De Gaynor Report

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein


On the back of the Broadview edition of _Frankenstein_, Jerome McGann tells us:

"This is the best, the most thoughtful advanced school edition of _Frankenstein_ ever done. The text is well edited, the Introduction is thorough, and the collection of related (contextual) materials could hardly be improved."

As such, it forced me to be more creative in reporting strategies. Since not all of you are working from this edition (and those of you who are will forgive the repetition), I will give you highlights along with information gathered from other sources.

This report should arrive in two parts. The first will deal with reception history (contemporary and current) and the second will be an annotated bibliography of select material.

Read on without fear, fellow classmates . . .

I. Contemporary Reception History/Reviews

_Frankenstein_ was first published anonymously in 1818 with a dedication to William Godwin. Although the critics did not know that the author was the daughter of Godwin, they were quick to group him/her in the same "literary family." The Edinburgh Magazine wrote the following:

"It is formed on the Godwinian manner, and has all the faults, but many likewise of the beauties of that model. In dark and gloomy views of nature and of man, bordering too closely on impiety, -- in the most outrageous improbability, -- in sacrificing every thing to effect, -- it even goes beyond its great prototype; but in return, it possess[sic] a similar power of fascination, something of the same mastery in harsh and savage delineations of passion, relieved in like manner by the gentler features of domestic and simple feelings . . . We hope yet to have more productions, both from this author and his[sic] great model, Mr. Godwin; but they would make a great improvement in their writings, if they would rather study the established order of nature as it apperars, both in the world of matter and of mind, than continue to revolt our feelings by hazardous innovations in either of these departments" (Broadview, 308-10).

The Quarterly Review was less reserved in its critique:

"what a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity this work presents. --It is piously dedicated to Mr. Godwin, and is written in the spirit of his school. The dreams of insanity are embodied in the strong and striking language of the insane, and the author, notwithstanding the rationality of his[sic] preface, often leaves us in doubt whether he[sic] is not as mad as his hero. Mr. Godwin is the patriarch of a literary family, whose chief skill is in delineating the wanderings of the intellect . . . His disciples . . . are occasionally visited with paroxysms of genius and fits of expression, which make sober-minded people wonder and shudder . . . But when we have thus admitted that Frankenstein has passages which appal the mind and make the flesh creep, we have given it all the praise (if praise it can be called) which we dare to bestow . . . it inculcated 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 understanding; it gratuitously harasses the heart, and wantonly adds to the store, already too great, of painful sensations" (Broadview, 312-313).

Walter Scott asserted that Percy Bysshe Shelley was the author (a trend of co-authorship and collaboration continued even after Mary Shelley's name appeared on the title page--see Helen's report):

"The author seems to us to disclose uncommon powers of poetic imagination . . . the ideas of the author are always clearly as well as forcibly expressed; and his[sic] descriptions of landscape have in them the choice requisites of truth, freshness, precision, and beauty . . . [this is] a novel which excites new reflections and untried sources of emotion. If Gray's definition of Paradise, to lie on a couch, namely, and read new novels, come any thing near truth, no small praise is due to him, who, like the author of Frankenstein, has enlarged the sphere of that fascinating enjoyment." (Broadview, 307-309)

II. Dramatic Interpretations: On the Stage and on Film

Not content to merely lie on a couch and read the novel, fans of fear and the fantastic thronged to see the dramatic depictions of the story that sprung up even before Mary Shelley's authorship was widely known. Several productions played simultaneously in London. Richard Brinsley Peake's "Presumption; or The Fate of Frankenstein" (1823) "was to serve as a basic transcription of the novel for the stage and a source for further elaboration" (Lavalley, 246). As Lavalley notes, "the makeup and melodramatic simplifications of 'Presumption' obviously placed it on the edge of comedy and ripe for parody" (250). (eg. "Presumption" was the first to give us the (un)able assistant, though the first Igor was named Fritz.)

Not surprisingly, the other two productions were comic variations, "Frankenstitch" (a tailor who sews dead bodies together) and "Frank-n-steam." The fervor for _Frankenstein_ was not limited to Britain, and in 1826, "Le Monstre et le magicien" opened in Paris. Interestingly, T.P. Cooke played the monster in both "Presumption" and this french adaptation. Mary Shelley lauded Cooke's London performance, though she believed "the story is not well managed" (Forry, 4).

