The letter below was published in The Chronicle Review, 5 December 2008.
To The Editor:
Thanks to Jennifer Howard for mentioning my book, The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein (Pagan Press) in her piece about The Original Frankenstein (Bodleian Library), Charles E. Robinson's new book (The Chronicle Review,
“The Birth of ‘Frankenstein,’” November 7). But
I wish she had read the third chapter, which demolishes the underlying
premise of Robinson's book.
When discussing a nearly final draft of Frankenstein,
Robinson, and his predecessor Anne K. Mellor, falsely infer authorship
from handwriting. Specifically, they assume that words in Mary
Shelley's handwriting were ipso facto composed by her; they assume that
the only words composed by Percy Bysshe Shelley (hereafter Shelley) are
the words in his handwriting. However, Mary Shelley took dictation from
Shelley and did copy work for him, as well as for other writers. There
exist manuscripts where all of the words are in her handwriting, yet
all were composed by someone else. Obviously, then — and let this
sink in — handwriting is irrelevant to whether or not Mary
Shelley wrote all, most, a little, or none of Frankenstein.
In my book I concentrate on texts: the prose and
poetry of Shelley; the prose that Mary Shelley really did write, all by
herself; and the prose of Frankenstein. I demonstrate that every page
of Frankenstein bears Shelley's signature: his ideas and imagination, his phrases, his intensity, his mastery of English prose.
After examining specimens of prose that Mary Shelley
wrote on her own, without help from husband or father, I conclude she
had little imagination or talent for writing. Her own style is flaccid,
sentimental, verbose, affected, awkward, and sometimes ungrammatical.
There was nothing she could contribute to Frankenstein other than what she did: her clerical services.
Shelley's revisions to the draft are revisions to
his own composition. He got the story down first, in plain language,
and then polished up the language, occasionally using
“Latinate” or “polysyllabic” words.
is a radical, disturbing, poetically powerful work. It is fully worthy
of its true author, Shelley, one of the greatest poets in English.
Back to The Frankenstein Pages.
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