Reviewed by Andrew Calimach
The   Androphile Project *
        Author of Lovers' Legends: The Gay Greek Myths

Reading The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein a comical picture came to mind — a group of learned critics are gathered around a detailed architectural fresco, expounding on the quality of the colors outlining the windows and doors, and the refinement of the painter. Then a man walks in, reaches out, pulls open one of the painted doors and steps through to the other side.

That man is John Lauritsen, and the two dimensional image that he reveals to be anything but flat is of course the novel Frankenstein. It is not my place to pass judgment on the thesis of the work, that it was Shelley himself, and not his uneducated, prosaic, teenage wife, who wrote the profound, complex, poetic and very masculine Frankenstein. Yes, I was persuaded by his argument, but that is a determination that every reader will have to make for himself. Instead I would like to concentrate on his approach, which can best be described as minimalist, and all the more effective for it.

The first part of the book has the quality — rare for a work of literary criticism — of being a suspenseful page turner, much like a good detective novel, for a detective is what Lauritsen is, and he does it particularly well and with understated humor. He is at his best when he lets academics who argue for Mary Shelley's authorship undermine their own arguments. In the excitement of it all one might almost miss the fact that an enormous amount of research has gone into building this case, research that pulls together correspondence, comments, and manuscript evidence, and which convincingly recreates the mores and ways of the world in which Frankenstein was conceived and written.

Even more eye-opening is the second part of the work, in which Lauritsen reads the text from the perspective of a gay historian pointing out instance after instance of homoerotic imagery and encoded social commentary in a work heretofore thought to be a mere one-dimensional horror story. It is a skillful textual analysis, made all the easier by the fact that few have preceded him, allowing Lauritsen to romp through virgin territory. He does it well and thoroughly, though perhaps more remains to be gleaned. I was surprised, for example, that he omits comment on Frankenstein's father's best friend, a man by the name of Beaufort: “Beautiful and Strong”, an apt choice for a work encoding secret male desires.

Not that this book is all about the Shelleys and Frankenstein. It is also about Lauritsen himself, who allows his personality, by turns cranky and profound, to shine through. It is an eccentric touch, a fitting flourish for a work that is anything but mainstream, and which aims to shake that mainstream by the scruff of its stuffy scholarly neck. I personally hope it succeeds.

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* To visit Andrew Calimach's site, The World History of Male Love, click here.

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