more than an obsession with father: daughter and son here desire the same man, William Godwin.

[* * * * * *]

Percy and Mary both project their desires for father onto the screen of art. Seeing how desire is satisfied ideally there will help us to understand both why such satisfactions prove impossible in the Shelleys' marriage and how their dissatisfactions are figured forth in Frankenstein. A convenient starting point is the passage in Percy's Revolt of Islam where Laon sees Cythna's corpse hanging from a tree:

A woman's shape, now lank and cold and blue,
   The dwelling of the many-coloured worm,
Hung there; the white and hollow cheek I drew    To my dry lips . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     -- in the deep
The shape of an old man did then appear,
{369} Stately and beautiful; that dreadful sleep
His heavenly smiles dispersed, and I could wake and weep.

(The Revolt of Islam, ll. 1333-36, 1347-50)
Union with the father can occur in The Revolt of Islam only after woman is removed. Kissing hanged Cythna's "hollow cheek" (I, l. 1335) cannot relieve Laon's physical and spiritual dessication, but the Hermit as good father is androgynous enough to be female as well as male. His "solemn" voice is "sweet"; his "giant" arms nurse Laon tenderly (I, ll. 1357, 1364). First the physical dessication is relieved ("my scorched limbs he wound, / In linen moist and balmy" [I, ll. 1365-66]), then the spiritual. "That aged man, so grand and mild, / Tended me, even as some sick mother seems / To hang in hope over a dying child" (I, ll. 1401-3). Since the Hermit is equally effectual in the manly arts -- he controls the intellectual discussion as decisively as he "ruled the helm" of the ship -- he could prove overbearing (I, l. 1380). In fact, Laon initially feared "it was a fiend" (I, l. 1383). But the Hermit does not play the heavy father. Like his model Dr. Lind who defended Percy against Sir Timothy, the Hermit can cut the Old Ones down to size with "a glance as keen as is the lightning's stroke / When it cloth rive the knots of some ancestral oak" (I, ll. 1466-67).

Up to this point Percy has been following the precedent of Wordsworth's Excursion: Youth-in-need-of-Wisdom finds all-wise-aged-Man. But The Excursion fails, as Percy (in effect, if not consciously) sees it, to recognize that discipleship is only half the battle. No matter how devoted a pupil the son is, he can never achieve full manhood and thus can never get beyond the natural, inevitable emotions of aggression and alienation. The Excursion offered the son no way out because it confined him to a single-staged relationship with an elder who dispensed wisdom in propositional statements ("'the good die first'"14) and in exemplary tales ("The Ruined Cottage"). Thus the best the younger man could do was to acknowledge and embrace the elder's wisdom.

From such permanent dependence Percy finds an escape by insisting that the father-son relationship be two-staged. Although his Hermit does address Laon's problems, Percy presents no propositional statements and no exemplary tales. In fact he allows the Hermit no dialogue at all at this point in Islam. The elder's role here is largely maternal: he creates a nurturing ambience in which the young man's psyche heals itself. Then stage two can begin. The son takes over the role of Wordsworth's seer and provides the elder with ideas and the "power" to effect them.

I have been thy passive instrument
. . . . . . . . . . . .
      thou has lent
{370} To me, to all, the power to advance
Towards unforeseen deliverance.

(I, ll. 1549, 1551-53)
Likening Laon's tongue to "a lance" (I, l. 1566), the Hermit confirms the son's phallic manhood by crediting him with that transition from language to action which the father could never make.

Son also surpasses sire in Prince Athanase where the Wordsworth situation is again reversed:

The youth, as shadows on a grassy hill
Outrun the winds that chase them, soon outran
His teacher, and did teach with native skill

Strange truths and new to that experienced man;
Still they were friends.

(PA, ll. 176-80)
This last line is crucial for lslam as well as for Prince Athanase. In surpassing the father, the son must not generate a guilt that would blight his flowering manhood. In the bloody battle against tyranny in Islam, Laon "in joy . . . found, / Beside me then, firm as a giant pine / Among the mountain-vapours driven around, / The old man whom I loved" (I, ll. 2416-19). The Hermit's progress from ruined tower (I, ll. 1415-16) to towering pine does not indicate any maturation on his part. The growth is Laon's. The phallic pine's association with father establishes that Laon is now confident enough of his own powers to recognize the manhood of his father and of every other male. A benign coda is now possible. The Hermit's glorious death in battle can complete the generational transfer because father and son have achieved the only equality possible to creatures bound upon the wheel of time. Each is assured the dignity of his place in the generational cycle.

[* * * * * *]

The problem of Mary's "excessive and romantic attachment" to Godwin finds in her later fiction a resolution which is as idealized and conventional as Percy's in Islam.

On a bed of [forest] leaves lay an old man [a Hermit]: his grey hairs were thinly strewn on his venerable temples, his beard white, flowing and soft, fell to his girdle; he smiled even in his sleep a gentle smile of benevolence. I knelt down beside him; methought it was my excellent father.15
All her life Mary as well as Percy is the child in the fairy-tale who wanders through the psychic forest seeking father. He materializes in Valperga as {371} he did in Islam, to fulfill through art the fantasy denied in life. Like Percy's Hermit, Mary's is all-sufficient because androgynous. "Soft . . . gentle . . . benevolence" signal his feminine capacity to nurture, while the role of "father" as spiritual guide assures his masculine authority. "Venerable" characterizes this "excellent father" as it did Percy's surrogate father in "The Coliseum"; a smile associated with sleep establishes the benignity of both Valperga's Hermit and Islam's. The conjunction here of "temples" and "knelt" reflects the willingness of both Shelleys to revere properly androgynous paternity.

The quest for father recurs in virtually all of Mary's novels. Besides the patently incestuous Mathilda where the mother's death frees daughter and father for untoward desires, there is Falkner, where the mother's death impels Elizabeth toward a foster father; Lodore, where the mother's abandonment of her daughter assures Ethel's dependence upon "the only parent she had ever known" (L, 2:80); Perkin Warbeck, where motherless Monina returns to her manly father after intervals of (platonic) devotion to Perkin; and Valperga, where Euthanasia considers her bond with father "the dearest tie she had to earth" (V, 1 :167) and where orphaned Beatrice venerates both "my excellent father" the Hermit and "my good father, the bishop" (V, 3:70). The abundance of motherless heroines in nineteenth-century fiction indicates the appeal of this situation to the culture: how much more strongly does it affect Mary Godwin whose situation it actually is.

Fathers in Mary's later fiction satisfy ideally a daughter's need for physical, psychological, and intellectual support, but there are also more intensely charged emotions which must be defused. The repetition of "she idolized her father," "her idolized father," and "her father whom she idolized" seems particularly obsessive because three different heroines are involved: Ethel in Lodore (L, 1:37), Elizabeth in Falkner (Fa, 1:125), Clara in The Last Man.16 The obsession is Mary Godwin's. She insists, however, that incestuous feelings are reciprocal. Whereas it is the daughter in Falkner who "felt herself bound . . . by stronger than filial ties" (Fa, 1:110), the father is the one who knows "more than a father's fondness" in Lodore (L, 1:42)." Such fondness makes him the aggressor, "penetrating the depths of her soul" with his "dark expressive eyes" (L, 1:62), while it is the "rapturous" daughter in Falkner whose "thrilling adoration . . . dreamt not of the necessity of a check, and luxuriated in its boundless excess" (Fa, 1:67). When Elizabeth exclaims "'God preserve you, my more than father,'" Mary Godwin is speaking (Fa, 1:120).

