Reviewed by Andrew
Author of Lovers' Legends: The
Gay Greek Myths
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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