Because there are so many *scene* changes in the novel, it was necessary to simplify and condense the material for the stage. The emphasis was given to action, rather than thought and the horrific (namely the face/body) of the monster were depicted and no longer left to the powers of imagination. Further, the articulate knowledge of Frankenstein's creation, what he reads, how he impressively tells his own story/argues his case become inarticulate grunts; his ability to leap tall glaciers in a single bound becomes the lumbering gait of slow mental and physical capacities. The emphasis is generally placed on the the monster's hideousness, disallowing much of the sympathy that we might feel for the abandoned offspring.

Depictions of the book all tend to maintain certain facets, however. "They share a vision of man as victim and outcast, innately good and open to the joys of nature and human society, but cut off from positive emotional responses and severed from society . . . endowed with superhuman strength, he is also highly vulnerable, the crucible in which the struggle of joy and suffering, sympathy and revenge, passivity and destructiveness is most clearly worked out" (Lavalley, 244). Scenes that tend to recur in all adaptations include the creation scene, a wedding night scene or an abduction of the bride, and a scene of fiery destruction.

III. Protests of Production

The Quarterly Review pointed out the lack of morality in _Frankenstein_ and the Edinburgh Magazine questioned the propiety of Shelley's revision of creation ideology:

"We are acccustomed happily, to look upon the creation of a living and intelligent being as a work that is fitted only to inspire a religious emotion, and there is an impropriety, to say no worse, in placing it in any other light" (Broadview, 310)

These were the issues that caused numerous protests of the early stage productions. One leaflet read: "Do not go to the Lyceum to see the mostrous Drama, founded on the improper work called "Frankenstein." --Do not take your wives and families--The novel itself is of a decidedly immoral tendency; it treats of a subject which in nature cannot occur. This subject is pregnant with mischief" (Forry, 5)

In responding to this protest, Samuel James Arnold argued:

1. Lord Chamberlain had sanctioned the production (and the crown would never allow for immorality in its theatres)

2. Morally sound audiences were attending (everybody's doing it?!)

3. No critic had disparaged it for its immorality (untrue)

And the plays played on . . .

IV. Film versions of _Frankenstein_

More wild and dreamlike than the stage, movie adaptations were (supposedly) able to incite greater levels of emotional response in the audience. There were two American silent films, the Edison one-reel "Frankenstein" of 1910 and the five-reel "Life Without Soul" of 1915 (Lavalley, 250). In 1931, Universal released its version with Boris Karloff as the monster (which followed closely on the horror heels of "Dracula" starring Bela Lugosi), and then the avalanche/onslaught began. From serious attempts at horror (as theses early versions are--supposedly) to comic interpretations and parody, the theme of Frankenstein and his monster continue to appear in cinematic endeavors. If you're interested, you can view any number of the following:

"The Bride of Frankenstein" (1935)

"The Son of Frankenstein" (1939)

"The Ghost of Frankenstein" (1942)

"Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" (1943)

"House of Frankenstein" (1944)

"Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948)

"The Curse of Frankenstein" (1957)

"The Revenge of Frankenstein" (1958)

"The Evil of Frankenstein" (1964)

"Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter" (1965)

"Frankenstein Created Woman" (1966)

"Frankenstein Must be Destroyed" (1969)

"The Horrors of Frankenstein" (1970)

"Dracula vs. Frankenstein" (1971)

"Frankenstein: The True Story" (1973)

"Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell" (1974)

Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" (1974)

"Andy Warhol's Frankenstein" (1974)

"The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975)

p> You get the picture (pardon the pun).

Questions

1. "Literary tradition, Gothicism, religion, female psychology, sociology, revolution, language, the nature of the grotesque, the metaphor of animation adopted by film narrative, these are some of the coordeinates that can help us understand the awkward instability and miraculous power of _Frankenstein_" (Levine, xiv). The endurance of Frankenstein has occurred on many levels. What are the differences between those of a literary bent and those of theatre or film (e.g. the simplifications of plot) and how do they inform our reading(s) of the text? That is, what do we remember, what do we respond to, what are we afraid of? Can we, as readers, separate the text from adaptations thereof?

