[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 language.   
    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 male love.
    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 wife.
    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 a tortoise.”
    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 1831 Introduction.
    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.

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