4. Mary Godwin's Remonstrance
The mature man seldom retains the faintest recollections of the incidents of the two first years of his life. Is it to be supposed that that which has left no trace upon the memory can be in an eminent degree powerful in its associated effects?
William Godwin, Political Justice
... our infantine dispositions ... however much they may be afterwards modified, are never eradicated.
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, Frankenstein
"Phantasmagoria" has become a term frequently to be met with in criticism of Frankenstein (Moers 87 , Knoepflmacher 91 , Sherwin 885). The word, fittingly enough, enters English vocabulary in Mary Godwin's fourth year when, during the winter of 1801-2, Londoners received it as the name of a magic lantern spectacle featuring moving, merging, size-changing ghostly projections (Altick 217-19).(1) This same winter completed the staging of Mary Godwin's core phantasmal assembly ("-agora") with her father's marriage to Mary Jane Clairmont, and the addition to the family of Mrs. Clairmont's two children, including a daughter very nearly Mary's age. The earlier marriage of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft had joined the celebrated enquirer into political justice with the renown vindicator of the rights of woman, making Mary the offspring of England's most (in)famous radical couple. Wollstonecraft, however, died of puerperal fever eleven days after the August 30, 1797, birth of their daughter, so that Godwin was left with the infant and a step-daughter, three year old Fanny. In marrying Mrs. Clairmont, Godwin hoped to find at last the helpmeet he sorely needed and to supply the children with a mother's guidance--but with his young daughter's insecure bonding to him already set by her four longest years, the disruptive transition to a refashioned household, and his new wife's partiality for her own children, Godwin's remarriage instead "helped activate in Mary a lifelong desire to compensate her father for the loss of his exquisite first wife and their short- lived marital happiness" (Knoepflmacher 92). Godwin, for his part, remained genuinely fond of his spouse (St. Clair 243-44)--but that's another story.
There is no such thing as a baby, D. W. Winnicott proposes; there is only the unit of dependent infant and good or bad mother (so to denominate the primary caretaker). By this definition every child that survives has been mothered. And while many critics have written about Mary Shelley's need to recover the lost mother, the fact of the matter would seem to be that her father was her mother. Mary Godwin's involvement with her biological mother was necessarily imaginary, textual, and relatively late: Mary Woll- stonecraft was present as a portrait in the study, some books on the shelf, a character made scandalous in public reception of the Memoirs published by Godwin the year after her death. Little Mary's reality was her father's assistant, Mr. Marshall; "Cooper, the nursemaid"; a devoted Louise Jones who left before Mary was three (Mellor 4-7); and a socially active father preoccupied with his studies and writing. The absence of a reliable, constant, consistent human "object" (the infant's and child's relations are not to individuals) to lend sameness ("identity") to Mary Godwin's early formational experience of external relations can be read in her adolescent monster story singularly notable for its "fluidity of relations ... which converts each character into another's double" (Knoepflmacher 112) and for the way in which "all identities ... are unstable and shifting" (Baldick 44). Like the projected images of the "Phantasmagoria," Frankenstein's fluid fragments of identity merge and split, beginning with the blending of addressor and addressee inherent in a frame situation of letters fictionally inscribed to MWS (Margaret Walton Saville, narrator Robert Walton's sister) and published by MWS (Mary Wollstonecraft [Godwin] Shelley's signature for many communications, including the 1831 "Introduction" to the novel).
With no involving mothering in early childhood, Mary Godwin's focus on her father became correspondingly more intense. "Until I knew Shelley," she wrote of her father to a friend, "I may justly say that he was my God--& I remember many childish instances of the excess of attachment I bore for him" (5 Dec. 1822, Letters [L] 296). Godwin not surprisingly disapproved of his sixteen- year-old daughter's elopement with the already married Percy Bysshe Shelley (not to mention their permitting Mrs. Godwin's daughter to run off along with them) and the weight of his rejection governs her self-pitying lines to Shelley in the months afterwards: "hug your own Mary to your heart perhaps she will one day have a father till then be every thing to me love --& indeed I will be a good girl and never vex you any more" (28 Oct. 1814, L 3, emphasis added). With the suicide of Percy's first wife and Mary's assumption of the vacant role very shortly thereafter,(2) Godwin again admitted his daughter to his company, and Mary resumed her hopes of being still more valuable to him. On 24 September 1817, for example, she writes to Shelley in London:
A letter came from Godwin today-- very short--You will see him tell me how he is-- You are loaded with business [raising money]--the event of most of which I am very anxious to learn and none so much as whether you can do any thing for my father-- (L 42).
