If It Be a Monster Birth: Reading and Literary Property in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

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Editors: Jessica Bomarito and Russel Whitaker
Date: 2006
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 9,253 words

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[(essay date fall 2001) In the following essay, Sharp contends that the central concern of Frankenstein is how reading influences the novel's protagonists and shapes their creative work, and how reading impacts the relationship between authors and their works.]

As Mary Shelley brings her first novel to a close, she describes Victor Frankenstein relentlessly pursuing his creature into the icy nether regions of the north pole, tracking him by means of "marks in writing on the barks of the trees, or cut in stone" (202). In this moment, Shelley imagines a writer constrained to follow his own work. Scanning its movements through the traces it leaves, the creator becomes his creature's creature. When the creature escapes into darkness and distance, the creator is left behind, locked between the pages of a book, chained to time. The fatal kinship that Victor has with his troublesome work plays out a startling allegory of the potentially monstrous life of letters and the surprising dimensions of what would later be known as intellectual property. Throughout her novel, Shelley places creator and creature in a bind that is simultaneously ephemeral and absolutely too close for comfort. The hugely monstrous work is always close at hand, yet handily eludes his maker's grasp, "running with the swiftness of lightning," plunging ever and anon into "darkness and distance" (194, 221). At the same time, the two remain locked in a bind from which neither can or will extricate himself. Many have bent their attention to this perverse relationship, bringing the tools of psychoanalytic, historical, biographical, feminist, and deconstructive analyses to bear. Robert Kiely argues that the ugly monster figures the maker's reckless disregard for the material world and the network of human relations within which artists work. For Mary Poovey, the novel sketches its writer's suspicions of the imagination and her anxious concern that writing books was an unseemly, unfeminine enterprise. Anne Mellor suggests that the hideously difficult relation between creator and created bears on Shelley's nagging sense of inadequacy--her fears, for example, that nurturing literary progeny could harm her real progeny--and deep-seated resentments of her husband's reprobate behavior. Marked conflicts between critics regarding Shelley's motivations, coupled with legitimate concerns that reading Shelley's oeuvre through the lens of her most famous work eclipses the full range of her life in letters have prompted critics to move "beyond Frankenstein," as the subtitle to the fine collection of essays, The Other Mary Shelley, puts it. Reading Shelley obsessively through the focus of Frankenstein, the editors of this volume suggest, has had the perverse effect of marginalizing the woman who wrote it, "throwing her salient and central voice to the edges of Romantic discourse" (4). Frankenstein becomes a sturdy workhorse for dismantling the Romantic ideology, but its "intellectually formidable and remarkably accomplished" writer recedes into oblivion (7). A second collection of essays, titled Iconoclastic Departures, continues the work of saving Mary Shelley from her own most famous work. "Reflecting upon her journal entries at the end of the year 1832,"...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420072663