Feelings more than daughterly are frequent in nineteenth-century fiction, but incest is not. The traditional way to channel untoward emotion is followed by Mary Shelley in her fiction after Mathilda. Suitors replace sires. In a century when bridegrooms were admonished endlessly to carry on the parental guidance of the weaker vessel, Neville is told by Falkner: "'You must compensate to my dear child for my loss -- you must be father {372} as well as husband'" (Fa, 2:309). Neville can replace Falkner so smoothly because he is in fact the same character. Similar physically (dark, olive, craggy) and psychologically (prone to macho rage but open to feminine influence), both men live under the same cloud, "the mysterious wretchedness that darkened the lives of the only two beings, the inner emotions of whose souls had been opened to her" (Fa, 1:156). Although Elizabeth encourages Neville in the quest for his mother's killer which eventually brings Falkner to trial, Elizabeth's endeavors are therapeutic, not punitive. Only after Falkner has publicly confessed his part in Alithea's death can he be forgiven by Neville and be reconciled to him. Only then can the triangle of Elizabeth-Neville-Falkner be assured permanence. The conventional marriage which resolves the love plot thus provides an unconventional wish fulfillment. Falkner ends not with the wedding of Ethel and Neville but with the cemented bond between Neville and Falkner because only the union of suitor and father assures that the daughter can at last consummate the passion which has driven Mary's heroines. And herself.

[* * * * * *]

Why does Mary not find with Percy the resolution of complexes and the completeness of union which Ethel achieves with Neville? Mary certainly tries to put Falkner into practice -- to move from father to suitor by recreating the elder man in the younger. "Until I met Shelley I [could?] justly say that he [Godwin] was my God."18 Mary abandons herself to Percy with the most orthodox completeness. "Perhaps [I] will one day have a father till then be every thing to me love" (LMS, 1:4-5, 28 October 1814). Mary of course remains deeply concerned with Godwin, but she makes Percy her god -- investing "everything" in him and expecting as much in return. If she has gotten beyond father ties and united permanently with Percy, why can't he get beyond father problems and unite exclusively with her? lslam seems to second Mary's espousal of the "normal" teleology of relationships. After the Hermit's death, Cythna -- who, it turns out, is not actually dead -- reenters the plot and is united with Laon in ecstatic congress.

Why art and life don't reflect each other for Percy will become clearer if we turn back to Islam and see that beneath its apparently idealistic surface are subversive forces at work. Why does Percy put himself in the awkward position of having to resurrect Cythna? Why hang her in the first place? If Laon needs to be alone with the Hermit to achieve solidarity, Cythna's capture and abduction at this point in the plot are convenient enough. The very unnecessariness of Cythna's hanging indicates how necessary it must be to Percy. Especially since her corpse is presented so gruesomely, the assassination of woman -- as opposed to her absence -- seems a precondition of male solidarity for Percy.

{373} Islam reverses Falkner by paralleling it too exactly. Percy as well as Mary is seeking father as end. The ostensibly similar teleologies of daughter going beyond father to suitor and son going beyond father to beloved involve, in fact, quite different processes. While the woman has only to change the object of her affection, the man must change the gender of his. That a male is the object of Percy's desires is indicated not only in the Hermit scenes of Islam but in much of his life. If we compare the duration and intensity of Percy's bonds with men and with women, we may well agree with various scholars that the paramount figures of his emotional life are Hogg, Byron, Edward John Trelawny, and Edward Williams. Men are also the paramount objects when rage is the prevailing emotion. Inadequate fathers -- Sir Timothy, Godwin, Wordsworth,Rousseau -- obsess the poet-son to the end, to The Triumph of Life. Either way, rage or affection, the lesson is the same. Either solidarity with father is achieved, and woman is superfluous; or solidarity is denied, and the son's continued search for father keeps woman secondary.

Islam proves subversive in a different way if we view it in light of the Erotic desire for self-union which is a paramount theme of Percy Shelley and of Frankenstein.19 Is even a father-son bond possible? Male solidarity obviously constitutes a threatening alternative to self-union because the father becomes a rival who must be extirpated. But solidarity is even more threatening than that. It fosters death. Initially the son's escape from mother and body may be directed toward father and mind, but soon he recognizes that father is not only as mortal as mother and thus as incapable of assuring the son's immortality, father is more mortal. Uniting with him involves death as a precondition rather than simply as a consequence. Equality means mortality, since the son can ascend to the father's place upon the wheel of time only if he acknowledges the elder's humanity and thus accepts the inevitability of his own descent to death. Father is the ultimate threat to self-union because he provides a model so attractive that the son may accept mortality to achieve it.

There is something else about father, however, something promising for Eros. Father in death seems to offer an escape from mortality that mother, dead or alive, can not. So important is this aspect of father-son relations that it informs the major literary productions of both Mary and Percy Shelley.

2. Subversion and the Oedipus

I want to begin my discussion of Victor and his father Alphonse in what may seem an unlikely place -- the Arab Maid of Shelley's Alastor. Mary in the opening frame of Frankenstein establishes her position on father-son conflicts by having Margaret Saville agree with Mr. Walton {374} about the foolhardiness of Robert's seaborne quests. Since no one in the central frame of Frankenstein can succeed Margaret as arbiter, Mary proceeds more indirectly. In Alastor, the Arab Maid does what Mary considers natural and what she herself did for Percy -- steals away from the father and tends upon the beloved. Woman's reward in Alastor is abandonment. "Self-centred seclusion" (CP, p. 15) makes the male too obsessed with his "antitype" to bond with his complement.20 Frankenstein recapitulates the Arab Maid scenario, twice. "The Arabian," Safie, leaves her father and travels to Felix's home. Her reward is felicity. Elizabeth travels from her father to Frankenstein's home. Her reward is murder. The contrast between Felix's and Victor's treatments of woman signals that something is seriously wrong with Victor's relationship with father.

Felix, despite many hardships, feels no apparent antagonism toward a father excellent like the best old men in Mary's and Percy's art. Like the blind seer in Percy's "The Coliseum," M. De Lacey responds positively to the wanderer who comes seeking knowledge and love; like the Hermits in Islam and Valperga, he is served devotedly by an excellent daughter. With this ideal father, Felix achieves the solidarity which allows him, like Neville, to go on to complementary union with the beloved. Why can't Victor do the same with Alphonse and Elizabeth?

Critics in recent years have found oedipal tensions in the Victor-Alphonse relationship. They note that the son is hurt by his father's belittling Agrippa; that Victor consequently fears to share with Alphonse his new readings in alchemy and his later experiments in monster-making; that Victor feels exiled from the family when he is sent to Ingolstadt; that he associates Alphonse with the monster after Henry's murder; that he feels bound to his parents "by a silken cord" and includes "seemed" [1.1.3]in his description of their love for him.21 These and other pieces of evidence fit so readily into psychoanalytic patterns that we can forget we are dealing with a character, not a patient. Especially since the text is a narrator's account, we must ascertain the author's intent. "When I would account to myself for the birth of that passion . . . I find . . ." [1.1.6]22 Victor is accounting to himself. What "I find" is self-justification. Events which some psychoanalytic readers have taken as factual evidence may be convenient pretexts, as Kaplan and Kloss demonstrate with Victor's initial horror at the creature.

Why should Frankenstein react in this astounding way? . . . because the creature is ugly in appearance! At least this is the only explanation Frankenstein gives us.

But what an achievement is here. Ugly or not, it moves, breathes, lives! . . . With the description he gives, he might just as easily, and more realistically, have marvelled that the resemblance to a man was so close. {375} If we are to understand him, and the novel as well, we must presume that this terror, having its origin in other causes, is transferred to a convenient pretext.23

Convenient pretexts are Victor's stock-in-trade. Particularly in passages defining the reasons for his behavior, Frankenstein's reactions often seem inordinate, the effects disproportionate to the causes. As we seek underlying motives, we must look carefully at Victor's placement of the blame upon Alphonse, and also at Levine's less extreme judgment that "fathers and sons are almost equally responsible and irresponsible."24 We must, in other words, remain alive to distinctions between narrator and author. between Victor's assertion and our experience of it.

