Mocking Stupendous Mechanisms: Romantic Parody and Frankenstein's Dream
Matthew VanWinkle, Boston College
|1||In the 1831 introduction to Frankenstein,
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley recollects her initial encounter with the process
of literary creation: "Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist
in creating out of the void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the
first place be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances,
but cannot bring into being the substance itself" (195). Shelley, as though
she were furthering this view, incorporates a diverse range of chaotic substances
into her masterpiece: the spectacular landscape surrounding the Villa Diodati;
conversations with Lord Byron, John Polidori, and Percy Shelley concerning
recent scientific inquiries into the nature of life; her own ambivalent
experiences of maternity; the countless rainy nights in the summer of 1816.
And, as her eponymous protagonist fashions his Creature out of pre-existing
bodies, Shelley composes her novel in no small part from other literary
texts. In addition to the "volumes of ghost stories, translated from the
German into French" mentioned in the introduction, Shelley alludes explicitly
to a variety of texts in Frankenstein, most notably Milton's Paradise
Lost and the poetry of her contemporaries. As the strategic modesty
of the above passage might suggest, Shelley acknowledges but also modifies
her literary antecedents, provisionally accepting a Romantic model of creativity
while maintaining telling reservations about it.
A provocative instance of this engagement occurs in Victor Frankenstein's immediate response to his unwelcome success. Reeling from the gruesome enormity of his handiwork, he plunges into a vexed slumber:
I was disturbed by the wildest dreams. I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her; but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel. I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed; when, by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window-shutters, I beheld the wretchthe miserable monster whom I had created (39).In a novel that takes its epigram from Paradise Lost, Frankenstein's horrified encounter with the Creature invites comparison with Milton's Book VIII, in which Adam awakes from an anticipatory dream of a mate to find Eve newly created before him. For Keats, Adam's dream is the perfect type of the imagination: "he awoke, and found it truth." Shelley's recollection of Milton, conversely, grimly twists the promise of nuptial bliss. Elizabeth, Victor's cousin and the favorite companion of his youth, later becomes his wife. But the Creature, after Frankenstein reneges on a promise to assemble a mate for him, vows to "be with [Frankenstein] on [his] wedding night" (140), and murders Elizabeth shortly after she and Victor are married. Loathed as he is by his creator, the Creature becomes the closest thing to a companion Frankenstein has for the rest of his tortured existence. In contrast with Keats's breezy confidence, often taken as exemplary of Romantic poetic theory, Mary Shelley's turn on Paradise Lost offers a profoundly sardonic retort to a patriarchal illusion.
|3||The critical recuperation of Frankenstein
begun in the late 70s has often argued for its importance based on its oppositional
relationship to a long-standing canonization of Romanticism as exclusively
male and exclusively poetic. Shelley's novel, as this line of interpretation
would have it, indicts the fatal overreach and insistent egotism commonly
associated with high Romantic quest. For some critics, this indictment announces
a complete break between Shelley and her male contemporaries, a position
summarized by Mark Hansen when he contends "Frankenstein is no mere
shadow of the great poems of a Wordsworth or a Blake, a Byron or Shelley,
but rather a central text in a different ideology" (578). While I do not
intend to contest the value of Mary Shelley's critique of a "Romantic ideology"
promoting an original and autonomous creative self, I do want to demonstrate
that the ideology critics like Hansen posit for the novel is still recognizably
a Romantic one. This alternative tradition reads literary creativity as
inherently parodic, in which authors create not out of a void but from a
chaos of pre-existing texts. The practice of parody calls attention to the
ways in which authors are themselves readers; it also underscores the value
of eliciting imitations, flattering or otherwise, from a scribbling readership.
In offering a mocking rendition of what Jack Stillinger has called "the
myth of solitary genius," Shelley seeks to establish herself as a parodist,
only to find that she has made herself eminently available to be parodied
in turn. This vulnerability, as might be expected, produces considerable
anxiety within her first novel. Less expectedly, and more remarkably, Frankenstein
accepts this vulnerability as an inextricable element of literary success.
|4||Several recent scholarly anthologies
attest to the fecundity of parody in the Romantic era (see Kent and Ewen,
Stones and Strachan). Nevertheless, the suspicion that parody is incompatible
with Romanticism remains persuasive for many critics. Linda Hutcheon, in
attempting to characterize the appeal of parody to (post)modern sensibilities,
opposes it to preferences still swayed by "the continuing strength of a
Romantic aesthetic that values genius, originality, and creativity" (Theory
4). While recognizing that parody is a widespread practice in the Romantic
era, Hutcheon contends that it "is almost always aligned with satire" ("Foreward"
7). This satirical purpose, intent on deriding its target as a way of effecting
social change, distinguishes romantic parody from its more sophisticated
modern descendant, in which "no such negative judgment is necessarily suggested
in the ironic contrasting of texts" (Theory 44). David Kent and D.
