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Reading Frankenstein

Frankenstein Notes

I. Papers to Return
II. Sign Up for Final Performances, 1 p.m. Sun, 16th
III. Hand out Instructions for Final Portfolio
IV. Catching up on Postings....?
V. Brianna notetaker this week....

VI. Reading Frankenstein
what would other authors say about it?
(Bettelheim re: fairy tale elements?
Brecht/Abbott/Dennett re: science story?
Polyani/Lakoff/Vygostsky/Pinker/Sacks re: tacit knowledge?
language acquisition?
Silko/Geertz/McD&Varenne re: abling, disabling cultural story?

novel of education (failed education)?
calls into question aims/purposes of education:
what is Viktor educated for? what ends does his education serve?
likewise the Creature..

feminist in narrative technique
1. multiple perspective (challenges validity of single point of view; refuses God-trick)
framing device of 5 narratives: Walton/Viktor/creature/Victor/Walker
concentric circles mandala? cf. Wuthering Hts, move from "normal" to "anormal"

2. showcases female spectatorship ("don't smile")
Walton's sister is occasion, subject, recipient of letters
we read as her, in her position, but she doesn't respond
frame of story is left open
(reverses Arabian Nights: frame narrative, telling tales to keep self from death)

feminist also on grounds of content
3. projection of Shelley's ambivalence about motherhood
reading focuses on Viktor's revulsion, guilt, dread, flight fr. birth in filthy workplace
novel confesses depression, guilt, anxiety of giving birth
(Viktor= "mother" who fails to love "her" child=Shelley)

biographical reading highlights promixity of birth/death in Shelley's life
own mother, MW, died 10 days after her birth
1/2 sister Fanny poisoned self, left note ref. to illegitimacy
Percy's first wife suicide while pregnant by another
Mary's first dtr. died, two weeks after premature birth
(after novel written: lost two other children and husband)
novel a dream of independence from biology of motherood (her dream=Viktor's?)
requires a stretch: he stand in for her

4. alternatively: read Viktor's creature as woman: marginalized, outcast
Gilbert&Gubar: creature is Eve, source of sin and death
"motherless" (Maria: "surely it is better to die, than to enter on life w/out a mother's care")
also outcast because of physical appearance
another stretch: female beauty recast as male ugliness:
"soul as hellish as his form"
cf. Jane Eyre: insistent re plainness, importance of looks taken to extreme: repulsed by ugliness

and/or Viktor destroys  female creature  because he can't control her
deeper than fear of female sexuality : fear of independent female will

5. focus on the male-centeredness of the book:
highlight 3 masculine autobiographies,
tale of male bonding, male friendships--but also a study of broken maleness

rather than account of outcast women,
read as fantasy of aggression against women
(focus on pure dead maidens: sexless orphans
Caroline, Justine, Elizabeth adopted into Fr. family;
none w/ lives or characters, and all destroyed)

 frustrated women's book about male immaturity,
masculine violence, scientific takeover of female nature

(monstrous becasue severed from "the feminine"?)

Wollstonecraft, Enlightenment philosophers advocated dominance of intellect over emotion
Shelley, Romantic poets railed against that ranking as demoralizing, immoral, reversed it
novel critiques masculine immaturity/lack of empathy/lack of involvement in family life
--which literally destroys the family
(p. 74: his own vampire, let loose; p. 84: I true murderer!)

reading condemns imbalance between/segregation of ambition, domesticity

intellectual, family obligations
knowledge, sociability
intellect, emotion
dangers of passion: unreasoned, unrestrained

reading of Viktor's fatherhood as fatherhood writ large:
w/out thinking of responsibility engendered w/ child--and calls him to account

6. most interesting in context of this course:
related set of readings see the novel as critique of positive power of rationality,
celebrated by Enlightenment tradition, particularly by Wollstonecraft
(Vindication of the Rts of Women: woman is rational creature w/ capable brain;
her body irrelevant to design of her education)

self-consciously or not, novel suggests that Shelley lacks her mother's confidence
that the fate of sexual biology can be overcome

this book acknowledges bodily imperatives,
insists on ugliness that can't be rationally assimilated

creature's BODY IS HIS FATE: impure, mortal, filthy,
pure flesh which can't reason itself out of itself

in this reading: this is a novel about the limits of reason:
if her mother's feminism reduces what is human to a rational corpse
here: creature's status as CREATURE blinds all who see him to his status as a rational being
more essentialist, naturalist
(cf. belief in nurture: children become what we tell them they ARE)
source of alternative strain/2nd wave feminism: focus on physical difference,
indites feminism that denies/devalues the body (contemp. ecofeminism)
as la Rousseau: "my belief is--whether there be sex in souls or not--
that the sex of our material mechanism makes us quite different creatures"

alternatively: relation of reason to revenge?
reason no guide to kind conduct
new technology/science no guide to its wise use...

7. 19th c. studies: Marxist readings: creature represents the working class
central story: radical empathy for the social outcast (Satan: jealous)
classic liberal text: empathy for the criminal
causes of crime: lack of sympathy 96, 140
context in suffering/cries for empathy 193, 208, 211
novel a cry to/for love 210

8. Safie's letters as feminist core of book?
body discovers self as spirit, needing congenial social world
his fate hers: that of woman denied reason, cultivation of soul (200, 206)
regarded as, reduced to pure flesh
none can see their status as rational beings, as spirits needing to be treated as such
those ltrs. DeLaceys' sacred text (Felix happy, Agatha goodness, Safie wisdom)
complete correspondence: cf. other letters, listened to, not responded to
evidence of TRUTH of tale
Safie's letters to lover who responds
answered letters, completed dialogue, circle @ center

9. literary sources: Paradise Lost
Prometheus (Ovid: created first mortals, out of earth and water)
Shelley's Prometheus Unbound: better known version, brings fire to humans
bound on mt-top to have liver torn out by eagle, grow back each day
like Viktor, wants to know too much
his sin, tragic flaw: usurping power of the creator/creative powers of women
(os simple failure to love?)
transgression of sexual, psychic, geographical boundaries
Faust/failed Bildungsroman
Rousseau's Emile

10. historical period: parliamentary bill passed 10 years after,
opening up ed'l opportunities for non-Anglicans
(at time of writing, Shelley's circle would not have been allowed..)

11. genre conventions:
gothic novel
other readings overflatten it/don't attend enough to specific contextualization of period:
males not expected to be responsible for family emotional life, as today
domestic life celebrated later in 19th c.
interiority of family not recognized/represented yet as trope
was family (rather than school) seen as source of education?