[This reply was published in the next issue.]
Reply to Jonathan Gross’s review, The Common Review, vol. 6. No. 2 (2007)
My displeasure at Jonathan Gross's negative and carping review of my book, The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein (TMWWF), was allayed when sales jumped up afterwards. Apparently some readers of The Common Review are willing to think for themselves.
The Gross review is a farrago of mistakes, half-truths, innuendoes, and malus animus.
Its central theme: Trust The Experts — those with advanced degrees and
academic appointments, who “peer review” each other. Despite its
length (4,665 words), the review fails to describe my book. Its
sour, accusatory tone belies the reports of readers who, whether or not
they agreed with everything, found the book a pleasure to read:
“engrossing”, “intriguing”, a “suspenseful page-turner”, “funny,
accurate, and deadly”, etc. One graduate student read it straight
through, taking a break only to eat pizza.
For a better description of The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein, along with reviews, visit the book's page — click here.
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, one of the
greatest poets in English; 3) male love, as romantic friendship, is a
central theme of Frankenstein.
Although the first and third are controversial, it is the second which
provokes shock and anger. Bloggers — none intending to read my
book — have called me a homosexual, a misogynist, a fascist, a bully, a
geek, and a schlub (whatever that is). These responses indicate
that Mary Shelley's authorship of Frankenstein
has become sacred dogma — and yet, upon examination, her authorship is
no more credible than Santa Claus sliding down a chimney. The
real Mary Shelley had little imagination or talent for writing
English. The extra-textual “evidence” for her authorship falls
apart as soon as one scrutinizes it.
I analyze the authorship issue from many standpoints, but concentrate
on the text itself: ideas, images, vocabulary, structure, rhythms, and
sounds. Frankenstein is
an intense and disturbing work, written in poetically powerful
prose. It reflects Percy Bysshe Shelley's ideas and imagination,
his phrases, his intensity, his mastery of English prose. In the
longest chapter of my book, “Male Love in Frankenstein”, I allow Frankenstein
to speak for itself, quoting many long passages, which should be read
aloud; they represent some of the most beautiful prose in the English
Gross claims this chapter is not original, since others have discussed
homoeroticism in Frankenstein. This is unfair. Among many
other things, I am the first to treat male love as a central theme —
the first to connect Frankenstein
passages to Shelley's “Essay on Love”, other Shelley poems, Ancient
Greek poetry, and a Goethe poem — the first to treat the Monster-De
Lacy episode as the heart of Frankenstein
and an allegory on Tolerance — the first to identify De Lacy as
Shelley's mentor, Dr. Lind — the first to decode hidden references to
Gross discusses at inordinate length The Frankenstein Notebooks edited by Charles E. Robinson, to which I devote an entire chapter in TMWWF.
But he slithers away from the central issue: the false assumption —
made by Robinson, Anne Mellor and their followers — that words in Mary
Shelley's handwriting were, by this fact alone, composed by her.
Since Mary routinely took dictation from Shelley and did copy work for
him and other writers, the assumption is false. There exist
manuscripts where all of the words in Mary's handwriting were composed
by someone else: Shelley, Byron, or Peacock. This issue is
appallingly simple. By now Robinson and Mellor must know that
their handwriting-authorship assumption is wrong, and it's high time
they admitted it.
Commending Mellor as among the “names to trust”, Gross disapprovingly
cites my description of her Mary Shelley book as “seminally
pernicious”. I defend “seminally pernicious” on two grounds: 1)
Mellor first popularized the handwriting-authorship fallacy, and 2)
Mellor pioneered in building up Mary's reputation by tearing down
Shelley's. Mellor unreasonably blames Shelley for the deaths of
his children; she castigates him for spending time reading books and
writing, when he should have been tending to the emotional needs of his
Gross insinuates (p. 9) that a quote from the 1897 Dictionary of National Biography is “strangely absent” from my book. No, it isn't. The statement, with commentary, is on page 202.
Gross misleadingly charges (p. 11) that I am “eager to take on every scholar who has written about Frankenstein — even those like Phyllis Zimmerman ... who anticipate his point of view.” Hardly. The entire first chapter of TMWWF is my enthusiastically favorable review of Zimmerman's book, Shelley's Fiction, which I describe as “an important, ground-breaking work of Shelley criticism.”
Gross claims that ad hominem attacks are a consistent feature of my
work. This I deny. I have unsparingly attacked the ideas of
my opponents, but not their persons. Here Gross is hypocritical,
for he himself engages in many ad hominem attacks on me.
Amusingly, Gross quotes a passage from the 1831 Introduction (not preface) to Frankenstein,
as though Mary Shelley were a profound thinker, “considering the larger
question of origins.” Here's the quote: “The Hindoos give the
world an elephant to support it, but they make the elephant stand upon
Compare that with the following: “It is like the case of the Indian
philosopher, who, being asked what it was that kept the earth in its
place, answered, that it was supported by an elephant, and that
elephant again rested on a tortoise.” (William Godwin, Thoughts on Man,
London 1831, p. 211) Clearly, the Introduction passage came from
William Godwin, Mary Shelley's father. The two quotes support my
hypothesis, that Godwin wrote at least part, and perhaps all of the
The time has come to raise Frankenstein
to its deserved stature: It is a profound and moving masterpiece, fully
worthy of its author, Percy Bysshe Shelley. It is also time to
grapple with the real ideas of Frankenstein.
John Lauritsen, Independent Scholar.