Apologists regarded the Africans as subhuman, improvable perhaps by Christianity and a work ethic, but alarming if released, especially the men.“In dealing with the Negro,” ultra-conservative Foreign Secretary George Canning lectured Parliament in 1824, “we are dealing with a being possessing the form and strength of a man, but the intellect only of a child.Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room.” Repelled by this betrayal of “beauty,” Frankenstein never feels responsible, let alone parental.
The Creature’s advent in the novel is not in this famous scene of awakening, however.
It comes in the narrative that frames Frankenstein’s story: a polar expedition that has become icebound.
Her parents were so ready for a son in 1797 that they had already chosen the name “William.” Even worse: When her mother died from childbirth, an awful effect was to make little Mary seem a catastrophe to her grieving father.
No wonder she would write a novel about a “being” rejected from its first breath.
The only person to address him with sympathy is blind, spared the shock of the “countenance.” Readers are blind this way, too, finding the Creature only on the page and speaking a common language.
This continuity, rather than antithesis, to the human is reflected in the first illustrations: In the cover for the 1823 play, above, the Creature looks quite human, dishy even — alarming only in size and that gaze of expectation.Far on the ice plain, the ship’s crew beholds “the shape of a man, but apparently of gigantic stature,” driving a dogsled.Three paragraphs on, another man-shape arrives off the side of the ship on a fragment of ice, alone but for one sled dog.That debut ran for nearly 40 nights; it was staged by the Princeton University Players in May 2017.In a seminar that I taught on in various contexts at Princeton in the fall of 2016 — just weeks after the 200th anniversary of its conception in a nightmare visited on (then) Mary Godwin in June 1816 — we had much to consider.To turn him loose in the manhood of his physical strength ...would be to raise up a creature resembling the splendid fiction of a recent romance.” He meant Mary Shelley heard about this reference, and knew, moreover, that women (though with gilding) were a slave class, too, insofar as they were valued for bodies rather than minds, were denied participatory citizenship and most legal rights, and were systemically subjugated as “other” by the masculine world.This was the argument of her mother’s Unorthodox Wollstonecraft — an advocate of female intellectual education, a critic of the institution of marriage, and the mother of two daughters conceived outside of wedlock — was herself branded an “unnatural” woman, a monstrosity.Shelley had her own personal ordeal, which surely imprints her novel. Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and CEO Sheryl Sandberg, attending to profits, did not anticipate the rogue consequences: a Frankenberg making. The trope needed no footnote, although Kevin Roose’s gloss — “the scientist Victor Frankenstein realizes that his cobbled-together creature has gone rogue” — could use some adjustment: The Creature “goes rogue” only after having been abandoned and then abused by almost everyone, first and foremost that undergraduate scientist.