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Frankenstein 1. Outline Dominance of the new realism Repression of the Gothic The subversiveness of Frankenstein Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein.

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Presentation on theme: "Frankenstein 1. Outline Dominance of the new realism Repression of the Gothic The subversiveness of Frankenstein Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein."— Presentation transcript:

1 Frankenstein 1

2 Outline Dominance of the new realism Repression of the Gothic The subversiveness of Frankenstein Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein

3 Dominance of the new realism WS’s re-positioning of the novel through a re- gendering of the genre of fiction in W The triumph of realism over romance Emergence of Waverley as a new type of realist hero – moderate, ordinary, pragmatic ‘... the ardent, fiery, and impetuous character of the unfortunate Chief of Glennaquoich was finely contrasted with the contemplative, fanciful, and enthusiastic expression of his happier friend’ (W, vol. 3, ch. 24)

4 Dominance of the new realism WS: ‘a style of novel has arisen, within the last fifteen or twenty years, differing from the former in the points upon which the interest hinges; neither alarming our cred- ulity nor amusing our imagination by wild variety of incident’ (Quarterly Review (1816)) CR>MP>W (+ the Waverley Novels) = the new novel of realist consciousness

5 Dominance of the new realism Dominance of the new realism – trans- formation of the field of fiction from its formerly ‘wild’ state What becomes of the non-realist forms of fiction from this period? Dominance of realism = subordination of other more ‘popular’ fictional forms See the case of the Gothic...

6 Repression of the Gothic The origins of Gothic fiction – Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto (1764; subtitled ‘A Gothic Story’ in 1765) Popularity of Gothic fiction in the late 18C – e.g. Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udoplpho (1794) (as referenced on the opening page of W) Cf. JA’s spoof Gothic novel, Northanger Abbey (written , published 1818)

7 Repression of the Gothic A decline in influence and authority of an 18C ‘age of reason’ comes to be marked by the new popularity of the Gothic – itself a ‘wild’ amalgam of the supernatural, the uncanny, the irrational – in the late 1700s The newly popular Gothic is then attacked in the name of realism through the early 19C (e.g. Gothic satire in WS and JA)

8 Repression of the Gothic At once popular but attacked and repress- ed – the Gothic represents ‘the repressed underside of bourgeois consciousness’ See Terry Lovell, Consuming Fiction (1987), p. 55 See also David Punter, The Literature of Terror (1980)

9 Repression of the Gothic After the realist triumph symbolized by the success of MP and W in 1814 it is non- realist works of fiction such as Frank- enstein (1818) and The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) that come to represent the repress- ed underside of ‘realist’ or ‘bourgeois’ con- sciousness

10 Repression of the Gothic The above a sketch of the dynamics of the Romantic novel – a whole class struggle of fictional forms, or ‘dominant realism’ vs. ‘repressed Gothic’

11 The subversiveness of Frankenstein F as a non-realist work of fiction – a ‘wild’ amal- gam of forms... an epistolary novel (Walton’s letters); a fictional journal (Frankenstein’s account of his experiments); a Gothic fantasy (Frankenstein’s creation of his monster); a Bildungsroman (an account of the monster’s growth and develop- ment), etc. – finally, an epistolary novel again (Walton’s letters)

12 The subversiveness of Frankenstein All in all, F appears a remarkably hybrid novel – the very symbol of this hybridity is the monster itself as an assemblage of different body parts In this sense, Frankenstein’s monster emerges as the symbol of the wide di- versity of fictional forms (supernatural tales, romances, travel narratives) held under the sway of a hegemonic realism

13 The subversiveness of Frankenstein The symbolic diversity and hybridity of Frank- enstein’s ‘collectivized’ monster is what makes the monster truly monstrous in the eyes of bour- geois realist consciousness – see F. Moretti, Signs Taken for Wonders (1983), pp Consider the significance of the contemporary reception of MS’s novel... F receives remarkably strong criticism in the reviews

14 The subversiveness of Frankenstein John Wilson Croker in the Quarterly Review (Jan. 1818): ‘a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity.... it [Frankenstein] inculcates no lesson of conduct, manners or morality; it cannot mend and will not even amuse its readers un- less their taste has been deplorably vitiated’ See also Miranda Seymour, Mary Shelley (2000) p. 196 on the novel’s ‘hostile’ reception...

15 The subversiveness of Frankenstein MS: ‘The Edinburgh Magazine (March) conceded moments of beauty and a certain fascination in the subject.... The Monthly Review (April) curtly dismissed an “uncouth” work, void of any moral or phil- osophical conclusion’ See further back-handed praise from Blackwood’s Magazine when, in 1823, MS’s identity as author is revealed...

