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  • Frankenstein:The Book that Keeps on Throwing up Puzzles
  • Nora Crook

Sometimes it seems as though there is nothing more in the text of Frankenstein to analyze, or new sources to be discovered, and that we have moved on to study the afterlives of Frankenstein—adaptations for stage, film, and graphic novel; Frankenstein in popular culture; Frankenstein and robots; Frankenstein and speciesism. That statement is, of course, an over-schematic polarization. There is constant interchange between a text and its afterlife, and some questions about the afterlife of a text take one straight back to the text or its sources. To take an example from Angela Wright's entry to Black-well's Encyclopedia of the Gothic (2013), the question of the authorship of Frankenstein (was it really written by Percy Shelley? Should he be called a co-author?) has itself become a subject of analysis and dissection: it is part of Frankenstein's afterlife.1 Yet such dissection has had the effect of taking critics back to examining Mary Shelley's style, sentence structure, and lexis, to her sources and reading. In one of last essays he published, the late Charles E. Robinson, who did more than anyone to assess exactly how much of P. B. Shelley there is in Frankenstein,2 again scrutinized the text and found more than he had previously identified, concluding, nevertheless, with a reaffirmation that Mary Shelley remains the author, and that P. B. Shelley's role still falls short of the co-authorial.3 Similarly, the topic of Frankenstein and robots takes us back to newly discovered possible sources of Frankenstein, notably the tantalizing Le Miroir des Événemens Actuels (1790) by [End Page 77] a freemason and writer of libertine fables, François-Félix Nogaret. Le Miroir hinges on an automaton invented by one Frankésteïn. If nothing else, it points up the intense interest in the question of man as machine during the revolutionary period.4

So if this essay confines itself to Frankenstein's text and contexts, and is more about its previous life than its afterlife, I hope this will not be taken as a sign of indifference to the many modern metamorphoses of Frankenstein, but as a fascination with the richness of the text, one aspect of which is its many loose ends. Who may be supposed to have introduced quotations from poems of Leigh Hunt and Byron into a story supposed to be taking place in the eighteenth century, and footnoted them? What happened to Victor Frankenstein's last surviving dog? Where will the Creature get the wood to build his funeral pyre? Why does Victor have to go to England to find out how to make a female? Such questions used to be considered inadmissible; they were simply the givens of the story, matters to which Mary Shelley had paid no mind, intent as she was on creating a page-turning story of thrilling horror. Yet since critical work, carried out principally in the last twenty-five years of the last century, established that Frankenstein was in fact written with considerable craft, it has usually transpired that such questions do have an answer, consistent with the fictive world of the narration, and one that might plausibly come within the precincts of the knowledge of and even the conscious intentions of Mary Shelley. So the person who has embellished the pages with contemporary poetry is evidently the same as the one who has presented the date as "17—," inserted notes such as "Walton, in continuation," and lightly edited the raw materials of Walton's letters.5 Suspect A is Walton's sister, Margaret Walton Saville (a persona of MWS), the addressee.6 We never hear what happens to Victor's dog, but, as Stuart Curran comments, "The fact that Victor says nothing whatsoever about his lost dogs is a subtly pointed, if silent, [End Page 78] comment on his self-absorption."7 As for the wood, as Susan Wolfson and Ronald Levao note, "The pile, we may realize, is to be assembled from the Creature's sledge, perhaps also from Frankenstein's, and the shipwrecks of unlucky expeditions."8 Victor's visit to England...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2328-112X
Print ISSN
0453-4387
Pages
pp. 77-87
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-20
Open Access
No
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