The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein
By John Lauritsen

Reviewed by Ian Young

    Even before publication, gay historian John Lauritsen's The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein had already ruffled some feathers in the academic aviary. The cause of all the fuss is Lauritsen's contention that Percy Shelley, one of England's greatest poets, wrote the anonymous horror classic traditionally attributed to the teenage girl he left his wife for — and that “male love is the dominant theme” of Frankenstein!
    Reviewing the thesis of Shelley scholar Phyllis Zimmerman's 1998 book Shelley's Fiction, Lauritsen champions her persuasive case that Percy Shelley, not his uneducated, rather silly second wife Mary, was the true author of the eloquent narrative about a scientist's creation of crypto-human life.
    Lauritsen's argument for the importance of the “male love” theme in Frankenstein is less convincing, but he does demonstrate that throughout that complex story there are tentative, sometimes coded, sometimes confused, approaches to the Abominable and Unmentionable Crime. Shelley, who translated into beautiful English Plato's notorious account of a gay banquet, was intrigued by homoeroticism, his interest encouraged and stimulated by his close friendship with mad, bad, dangerous-to-know Lord Byron, who seduced women and fell in love with boys.
    It seems only too plausible that into the terrible text of the monster thriller he was writing while hanging out with Byron, the rebellious Shelley inserted some of the first inchoate murmurs of what, over half a century later, would become the homosexual voice.
    Traditional and feminist scholars, especially those who believe that Frankenstein is about “a man trying to have a baby without a woman” will be scandalized by Lauritsen's revisionist study. But anyone who loves the greatest monster story of them all will find The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein engaging — and intriguing.  (Pagan Press, paperback, 232 pages, $16.95)

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Torso — September 2007

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