2. _Frankenstein_ was both lauded and deprecated for the effects that it had upon the sentiments of its readers. Since we have been talking about Sensibility and Sentimentality, it seems essential to look at the visceral responses of readers, then and now. (this is a question)

3. How does this novel differ from _Clarissa_ or _Miss Sidney Bidulph_, in particular, with its lack of *moral* teaching and its lack of a higher order (God), "no metaphysical machinery"? How does this relate to the historical and philosophical developments between their publications? Levine argues that the modernity of _Frankenstein_, "lies in its transformation of fantasy and traditional Christian and pagan myths into unremitting secularity, into the myth of mankind as it must work within the limits of the visible, physical world? (6-7). Hmmmm . . . (feel free to address any one of the number of questions embedded above)

Frankenstein Bibliography

Bronfen, Elizabeth. _Over Her Dead Body: Death, Feminity and the Aesthetic._ New York: Routledge, 1992. 130-140. "What Shelley's text argues is that even as the image of the dead mother is the safeguard of culture and connects family members, when it comes to be confused with the exclusion of maternity, madness and self-annihilation ensue just the same."

Burwick, Roswitha. "Goethe's _Werther_ and Mary Shelley's _Frankenstein_." _The Wordsworth Circle_ 24:1 (1993 Winter): 47-52. Connects Mary Shelley's novel to Godwin's preface of Mary Wollstonecraft's _Vindication of the Rights of Woman_ which depicts the author as a "female Werter."

Forry, Steven Earl. _Hideous Progenies: Dramatizations of _Frankenstein_ from Mary Shelley to Present._ Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990. Offers historical information (1823-1986) about plays and films. Gives the text of seven plays, including Peake's "Presumption".

Glut, Donald F. _The Frankenstein Catalog._ Jefferson: McFarland & Co., 1984. "Being a Comprehensive Listing of Novels, Translations, Adaptations, Stories, Critical Works, Popular Articles, Series, Fumetti, Verse, Stage Plays, Films, Cartoons, Puppetry, Radio & Television Programs, Comics, Satire & Humor, Spoken & Musical Recordings, Tapes, and Sheet Music Featuring Frankenstein's Monster and/or Descended from Mary Shelley's Novel"

Lavalley, ALbert J. "The Stage and Film Children of _Frankenstein_: A Survey." _The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel._ Eds. George Levine and U.C. Knoepflmacher. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. 243-289.

Levine, George. "The Ambiguous Heritage of _Frankenstein_." _The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel._ Eds. George Levine and U.C. Knoepflmacher. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. 3-30.

Levine, George and U.C. Knoepflmacher. _The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel." Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. Includes essays on background, biography, language, politics, psychology, and drama/film.

Lowe-Evans, Mary. _Frankenstein: Mary Shelley's Wedding Guest._ New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993. A biographical-historicist interpretation of Mary Shelley and her novel. Examines how the "characters and events in _Frankenstein_ respond and contribute to the debate-in-progress about marriage in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries."

Pollin, Burton R. "Philosophical and Literary Sources of _Frankenstein_." _Comparative Literature_ 17 (1965): 97-108. Focuses on "a play on the Pygmalion theme by Mme de Genlis, Milton's _Paradise Lost_, Ovid's _Metamorphoses_, Locke's _Essay Concerning Human Understanding_, and miscellaneous writings by Condillac and Diderot."

Ryan, Robert M. "Mary Shelley's Christian Monster." _The Wordsworth Circle_ 19:3 (1988 Summer): 150-155. "the ineffectual, baffled Christian faith of the Monster--the main victim and critic of benevolent philosophy in _Frankenstein_--is used by Mary Shelley to call into question both Christianity itself and the ideology that Godwin and Shelley [P.B.] were offering as an alternative to it"

Shelley, Mary. _Frankenstein_. Eds. D.L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf. Orchard Park: Broadview Press, 1994. The original 1818 text, complete with textual variations in the 1831 edition. Also has an extensive introduction, reviews, and appendices of influential material (eg. Godwin, Wollstonecraft, Werther, Milton, etc.).