Take, for example, Alphonse's remark about Agrippa:

My father looked carelessly at the title-page of my book, and said, 'Ah! Cornelius Agrippa! My dear Victor, do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash.'

If, instead of this remark, my father had taken the pains to explain to me, that the principles of Agrippa had been entirely exploded, and that a modern system of science had been introduced . . ., I should certainly have thrown Agrippa aside. (F, pp. 32-33)

Victor is correct: Alphonse should explain, not simply dismiss. But just as unquestionably, the magnitude of Alphonse's failure is relevant too. Is our experience really that "a rationalist, like Godwin, the elder Frankenstein rather cruelly chastens his son's youthful imagination" ("AD," p. 104)? Alphonse's "'my dear'" is neither rationalistic nor cruel, as Godwin's chastenings of Mary show. She could easily have made Alphonse's dismissal of Agrippa seem cruel enough to warrant Victor's reaction. Instead what we experience is a minor mistake. What parent has not missed by at least this much the proper tone in a random moment? (And random the moment is: on vacation, on a rainy day indoors, with a child who has never before evinced an interest in science.)

That Victor is finding convenient pretexts is signaled in his admission that "if, instead of this remark, my father had taken the pains to explain . . . I . . . should probably have applied myself to the more rational theory of chemistry which has resulted from modern discoveries. It is even possible, that the train of my ideas would never have received the fatal impulse that led to my ruin" (F, p. 33). Is it really? "Probably" and "possible" foster suspicions which are confirmed when Alphonse does explain about modern science.

The catastrophe of this tree [hit by lightning] excited my extreme astonishment; and I eagerly inquired of my father the nature and origin of thunder and lightning. He replied, 'Electricity;' describing at the same time the various effects of that power. He constructed {376} a small electrical machine, and exhibited a few experiments; he made also a kite, with a wire and string, which drew down that fluid from the clouds.

This last stroke completed the overthrow of Cornelius Agrippa. (F, p. 35)

Is our experience of this passage actually that the "1818 version of the novel is even harsher on the old man" than the substantially revised 1831 text, or that "Alphonse is also blamed for leading his son to science when he conducts a Franklin-like experiment" ("AD," pp. 104-5)? Alphonse can't win for trying. Here he does all that Victor faulted him for omitting before: he is patient; he explains; he even demonstrates. How does Mary treat him harshly here? Or rather, what does it mean that "the 1818 version of the novel" treats him harshly? Is the treatment attributable to the author or to the narrator? That Victor is trying to implicate Alphonse in his youthful swerve toward destructive studies is clear. But we must distinguish between Victor's attempt and Mary's, between Victor's attempt and our response.

After the Franklin-like experiment, Victor "by some fatality . . . did not feel inclined to commence the study of any modern system" (F, p. 35). In its vagueness, "some fatality" carries on from "probably" and "possible," but it goes beyond these words as the clearest signal yet that the prime force operating upon Victor is not Alphonse. The 1818 edition introduces at this point a lecture course which "some accident" prevents Victor from attending "until the course was nearly finished. The lecture . . . was entirely incomprehensible to me" (F, p. 36). Accidents are convenient pretexts for Victor so often that we are not inclined to see external forces operating strongly here, and this interpretation is confirmed by Mary's revision in the 1831 edition of Frankenstein. The lecture course is deleted, Alphonse is replaced as Victor's electricity mentor by "a man of great research," -- and still the boy does not go on to study modern science (F, p. 238).

By some fatality the overthrow of these men [Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, Paracelsus] disinclined me to pursue my accustomed [scientific] studies. It seemed to me as if nothing would or could ever be known. All that had so long engaged my attention suddenly grew despicable. By one of those caprices of the mind . . . In this mood of mind I betook myself to the mathematics . . .

Thus strangely are our souls constructed . . . Destiny was too potent, and her immutable laws had decreed my utter and terrible destruction. (F, p. 239)

By repeating the word "fatally" which begs the question that it seems to answer, Mary directs us away from Alphonse and toward Victor. "It seemed to me" . . . "suddenly" . . . "caprices of the mind" . . . "mood of {377} mind" . . . "strangely" . . . "Destiny" . . . "Laws had decreed." Victor does not understand what is happening inside him and does not want to. Mary, I believe, tries to avoid in 1831 exactly what Dussinger faults her for -- "indecisiveness" about Alphonse's role in 1818 ("KG," p. 42). Having initially established that Victor's "family was not scientifical," Mary needed the boy familiarized with modern science and she chose Alphonse as the handiest teacher -- forgetting that he was not scientifical (F, p. 34). Later, in the Thomas copy, she caught her mistake and reminded herself in the margin "you said your family was not scientific." In 1831 she corrects the mistake by keeping Alphonse consistently nonscientifical and inventing, clumsily, the man of great research who teaches Victor what she wants him to know. Mary never, I feel, intended a rivalry between Alphonse and Victor as scientists, never intended the father to have any large role in the son's disastrous move toward monster-making. Father and son do not seem almost equally responsible and irresponsible. Instead the son absolves himself of irresponsibility by making the father responsible. To appreciate Victor's motivation here, we must, I feel, heed a distinction present in Freud and important in recent psychoanalytic work -- a distinction between the Oedipus as a fantasy projected by the son upon the innocent father and the Oedipus as a son's correct perception about the father. Psychoanalytic critics have tended to assume that the latter is the case in Frankenstein, whereas I incline to the former. Victor blames Alphonse for sending him to Ingolstadt, for example.
When I had attained the age of seventeen, my parents resolved that I should become a student at the university of Ingolstadt. I had hitherto attended the schools of Geneva; but my father thought it necessary, for the completion of my education, that I should be made acquainted with other customs than those of my native country. My departure was therefore fixed at an early date. (F, p. 37)
"I" attain seventeen, but the family does the rest. "My parents resolved" . . . "my father thought" . . . "my departure was therefore fixed." The son is already feeling himself driven from home and mother by his rival the father (and may also be feeling, as the plural "parents" indicates, that mother is siding with father) when suddenly Caroline Frankenstein dies. What ensues is analyzed well by Dussinger. Victor first blames his mother's death on his father's banishing of him; then Alphonse's continued insistence upon Victor's departure makes the son see things the opposite way -- that the father blames him for Caroline's death and is punishing him with banishment. "The narrator, it would be possible to say, wants to lessen his guilt involved in his secret rebellion against the enervating domestic order by attributing the decision to leave to his father" ("KG," p. 43). Victor's word "early" supports Dussinger by indicating not only that the date is soon, but that the son feels it is too soon, feels he is being {378} forced to leave early. This is not how we take it, however. That sons become "acquainted with other customs than those of . . . [their] native country" is a traditional goal of fathers. Particularly in Mary's fiction, sons repeatedly practice the wisdom preached in Lodore: "'At seventeen years many their fortunes seek'" (L, 3:158). At "seventeen" Lodore goes off to Oxford (L, 1:82); Lionel, admonished by Adrian in The Last Man to "begin life . . . you are seventeen," sets off for "the necessary apprenticeship" in a foreign land.25 And barely a month before her seventeenth birthday, Mary Godwin elopes with Percy Shelley.

The contrast between Victor's reluctance and the eagerness of Castruccio, whose "fervent desire" as "he entered his seventeenth year" was "to quit what he thought a lifeless solitude," shows how closely Victor resembles Percy Shelley (V, 1:37). Percy, who at various times suspected Sir Timothy of seeking to exile him to a madhouse and the Peninsular Wars, sees the inevitable need to go away to school as a father-generated plan of banishment. He responds by setting a washroom fire which could have consumed his home.

