The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein
John Lauritsen
Pagan Press 2007

                Gay Humanist Quarterly
                                (London) Spring 2007

       Reviewed by Jim Herrick

    John Lauritsen is a gay scholar who has challenged many received truths. He has questioned the Boswell thesis that homosexuality was recognised in early Christianity, and has written originally on early homosexual rights, and his view that HIV does not cause AIDS has produced a disapproving stir. Now he has got his teeth into what he regards as another myth. The powerful novel Frankenstein was not written by Mary Shelley, as all the world's libraries will have you believe, but by Percy Bysshe Shelley himself.
    He presents mountains of evidence, much of which is startlingly persuasive. He considers that Mary Shelley's lack of formal education would not have fitted her for such a literary composition. This ignores the intelligence  of her parents Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin.
    But the most stunning evidence comes when you put Frankenstein, a masterpiece, beside her other novels, for instance Valperga and The Last Man, the turgid, pallid, banal novels she wrote after Percy Bysshe Shelley's death. This argument is reinforced when the edition revised in 1831 by herself and William Godwin is put beside the 1818 edition: almost every alteration weakens the text of the original. Perhaps it would be worth using computer textual analysis to settle the authorship.
    She did her husband's oeuvre great disservice by bowdlerising later editions, turning him into a Victorian angel ‘suitable for enshrinement among the gods of respectability and convention’. She prettified the radical, whose unorthodox beliefs covered politics, sexual relationships, marriage, diet, and religion.
    Perhaps the summit of Lauritsen's case is the evidence of ideas relating to revolution, forgiveness, science, revenge, psychology, and nature, which are so characteristic of Percy Bysshe  Shelley. Mary Shelley showed no intellectual interest in such topics.
    The extra-textual evidence is examined carefully and I am convinced that the three friends who in Switzerland agreed each to write a story of the supernatural are Byron, Polidori and Percy Bysshe Shelley. The original of Frankenstein is found in Mary Shelley's handwriting, but this is no argument for her authorship, because she often acted as scribe for Percy Bysshe Shelley.
    The most substantial chapter deals with Male Love in Frankenstein. Lauritsen is convincing that Percy Bysshe Shelley had homoerotic feelings and deep friendships for men. He demonstrates that Frankenstein contains potential homosexual relationships, particularly between the letter writer whose account enclosed the story and deeply desired a close friendship with a man. There is also Frankenstein's close friendship with the young Clerval. I find the idea that the monster represents the sexual side of gay love less convincing — he longs for a wife. He does however represent the ostracised, alienated individual, who illustrates the psychological view that he who is despised and hurt will turn back in revenge.
    Percy Bysshe's interest in and acceptance of homosexuality is seen in his translation of Plato's The Banquet (Symposium) with its introduction entitled A Discourse on the Manners of the Ancient Greeks Relative to the Subject of Love (Published by Lauritsen in 2001, Pagan Press). This translation was done at a time when punishment for homosexual activity could lead to execution. It was not published until 1931 and then only for a private readership. The poem which seems the most erotic is Julian and Maddalo, where the two characters represent Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley. I suspect that like other deeply imaginative writers such as Shakespeare, Percy Bysshe Shelley was omnisexual.
    A minor weakness of the book is its tiresome jibes at feminist academics. I cannot either accept that Frankenstein was primarily written for gay men.
    The strongest argument for Percy Bysshe Shelley's authorship is the imagination and ideas and poetry of Frankenstein, and Lauritsen presents this powerfully. In the monster's discussion with a blind old man, in the prayer for vengeance, in the description of the craggy Swiss scenery (which demonstrates a pantheistic tinge typical of Percy Bysshe Shelley) the novel has enormous sweep. Lauritsen's book does readers a great service by bringing out Frankenstein's stature as a ‘profound and moving masterpiece’.

Jim Herrick is the author of several books, the most recent being Humanism: An Anthology (2005). He was for many years Editor of The Freethinker (London) and then the New Humanist (London). Herrick studied English Literature at Cambridge.

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