R. Ewen concur, offering a contrast between "Victorian parody . . . more
often a matter of admiration" for the antecedent text and Romantic parody
as "rougher ideological sport, highlighting clashes of ideas, styles and
|5||I am contending that parody in the
Romantic era is less antagonistic than is often assumed and that Mary Shelley's
exchange with her contemporaries in Frankenstein approaches Hutcheon's
more complex description of parody in two important respects. "Parodic art,"
Hutcheon suggests, "both deviates from an aesthetic norm and includes that
norm within itself as background material. Any real attack would be self-destructive"
(Theory 44). Even as the novel opens up a critical distance on conventionally
Romantic attitudes, it maintains a familiarity with them that precludes
wholesale dismissal. In addition, Shelley evinces a pragmatic awareness
of what Hutcheon recognizes even amid the often contentious upbraiding of
Romantic era parody: "many texts have survived into the present simply because
they have been parodied" ("Forward" 10). This might be cynically reduced
to the first cliché of spin: no publicity is bad publicity. But not all
writers, not even all Romantic writers, insist on being enjoyed by a taste
they have themselves created. Shelley accepts that being parodied at least
indicates an audience, and fosters the possibility of future audiences,
however damaging it might be to the fantasy of unqualified success.
|6||If Wordsworth and Percy Shelley
may be taken as representative of the Romantic ideology criticized in Frankenstein,
then Coleridge provides the most prominent model for an alternative, parodic
tradition. In an archly riddling, anonymous contribution to Southey's Omniana
(1808), Coleridge expresses his own equivocal concern with parody: "Parodies
on new poems are read as satires; on old ones, (the soliloquy of Hamlet
for instance) as compliments. A man of genius may securely laugh at a mode
of attack, by which his reviler in half a century or less, becomes his encomiast"
(SW & F I, 305). The bluff of confidence Coleridge ascribes to the
man of genius belies misgivings that the mocking tribute may turn out to
be utterly derisive. At the same time, Coleridge obliquely concedes that
the relationship between genius and parody is symbiotic, if asymmetrically
so. A parody that too absolutely demolishes its target destroys the grounds
for its own appreciation. The work of genius, in sustaining the supportive
ribbing of its jocular antagonists, secures its own reputation and also
provides a dependent endurance for its complementary texts.
|7||The explicit allusions to "The Rime
of the Ancient Mariner" in Frankenstein demonstrate Shelley's interest
in Coleridge as an antecedent. Like Walton, the Mariner embarks on a voyage
of discovery that leads to "a land of mist and snow." Like Victor Frankenstein,
the Mariner initiates a catastrophe that claims his entire social circle
while sparing himself. If Shelley's recollections of Coleridge's work were
limited to the Ancient Mariner alone, her use of them could easily be reconciled
to her critique of solitary genius. But Shelley draws on another of Coleridge's
poems as well, in a subtler but no less formative manner. Two days after
the ghost story contest was proposed on June 16, 1816, Polidori's diary
records Lord Byron's memorable recitation of "Christabel," a poem only recently
published but long familiar to Byron from its manuscript circulation. In
"Christabel," Shelley finds a complex relationship between heroine and anti-heroine
that anticipates the fraught exchanges between creator and creature in Frankenstein.
Moreover, the shifting nature of authority in "Christabel" traces a parodic
model of creativity that Shelley adopts and refines in her novel.
|8||The complex and protracted history
of the composition and publication of "Christabel" suggests that originals
and parodies aren't merely reciprocal; they are virtually interchangeable.