The parallels with Percy's life and the analogues in Mary's fiction confirm our sense that Alphonse is not malevolent, especially since he sympathetically postpones Victor's departure after Caroline's death. Victor downplays the sympathy by mitigating Alphonse's agency. "I obtained from my father a respite of some weeks" (F, p. 38). The emphasis is upon "I." That what I do is to "obtain" and "a respite" stresses the son's subservience and his struggle to wrest a concession from father. The truly domineering father in Frankenstein is M. Clerval, who for a long time forbids Henry to attend Ingolstadt. Why would Mary portray Henry's father this way except to highlight Victor's father? Instead of the psychological pattern which Frankenstein implies -- that Alphonse's traditional goal and sympathetic postponement of it screen his "real," oedipal design -- we experience the well-intentioned plan of a father properly ambitious for his gifted son.

Where does Victor get an "oedipal" sense of father-son relations nearly a century before Freud? The obvious answer -- that sons have ever felt abused by fathers -- is bolstered by a more historiographic source. Gothic fiction, as Judith Wilt argues, makes paternal abuse a major theme. "The son must die so that the old man may live."26 This paradigm, which recurs from The Castle of Otranto through Dracula, is prominent in Godwin's Caleb Williams and St. Leon. In Frankenstein, however, the son's oppression by the father informs not the plot of the novel but the mind of the protagonist: Victor interprets life as though it were a gothic novel. Mary Shelley dramatizes not the oedipal paranoia of the gothic tradition but the dangers of such paranoia, the dangers of approaching complex realities with the self-justifying convenience of a paradigm. Frankenstein is, in this sense, antigothic. It is orthodoxy's counterattack against the dark tradition which had exposed the self-deceived convenience of its own sentimental {379} paradigms. In another sense, however, Mary's very skepticism about gothic paranoia is very gothic. Monk Lewis, Charles Maturin, James Hogg, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, as well as Brown, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville all share her distrust of the son's self-justifying rage, even as they, like her, make oedipal emotions central to their art. Mary Shelley's critical examination of all paradigms, gothic and sentimental, is what drives her and her readers beyond Victor's self-justifying explanations to the darker teleology of him and Percy.

3. The Negative Oedipus

What is the nature of the antagonism toward Alphonse which Victor expresses in oedipal terms? Psychoanalytic critics have rightly seen Victor's philanthropic rationale for monster-making as a convenient pretext. The claim that he is creating life in order to save mankind from death screens Frankenstein's deeper desire to resuscitate his dead mother. Readers can, however, recognize this second level and still sense another, even deeper motive. Victor's devotion to woman is not all it might be. He kills woman. As a wish fulfillment, Victor's famous nightmare is manifestly not oedipal because the nightmare kiss functions not to awaken the mother from death, as in "Sleeping Beauty," but to reduce Elizabeth to Caroline's moribund state. Victor is then free to move beyond woman to father. In Freudian terms, Victor's feelings are not oedipal (kill the father to possess the mother) but negative oedipal (kill the mother to possess the father).

Why father? The answer, as we have seen, cannot lie in any illusion of paternal immortality. In fact one reason why Percy rages against old men is that he too is aging, and prematurely. When he says "I have lived to be older than my father," he is reflecting not only upon his superior wisdom but upon his graying hair and wasted body (LMS 1:189, 27 August 1822). Confronted with the danger of becoming like his father, Percy determines to become his father.

This determination is proclaimed, quite amazingly, on the title pages of his first two books of verse. Original Poetry is authored by Victor (Percy) and Cazire (Elizabeth Shelley); Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson is "edited" by John Fitzvictor. Victor and Fitzvictor. What Shelley desired ultimately is not what Islam idealized, not that place upon the wheel of time which allows to both son and father the dignity of all roles from birth to death. Victor and Fitzvictor, father and son: Shelley desires to become his own father because as Victor-Fitzvictor he can sire himself.

How this promises immortality is dramatized in Prometheus Unbound. Demogorgon is eternal. Like Percy, he is older than his father, but unlike Percy, he is not threatened by age. This son who kills the father lives forever. Demogorgon who descends as Killer-Son with Jupiter in act 2 {380} emerges by himself as Eternity in act 4. He is no longer "son" because he no longer has a father. Even as fantasy, however, Demogorgon seems unsatisfying: since Shelley is not eternal, how can he take Demogorgon for his model? The answer to this question lies in Percy's understanding of myth. Demogorgon's association with Eternity comes not from Thomas Love Peacock or John Milton but from Boccaccio. In The Genealogy of the Pagan Gods, Demogorgon is the principle of force who cohabits with the Witch of Eternity. Shelley takes this union of male and female and combines the two principles into one character. Demogorgon ingests the female principle of eternity. If Shelley can do likewise, if he can contain both masculine and feminine as self and antitype, he can become self-sufficient.

Like the snake swallowing its tail, the male can provide both the phallus and its receptacle. Siring oneself assures immortality by closing the generative cycle and thus precluding death. Victor-Fitzvictor. For this most perversely solipsistic version of his antitype idea, Percy finds sanctioning precedents in both Romantic satanism and orthodox Christianity. One of the things which attracts the Romantics to Milton's Satan is his daring claim to self-generation. This parodies the Christian notion that "the Father pours himself out into the son; the son, knowing himself separate, makes the astonishing choice to curve that stream of being back toward the progenitor."27 Victor's discovery of the secret of life abolishes Alphonse by supplanting the very biological process which made the father a father. Rather than curve the stream of being back to Alphonse, Frankenstein as the only begetter of a new system of begetting curves it into himself.

Although Frankenstein's desire to become Fitz-victor is achieved partially by giving birth to himself as monster, he remains a son so long as he, like Demogorgon, has a father. Alphonse must die. Mary's Frankenstein and Percy's life and art thus feature early in the nineteenth century a motif recurrent in western culture and particularly central to literature and biography for the next hundred and fifty years -- sons desiring to extirpate fathers and to sire themselves. Both the desire and its consequences are summed up in Freud's essay on Dostoyevski: "You wanted to kill your father in order to be your father yourself. Now you are your father, but a dead father."28 Recent critics have found this motif in novelists as diverse as Melville ("behind these [Pierre's] stratagems lies the desire to be one's own father") and Joyce ("Stephen is the son-type in the process of fathering himself"). In Dickens, Thackeray, and Faulkner, this process is made still more intricate by the son's attempt to recreate himself through language. Pip, "the metaphorical writer-as-son . . . attempts to give birth to himself in writing, to beget or engender himself without the help of fathers"; Esmond, "the fatherless son[,] is allowed, in a sense, to be father himself through the first-person narrative"; and Quentin can become in effect the sire of Jason Sr. if he can articulate the Compson history and thus "seize his father's authority by gaining temporal priority." Mary {381} Shelley agrees emphatically with all these writers about "the lunacy of attempting . . . to engender the self," but the most relevant context for her masterpiece remains Percy Shelley.29 He provides Mary with an immediate example of that "poetic will," that reaction against father and that concern with self-generation which characterize the next two hundred years and which have been called by Harold Bloom "an argument against time, revengefully seeking to substitute 'It is' for 'it was.' Yet this argument always splits in two, because the poetic will needs to make another outrageous substitution, of 'I am' for 'It is.' Both parts of the argument are quests for priority."30

In the analysis which follows I will often discuss Victor in terms of works written by Percy after 1818. Two considerations warrant this. As Percy's "handwriting was very early formed and never altered," so the artistic products of that hand show remarkable consistency.31 The dismissal of the living Godwin as dead in the 1820 "Letter to Maria Gisborne" repeats the 1815 dismissal of Wordsworth which I will discuss soon. More important, the psychological moves I will define in Prometheus Unbound and The Cenci -- the dual need to assassinate and to deny responsibility for the act -- repeat at the highest levels of art what Percy had been doing at least since he introduced plagiarism into Original Poetry and then blamed Elizabeth Shelley for it. Victor in 1818 can anticipate Percy's moves in 1819 because Mary has learned through grim experience her husband's instinctual responses. In the intricate literary interaction between Frankenstein and Prometheus Unbound and The Cenci, it is as though Percy learns from Mary what he had taught her. Or rather, he reaffirms in 1819 what she had urged him in 1818 to repudiate.

