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Chapter Two - Dark Descen(den)ts: Neo-Gothic Monstrosity and the Women of Frankenstein

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 February 2022

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Summary

But you, my other creature, my creature of Otherness,

Those whom so many call “monster,”

Perhaps there is still some salvation to be had from you, []

Something of the prodigal,

now,

to me, in dream,

returning. (Punter 2018, 328)

In November of 1818, Mary Wollstonecraft (née Godwin) Shelley unleashed her creature into culture; for 200 years, there have been endless attempts to understand, adapt, film and theorise Frankenstein (1818). This was not a “hideous progeny” (Shelley 1831, xii) easily birthed. It was the product of “a young girl” who “came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea” (v) that her ability to be its parent was immediately questioned. Refuting assumptions that Percy Bysshe Shelley was its author, Mary Shelley asserted her writerly lineage that as “the daughter of two persons of distinguished literary celebrity” (v)—Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin—she was, indeed, an authoress proud of her “hideous phantom” (x). Mary Shelley's declared intention was to write a story “which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror—one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart” (ix). She remained connected to “the spectre which had haunted [her] midnight pillow” (xi) much like twenty-first century culture cannot shake her mythic character.

The assumption of most contemporary invocations of Frankenstein leave an obfuscation between Dr. Victor Frankenstein and “the thing” or “wretch” (Shelley 1999 [1818], 84–85) or “the filthy daemon to whom [he] had given life,” who watched him from “the gloom” (103). Much has been written about how Frankenstein “saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard and a convulsive motion agitated its arms” at the same time as he comprehends the “catastrophe” (85) he has created bonded in misery, and the two male characters of the novel occupy much of the imaginative and intellectual consideration of Shelley's novel. This idea of their interchangeability is certainly nowhere more apparent than in Danny Boyle's 2011 stage production of Nick Dear's adaptation of Frankenstein with Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternately starring as Dr. Frankenstein and/or his creature.

Type
Chapter
Information
Neo-Gothic Narratives
Illusory Allusions from the Past
, pp. 23 - 40
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2020

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