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Frankenstein 2. Outline Frankenstein a subversive novel? Subversion and containment Realism and nineteenth-century fiction The afterlives of Frankenstein.

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Presentation on theme: "Frankenstein 2. Outline Frankenstein a subversive novel? Subversion and containment Realism and nineteenth-century fiction The afterlives of Frankenstein."— Presentation transcript:

1 Frankenstein 2

2 Outline Frankenstein a subversive novel? Subversion and containment Realism and nineteenth-century fiction The afterlives of Frankenstein ‘Gothic times’

3 A subversive novel? F’s subversiveness articulated in terms of a re- turn of the repressed of ‘the repressed under- side of bourgeois consciousness’ (Lovell) This subversiveness arguably an element of several reviewers’ hostility towards the novel ‘... another Raw-head-and-bloody-bones’ (Lit- erary Magnet) – the ‘monstrousness’ of MS’s novel a threat to bourgeois order (i.e. realism) See Marilyn Butler’s Introduction to Oxford World Classics ed. of F (1994), p. xlv...

4 A subversive novel? MB: ‘The novel’s first reviews tended to be critical.... Though published anonymous- ly, it had a dedicatee, whose name app- eared before the title-page, William God- win. The association with the old radical was probably enough to secure the dis- approval of conservative journals such as the Quarterly Review and the Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany’

5 A subversive novel? The novel’s dedication: TO WILLIAM GODWIN Author of Political Justice, Caleb Williams, & c. THESE VOLUMES Are respectfully inscribed BY THE AUTHOR

6 A subversive novel? William Godwin: Mary’s father; radical author from the 1790s; Political Justice an anarchist treatise; Caleb Williams a Jaco- bin novel Mary Wollstonecraft: Mary’s mother (died 1797); radical feminist author of A Vindi- cation of the Rights of Men (1790) and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

7 A subversive novel? Percy Bysshe Shelley: Mary’s husband (married 1816 after having eloped to the Continent to- gether in 1814); republican atheist poet; author of The Necessity of Atheism (1811), Queen Mab (1813) Lord Byron: close personal friend of the Shel- leys; author of politically radical poetry; scourge of the establishment; instigator of the ghost story competition that gave rise to ‘Frankenstein’ in the summer of 1816 at Lake Geneva

8 A subversive novel? MS’s connections to Godwin, Wollstone- craft, Percy Shelley, and Byron signal that the author of Frankenstein is likely to be a politically radical figure MS’s connections plus the Gothic mon- strosity that is her novel called F are what, together, guarantee the critical hostility evident in the conservative press

9 A subversive novel? But just how subversive is F, notwithstand- ing its basic message about the uncon- scious deathliness of modern scientific practices? Similarly, just how subversive is F as a re- turn of the bourgeois repressed?

10 Subversion and containment Opinions differ as to whether or not F is a gen- uinely or a superficially subversive text See Rosemary Jackson, Fantasy: the Literature of Subversion (1981) and Mary Poovey, The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer (1984), respectively Perhaps it is appropriate to speak of not just subversion but also containment where MS’s threat to realist moderation, rationality, and pragmatism is concerned...

11 Subversion and containment After all, what happens to the monster – the focus of MS’s subversiveness – in the full working out of the F story? Answer: he becomes absorbed into the text of Walton’s letters Symbolically, Gothic subversiveness (the monster) becomes absorbed by – neutral- ized by – realist order (Walton’s letters)

12 Subversion and containment MS’s novel designed in such a way as to ensure that the story of Frankenstein and his monster is contained by the frame narrative constructed in terms of Walton’s letters to his sister Margaret The above epistolary part of the novel is generically realist – Walton, through his account of Victor Frankenstein, is con- cerned simply to relate reality

13 Subversion and containment Just as the realist epistolary frame nar- rative of F contains the whole fantastic story of Victor’s scientific experiments (to say nothing of this latter’s containment of the monster’s story), so the subversive- ness of MS’s Gothic fantasy about scien- tific monstrosity is contained by everything that is orderly and realistic about the Wal- ton letters to Margaret

14 Subversion and containment MS’s novel represents the struggle of the repressed Gothic against dominant real- ism But in the end, it reads as a narrative of subversion and containment – Gothic sub- versiveness is contained by realist order

15 Subversion and containment What finally secures F as a narrative of ‘subversion and containment’ is precisely that small, connecting phrase which ap- pears in ch. XXIV: ‘Walton, in continu- ation.’ The phrase itself connects – sutures – the text of Victor Frankenstein’s journal to the frame narrative that is Robert Walton’s own epistolary text

16 Subversion and containment ‘Walton, in continuation’ works in such a way as to facilitate the absorption of everything that Walton describes as ‘strange’ and ‘terrific’ about Frankenstein’s story into the more commonplace world of Walton’s communications to his sister Walton is, precisely, that figure who could never have such strange and terrific adventures as Frankenstein, notwithstanding that the two men are both explorers