Fundamental to the Greek myth of Prometheus is father-killing. Jupiter destroyed his sire, Saturn, and was in turn threatened by his own offspring. Attractive as this situation is to the Erotic Percy, it does not lead to the absolute annihilation he requires. "The Prometheus Unbound of Aeschylus supposed the reconciliation of Jupiter with his victim . . . I was averse from a catastrophe so feeble as that of reconciling the Champion with the Oppressor of mankind" (CP, p. 205). Reconciliation was the theme of Islam and Prince Athanase, but father, like almost everything else with Percy, evokes contradictory responses. While Islam revealed the ideal acceptance of paternal manhood which Agape encourages, other poems express the Erotic son's attack upon the manhood of sires who have failed to measure up. Percy finds it difficult to discover limitations in an authority figure and still acknowledge that man's masculinity. Wordsworth is a "moral eunuch" in Peter Bell the Third, "an unsexual man" (ll. 314, 551). Percy cannot face directly the sexuality of that ultimate elder, Sir Timothy, so he strikes back by claiming superior maturity. "'I have lived to be older than my father, I am ninety years of age'" (LMS, 1:189); "'The life of a man of talent who should die in his thirtieth year, is, with regard to his own feelings, longer than that of a miserable priest- {382} ridden slave.'"32 Although Percy credits himself here with that experiential wisdom which Laon and Prince Athanase acceded to, his life cannot achieve what Islam and Prince Athanase enacted -- the friendship between younger and older male which assures their equality and manhood. Unable to be reconciled to Wordsworth or Godwin or Sir Timothy, Percy Shelley never resolves his obsession with fathers. Instead he extirpates them.

Deserting these [truth and liberty], thou leavest me to grieve,
Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be.

("To Wordsworth," ll. 13-14)
Needless to say, Wordsworth is very much alive in 1815. But not to Percy. Unlike Islam where the limitations of the elder male could be acknowledged and accepted, "To Wordsworth" tolerates no deviation from the ideal. Once Wordsworth acts as he should not, he ceases to be. The same happens to Godwin. With a switch of verb tense and a switch to neuter gender, Percy can switch off a man whose life has failed to measure up:
[In London] . . . You [the Gisbornes] will see
That which was Godwin . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
You will see Coleridge -- he who sits obscure.

("Letter to Maria Gisborne," ll. 196-97, 202)
And Sir Timothy? Again Percy finds it hardest to deal with his real father, but again he manages to make his point. The need to defeat rather than to bond with father shapes both of Percy's greatest long works.

As Islam idealized the reconciliation advocated by Agape, Prometheus Unbound effects the extermination required by Eros. Percy transforms father from loving Hermit to Jupiter, the quintessential evil. The son's response to him is not the guilt-producing one of a patricide but the noble one of an assassin.33 What might seem self-indulgent becomes obligatory: the world must be redeemed from Evil.

This change cannot preclude guilt entirely, so Percy further justifies assassination by aligning himself with two of the canonical traditions of his time. As Romantic, he models his rejection of reconciliation upon the heroic defiance of Satan in Paradise Lost. Satan is, however, hardly a model to all readers (or to Percy as erstwhile Christian), so the poet acknowledges the "ambition, envy, revenge" of Milton's character and makes Jesus Christ another of his own party (CP, p. 205). "Christ the benevolent champion, falsely identified with the Son of God, must destroy the notion of the Father in the mind of Man in order to vindicate his own humanity and goodness."34 Since guilt still remains a possibility so long as killing remains the theme, Percy makes the ultimate gesture and (383) declares Prometheus perfect -- "the type of the highest perfection of moral and intellectual nature, impelled by the purest and the truest motives to the best and noblest ends" (CP, p. 205).

An apparently insuperable dilemma now confronts Percy: either someone perfect cannot kill, or a killer cannot be perfect. The way out of this dilemma is explained by Mary herself. "According to the mythological story . . . the offspring of Thetis . . . was destined to be greater than his father . . . Shelley adapted the catastrophe of this story to his peculiar views. The son greater than his father . . . was to dethrone Evil" (CP, p. 272). In Percy's "peculiar" view, the "son" is two men who reflect his contradictory responses to father. Prometheus is Percy the son who, though oppressed by fathers, remains as perfect in love as they are sunk in evil. Then, since the "son" in the Greek myth is not Prometheus, the actual offspring of Thetis can express homicidal rage. Demogorgon does what Percy-Prometheus cannot and what Percy-Assassin must. Demogorgon does the dirty work and keeps Prometheus' hands clean.

Deflection of guilt occurs in a different way in The Cenci. Father is again made so monstrously evil that no substantial sympathy can devolve to him, and the agent of assassination is again removed sufficiently from Percy (Beatrice is female and modeled from life) to prevent his direct implication.35 To make all the more certain that guilt cannot surface, Percy resorts to another characteristic expedient -- indignation. He criticizes the woman who does his bidding, as he blamed his sister Elizabeth for his plagiarism in Original Poetry.

Undoubtedly, no person can be truly dishonoured by the act of another; and the fit return to make to the most enormous injuries is kindness and forbearance, and a resolution to convert the injurer from his dark passions by peace and love. Revenge, retaliation, atonement, are pernicious mistakes. If Beatrice had thought in this manner she would have been wiser and better. (CP, p. 276)
My point is not to contest the moral stance taken in the Cenci preface ("turn the other cheek" is impeccably Christian), or to belabor the fact that Percy did not always turn the cheek when his was the one struck (as in the Rhine boat incident of 1814, the Rome Post Office fight of 1819, and the Pisa fracas of 1822). My point is the priggish inflexibility of the preface's attitude toward Beatrice. A man who assures a woman that rape does not really touch her essence and that she must submit to whatever degradations lie ahead -- this man should employ warier rhetoric. The lack of syntactic complication in "if Beatrice had thought in this [my] manner, she would have been wiser and better" contrasts with the manifoId complications of Beatrice's actual situation. She cannot escape the house; no one would shelter her anyway; and her father will unquestionably carry out his threat to rape her again and again. Percy's {384} sentence, however, is not badly written. Its syntactic stiffness and righteous tone are the inevitable consequences of its therapeutic -- as opposed to its rhetorical -- purpose. Its function is not only, or at least not primarily, to persuade us that Beatrice acted wrongly, but also to convince Percy that he feels properly. Percy guiltily uses the preface to insist upon the proper attitude toward patricide, after his unconscious has already used the play to satisfy homicidal desires. Readers of the play empathize consistently with Beatrice because the Erotic Percy enjoys her patricide.36 She is, after all, destroying Sir Timothy, and Godwin, and Wordsworth, and . . .

That Alphonse evokes comparable conflicts in Victor is revealed in the conflict between Victor's surrogate, the monster, and Alphonse's youngest son, William.

"Hideous monster! Let me [William] go; My papa is a Syndic -- he is M. Frankenstein . . ."

"Frankenstein! You belong then to my enemy . . . you shall be my first victim." (F, p. 139)

William is doomed only when he is identified as a son; murder was not inevitable or apparently even intended before that. Victor's first strike at Alphonse is thus through his beloved son. (This son in turn warrants punishment as a sibling rival for the father's affection, and for the mother's love too, since William is in possession of Caroline's portrait. Emblematic of Victor's sense of domestic exclusion is the fact that when word of William's death calls him back to Geneva, "the gates of the town were already shut" [F, p. 70].) The traditional association of "little brother" and penis emphasizes the castrating intent of striking at the father through his offspring. As an indirect move, it saves Victor from having to lay a guilt-fostering hand upon the father. Since the act is indirect, however, since little William is only a stand-in for Alphonse, a second attack must be launched against the now vulnerable sire. Frankenstein must assassinate Alphonse to become a true victor.