The mastiff bitch's garrulously precise time-keeping at the opening of the
poem, combined with the narrator's pronounced skittishness, reflects Coleridge's
increasing disenchantment with the supernatural machinery of the Gothic
romances he had been reviewing at the time he began composing the poem (see
Cooper). As the poem progresses, however, Coleridge's admiration for the
power of writers like Ann Radcliffe and "Monk" Lewis to involve and terrify
their readers eclipses his impulse to send up the genre's more ridiculously
elaborate conventions. "Christabel" comes to resemble too closely the very
sensibility it had presumed to dismiss, "the degrading thirst for outrageous
stimulation" Wordsworth endeavors to counteract in his landmark preface.
Originally slated for publication in the 1800 edition to Lyrical Ballads,
"Christabel" does not see print until 1816. This sixteen-year interval between
the poem's practical completion and its eventual publication further confounds
any easy distinction between parody and original.
"Christabel" encourages speculations on the relationship between parody and originality not only in the circumstances of its publication; the text itself may be read as an allegory of this relationship. The poem begins with our heroine venturing out into the "midnight wood" to pray on behalf of her absent "betrothèd knight." Her pious affections and her naïve disregard for the eeriness of her surroundings mark Christabel as a familiar Gothic figure: feminine virtue in distress. Yet her surreptitious excursion into the midnight wood violates conventional propriety and raises the specter of a less orthodox purpose. In risking the dangers of the forest unattended at the very witching time of night, Christabel may be attempting a fanciful conjuration of her absent lover. Such an attempt aligns her with a Romantic conception of poetry as vatic office, as a supernaturally transgressive invocation of desires (see Rzepka). And, in typically Romantic fashion, her effort produces an unexpected result:
The lady leaps up suddenly,On closer inspection, "it" turns out to be Geraldine, but as Karen Swann astutely observes, "for a moment's space, however, we entertain the notion that an uneasy woman has leaped suddenly and terrified herself" (538). In summoning another and producing instead someone suspiciously like herself, Christabel enacts a version of Romantic poetics. Coleridge is sending up Gothic conventions in "Christabel," but he is wryly commenting on the loftier aspirations of his contemporaries as well.
If, in unintentionally conjuring Geraldine through the sheer ardor of
her solitary call, Christabel becomes a figure for Romantic creativity,
then Geraldine, simultaneously dependent and threatening in her potential
malevolence, parodies this figure, embodying a revealing distortion of
it rather than a simple departure from it. Initially so weak and compromised
that she cannot cross the castle threshold unaided, Geraldine exaggerates
Christabel's apparent helplessness, a helplessness rendered all the more
suspect by the "might and main" (l. 125) with which she aids her guest.
Once inside the castle, however, Geraldine exercises an insinuating power
of her own, banishing the benevolent influence of Christabel's departed
mother (ll. 206-208). No longer merely the unexpected respondent to Christabel's
summons, Geraldine, in displacing the woman who brought Christabel into
being, has achieved a common goal of parody: the reversal of creative
priority. The brainchild has become the mother of the lady.
At its most extreme, parody silences its antecedent; its mocking exposure of its inspiration's characteristic flaws precludes any opportunity for rejoinder. Geraldine casts a spell over Christabel that is "lord of [her] utterance"; Christabel may not reveal the horrible discovery she has made concerning her guest. The conclusion to the first part of the poem reinforces the terror of Christabel's situation by pointedly contrasting it with her vigil at the old oak tree. Her silent prayer finds modest expression in "both blue eyes more bright than clear, / Each about to have a tear" (ll. 278-279). Coleridge immediately undercuts this vision of productive silence with a suffocating sense of confinement:
With open eyes (ah woe is me!)The haunting claustrophobia of these lines arises in part from the inverted repetition of "dreaming fearfully," but a subtler constraint is at work as well, implicit in the contrast between Christabel's prayer and her nightmare. Under the old oak tree, Christabel, however inadvertently, calls forth something (someone) previously unimagined to herself. Isolated from the austerity of her father's keep, Christabel participates in the Romantic tradition of autonomous inspiration and creation. In the arms of Geraldine, which twine about her like the parasitic mistletoe around the oak (l. 36), she has lost this ability to introduce a new vitality into a conventionally dreary setting. She dreams "that alone, which is." She cannot innovate; she can only reflect what already exists.
|12||Returning now to Frankenstein's
dream, we find a chain of substitutions that affords striking parallels
to the shifting roles Geraldine inhabits in the first part of "Christabel."
Geraldine emerges in response to Christabel's prayer "for the weal of her
lover that's far away" (l.32); Victor's dream begins with a vision of his
beloved Elizabeth, transported from the family seat in Geneva to Ingolstadt.
