Science Fiction Studies

#62 = Volume 21, Part 1 = March 1994

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 as much an indictment of institutionalized marriage--with its foundation in the 'separate-sphere' philosophy--as a lament over failed relationships or Promethean arrogance" (22).

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 absent.


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 from Italy.

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. L28,000.

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 and 1987.

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 "an 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).

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 S&H).

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 illustr 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.


SF&FBR 91.

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 "Genre Authors."

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: "Unlike 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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