The Marriage Conundrum: A
Biographical-Historicist-Feminist Approach to Frankenstein.
Mary Lowe-Evans. Frankenstein:
Mary Shelley's Wedding Guest. Twayne's Masterwork Studies.
New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993. xiv+98. $21.95 cloth, $7.95 paper.
In her concluding chapter, "The Groomsmen," Mary Lowe-Evans briefly recapitulates two
standard approaches to Frankenstein: the romantic approach which blends the Greek
myth of Prometheus and the Judeo-Christian myth of Adam; and the SF approach which warns
against the destructive possibilities of scientific obsession and progress. Both
approaches focus on the relationship between men (Victor Frankenstein and his
Creature)--or "groomsmen" in terms of the marriage metaphor that pervades Lowe-Evans'
reading (and a bit archly characterizes Frankenstein's readers, via Coleridge's
"The Ancient Mariner," as wedding guests)--and sideline all the male-female relations in
the novel. In concentrating on what she variously calls "the 'marriage complex"' (ix) or
"the marriage conundrum" (82), Lowe-Evans, "biographical-historicist" approach (ix)
puts male-female relations in the novel at the centre of her interpretation.
My initial fear that Lowe-Evans was substituting the peripheral but fashionable for
Mary Shelley's more central concerns (a fear reinforced by Lowe-Evans' characterization in
her Bibliography of my Frankenstein's Creation on the basis of its appendix
alone!) was, I am happy to report, quickly dispelled. After three brief chapters devoted
to literary and historical contexts (an account of the effects of egalitarian ideals and
the French Revolution on relations between the sexes and marriage in "Growing Pains," an
account of Frankenstein's extraordinary prescience and relevance in "A
Perennially Modern Myth," and "Critical Reception"), Lowe-Evans embarks on her
five-chaptered reading (excluding the "groomsmen" chapter). Noting that Frankenstein
is indeed the ghost story of Lord Byron's challenge--it incorporates in particular the
ghost of Mary Shelley's mother--and that the marriage theme is announced in the second
word of the opening line of the Robert Walton letter with which the novel begins ("To
Mrs. Saville, England" [Shelley 13]), Lowe-Evans sets out to demonstrate "that
Frankenstein...is as much an indictment of institutionalized marriage--with its foundation in the
'separate-sphere' philosophy--as a lament over failed relationships or Promethean
All the male-female pairings in Frankenstein are taken into account but
Lowe-Evans' generally insightful and original reading ultimately opposes the
unsatisfactory "separate spheres" marriage of Victor's parents to the rather more
satisfactory union of Felix and Safie. Although Lowe-Evans identifies Felix and Safie with
Percy and Mary Shelley, and suggests that Safie's Turkish father "may...owe something to
William Godwin's example" (80), she makes no mention of Marc A. Rubenstein's exemplary
1976 article, "'My Accursed Origin': The Search for the Mother in Frankenstein"
in which, for the first time, Safie's mother is identified as Mary Wollstonecraft. (Had
Lowe-Evans been aware of Rubenstein's article and his demonstration that the description
of Safie's mother constitutes the novel's structural centre, she might not have repeatedly
referred to the monster's creation as the "central scene" of Frankenstein [26,
28, 29]). And while it seems accurate to state that Felix and Safie "do not marry in the
novel" (48), it is necessary to account for the fact (presumably as a repeated mistake on
Mary Shelley's part) that, in both the 1818 and the 1831 editions, Felix at one point
refers to Safie as "My wife" (see Shelley 134 for the 1831 instance).