Geraldine next displaces the spirit of Christabel's dead mother; as Victor
embraces her, Elizabeth decays into the form of his dead mother. Finally,
Geraldine reveals a monstrous aspect, "a sight to dream of, not to tell!"
(l. 247), and climbs into bed with her victim and host. Frankenstein's nightmare
is punctuated by the intrusion of the Creature, "[holding] up the curtain
of the bed" (39). Even before he falls prey to exhaustion upon the completion
of his task, Frankenstein declares that "the beauty of the dream [has] vanished"
(39); the being he has shaped fails to match his intended result. The bitter
fruit of his ensuing slumber can only confirm an already existent reality.
Like Christabel, Frankenstein is reduced to an imaginative paralysis. He
can only revisit, without re-imagining, the wretched perversion of his creative
The Creature's unwanted (if not entirely unexpected) attempt at intimacy, then, reproduces many of the features of parodic menace we find in Geraldine. His emergence drives Frankenstein to a protracted, guilty silence, similar to Christabel's mute astonishment at Geraldine's machinations in the second part of the poem. But Victor's silence differs from Christabel's in one important respect. Christabel is forcibly deprived of her utterance by Geraldine's charm; Frankenstein's refusal to speak of his ordeal is ultimately his own choice. Nor is the result of his fated project the immediate cause of his silence. Rather, the pursuit of this project leads him to cease corresponding with his family, a lapse he repeatedly describes as an ominous "silence" (37,38). Unlike Christabel, whose creative power is intricately bound in her ability to speak, Frankenstein's creativity is predicated on a retreat from verbal articulation. His silence is partly a response to the Creature's parodic threat, but it is also a continuation of the conditions that initially fostered that threat. Frankenstein, embodying a Romantic original or target text, cannot bring himself to curtail his parodic double's activity. Whatever else the Creature is, he is Frankenstein's strongest guarantee of an audience, as Walton's fascination in the novel's outermost frame attests.
To this point, "Christabel" and Frankenstein alike might be read as utterly dismissive of a conventional Romantic poetics ideally conceived. It should not be overlooked that Coleridge's poem remains incomplete, and that Shelley's protagonist dies tormented in an arctic waste. But while this emphatic critique of solitary genius provides a formative impulse for these works, it fails to prove conclusive. Christabel and Victor Frankenstein recognize the unfortunate consequences of their misguided creative efforts, yet the revulsion that accompanies these recognitions fails to govern entirely our sense of what these author-figures have wrought. For if it is true, as Shelley contends, that authors do not create out of a void, it is also true that they do not send their creations into a vacuum. In "Christabel" and Frankenstein the distortions of an individual vision meet with further abuses in their encounters with the larger world. Ironically, in misconstruing the monstrous threats visited upon them, characters within these texts, as well as readers trying to interpret them from without, partially restore the degraded protagonists' original intentions. The result of this confrontation is neither the ideal vision of an autonomous author nor the simple mockery of a sophisticated, unsympathetic audience, but a curiously unstable and yet strangely vital collaboration between writer and reader.
The first part of "Christabel" presents an allegory of the relationship between original and parody, and the second half stages the variety of responses available in receiving parody and original alike. As Geraldine emerges into the light of day with a much-diminished Christabel in tow, these competing interpretive possibilities attempt to account for her. Bracy, forewarned by his dream of a concealed serpent strangling a dove, suspects that some malevolence is afoot without tracing it immediately to Geraldine's presence. Clearly a great deal in the poem supports Bracy's suspicions. Christabel would confirm them, could she work herself free of Geraldine's spell. As it is, she can only reflect the "look of dull and treacherous hate" of the apparition she had hoped would reflect her own virtue. Bracy's suspicions and Christabel's plight both cast Geraldine's parodic agency in the worst possible light, as the gleefully ungrateful destroyer of its antecedent.
But while Bracy gropes toward a discovery of Christabel's apprehensions
of what her guest has become, Sir Leoline welcomes Geraldine in much the
same fashion as Christabel does at the poem's beginning. In accepting
Geraldine's improbable story of her abduction and abandonment, Sir Leoline,
like his daughter, "recognizes Geraldine as a certain type of heroine
and embraces her" (Swann 534). In overlooking what Christabel has come
to see in Geraldine, Sir Leoline compounds his daughter's initial error,
at considerable danger to them both. Yet in accepting Geraldine as the
damsel in distress Christabel first thought she was, Sir Leoline also
implies, in the calculated generosity of his response, that his daughter's
creative efforts may not be as misguided as she now finds them herself.
