The Critical Metamorphoses of Mary Shelley’s 'Frankenstein'

William Christie


Like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, who erupts into Mary Shelley’s text as occasionally and inevitably as the Monster into Victor Frankenstein’s life, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus passes, like night, from land to land and with stangely adaptable powers of speech addresses itself to a critical audience that is larger and more diverse than that of almost any other work of literature in English:

'Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is famously reinterpretable. It can be a late version of the Faust myth, or an early version of the modern myth of the mad scientist; the id on the rampage, the proletariat running amok, or what happens when a man tries to have a baby without a woman. Mary Shelley invites speculation, and in the last generation has been rewarded with a great deal of it.'

How far we wedding guests have attended to what Frankenstein has to say and how far simply and unashamedly bound it to our own purposes is a moot point. Still, the fact that it can be — has been — read to mean so many things in its comparatively short life is what makes the novel especially fascinating and challenging. And I am concerned in this article only with the extent and variety of the academic critical attention Frankenstein has received; only with what we might call its ‘critical metamorphoses’. If we were to add to these critical metamorphoses all adaptations of the novel or myth in fiction, on stage, in the cinema and in retail, then the number of metamorphoses or different versions is quite literally incomprehensible: impossible to get around, to encircle and take in.

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