Critical Words: Frankenstein

A recent TLS has a knockout review by Frances Wilson of three new books about Frankenstein, a text now at its 200th birthday.  Whole thing behind a paywall, but here’s the lead

Frankenstein’s metaphor

The world’s most rewarding metaphor is now 200 years old. Since his dull yellow eye first opened on January 1, 1818 Victor Frankenstein’s creature has been compared to the Irish mob, the lumpen proletariat, the wandering Jew, and the UK Independence Party. Today he is spokesman for minority rights – including gay and lesbian and those born with disabilities and disfigurements – while his creator is patron saint of Artificial Intelligence, nanotechnology, robotics, bio-hackers, body-shaming and bad parenting. In English departments, where Mary Shelley has a dual identity as the celebrated author of a canonical novel and a woman writer excluded from the canon, Frankenstein is one of the five most commonly assigned texts. Linguistically, we talk about (genetically modified) Frankenfoods, Frankenstorms (stitched together from different weather systems), Frankenbikes (built from different parts) and Frankenbabies (born of three-parent IVF). The books under review here – in which the various Frankensteins are discussed in terms of cultural and textual history, political philosophy, and the life of the author – form a motley crew we might call Frankentexts.


Our celebration of the birth of Frankenstein follows the baby shower held in June 2016 to commemorate the wet weekend two centuries earlier when Mary Shelley first conceived of her story. Another flurry of publications will doubtless appear five years hence, to cash in on the creature’s first stage appearance at the Lyceum Theatre on July 28, 1823, in a dramatization by Richard Brinsley Peake called Presumption; Or, The Fate of Frankenstein which ran for thirty-seven nights and inspired, over the next three years, fourteen further English or French plagiarisms (with names like Frank-in-steam; Or, The Modern Promise To Pay, and Humpgumption; Or, Dr Frankenstein and the Hobgoblin of Hoxton). The tone was set for Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Robocop, Blade Runner and The Fly. Frankenstein’s capacity to reproduce is seemingly endless; like aphids, he was born pregnant.

Project Gutenberg has the whole thing, but unclear which version (the original 1818, or the one, in Wilson’s words, the author ratted out on…)

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