Lowe-Evans in fact bases her reading of Frankenstein on the heavily revised
1831 edition as widely available in "the 1985 Penguin Classics edition...edited by
Maurice Hindle" (vii); apparently she was unaware that Hindle's significantly revised
Penguin edition appeared in 1992. In view of her essentially feminist reading and her
subscription to the reigning assumption that "the 1831 edition of Frankenstein
is more conservative than the original, especially with regard to women's roles" (15),
her choice of the 1831 edition is a little surprising. However, the case for the
conservatism of the 1831 edition has been somewhat exaggerated for polemical reasons
(proponents of that view have failed to note, among other matters, that the 1831 Elizabeth
is the daughter of a fighter for freedom--"one of those Italians nursed in the memory of
the antique glory of Italy...who exerted himself to obtain the liberty of his country"
[Shelley 34]--not merely an anonymous "Italian Gentleman" [Shelley ("Select Collation
of the Texts of 1831 and 1818") 218]). At the same time, Lowe-Evans does wish to regard
Mary Shelley's 1831 "Author's Introduction" as an additional "narrative frame"
(26). She links the conclusion of that introduction ("M.W.S-/London, October
15th, 1831" [Shelley 10]) with the "M.W.S." (Margaret Walton Saville) invoked in the novels opening
line: "To Mrs Saville. England./St Petersburgh, Dec. 11th, 17-." (Shelley 13).
Lowe-Evans writes: "Surely it is no accident that Margaret's initials, M.W.S., are the
very ones Mary anticipated acquiring for herself when she decided to introduce her story
of monstrous creation with a series of letters to a married woman" (33-34). As a
forthcoming article will make apparent, my study of the Frankenstein manuscripts
has convinced me that Frankenstein was not written in the story order as
published. And although Emily Sunstein's account of the composition of Frankenstein
in her recent biography of Mary Shelley assumes that it was largely
written in that order, she excepts Walton's introductory frame letters (126). In
other words, when Mary wrote the frame letters she may have had no need to
anticipate acquiring the initials "M.W.S."--she may already have been married. The identification that Lowe-Evans posits
here, presumably between the Mary Shelley of 1817/1818 and Margaret Saville, is
contradicted by the implication of Lowe-Evans' earlier statement designed to boost the
supposedly more radical 1818 edition: "It seems that, by 1831, Mary Wollstonecraft
Shelley had become, at least rhetorically, Margaret Walton Saville, the married woman in
England who watches over the morals and decorum of Frankenstein" (29). That
identification must at least have been anticipated in the 1818 edition.
Finally, on the subject of Margaret Saville, Lowe-Evans mentions that Walton received
letters from her which are only implied by the text of Frankenstein. It would
have served Lowe-Evans' overall argument--especially its feminist agenda--to further note
that the letters that Felix received from Safie are similarly implied and similarly
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus.
Ed. Maurice Hindle. 1985. Rev. ed. London: Penguin Books, 1992.
Rubenstein, Marc A. "'My Accursed Origin': The Search for the Mother in
Frankenstein." Studies in Romanticism15:165-94, Spring 1976.
Sunstein, Emily W. Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality. Boston:
Little, Brown, 1989.
--David Ketterer Concordia University.
Utopian and Science-Fiction Studies
Carlo Pagetti, ed. Cronache del Futuro. Vol. 1. [Torino]: Adriatica,
1992. 314p. L40,000.
Herbert George Wells. Una Utopia Moderna. Introduction by Fernando
Porta, translated by Porta & Anna Notato. Milan: Gruppo Ugo Mursia, 1990. 336p.
Cronache del Futuro serves as a reminder of how much work on science-fiction
studies is being done in Italy--a good deal of it under the aegis, one way or another, of
Carlo Pagetti at the Università di Torino (usually, but not in this case, with the able
collaboration of Oriana Palusci). This volume of essays by diverse hands came out of a
conference, held at Torino in May 1990, on "the scientific imagination in English
narratives of the 1900s"; but its cover- and title-page rubric, "La Città e le Stelle:
Studi su Fantascienza e Utopia," suggests that it is also meant as a continuation of the
journal of that name which Professor Pagetti put out once a year, on average, between 1982
While the contents of Cronache are arranged under four headings, it is perhaps
more meaningful to see them as falling into two categories. Four of the contributions come
across as finished articles; and, significantly, they take up about a third of the
volume's pages even though they constitute less than a quarter of the total number of
entries. In the first of these articles Pagetti himself surveys much of Arthur C. Clarke's
opus through the early 1970s and finds it variously illustrative of what he suggestively
terms the "close encounter." The remaining three essays are grouped together on the
grounds that all of them concentrate on J.G. Ballard. Laura Di Michele focuses on The
Atrocity Exhibition and other works of Ballard's as "myths of an anterior future";
Francesco Marroni on Concrete Island as "hermeneutic island"; and Umberto Rossi
on The Drowned World and Hello America as imaging "the dead city."