By offering a laughable distortion of Christabel's own revised sense of
her achievement, Sir Leoline presents a more nuanced account of the effects
of parody, one which allows for the possibility of parody encourages its
antecedent's success as well as contributing to its decay.
In Coleridge's poem, this salutary potential of parody acts as a teasing counter-current to the menacing drift of the plot. In Shelley's novel, the brutal extent of the Creature's vengeance threatens to render parody's destructive qualities absolute. And a good thing, too, we might say, since Victor Frankenstein's model of exclusively male creativity could use a thorough demolition. Perhaps a grim satisfaction inevitably results from contemplating the fate Frankenstein has conjured for himself. Nevertheless, to indulge this response too extensively is to ignore what the Creature endures as the result of his own actions; in witnessing the demise of his creator, he discovers the exhaustion of his raison d'être. Like all parodies, the Creature must at least partially sustain his antecedent; otherwise his own existence becomes meaningless and untenable. Frankenstein may inadvertently reveal as much when he describes the fortuitous circumstances that sustain his pursuit of the Creature:
Sometimes, when nature, overcome by hunger, sunk under the exhaustion, a repast was prepared for me in the desert, that restored and inspirited me. The fare was indeed coarse, such as the peasants of the country ate; but I may not doubt that it was set there by the spirits that I had invoked to aid me (173).With characteristically risible obtuseness, Frankenstein ignores a likelier alternative. The Creature, who often responds to Victor's vague conjuration of spirits in the novel, has quite possibly provided these repasts himself, if only to prolong the cruel enjoyment he derives from his creator's futile exertions.
Instead of locating Frankenstein's doom in the awful effort to bring
something into existence, we might rather attribute it to his refusal
to allow the results of this effort to have unanticipated, even comic,
consequences. In assuming too readily that he has produced an irredeemable
atrocity, Frankenstein refuses to consider how his Creature could, in
spite of his deformity, satisfy his creator's ultimate ambition. This
ambition, which Frankenstein expresses as he assembles the materials for
his first attempt at bestowing life, is to foster "a new species [that]
would bless [him] as its creator and source" (36). And, despite his initial
murderous forays into revenge, even as he vows an absolute break with
his creator and his creator's kind, the Creature partially restores the
intention that conceived him. In demanding that Frankenstein provide him
with a mate, he unwittingly seeks to establish the necessary conditions
for the fulfillment of his creator's dream to stand as the origin not
just of a being, but of a "species." This idea occurs again to Frankenstein
himself as he labors to complete the Creature's bride; it culminates the
train of thought that leads him to abandon the task: "one of the first
results of those sympathies for which the daemon thirsted would be children,
and a race of devils would be propagated upon the earth" (138). Like Christabel,
unable to reconcile her fiendish vision of Geraldine with her initial
expectation of a Gothic heroine, Frankenstein cannot recognize in his
Creature's request an advance toward the success of his own grandest aspiration.
The catastrophe that results from Frankenstein's refusal could be averted,
were he only able to acknowledge the Creature's potential curséd
race as his.
Shelley's own reaction to her novel's reception, by turns bemused and
peeved, offers a glimpse of what such an acknowledgment might look like.
On August 29, 1823, she attended a performance of Richard Brinsley Peake's
Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein. This stage adaptation
proved popular, "initiat[ing] enough interest in Mary Shelley's novel
that less than one month after its debut a second edition had been published"
(Forry 3). The evening's playbill recorded the Creature in the dramatis
personae as "------by Mr. T. Cooke," which, Shelley says in a Sept. 9
letter to Leigh Hunt, "amused [her] exceedingly . . . this nameless way
of naming the unnamable is rather good" (378). Like many who saw the play,
Shelley was impressed by Cooke's acting, though her admiration for James
Wallack's performance as Frankenstein was not widely shared. Her letter
to Hunt generally expresses approval of the production, with the surprisingly
unruffled qualification that "the story is not well managed."