Four days later, she again asks if anything can be done for her father and adds, in a postscript, "Give my love to Godwin--when Mrs. G is not by or you must give it to her too and I do not love her" (L 47).
In the transparently autobiographical projection, Mathilda, written three years after Frankenstein, the narrator recalls how she "clung to the memory of my parents; my mother I should never see, she was dead: but the idea of [my] unhappy, wandering father was the idol of my imagination" (11 [Nitchie's emendation]). The idolizing of the father perhaps originates in the need or lack occasioned by the actual father's physically undemonstrative behavior: several of Mary Shelley's narrators specifically remark how they were "never caressed" (Mathilda 8 , Tales 244). Bound up in what his biographer Don Locke calls "a fantasy of reason," Godwin was passionately dedicated to envision- ing a future when absolute truth, the "moral arithmetic" of political justice would supercede emotional bias--when, in a notorious example from the first edition of Political Justice (1793), one would for the common good from a burning building choose rather to save the philosopher Fenelon than a chambermaid ( 1.42). So also, argues Political Justice (in the third edition published in Mary's infancy), "It is of no consequence that I am the parent of a child when it has once been ascertained that the child will receive greater benefit by living under the superintendence of a stranger" ( 20). Eighteen months later, however, the child was turned over to the strange new Mrs. Godwin, and ten years after that, as a result of never ceasing tensions in that relationship, Mary found herself shipped off for seven months to a family of complete strangers to her and "mere acquaintance" to her father (Mellor 15). Political Justice urges that "We must divulge our sentiments with the utmost frankness" (1791 2.292), and Frankenstein's monster does just that in declaring: "still I desired love and fellowship, and I was still spurned. Was there no injustice in this?" ( 219).
One can easily imagine Mary Godwin, in part, angry with a father who did not in return recognize or validate that anger because of inability to deal with his own threatening ambivalence. "Let us compare the urgency of your wants and mine," he writes, "and let justice decide" (Political Justice 1791 2.278). Denied her right to express anger, the little girl internalizes ("swallows") it and continues the attempt to read her father through--and see herself in- -the spontaneous reflectors of his eyes: "his eyes only seemed to speak, and as he turned their black, full lustre towards me they expressed a living sadness. There was somthing [sic] in those dark deep orbs so liquid, and intense that even in happiness I could never meet their full gaze that mine did not overflow" (Mathilda 24). The child intuits but cannot understand the parent's conflicted projection, and the resulting melancholy becomes part of her personality, as evident in Mary's admission, "I know not whether it is early habit or affection but the idea of his silent quiet disapprobation makes me weep as it did in the days of my childhood" (18 Oct. 1817, L 57).
