[Reply was published in the BARS Review, January 2009.]
Reply to Christopher Goulding’s review of The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein
Christopher Goulding's review of my book, The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein (TMWWF),
is a mishmash of innuendoes, misrepresentation, faulty quotation, and
malus animus. His goal is obviously to shoot down TMWWF
by all means, fair or foul. Goulding begins by dismissing me as a
believer in “conspiracy theories”, and ends by dismissing me for
allegedly contending that “AIDS is caused by consuming amyl nitrite
‘poppers’ rather than by the HIV virus.” Though poppers (the alkyl or
volatile nitrites) are utterly irrelevant to my arguments in TMWWF, those interested can visit:
Rather than my arguments, Goulding attacks my style:
“The way in which Lauritsen applies and presents his ideas is
altogether too strident, quarrelsome, opinionated, single-minded, and
contemptuously dismissive of all that has come before it to be taken
seriously as a scholarly work.”
Either I have failed as a writer, or Goulding, as a reader. By
now I have received much feedback from reviewers and readers.
None have evaluated my style in such terms. In the past year I've
given three talks on TMWWF to
large and receptive audiences, who did not find me “strident”,
“quarrelsome”, or “abrasive”. For a better description of TMWWF, and to see what other reviewers have said, visit the TMWWF page.
Goulding accuses me of practising ad hominem criticism: “waspish
references to a respected American academic, whom he sarcastically dubs
the ‘Dean of Romantic studies’.” However, my statement was not
sarcasm. I sincerely admire Donald H. Reiman's scholarship, but
regret that he opposes my questioning the authorship of Frankenstein.
contains any ad hominem attacks, then I apologise. But Goulding
makes many such attacks on me, and his own tone is less than
Since Goulding fails to describe my book, it behooves me to do so myself. TMWWF has three theses: 1) Frankenstein
is a great work, which has consistently been underrated and
misinterpreted; 2) the real author is Percy Bysshe Shelley (hereafter
simply “Shelley”), not his second wife, Mary; 3) male love, as romantic
friendship, is a central theme of Frankenstein.
The second thesis has provoked the Furies. Bloggers — none intending to read TMWWF
— have called me a homosexual, a misogynist, a fascist, a bully, a
geek, and a schlub. These responses indicate that Mary Shelley's
authorship of Frankenstein is sacred dogma, hazardous to question.
Although I thoroughly examine the extra-textual evidence, which has
tendentiously been used to argue for Mary Shelley's authorship, I
concentrate on the text itself: ideas, images, vocabulary, structure,
rhythms, and sounds. On every page, Frankenstein
reflects Shelley's ideas and imagination, his phrases, his intensity,
his mastery of English prose. This is the positive case.
I make the negative case by examining works that Mary Shelley wrote
entirely on her own — without help from Shelley, her father William
Godwin, or anyone else. This forces me to conclude:
possessed neither a sense of rhythm nor a sense of humor. Her
style is flaccid, sentimental, verbose, affected, awkward, and
sometimes ungrammatical.... She could never have written Frankenstein.”
An entire chapter, “The Frankenstein Notebooks”, debunks the
“handwriting-authorship” fallacy, the assumption that passages in Mary
Shelley's handwriting were necessarily composed by her — a fallacy
which is by no means dead.
The main chapter, “Male Love in Frankenstein”, takes the reader through Frankenstein,
following the thread of male love (sex, friendship and love), though
without excluding other aspects. Many of my analyses are original
— for example, the striking correspondence I find between Shelley's
“Essay on Love” and a Walton letter. I am the first critic to
contend that the confrontation between the monster and the blind old
man, De Lacy, is the climactic moment of Frankenstein,
and that De Lacy represents Shelley's mentor, Dr. Lind. Since
Goulding has written on Dr. Lind, it's odd he didn't mention my
interpretation of this episode.
I've been a well known gay scholar for over a third of a century.
When I discuss sexual legislation — or the practices of gay men — or
such words as “gay”, “friend/Freund”, “sunetoi”, or “vernünftige” — I do so knowledgeably. Can Goulding say the same?
I urge reading my book before judging it. Unfortunately, Pagan
Press has no UK distributor. If interested, write me, mention
BARS, and I'll see that you get a copy quite reasonably.
John Lauritsen, Independent Scholar