17 Subversion and containment See Walton’s last letter to his sister: ‘I am return- ing to England. I have lost my hopes of utility and glory’ (ch. XXIV) In the end, Robert Walton seems more like an ‘ordinary’ Edward Waverley than a ‘strange’ or ‘terrific’ Victor Frankenstein – Walton another instance of the middle-of-the-road hero (or prosaic anti-hero!) made popular in Waverley In this light, Walton is of course a man who would never suppress his family ties and con- nections, hence his letters to his sister Margaret

18 Subversion and containment ‘Walton, in continuation’, then, represents the mark of realist narrative containment of Gothic fictional subversion in MS’s text (compare, brief- ly, the role of Lockwood as narrator in Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (1847): similarities and differences) F is a subversive novel but, in practical terms, only up to the above point of subversiveness itself being contained by realism’s world of all things commonplace and ordinary

19 Realism and nineteenth-century fiction The newly dominant realism of such early 19C works as MP and W is challenged but not overthrown by Gothic fiction (super- natural tales, the literature of terror, etc.) If anything, a hegemonic realism grows stronger as the 19C unfolds Jane Eyre (1847) – realist autobiograph- ical account of Jane’s development (done with some secondary Gothic elements)

20 Realism and nineteenth-century fiction Jane Eyre – Jane’s realist approach to life is shown as winning out against the alter- native approach associated with Blanche Ingram as a typical heroine of romance Middlemarch (1871-2) – Note the indebt- edness of George Eliot’s ‘study of pro- vincial life’ to the contents of MP (... in- terest in the details of ordinary life, etc.)

21 Realism and nineteenth-century fiction Middlemarch – Note, too, GE’s indebtedness to WS’s historical novel in that M is a historical novel about the 1832 Reform Act Realism no more powerfully dominant in fiction than in the first three quarters of the 19C (note the return of Gothic fantasy in the late 19C: Ste- venson, Gilman, Wilde, Stoker, etc.) Beyond this, a still ongoing tendency to dismiss the Gothic as non-serious reveals the existence of continuing tensions between the Gothic and realism into the early 21C

22 The afterlives of Frankenstein The history of the afterlives of F one par- ticularly revealing place where the ‘con- tinuing tensions’ between the Gothic and realism are exhibited The popularity of F today amongst readers of the novel and viewers of the film adapt- ations suggests the fragility of the sub- version and containment dimension of MS’s novel

23 The afterlives of Frankenstein Fragility? – the monster’s subversiveness is contained within the novel (Walton’s last letter makes it clear that the monster is shortly to take his own life), but subversion itself is brought back to life through the af- terlives and sheer popularity of F The popularity of F today is a manifest- ation of the ‘uncontained’, live subver- siveness of the novel

24 ‘Gothic times’ F as a novel is popular all over again today be- cause, arguably, today we live in Gothic times See Christopher Frayling, ‘We live in Gothic times...’, in Martin Myrone, ed., The Gothic Reader (2006), pp Compare the idea for Gothic Nightmares (2006) at Tate Britain – the present day marks a return of ‘Gothic times’ from the 1790s

25 ‘Gothic times’ CF: ‘as themes within the wider culture, the Gothic, horror and fantasy have never been so widespread and deep-rooted – at least not since England in the 1790s. “We are indeed”, as Angela Carter put it [in 1974], now living “in Gothic times”’ (p. 16) CF on the new, post-1970s ‘Gothic times’ of modernity...

26 ‘Gothic times’ CF: ‘normality has itself become strange … [through] postmodernism with its hall of mirrors, its fascination with simulacra, for- geries and the artificial, its suspicion of “natural” appearances and its emphasis on intertextuality rather than authorial in- tention; the twilight of the real has proved spookily appropriate to the Gothic’ (pp )

27 ‘Gothic times’ In other words, the age of virtual reality has become the setting for a shift from the margins to the mainstream on the part of the Gothic (To illustrate the mainstreaming of Gothic, CF cites Damien Hirst ‘feeling like Dr Frankenstein’ at work in producing popular art in the shape of dead cows in formalde- hyde (p. 16))

28 ‘Gothic times’ In so-called Gothic times the old counter- positioning of realism, on the one hand, and Gothicism, on the other, still exists CF pointedly reminds us of ‘an embattled kind of defiance of the literary establishment... with its... preference for the realist tradition’ (p.18) I.e. the literary establishment still decidedly anti- Gothic, as it was in the days of the Quarterly Re- view and the Edinburgh Magazine

29 ‘Gothic times’ A postmodern blurring of the distinction between forms of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture (‘hall of mirrors’, ‘fascination with simul- acra’, etc.) means however that the old cleavage between ‘dominant’ realism and ‘repressed’ Gothic is no longer recogniz- able A diffusion of a formerly repressed Gothic occurs into the early 21C

30 ‘Gothic times’ This Gothic turn in the culture now deter- mines that we live not in realist but in Gothic times... Gothic arguably loses its subversive edge the more mainstream it becomes See M&S Gothic (!), as well as the way that Damien Hirst has become the new Victor Frankenstein


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