Keeping quiet was an attitude internalized early on: Coleridge notes in December 1799 (when Mary was less than two and a half) that "the cadaverous Silence of Godwin's Children is to me quite catacomb-ish"--and six months later his wife, who had been "lectured" by Godwin for her son's "boisterousness," still recalled "dear meek little Mary" (Letters 553, 589). Such early inhibition culminates in the solitary, cold persona of Mary Shelley; the "icy region" she feels her "cold heart" to encircle (11 Nov. 1822, Journal 185) has one materialization in the "icy climes" where the telling of Frankenstein takes place. But the original ambivalence of Mary Godwin's relation to her father, though often deferrable through self- deprecating teariness, can break down in phantasy(3) with catastrophic power: "He began to answer with violence: `Yes, yes, I hate you! You are my bane, my poison, my disgust! Oh! No[!]' And then his manner changed, and fixing his eyes on me with an expression that convulsed every nerve and member of my frame--`you are none of all these; you are my light, my only one, my life.--My daughter, I love you!'" (Mathilda 30). The projected incestuous desire of the father makes him a "monster" (31) with "monstrous passion" (37) which in turn makes his daughter a self-described "monster with whom none might mingle in converse and love" (71).(4)
The (projected) father's desire in effect castrates the girl by forcing her to accede to her culturally gendered identity as object of male desire. She who wanted to be the paternal phallus (his little pal) has instead to confront her lack--as she does in a scene several times repeated in Mary Shelley's work. Having been left the message from her now suicidal father that "your hopes are blasted" ( 37), Matilda sets out after him. On the stormy way she encounters "a magnificent oak" whose continuing existence she no sooner capriciously equates with the survival of her father "than a flash instantly followed by a tremendous peal of thunder descended on it; and when my eyes recovered their sight after the dazzling light, the oak no longer stood in the meadow" (44). In a similar scene, the adolescent Victor Frankenstein sees in the midst of a storm "a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak, which stood about twenty yards from our house; and so soon as the dazzling light vanished, the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump" ( 35). The pertinence of this image for Victor is emphasized when he later describes himself as "a blasted tree; the bolt had entered my soul" (158): he who had wished to "penetrate into the recesses of nature" (42) is himself entered and devastated, though when the "sudden light" of discovery first "broke in" (47), he had experienced "delight," "rapture," and "gratifying consummation" (47). Lionel Verney, Mary Shelley's self-characterization and protagonist in The Last Man, written some eight years later after Frankenstein, similarly imagines that he is "a tree rent by lightning; never will the bark close over the bared fibres--never will their quivering life, torn by the winds, receive the opiate of a moment's calm" ( 329). Preoccupation with the "blasted stump .... the tree shattered in a singular manner" may be related to the anxieties Mary Shelley expressed over assuming the pen and "composing" in the ghost-story competition with Shelley, Lord Byron, and John William Polidori (1831 Introduction). Like his creator, Frankenstein finds that he "could not compose a female" ( 147), so the resulting "being like myself" (48) possesses a "detested form" (96, cf. 126). In this moment of the phantasmagoria, Mary Godwin's pen is the torn off, monstrous penis disseminating its quivering life upon the page.
The inadequacies in infantile (pre-oedipal) and childhood-pubescent (oedipal) mirroring posited above constitute narcissistic injuries and occasion the rage that fills Frankenstein. "But where were my friends and relations?" the monster wonders; "No father had watched my infant days, no mother had blessed me with smiles and caresses; or if they had, all my past life was now a blot" ( 117). The monster experiences family only vicariously, watching the De Lacys for months through a chink in the wall and assuaging his lack in imagination. His attempt to disclose himself to old, blind father De Lacy ends with horrified rejection by all those he pathetically terms his "protectors" (134, 128), and then, "[f]or the first time feelings of revenge and hatred filled my bosom, and I did not strive to controul them" (134, emphasis added). "My hatred and revenge burst all bounds of moderation," says Victor (87, emphasis added), thinking of his double. The monster's "insatiate revenge" (166) and "insatiable thirst for vengeance" stem from "impotent envy and bitter indignation" (218) and desire to "compensate for ... outrages and anguish" (138). Victor's revenge "is the devouring and only passion of [his] soul" (198) which alone keeps him from suicide (200).