Prospective readers of Cronache can get an idea of the quality of the four from
the somewhat expanded and much revised English-language version of the latter that appears
elsewhere in this issue of SFS.
The other 11 contributions to Cronache read like working papers or notes
toward an article. The two initial entries, both in English, pretty much typify these. In
one, Patrick Parrinder broaches the interesting question of whether SF can be thought of
as a literature of their/our own--i.e., paralleling a Virginia Woolfian conception of
women's writing. He finally proposes an affirmative answer, leaving in doubt only the
matter of whom "their" or "our" might refer to. But in the course of
his remarks, he raises the specter of a contradiction at least as salient as the one he
sees between Darko Suvin's insistence on generic tradition, on SF's genealogy as
orthodox product of literary history," and that critic's definition of SF in terms of
"cognitive estrangement," which is "structuralist and synchronic, not...genealogical
and diachronic" (12). For while contending for SF as a self-contained literature, Parrinder never quite reconciles that claim with his emphasis on the parodic impulse which
SF shares with literature in general-- an oversight no doubt having largely to do with the
fact that his remarks run to all of 2000 words or so. In the following essay, Jonathan
Benison apparently intends to problematize the connection between SF and postmodernism.
But in the space of about 3000 words, he barely makes clear that he finds the
affinity dubious, let alone why.
Equally sketchy but perhaps even more provocative are Alessandro Monti's "Myths of
Origin and Stories of Foundation in Late 19th-Century SF Literature" and Maria Teresa Chialant's
"The Tradition Revisited: Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells, Brian Aldiss." The two
have in common a somewhat misleading title. Monti says nothing explicitly about
"origins" and "foundations," though something to that point is inferrable from his
intriguing remarks on "the iconography of the [Darwinian] Garden" (48). With reference
to a passage in Percy Greg's Across the Zodiac as well as to Darwin and T.H.
Huxley, Monti notes the fecal basis of that Garden--a feature whose relation to
cannibalism, regression, and "the discourse of alimentation" (49) he then goes on to
adumbrate, partly vis-à-vis Claude Levi-Strauss's The Raw and the Cooked.
Whereas he thus leaves it up to the reader to pursue a number of lines of development,
Chialant's remarks lend themselves to a single argument, which, however, remains to be
worked out. Positing a connection between genre and gender, she advocates Brian Aldiss's
proposal that SF has Mary Shelley as its mother and Wells as its father. But that idea
does not inform her subsequent discussion of Moreau's Other Island and Frankenstein
Unbound, even though her own juxtaposition of those two Aldiss titles with his
notions about SF's lineage suggests that in those rewritings of Wells and Shelley he in
part means to effect some kind of rapprochement between them (in some sense--possibly
definable in terms of interiority/exteriorization--feminizing the one and masculinizing
The other contributions to Cronache, though somewhat narrower in their scope
or implications than the ones already mentioned, are nevertheless also worth perusal:
Sergio Sacchi's comparison of Cordwainer Smith's Drunkboat and Arthur Rimbaud's Bateau
Ivre; Maria Cristina Canavesio's account of W.H. Hudson's A Crystal Age
and Valerio Fissore's of John Gray's Park; Porta, again, on "The Future on
Screen: H.G. Wells and 'the Making of' Things to Come"; Daniela Guardamagna on
"The Comic Strategy...of Aldous Huxley"; Leo Marchetti on Wyndham and Wells; Maria
Cristina Galizia on three of John Brunner's best-known works as "Anti-Utopia[s] of the
Urban Imaginary"; and Antonio Caronia's "Technological Labyrinths," which canvasses
Wyndham, Brunner, and Ballard, inter alios.
Fernando Porta's edition of A Modern Utopia meanwhile attests to a degree of
Italian interest in utopian fiction rivalling that in SF (but perhaps motivated less by
Pagetti than by the equally indefatigable Giuseppa Battisti, the Rome-based organizer of
biennial conferences on all aspects of utopian studies). The translation of Wells that
Porta and Anna Notato offer seems admirably accurate, and thus lives up to the standard
that Cesare Pavese established after World War II (under the influence of his mentor, F.O.