Peake's melodrama introduces several features that have become commonplace
to audiences of subsequent adaptations of Shelley's original, among them
a servant employed for comic relief who provides the inspiration for countless
future lab assistants. More tellingly, however, Presumption inaugurates
a long tradition in which the Creature remains silent. In Shelley's novel,
the Creature's improbable rhetorical skill provides an important element
of the tense equilibrium that balances his claims on the reader's sympathies
with those of Frankenstein. While Cooke's performance compensates for
this loss in other ways, the confrontation between creator and creature
becomes slightly asymmetrical. Frankenstein, often inept at crucial moments
in the novel, assumes a greater competence (if not a corresponding practical
efficacy) on stage.
One other change marks Frankenstein's barely perceptible advance in status within the play. Though much of Shelley's first description of the Creature is reproduced verbatim in Presumption, the dream which immediately follows it is not. Peake's production relocates Frankenstein's vision to a much earlier moment in the story. Fritz, the excitable servant, reports on his master's unquiet sleep:
[Frankenstein] was asleep, but frightfully troubled; he groaned and ground his teeth setting mine on edge. "It is accomplished!" said he. Accomplished! I knew that had nothing to do with me, but I listened. He started up in his sleep, though his eyes were opened and dead as oysters, he cried, "It is animatedit riseswalks!" (Forry 138).Unlike Frankenstein's dream in the novel, the dream in the play drifts toward the more Romantic convention of proleptic ambition and creativity. In presenting it through the mediation of the easily rattled Fritz, the play suffuses the awful anticipation of Frankenstein's project with jumpy laughter.
Mary Shelley dispenses a similar blend of shudders and chuckles, and
toys with a parallel shift toward Romantic conventions, in her 1831 introduction.
Her description of the waking dream that delivers the core of the novel
to her famously rehearses Frankenstein's horrified recoil from his dreadful
accomplishment shortly after its animation. By presenting her inspiration
as a version of Frankenstein's first encounter with his Creature, Shelley
declares an affinity with her protagonist. This moment reads less as a
triumphant breakthrough, however, and more as a kind of imaginative arrest,
similar to what Christabel experiences at the conclusion to Part I. Shelley's
vision arrives "unbidden," her authorial task reduced to "making only
a transcript of [her] waking dream" (197). Although Shelley's reluctance
to admit any deliberate craft in producing her tale might be taken as
a coy preclusion of any further inquiries by a curious readership, it
serves an additional purpose. The simple equation Shelley offers between
authorial intention and the reception of an obedient audience reads as
disingenuously naïve: "What terrified me will terrify others; and I need
only describe the spectre which had haunted my pillow" (196-197). Shelley
hesitates tauntingly between identifying with her surrogate author and
exposing the shortcomings of his creative process.
The odd humor of this introduction changes from biting satire to jocular
burlesque when Shelley shifts her attention from Frankenstein to the Creature:
"And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper."
As well as alluding to the very real financial pressures that prompted
the 1831 edition, the substitution of "prosper" for the more Biblically
precedented "multiply" suggests that Shelley may share some of Frankenstein's
reservations about any offspring the Creature might sire. More importantly,
though, the rueful chuckle implied by the phrase concedes that the uncanny
sympathy the Creature elicits at the novel's center will have more to
do with its continued success than the author could have anticipated.
Readers of Victor Frankenstein's narrative, it would seem, find in the
fruits of his labor the achievement he hopes for but cannot comprehend.
Until recently, critical accounts of parody in the Romantic era have
tended to emphasize the practice's antagonistic energies, the ways it
appropriates from and ridicules its antecedents. In Frankenstein,
the monstrous consequences of a distorted authorial intention demonstrate
the nature of this threat. At the same time the Creature, menacing as
he is, unerringly (if inadvertently) continue to preserve, even restore,
the kernel of a vision his creator has given up as lost. If parody often
"wrongs" the text it targets, exposing its characteristic flaws, it often
redresses these flaws, too, in unexpectedly sympathetic ways. As parody,
Frankenstein invites further rejoinders, even stranger turns on
its target and on itself. This invitation, taken up by the near-constant
reinterpretation of Shelley's novel on stage and screen, provides an alternative
to the "myth of solitary genius" that has long haunted Romanticism and
its critics. The writers of the Romantic era, this alternative model proposes,
engaged their audience in comic and complementary ways, anticipating in
turn a potentially derisive but ultimately salutary response to this exchange
Romantic Circles - Home / Praxis Series / Frankenstein's Dream / Matthew VanWinkle, "Mocking Stupendous Mechanisms: Romantic Parody and Frankenstein's Dream"