Revenge--or, as he referred to it, "retribution"-- had no place in Godwin's system of political justice. Alphonse Frankenstein reflects such sanctimonious reasoning when he writes his son, after William's murder, "`Come, Victor; not brooding thoughts of vengeance against the assassin, but with feelings of peace and gentleness'" ( 68). Shortly after the completion of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley echoes her father as she argues that the reformer William Cobbett "encourages in the multitude the worst possible human passion revenge or as he would probably give it that abominable Christian name retribution" (30 Sept. 1817, L 49). In the novel, Victor's cousin and destined wife Elizabeth attributes the judicial murder of the innocent Justine to "retribution. Hateful name! When that word is pronounced, I know greater and more horrid punishments are going to be inflicted than the gloomiest tyrant has ever invented to satiate his utmost revenge" (83). We might, however, pause over Elizabeth's own last name, "Lavenza," and its indication of "la vendicanza" (Veeder 167), as well as the inscription of vengeance in Frankenstein's birthplace, Geneva (a setting which also glances at Godwin's Calvinist background, Rousseau, and the race-- gens--of Eve). In a kind of ultimate rebuttal to Godwin's dismissal of retribution, the monster's vengeance culminates in Victor's fantasy of his father "writhing under his grasp" (195), a projection realized in somewhat less disturbing guise as an "apoplectic fit" which kills off the father in Victor's arms. "Alas! my father," laments Mary Godwin's protagonist, "how little do you know me" (182).
Gerhard Joseph suggests that "there are few characters in Frankenstein ... only a succession of family relationships which counter and duplicate one another" (107). Different aspects of the author's conflicting relations with her father certainly seem to inform the interaction of both the monster and Victor, Victor and his father. The novel as a whole constitutes an attempted communication "To William Godwin" (dedication) which bares, writ large, the request of Victor--"listen to my tale," "listen to my history" ( 24)--and the monster: "Listen to my tale," "hear me," "Listen to me," "Listen to me" (96), and anticipates Mathilda's injunction to her father, "listen to me," "Listen to me, dearest friend" ( 199). For example, Victor recalls "an incident which took place when I was four years of age," or the age of the author when Godwin's remarriage brought a step-sister into her life. Victor's aunt has died, leaving an infant girl, and his father is asked whether he might not prefer "`educating your niece yourself to her being brought up by a stepmother'" (29). "My father did not hesitate...," Victor reports, fulfilling what must have been a recurrent phantasy of Mary Godwin's. In Political Justice, William Godwin contends that "the very impression which, if not counteracted, shall decide upon the fortune of an entire life" can, by the "skillful parent," "be reduced to complete inefficiency in half an hour" (1798 105). Victor's father, though in principle "devoted ... to the education of his children" (29), shows that practice will inevitably stumble when, after his child comes to him one day "bounding with joy" to communicate a discovery, he responds, "do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash" (32). William Hazlitt remembered how in the mid-1790s Godwin incarnated "the metaphysician engrafted on the Dissenting Minister" and exhibited "a dictatorial, captious, quibbling pettiness of manner" ( 193), which must have affected his daughter as much as any matter he tried to offer.
Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus embodies a critique of Godwin's rationalist-humanist beliefs by one who suffered their deprivations even as she was taught how "[w]e are wrapped up in ourselves, and do not observe, as we ought, step by step the sensations that pass in the mind of our hearers" (Political Justice, 1798 109-10). The crucial name in the novel may offer another oblique comment, for Godwin reports with approbation how "the celebrated Franklin conjectured that `mind would one day become omnipotent over matter'" (Political Justice, 1791 2.268). Franklin was an image of a modern, "new Prometheus" (so Kant labelled him [Seed 330]) who had brought fire down from the heavens, as Victor's father reminds us in repeating the famous, often lethal, kite- in-the-thunderstorm demonstration (35). But the deeper connection between Godwin, Franklin, and Frankenstein emerges in D. H. Lawrence's sense that "if on the one hand Benjamin Franklin is the perfect human being of Godwin, on the other hand he is a monster, not exactly as the monster in Frankenstein, but for the same reason, viz., that he is the production or fabrication of the human will, which projects itself upon a living being and automatizes that being according to a given precept" (in Levine 29).(5)