Matthiessen)--a tradition of excellence which has no doubt facilitated the critical work
by Italians on English-language texts.
In his 25-page introduction Porta does not advance any radical reconception of A
Modern Utopia. But much of what he has to say may, by reason of its eloquent clarity
(pretty much lost in my translation), provoke new thoughts on the subject. Referring to
the book as a "romance-essay hybrid" (5), he hints at its connection with Wells's
"scientific romances," and especially with those featuring Moreau, Griffin, and the Time Traveler as
"protagonists of a Faustian dream" (10). In the main, however, Porta
characterizes it as the kind of utopian "writing that attempts to liberate itself from
the conditionings of a predetermined genre" (23). This, according to Porta, Wells
accomplishes in part by having "everything working to make utopia a personal esthetic and
literary arena, a space above all ideological and, at the same time, philosophical," and
in part by virtue of "[t]he enormous ideal tension...which...confer[s] on the constructed
narrative a realistic sense, a kind of sociological realism of remote Dickensian origin"
(7). That "tension," perhaps deriving primarily from a Wellsian analogy between the
social and the biological ("the citizen is to the State what the individual is to the
species" [Porta 13]), expresses itself on a very large scale. This utopian vision of
Wells's--coming, as it does, out "of an England which [he] felt to be close to a phase of
reconstitution in social, political, and economic relations"--is informed by
"the pedagogic ideal of an education oriented toward the future, of a 'guided'
reflection for the generations to come" that "embod[ies]...the hope for a new class of veritable
technicians of politics" (12). But, as Porta also observes, "For the first time
conceiving and writing a utopia means to confront the doubt of contemporary society, to
open oneself to controversy and irony, the necessary concomitants of everyone's existence,
to penetrate the fissures of reason and instinct in their perpetual conflict" (24)
The 1989 SFBRI.
Hal W. Hall. Science
Fiction and Fantasy Book Review Index, Volume 20, 1989. Borgo Press
(P.0. Box 2845, San Bernardino, CA 92406-2845), 1993. 8x11. vi+90. $25.00 (plus $2.00
For those familiar with this series, it is sufficient to say that Volume 20, covering
1989, is now available. For others, we may add that this volume lists reviews not only of
novels and story-collections but also of critical and scholarly works. The main index is
by author; there is also a title index. Sixty-three periodicals have been searched,
ranging from the prozines and prominent fanzines through the now rather numerous SF
reviews and semi-prozines to academic journals, the New York Times Book Review,
and the Times Literary Supplement. The listing for SFS is complete.
A Jules Verne Fairy Tale.
Jules Verne, Adventures
of the Rat Family. Trans. Evelyn Copeland, intro. Iona Opie,
afterword Brian Taves, illus. Felician Myrbach-Rheinfeld. 72p. Oxford and NY: Oxford UP
(800-451-7556), 1993. $14.95.
This delightful little book--the only fairy tale for children ever written by Jules
Verne--warrants review in SFS for two reasons: it is the first time that this
Verne story has been translated into English, and (in contrast to many) the translation
and the critical afterword are both excellent and authoritative. In fact, this Oxford UP
publication represents the first time in over 25 years that a previously untranslated text
by Jules Verne has appeared in English--an event which raises a glimmer of hope that those
Voyages Extraordinaires of Verne's latter years (some of which still remain
untranslated) may eventually see the light of day. Verne's original "Aventures de la
famille Raton"--a whimsical yet quite satiric fantasy about a bourgeois rat family who
are magically metamorphosed up and down the evolutionary ladder--was published in Le
Figaro illustré in January 1891. A slightly modified version of the tale appeared in
a posthumous anthology of Verne's short stories entitled Hier et demain (Paris:
Hetzel, 1910). I.O. Evans completed a translation of this anthology in 1965 (Yesterday
and Tomorrow, Associated Booksellers) but he decided to omit this particular story
from the book's contents. So, once again--like so often in the long and sad saga of
Verne's English translations--the integrity of the Vernian oeuvre was purposefully
violated. In today's marketplace, there still remain many bad translations of Verne's
works (cf. my review in SFS #57, July 1992, 19:261-63), but recent efforts by British and
American scholars appear to have finally begun to turn the tide. This book is a case in
point. Highly recommended for all Verne collectors, and for children of all ages.