The guilt and awe generated by patricide continue to require that the son proceed indirectly, so Victor resorts to both of the tactics practiced by Shelley in his long poems. As Shelley displaced his dark deeds upon another (Demogorgon, Beatrice Cenci, and Elizabeth Shelley), Victor has created the monster to enact his murderous will against his family. His hands remain legally as clean as Prometheus'. In fact the monster does not even dirty his hands with Alphonse's blood. The creature could have swum across the lake and throttled the unsuspecting sire before Victor reached Geneva to warn him, but this would have brought patricide too close to home. The most fiendish thing about the sequence of events generated by Frankenstein's Erotic unconscious is that it results -- in effect -- in Alphonse's suicide. By succumbing to grief, the old man dies {385} of natural causes, and lets Victor off Shelley-free. The son does remain conscience-ridden, however. "An apoplectic fit was brought on" (F, p. 196). By whom, the sentence cannot admit. The question of responsibility, of agency, need not even have come up, had not guilt at killing by indirection prompted the self-indicting Victor to forego the active construction ("he died of an apoplectic fit") which would have acquitted him entirely.

To emphasize his innocence, Victor further deflects guilt through indignation. Like Percy in the Cenci preface, he vilifies his surrogate. In face-to-face encounters, he accuses the monster of having "'diabolically murdered'" innocent "'victims'" (F, p. 94); and in a retrospective move like that of Percy's preface, he concludes that the creature "shewed unparalleled malignity and selfishness" (F, p. 215). Since this is society's reaction (everyone abhors the monster), and since this would surely be Alphonse's reaction (you have slaughtered my children), Victor's indignation testifies to his orthodoxy as Percy's indignation did in the Cenci preface.

Even if Victor's need for clean hands precludes the monster's throttling Alphonse, grief over little William and Justine (and Caroline) could have caused Alphonse to die conventionally from sorrow before Elizabeth's murder. The unconvincing thing about fictional deaths-from-sorrow is precisely that they can occur whenever the novelist requires. Why does Mary Shelley require so many corpses, and why is Alphonse's death the last?

William Justine Henry Elizabeth Alphonse

The deaths proceed in terms of increasingly important relationships for Victor: a tie with a child, then with a peer, then with the closest male peer, then with the still closer female peer, and finally the ultimate bond with father.37 With each increase of intimacy, there is a greater threat to the self-union which promises immortality. And, as we have seen, father is the supreme threat because solidarity with him is an alternate ideal. "'Whose death,' cried I, 'is to finish the tragedy? Ah! my father, do not remain in this wretched country'" (F, p. 180). Victor's covert message -- "'to finish . . . my father'" -- solves the problem it poses: "'the tragedy . . . my father."' Victor at some deep level knows the teleology that he will not acknowledge. Mary stresses Alphonse's climactic placement in the family fatalities by having Victor say in 1831 "I turned to contemplate the deep and voiceless grief of my Elizabeth. This also was my doing! And my father's woe" (F, p. 246). Victor knows. After Elizabeth's "voiceless" death by strangulation comes the father's death from "woe."

But there is more. As the last fatality, Alphonse fits not only into a scale of increasing intimacy but also into a reversal of alphabetical order.


W -- J -- H --E -- A

Whether Mary consciously intended to reverse alphabetization -- and for an author attentive to names to do it accidentally seems unlikely to me -- the fact of the reversal reflects her reaction to self-union. The reversal establishes that Victor's motion to father is regressive. "Regressive" can mean two things. Insofar as Victor-Percy is capable of the intimacy and solidarity of Agape, regressive has the positive associations of the term in Freud's clinical papers (particularly "Remembering, Repeating, and Working Through"38) and in more recent discussions of transference (particularly by Jacques Lacan and Heinz Kohut). The analysand cannot simply be told what is the matter; s/he must work back to the original trauma and either reexperience it or experience a comparable moment through the transference. If this were what Victor was attempting, if he were returning to his childhood relationship with Alphonse in order to understand and relive it, then "regression" would mean that the son was making that peace with the parent which is essential if psychological and social maturity is to match biological development. Particularly if we see the father in light of Totem and Taboo and the work of Lacan, Phallus as Law is what the son should be oriented to. Victor's pursuit of the monster could then signal a therapeutically male orientation. But since Victor pursues the monster with unnatural attraction and homicidal rage, and since his own father is ultimately absent because Victor has killed him, "regressive" has the negative connotations of ordinary parlance.

W - J - H - E - A. After "A" there is nothing else. It is the beginning as end, Alpha as Omega of I AM.39 Suppose Mary had named Victor's father Bartholomew or Benedict or Bardolph. Suppose, in other words, that after Mother -- Caroline -- and Father -- Bardolph -- there remained A. Son would have some role beyond, before family. But Father is the end of the line. Beyond Mother there is Alphonse, but beyond Alphonse -- Alpha -- there is only silence. In his desire to become Victor-Fitzvictor, in his determination to predate his predecessor and sire himself, Frankenstein has regressed from society to preexistence, to the letterless wordless tundra of the phallic Pole's self-centred seclusion.


*. Referring to the Shelleys is difficult. "Mary and Shelley" is obviously sexist; calling her "Shelley" is particularly confusing in an essay which mentions the poet frequently. I will therefore use "Mary" and "Percy" throughout.

1. See Nancy Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1978); Dorothy Dinnerstein, The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and the Human Malaise (New York, 1976); Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (New Haven, Conn., 1979); Mary Jacobus, "Is There a Woman in This Text?" New Literary History 14 (Autumn 1982): 1 17-41; Mary Poovey, The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer: Ideology as Style in the Words of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen (Chicago, 1984); Marc A. Rubenstein, "'My Accursed Origin': The Search for the Mother in Frankenstein," Studies in Romanticism 15 (Spring 1976): 165-94; and Janet M. Todd, "Frankenstein's Daughter: Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft," Women and Literature 4, no. 2 (1976): 18-27.

2. Poovey, The Proper Lady, p. 168.

3. See J. M. Hill, "Frankenstein and the Physiognomy of Desire," American Imago 32 (1975): 332-58; Gordon D. Hirsch, "The Monster Was a Lady: On the Psychology of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," Hartford Studies in Literature 7 (1975): 116-53; Morton Kaplan and Robert Kloss, "Fantasy of Paternity and the Doppelgänger: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, The Unspoken Motive: A Guide to Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism (New York, 1973); 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 Knoepflmacher (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1979), pp. 88-119. All further references to this essay, abbreviated "AD," will be included in the text.

4. Freud's fullest discussion of the "negative" Oedipus occurs in chapter 3 of The Ego and the Id, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. and trans. James Strachey, 24 vols. (London, 1953-74),19:28-39; it also permeates his analysis of the Wolf-Man (From the History of an Infantile Neurosis, Standard Edition, 17:7-122).

5. The Letters of Mary W. Shelley, ed. Frederick L. Jones, 2 vols. (Norman, Okla., 1946), 2:88, 17 Nov. 1834. All subsequent references to this work, abbreviated LMS and with volume and page numbers, will be included in the text.

6. Mary Shelley, Mathilda, ed. Elizabeth Nitchie (Chapel Hill, N. C., 1959), pp. 11, 24. Although written in 1819, this novel was first published in 1959.

7. Mary Shelley, Lodore, 3 vols. (London, 1835), 1:29. All further references to this work, abbreviated L and with volume and page numbers, will be included in the text.