16 The subversiveness of Frankenstein Blackwood’s Magazine (1823): ‘For a man it [Frankenstein] was excellent, but for a woman it was wonderful’ Finally, see the allusion to F in a review of MS’s 1826 novel The Last Man, in The Literary Magnet (1826): ‘... another Raw-head-and- bloody-bones’ – i.e. the novel is as badly made as is Frankenstein’s monster (A useful summary available at: english.upenn.edu/~curran/250/frankrev.html.)

17 The subversiveness of Frankenstein The fact that F should be strongly criticized whilst being popular with the general reader suggests there may be something symptomatic about the novel’s reception In terms of the contemporary reviews (‘deplor- ably vitiated’, etc.), the strong criticism seems a symptom of the ‘monstrousness’ of F having thus been perceived as a subversive threat...

18 The subversiveness of Frankenstein... a subversive threat to everything that is res- pectable, rational and moderate about realism in its current position of dominance within the field of fiction... Frankenstein’s monster: neither subject nor object but abject – a fragmented body created from chaos... The very phrase ‘deplorably vitiated’ (as well as others) suggests an anxiety about the threat- ened status of realism on the part of the critical establishment

19 The subversiveness of Frankenstein MS threatens a ‘return of the repressed’ with her work of fiction about Bourgeois Man (Victor Frankenstein) inadvertently making a monster out of his use of science and reason No wonder the ‘respectable’, ‘rational’, ‘moderate’ classes of realism should feel threatened by this monstrous novel!

20 Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein Victor’s account of his experiments – a narrative of science, repression, and death The more heavily Victor becomes involved with his scientific experiments, so the more forcefully he is obliged to repress his family ties and connections, and this results in his ‘creation’ of death rather than life (i.e. the monster as eventually a mur- derous figure)

21 Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein Victor points the moral to his own story: ‘Learn from me... how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow’ (ch. 4) Victor’s dream of Elizabeth (ch. 5) thus serves as MS’s way of staging a return of the repressed in order to expose the deathly repressiveness of modern science

22 Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein Curiously, Victor has remarkably little to say about what happens when he gives life to his creation... He tells, rather, of the dream he has in his ex- hausted state immediately afterwards ‘... I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Del- ighted and surprised, I embraced her; but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death...’

23 Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein ‘... her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the graveworms crawling in the folds of the flannel’ (ch.5) (Incidentally, MS’s description of Victor’s dream thought to be inspired by Henry Fuseli’s paint- ing, The Nightmare (1781), recently on show at Tate Britain’s Gothic Nightmares exhibition)

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25 Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein The dream itself an expression of ‘the repress- ed’ in Victor’s life – family ties and connections symbolized by first Elizabeth then the dead mother – coming back to the surface Symbolically, it is a whole realm of human feel- ing that has to be repressed in order for Victor to become a man of science On the ‘man of science’, see further Genevieve Lloyd, The Man of Reason: ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy (2 nd ed., 1993)

26 Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein See also Mary Jacobus, Reading Woman (1986), p. 96: ‘[Freud’s remark that] “the scientific motivation might be said to serve as a pretext for the unconscious erotic one” could stand as the epigraph not only to [Freud’s] own researches but to all scientific quests for the origins of life’ MS brings the dream of Elizabeth and the dead mother into Victor’s narrative of science, repression, and death in order to make the silences in the text speak of that precious realm of human feeling that is otherwise lost to the world of science, reason, and knowledge

27 Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein The sign of this fateful return of the re- pressed occurring in MS’s novel is pre- cisely Frankenstein’s inability to speak of that which, wrongly, he cares most dearly about, namely his act of giving life to his own creation Ch. 5 – the dream of Elizabeth, etc. – presents us with an extremely revealing gap, silence, or fissure in the text at issue

28 Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein More than that, F reveals how it is often the case that a literary text is more in- teresting for what it does not say than what it actually says (cf. the ‘silences’ in CR, MP, and W) Perhaps the best account of the relation- ship between speech and silence in lit- erary works is Pierre Macherey, A Theory of Literary Production (1978)

29 Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein PM: ‘... in order to say anything, there are other things which must not be said.... Speech eventually has nothing more to tell us: we investigate the silence, for it is the silence that is doing the speaking.... What is important in the work is what it does not say’ (pp )

30 Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein Reading a work for its ‘silence’ rather than its ‘speech’ a radically alternative app- roach to the study of literary texts In this regard, reading MS’s F for its struc- tural silences instead of its constitutive speech is what helps to bring out what is alternative – in this sense, subversive – about this particular novel in the struggle of the Gothic against realism

31 Mary Shelley and Victor Frankenstein F is a novel which investigates what it is that realism (i.e. ‘science’, ‘reason’, ‘knowledge’) cannot say about itself in order to expose the limits of its own self- understanding MS’s novel claims to speak the self- understanding of modern science, namely that within a whole realm of precious human feeling science is death


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