Robert A. Collins and Robert Latham, eds.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review Annual 1991.
Westport, CT: Greenwood Press (800-225-5800). xi+881. $99.50.
This, the fourth volume in the series, follows the pattern of the earlier volumes.
There are surveys of The Year in Science Fiction, in Fantasy, in Horror, in Young Adult
Fiction, in Children's Literature, and in Research and Criticism. Each of the first four
sections also offers a review-article on some aspect of the subgenre, a recommended
reading list, and an Author Profile (respectively, Greg Bear, Charles de Lint, Daniel J.
Schow, Andre Norton). This introductory section (pages 1-242) is concluded by a list of
Award Winners. The main body of the book consists of reviews of some 500 titles, arranged
alphabetically by author: Fiction (243-573), Young Adult Fiction (574-621), and
Non-Fiction (622-812). The final pages include a Title Index and an Index to Contributors.
Needless to say, this is a reference work of considerable value.
Anthology of Criticism on
Bruce Cassiday, ed., Modern Mystery, Fantasy, and Science Fiction Writers.
A Library of Literary Criticism. NY: Continuum Publishing Co., 1993. x+673. $85.00.
This reference work is the latest addition to the more than two dozen anthologies
already published by Continuum in their Library of Literary Criticism series. Earlier
volumes include Modern American Literature (5 volumes), Modern British Literature (5
volumes), Modern Arabic Literature, Modern Black Writers, Modern Latin American Literature
(2 volumes), and others.
In his introduction to this collection, compiler and editor Cassiday states:
others in the series, this volume represents a new dimension, inasmuch as it features
genre works exclusively, deliberately departing from the traditional procedure of
concentration on authors involved in mainstream literary efforts. One generally
underestimated advantage of genre writing is the ability of its practitioners to reflect
accurately and perceptively the moral values and attitudes of their contemporary world,
since genre works tend to hold a true and unflawed mirror up to life as it is seen by the
general reader" (viii). The more sophisticated SF reader might well object to Cassiday's
apparently naive and elitist use of terms like "genre writing" and "its practitioners"
as well as his highly questionable assertion that such "genre works" somehow mirror more
closely than other literary forms the basic morality and values of what he calls the
"general reader." But, his own literary views nonwithstanding, he seems to have done a
very good job in collecting and presenting an impressive cross-section of literary
criticism (over 800 items) covering some 87 authors, all presented in alphabetical order
and followed by a Works Mentioned index and an Index to Critics.
Such anthologies stand or fall by the quality of editorial selection. I am in no
position to make judgments about the mystery and fantasy writers featured in this
collection. But, contrary to what its title would seem to suggest, several of the 26 or so
SF authors included--e.g., Poe, Verne, Wells, et al.--are not "modern" at all (however
one chooses to define it). And, by contrast, many of the truly modern SF writers--e.g.,
Philip K. Dick --remain conspicuously absent. Similarly, the literary criticism tends to
highlight those articles written by older "big name" authors and critics (Wells on
Verne, Stevenson on Poe, Borges on Wells, Mary McCarthy on Atwood, etc.). Such
commentaries are interesting in the historical sense, but they do not necessarily
represent the very best in modern critical exegesis. Of course, the total number of
critical extracts permissible in a book of this sort is very limited, and it would be
practically impossible to quote every insightful or influential piece of literary
criticism written over the past 100+ years on each of these SF authors. And, to be fair,
Cassiday's selections are most often pleasingly varied, ranging in time from the
mid-1800's to the early 1990s and in sources from newspapers to monographs to the pages of
SFS itself. But it is nonetheless interesting to note the number of times that one
particular critical source is quoted: excerpts from Cassiday's own earlier publication The
Illustrated History of Science Fiction (NY: Ungar, 1989)! Worthwhile and recommended
for most students of SF, especially for all undergraduate libraries.
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