8. Mary Shelley, The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, 3 vols. (London, 1830), 2:178; Falkner: A Novel, 2 vols. (London, 1837; rpt. Folcroft, Pa., 1975), 1:300. All further references to this work, abbreviated Fa and with volume and page numbers, will be included in the text.

9. Mary Shelley's Journal, ed. Jones (Norman, Okla., 1947), p. 205, 21 Oct. 1838.

10. Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Mask of Anarchy, The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Thomas Hutchinson (London, 1943), l. 37. All further references to Shelley's prose taken from this work, abbreviated CP, will be included in the text. All further poetry references, also taken from this edition, will be identified by line number in the text. The Revolt of Islam will be abbreviated I and Prince Athanase, PA.

11. The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Jones, 2 vols. (London, 1964), 1:171, 10 Nov. 1811.

12. Jean Overton Fuller, Shelley: A Biography (London, 1968), p. 45.

13. I am speaking here of how Godwin's philosophy operated upon Percy psychologically. Godwin's actual advice was that the young heir reconcile himself with his wealthy father. If Godwin was dispassionately concerned with patching up the hallowed relation of parent and child, he was also passionately aware how much Percy's financial gifts depended upon the son's access to the father's purse.

14. William Wordsworth, The Excursion, The Poetical Works of Wordsworth, ed. Hutchinson and Ernest de Selincourt (London, 1936), l. 300.

15. Mary Shelley, Valperga; or, The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca, 3 vols. (London, 1823), 3:92-93. All further references to this work, abbreviated V and with volume and page numbers, will be included in the text.

16. Mary Shelley, The Last Man (London, 1826; rpt. Lincoln, Nebr., 1965), p. 280.

17. Elsewhere in Lodore, Ethel's "affection for her father gathered strength from the confidence which existed between them. He was the passion of her soul, the engrossing attachment of her loving heart" (L, 1 :235). Probably most revealing -- in the extreme care with which it is phrased -- is the continuation of this passage.

"Her heart was bent upon pleasing him, she had no thought or pursuit which was not linked with his participation.

There is perhaps in the list of human sensations, no one so pure, so perfect, and yet so impassioned, as the affection of a child for its parent, during that brief interval when they are leaving childhood, and have not yet felt love. There is something so aweful in a father. His words are laws, and to obey them happiness. Reverence and a desire to serve, are mingled with gratitude; and duty, without a flaw or question, so second [sic] the instinct of the heart, as to render it imperative. Afterwards we may love, in spite of the faults of the object of our attachment; but during the interval alluded to, we have not yet learnt to tolerate, but also, we have not learned to detect faults. All that a parent does, appears an emanation from a diviner world. (L, 1:235-36; my italics)

Mary and Percy discuss incest -- one of Shelley's premier themes -- in 1818 and 1819. Thomas Medwin believes that Mary planned a father-daughter incest play, based on Alfieri's Myrrha. See Medwin, The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley, rev. ed. (London, 1913), p. 252.

18. Quoted from an unpublished letter in the Abinger collection in Nitchie, Mary Shelley: Author of "Frankenstein" (New Brunswick, NJ., 1953), p. 89.

19. Eros and Agape are terms which I apply to the homicidal and the loving sides of Percy Shelley and of Victor Frankenstein. For the terms themselves, I draw upon Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros, trans. Philip S. Watson (Philadelphia, 1953; rpt. Chicago, 1982); Denis de Rougemont, Love in the Western World, trans. Montgomery Belgion (New York, 1940; rev. ed. New York, 1956); and M. C. D'Arcy's The Mind and Heart of Love, Lion and Unicorn: A Study in Eros and Agape (Cleveland, 1956). From the ancient mystery rites through Platonism, Neo-Platonism and Gnosticism, to the troubadours and the Tristan story of Wagner, Eros seeks "the deliverance of the soul from the prison-house of the body and the senses, and its restoration to its original heavenly home" (Nygren, p. 167). This Eros is essentially antisocial. "It despises the law-abiding and reasonable morality -- marriage for example" (D'Arcy, p. 114). Agape, on the other hand, is based upon the Incarnation, and thus seeks not to escape from time into the absolute but "[to make] the best of time and of the present" (D'Arcy, p. 39). Marriage and love of neighbor are espoused because "the symbol of love is no longer the infinite passion of a soul in quest of light, but the marriage of Christ and the Church" (de Rougemont, p. 169).

20. In his essay "On Love," Shelley says, "There is something within us which from the moment that we live, more and more thirsts after its likeness. . . . We dimly see within our intellectual nature a miniature as it were of our entire self yet deprived of all that we condemn or despise, the ideal prototype. . . . The discovery of its antitype . . . is the invisible and unattainable point to which Love tends" (The Complete Works, ed. Roger Ingpen and Walter E. Peck, 10 vols. [New York, 1965], 6:201 - 2). Shelley's word "antitype" seems to suggest complementarily by assuming the oppositeness, the "anti-ness" of the beloved, but Nathaniel Brown is correct that antitype in Shelley means "responding 'as an impression to the die'" (Sexuality and Feminism in Shelley [Cambridge, Mass., 1979], p. 36). The power of the lover, not the equality of the beloved, is what Shelley's vision of the antitype establishes.

21. John A. Dussinger is probably hardest on Alphonse ("Kinship and Guilt in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," Studies in the Novel 8 [Spring 1976]: 42-47; all further references to this essay, abbreviated "KG," will be included in the text). See also Hill, "Physiognomy of Desire," pp. 345-46; Hirsch, "The Monster Was a Lady," p. 128; Knoepflmacher, "AD," pp. 104-5; and George Levine, "Frankenstein and the Tradition of Realism," Novel 7 (Fall 1973): 20. Christopher Small goes too far in the opposite direction, asserting that Frankenstein "never shows anything for his father but pious regard" (Ariel Like a Harpy: Shelley, Mary, and "Frankenstein" [London, 1972], p. 193). There are unquestionably oedipal aspects to Victor's behavior. John V. Murphy emphasizes these elements in Shelley's early work. The father who ruins a young man's mother appears in Zastrozzi and in "Revenge." Even here, however, one needs caution. Father-killing in Zastrozzi is, Murphy says, "a simple matter and actually takes place outside the story's action" (The Dark Angel: Gothic Elements in Shelley's Work [Lewisburg, Pa., 1975], p. 29). The very fact that the killing occurs offstage precludes its being a simple matter. Shelley's more mature work features the father as blighter of his children's lives. In "Rosalind and Helen" (1818), the lovers reach "the altar stair, / When my father came from a distant land, / And with a loud and fearful cry / Rushed between us suddenly" (ll. 290-3). The Cenci, of course, allows Shelley unlimited expression of antipaternal sentiment. "Such merriment again / As fathers make over their children's graves . . . tortured me from my forgotten years, / As parents only dare" (1.3.124-25; 3.1.72-73). Judith Wilt wisely rejects any simple oedipal interpretation of such materials. "A Freudian might see in the whole progress of Frankenstein . . . a wish to join his dead mother in the grave: but . . . the Gothic adds an extra dimension, a profound resentment of the sources of one's being, especially the female sources, stemming from the desire to be one's own source -- and goal" (Ghosts of the Gothic: Austen, Eliot, and Lawrence [Princeton, NJ., 1980], p. 39).

22. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (The 1818 Text), ed. James Rieger (Indianapolis, 1974; rpt. Chicago, 1982). All further references to this work, abbreviated F, will be included in the text.

23. Kaplan and Kloss, "Fantasy of Paternity," pp. 122-23.

24. Levine, "The Tradition of Realism," p. 21.

25. Mary Shelley, The Last Man, pp. 24-25.

26. Wilt, Ghosts of the Gothic, p. 29.

27. Ibid., p. 14.

28. Freud, "Dostoevsky and Parricide," Sigmund Freud: Collected Papers, ed. Ernest Jones, The International Psycho-Analytical Library, 5 vols. (New York, 1959), 5:232.

