The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein.
Pagan Press 2007.
Piecing together the real ‘Frankenstein’
New book argues male love was dominant
theme of the classic
By JESSE MONTEAGUDO
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Gay activist writer John Lauritsen calls himself “an independent
scholar” who has “the freedom to tell the truth”, as
he sees it, without concerns for his career. His willingness to
challenge conventional wisdom is evident in his most recent book, The Man Who Wrote
Frankenstein (Pagan Press; $16.95).
In the book, Lauritsen takes on one of English literature's most famous
works. Lauritsen's Frankenstein
has three controversial theses: First, he notes that Frankenstein is
a great work that has consistently been underrated and misinterpreted.
Second, he contends that the real author of Frankenstein
is Percy Bysshe Shelley, not his second wife, the former Mary Godwin.
And third, Lauritsen argues that male love is the dominant theme of Frankenstein.
Frankenstein as underrated and
has a bad reputation, the product of a century of bad movie versions.
Lauritsen writes that most critics “have failed to appreciate the
excellence of its prose, the power of its symbolism and the profundity
of its ideas.” Above all, Frankenstein
is “a moral allegory about the evil effects of intolerance and
prejudice, ostracism and alienation, both to the victims of intolerance
and to society at large.”
Among these “victims of intolerance” are gay men. In fact,
Lauritsen contends that “at least on one level, Shelley wrote Frankenstein
for a select audience, gay men; his novel deals with their oppression
and with the crimes and monstrosities which flow from that
oppression.” It should be noted that Lauritsen prefers the
original 1818 edition of Frankenstein
over the 1831 revision by Mary Shelley.
“Without exception, every ‘revision’ was for the
worse,” he writes. “Whenever hostile to Shelley's radical
ideas — on science, love or religion — she expurgated
Was Percy Bysshe Shelley the real
As noted in the previous paragraph, Lauritsen has no love for Mary
Wollstonecraft Shelley, who most people believe was the author of Frankenstein.
Lauritsen even denies that Mary Shelley took part in the famous
ghost-writing contest (1816) that led to Frankenstein.
“If there really was a contest, the participants must have been
[Lord George] Byron, Shelley and [Dr. John] Polidori — three
brilliant, well-educated young men, who were already accomplished
writers,” Lauritsen writes. As Lauritsen saw it, Mary Shelley
“had a commonplace mind, almost no formal education and little
talent for writing.... Nowhere in Mary's writing is there a single
passage of the quality found in almost every paragraph of the 1818 Frankenstein.”
On the other hand, Lauritsen points out that “in ideas and style, Frankenstein is
a man's work and consistently [Percy] Shelley's creation.”
Male love and homosexual panic
In spite of his two wives, Percy Shelley was interested in Greek love,
as seen in his translation of Plato's Symposium (or Banquet)
recently published by Pagan Press and in his strong, though possibly
platonic, friendships with other men. If Percy Shelley did write Frankenstein,
it is not surprising that passionate friendships between men is a major
theme. Lauritsen lists three passionate couples: Dr. Victor
Frankenstein and Captain Robert Walton, who rescues the wandering
doctor; Frankenstein and his schoolmate, Henry Clerval; and
Frankenstein's father and a man named Beaufort.
According to Lauritsen, even Dr. Frankenstein's monstrous creation was
meant to be “not only a companion, but a big, beautiful and
obedient sex partner.” On the other hand, Lauritsen notes that
“when Victor Frankenstein flees his workroom after viewing the
creature ... and when he runs out of the house after the monster tries
to get in bed with him, he seems to be exhibiting homosexual panic
— hysteria resulting from a clash between intense homoerotic
desire and social condemnation.”
Lauritsen concludes, “Shelley wrote on two levels: He wanted
general readers to regard Frankenstein and Clerval as loving friends,
but his special readers, the sunetoi [a Greek
term used by Shelley that Lauritsen suggests could be a code word for gay]
to discern that they are also sexual partners. All things considered,
it is understandable that Shelley chose to conceal his authorship of Frankenstein.”
The Man Who Wrote
suffers from Lauritsen's constant complaints about feminists, a
convenient scapegoat in all of his books. But what about the three
theses? Regarding Lauritsen's argument that Frankenstein
was underrated, I believe that is true. Just as too many people confuse
Dr. Frankenstein with his monster, so do many people judge the novel by
its mostly horrific (in both senses of the word) film versions. It may
also be true that Percy Bysshe Shelley was the author of Frankenstein,
but there is no conclusive proof.
As for the male-love theme, it appears to hinge on Lauritsen's theory
about the book authorship: It is possible that Percy Shelley would
write a book about male relationships and then, considering the times,
deny having written it. But if Frankenstein was
indeed written by Mary Shelley, such a theme would not make sense.
We first heard of Lauritsen in 1974, when he wrote (with David
Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935).
In 1982, Lauritsen founded Pagan Press to “publish books of
interest to the intelligent gay man”, as he described it. To that
intent, Lauritsen published classic works by John Addington Symonds and
Edward Carpenter as well as his own thought-provoking essays.
On the controversial side, Lauritsen is an AIDS dissident who does not
believe that HIV is the cause of AIDS. Lauritsen's writings on AIDS
appear in The
AIDS War (1993) and in the anthology The AIDS Cult
(1997), which he co-edited with Ian Young.
His latest creation, The Man Who Wrote
Frankenstein, is an important and thought-provoking book,
whether or not you agree with its author's premises.
The Frankenstein Pages.
Pagan Press BOOKLIST.
Home Page of John Lauritsen.
Pagan Press Home Page