OutlineFrankenstein a subversive novel?Subversion and containmentRealism and nineteenth-century fictionThe afterlives of FrankensteinGothic times
A subversive novel?Fs 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 MSs novel a threat to bourgeois order (i.e. realism)See Marilyn Butlers Introduction to Oxford World Classics ed. of F (1994), p. xlv . . .
A subversive novel?MB: The novels 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
A subversive novel?The novels dedication: TO WILLIAM GODWIN Author of Political Justice, Caleb Williams, & c. THESE VOLUMES Are respectfully inscribed BY THE AUTHOR
A subversive novel?William Godwin: Marys father; radical author from the 1790s; Political Justice an anarchist treatise; Caleb Williams a Jaco-bin novelMary Wollstonecraft: Marys 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)
A subversive novel?Percy Bysshe Shelley: Marys 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
A subversive novel?MSs connections to Godwin, Wollstone-craft, Percy Shelley, and Byron signal that the author of Frankenstein is likely to be a politically radical figureMSs connections plus the Gothic mon-strosity that is her novel called F are what, together, guarantee the critical hostility evident in the conservative press
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?
Subversion and containmentOpinions differ as to whether or not F is a gen-uinely or a superficially subversive textSee Rosemary Jackson, Fantasy: the Literature of Subversion (1981) and Mary Poovey, The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer (1984), respectivelyPerhaps it is appropriate to speak of not just subversion but also containment where MSs threat to realist moderation, rationality, and pragmatism is concerned . . .
Subversion and containmentAfter all, what happens to the monster the focus of MSs subversiveness in the full working out of the F story?Answer: he becomes absorbed into the text of Waltons lettersSymbolically, Gothic subversiveness (the monster) becomes absorbed by neutral-ized by realist order (Waltons letters)
Subversion and containmentMSs 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 Waltons letters to his sister MargaretThe above epistolary part of the novel is generically realist Walton, through his account of Victor Frankenstein, is con-cerned simply to relate reality
Subversion and containmentJust as the realist epistolary frame nar-rative of F contains the whole fantastic story of Victors scientific experiments (to say nothing of this latters containment of the monsters story), so the subversive-ness of MSs Gothic fantasy about scien-tific monstrosity is contained by everything that is orderly and realistic about the Wal-ton letters to Margaret
Subversion and containmentMSs novel represents the struggle of the repressed Gothic against dominant real-ismBut in the end, it reads as a narrative of subversion and containment Gothic sub-versiveness is contained by realist order
Subversion and containmentWhat 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 Frankensteins journal to the frame narrative that is Robert Waltons own epistolary text
Subversion and containmentWalton, in continuation works in such a way as to facilitate the absorption of everything that Walton describes as strange and terrific about Frankensteins story into the more commonplace world of Waltons communications to his sisterWalton is, precisely, that figure who could never have such strange and terrific adventures as Frankenstein, notwithstanding that the two men are both explorers
Subversion and containmentSee Waltons 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
Subversion and containmentWalton, in continuation, then, represents the mark of realist narrative containment of Gothic fictional subversion in MSs text (compare, brief-ly, the role of Lockwood as narrator in Emily Bront, 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 realisms world of all things commonplace and ordinary
Realism and nineteenth-century fictionThe 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 unfoldsJane Eyre (1847) realist autobiograph-ical account of Janes development (done with some secondary Gothic elements)
Realism and nineteenth-century fictionJane Eyre Janes realist approach to life is shown as winning out against the alter-native approach associated with Blanche Ingram as a typical heroine of romanceMiddlemarch (1871-2) Note the indebt-edness of George Eliots study of pro-vincial life to the contents of MP (. . . in-terest in the details of ordinary life, etc.)
Realism and nineteenth-century fictionMiddlemarch Note, too, GEs indebtedness to WSs historical novel in that M is a historical novel about the 1832 Reform ActRealism 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
The afterlives of FrankensteinThe history of the afterlives of F one par-ticularly revealing place where the con-tinuing tensions between the Gothic and realism are exhibitedThe 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 MSs novel
The afterlives of FrankensteinFragility? the monsters subversiveness is contained within the novel (Waltons 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 FThe popularity of F today is a manifest-ation of the uncontained, live subver-siveness of the novel
Gothic timesF as a novel is popular all over again today be-cause, arguably, today we live in Gothic timesSee Christopher Frayling, We live in Gothic times . . ., in Martin Myrone, ed., The Gothic Reader (2006), pp. 11-20Compare the idea for Gothic Nightmares (2006) at Tate Britain the present day marks a return of Gothic times from the 1790s
Gothic timesCF: 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 . . .
Gothic timesCF: 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. 17-18)
Gothic timesIn 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))
Gothic timesIn so-called Gothic times the old counter-positioning of realism, on the one hand, and Gothicism, on the other, still exist