29. Régis Durand, "'The Captive King': The Absent Father in Melville's Text," in The Fictional Father: Lacanian Readings of the Text, ed. Robert Con Davis (Amherst, Mass., 1981), p. 70; Jean-Michel Rabaté, "A Clown's Inquest into Paternity: Fathers Dead or Alive in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake," in Davis, The Fictional Father, p. 88; Dianne F. Sadoff, Monsters of Affection: Dickens, Eliot, and Brontë on Fatherhood (Baltimore, 1982), p.38; Richard Barickman, Susan McDonald, and Myra Stark, Corrupt Relations: Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope, Collins, and the Victorian Sexual System (New York, 1982), p. 169; John T. Irwin, Doubling and Incest / Repetition and Revenge: A Speculative Reading of Faulkner (Baltimore, 1975), p. 119; Sadoff, Monsters of Affection, p. 45. Useful for understanding fathers is Ernest Jones, "The Phantasy of the Reversal of Generations," Papers on Psycho-Analysis (Boston, 1961), pp. 407-12. For self-generation in Shakespeare see C. L. Barber's "'Thou That Beget'st Him That Did Thee Beget': Transformation in 'Pericles' and 'The Winter's Tale,'" Shakespeare Survey 22 (1969): 59-67. Among other authors concerned with self-generation, Dickens has elicited particularly good analyses; see Lawrence Jay Dessner, "Great Expectations: The Ghost of a Man's Own Father," PMLA 91 (May 1976): 436-49; Albert D. Hutter, "Nation and Generation in A Tale of Two Cities," PMLA 93 (May 1978): 448-62; Branwen Bailey Pratt, "Dickens and Father: Notes on the Family Romance," Hartford Studies in Literature 8, no. 1 (1976): 4-22. For fathers in nineteenth-century American literature see Eric J. Sundquist, Home as Found: Authority and Genealogy in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (Baltimore, 1979).

30. Harold Bloom, "Freud's Concepts of Defense and the Poetic Will," in The Literary Freud: Mechanisms of Defense and the Poetic Will, ed. Joseph H. Smith, M.D., Psychiatry and the Humanities, vol. 4 (New Haven, 1980), p. 6. Bloom's most extended discussion of Shelley and origins is "Shelley and His Precursors," in Poetry and Repression: Revisionism from Blake to Stevens (New Haven, Conn., 1976), pp. 83-111. See also The Anxiety of Influence (New York, 1973), and A Map of Misreading (New York, 1975). Self-generation in Shelley is discussed by Leslie Brisman in Romantic Origins (Ithaca, N.Y., 1978).

31. Medwin, Shelley, p. 375.

32. Ibid., p. 434.

33. In his persuasive study of the psychological forces shaping Prometheus Unbound, Leon Waldoff sees Shelley caught between oedipal rage at father and guilt at that rage. Shelley's solution, according to Waldoff, is to give hate "guiltless expression through moral assertiveness" ("The Father-Son Conflict in Prometheus Unbound: The Psychology of a Vision," Psychoanalytic Review 62 [1975]: 92). Aggressive feelings merge and then emerge as moral superiority. A related psychology is at work, Irwin notes, in Thomas Sutpen. "The son tries to overcome the mastery of the personal father while maintaining the mastery of fatherhood -- a mechanism in which the personal father dies without the son's having to kill him" (Doubling and Incest, p. 99).

34. William H. Marshall, "The Father-Child Symbolism in Prometheus Unbound," Modern Language Quarterly 22 (Mar. 1961): 45.

35. Interestingly, Shelley's first poetic persona, the Margaret Nicholson whose poems "Fitzvictor" supposedly edits in Percy's second volume of verse, is another woman from the past who expresses homicidal inclinations toward authoritative males. She is, Shelley tells us, "that noted Female who attempted the life of the King in 1786" (CP, p. 861).

36. For various recent viewpoints on The Cenci (and bibliographies of earlier work) see Sara Mason Miller, "Irony in Shelley's The Cenci," University of Mississippi Studies in English 9 (1968): 23-35; Earl R. Wasserman, Shelley: A Critical Reading (Baltimore, 1977), pp. 84-128; Stuart Curran, Shelley's "Cenci": Scorpions Ringed with Fire (Princeton, 1970); Justin G. Turner, "The Cenci, Shelley vs. the Truth," American Book Collector 22 (Feb. 1972): 5-9; Arline R. Thorn, "Shelley's The Cenci as Tragedy," Costerus 9 (1973): 219-28; P. Jay Delmar, "Evil and Character in Shelley's The Cenci," Massachusetts Studies in English 6, no. 1, 2 (1977): 37-48; Fred L. Milne, "Shelley's The Cenci: The Ice Motif and the Ninth Circle of Dante's Hell," Tennessee Studies in Literature 22 (1977): 117-32; Ronald L. Lemoncelli, "Cenci as Corrupt Dramatic Poet," English Language Notes 16 (Dec. 1978): 103-17; James D. Wilson, "Beatrice Cenci and Shelley's Vision of Moral Responsibility," Ariel 9 (July 1978): 75-89; James B. Twitchell, "Shelley's Use of Vampirism in The Cenci," Tennessee Studies in Literature 24 (1979): 120-33.

37. The one critic to notice that the deaths proceed in the order of increased intimacy is Frank H. McCloskey ("Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," in The Humanities in the Age of Science, ed. Charles Argoff [Rutherford, NJ., 1968], p. 137). David Seed suggests that "since he is ultimately responsible for all their deaths we could see Frankenstein progressively killing off more and more humanizing aspects of his self" ("Frankenstein -- Parable of Spectacle?" Criticism 24 [Fall 1982]: 332). Seed does not, however, go on to explain how Alphonse as the last of the family fatalities might be the most humane aspect of Victor's self. Martin Tropp argues that Frankenstein is destroying rivals for his parents' love (Mary Shelley's Monster: The Story of "Frankenstein" [Boston, 1977], pp. 20-27). David Ketterer, moving out from Tropp, suggests, I think quite incorrectly, that sibling rivalry explains why Alphonse is not murdered. "He dies 'naturally' of grief" (Frankenstein's Creation: The Book, the Monster, and Human Reality, ELS Monograph Series, no. 16 [Victoria, B.C., 1979], p. 64). Ketterer goes on to recognize Victor's "ambivalence" toward Alphonse, but does not see the father killed by the son. More generally, Paul A. Cantor maintains that "something in Frankenstein wants to kill anyone who comes close to him so that he can maintain his willful isolation" ("The Nightmare of Romantic Idealism," in Creature and Creator: Myth-making and English Romanticism [New York, 1984], p. 118).

38. See Freud, "Remembering, Repeating, and Working-Through (Further Recommendations on the Technique of Psycho-Analysis 2)," Standard Edition 12:145-56.

39. "A" names are an important feature of Gothic fiction and an odd fact of nineteenth-century life. "A" names in Gothic fiction are discussed by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in "The Character in the Veil: Imagery of the Surface in the Gothic Novel," PMLA 96 (Mar. 1981): 261. In a Gothic novel which Mary Shelley knew well, The Monk, "A" names proliferate obsessively. Besides the two main characters, Ambrosio and Antonia, there are Agnes, Sister Agatha, d'Albornos, Alonzo, and Alphonso d'Alsarada. How "A" names function in nineteenth-century life is a large vexed topic which I have only begun to explore. In the Gothic family in which the Gothic master Ambrose Bierce grew up, for example, all thirteen children received "A" names. This was in keeping with a family tradition which went back to the seventeenth century and which gave "A" names to every male from the original settler Austin to Ambrose's father Marcus Aurelius. Part of Bierce's rage at his family may be reflected in his refusal to give his own children "A" names.