For Mary, two of Percy Shelley's principal attractions must have been his initial "real respect and veneration" for her father, whom he considered at first as "the regulator and former of my mind" (16 Jan. 1812, Letters 229) and his very considerable entailed inheritance which might serve to end her father's perpetual financial distress. Through Shelley, Mary Godwin could both appropriate for herself ("Your own Mary") a surrogate, non-taboo image of her father and hope to prove a more effectual provider to her real father than his second wife. Godwin's complete rejection of her during the two and a half years between her July 1814 elopement and December 1816 marriage was a monstrous outcome to the phantasy. Percy Shelley was to prove as inadequate as William Godwin in supplying Mary with what her monster craves, "the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being" (140), but for her own part, like her avatar in The Last Man, the adolescent Mary Godwin could not "throw off the habits of sixteen years" (338) and so fell to her overdetermined isolated and melancholy lot. As several critics have observed, the character of Victor Frankenstein draws considerably on Mary Godwin's knowledge of Shelley's circumstances:
Victor was Percy Shelley's pen-name for his first publication, Original Poetry; by Victor and Cazire (1810). Victor Frankenstein's family resembles Percy Shelley's: in both, the father is married to a woman young enough to be his daughter; in both the oldest son has a favorite sister (adopted sister, or cousin, in Frankenstein's case) named Elizabeth. Frankenstein's education is based on Percy Shelley's: both were avid students of Albertus Magnus, Paraclesus, Pliny, and Buffon; both were fascinated by alchemy and chemistry; both were excellent linguists, acquiring fluency in Latin, Greek, German, French, English, and Italian.
Perhaps in a darker, more ambivalent mood she thinks of Percy Shelley's 1816 "The Daemon of the World" with its opening picture of Ianthe, the name of his daughter by the wife he abandoned, and of Harriet Shelley's recent suicide, to put into Victor's mouth this subliminal, curiously pointed comment about Shelley: "Shall I, in cold blood, set loose upon the earth a daemon, whose delight is in death and wretched- ness." (165, emphasis added).
No sooner does Victor see "the dull yellow eye" of his creation open and "a convulsive movement agitate its limbs," than he rushes off to fall asleep, though "disturbed by the wildest dreams" (53). In the only dream he proceeds to relate, Victor sees his fianc‚e Elizabethin the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her; but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave- worms crawling in the folds of the flannel. (53)
The phantasmagoria of identifications continues as one recalls the story that Percy Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin consummated their infatuation at Mary's special retreat, the grave of her dead mother, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Veeder 114), in then secluded St. Pancras Churchyard. The necrotizing lips of the mother link her with the monster and its "black lips" (52), as does Victor's immediately following description of the monster as "the demoniacal corpse" (53). When Victor starts from his nightmare in a setting which will return and return, he meets the gaze of the monster as it "muttered some inarticulate sounds" (53). But while the other mothers of Ingolstadt are praising their infants' efforts with the muttersprache, Victor reflects on his mutterer with this "significant pun" (Gilbert and Gubar 245): "Oh! no mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy [even `my mum'] again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch" (53). Victor next meets his monster on "the sea of ice" with its implied French pun, "La Mer de Glace" / "La Mère [mother] de Glace" (Rubenstein176), and there he hears the monster's story which occupies most of the central volume of the novel. Mary Shelley perhaps avoids the actual name of the glacier (masculinized as "le Mer de Glace" in her journal, 25 July 1816) to emphasize a connection between the sea of ice at the heart of the story with the icy sea on which the novel opens and closes. On La Mer de Glace the reanimated mummy tells Victor, "Do your duty towards me," or, it threatens, "I will glut the maw of death" (94; cf. Milton's maw/ma pun, below). "I conceive it to be the duty of every rational creature to attend to its offspring," Mary Godwin read at the beginning of her dead mother's Thoughts on the Education of Daughters ( 7).
In the 1831 Introduction to Frankenstein, the author relates her conception of the story, and how she imagined "the artist" fleeing the work "which had received such imperfect animation" with the hope that it "would subside into dead matter" (mater) and that "the silence of the grave would quench forever [i.e., hide] the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life" ( 228). Recapitulating the primal scene of the novel, she continues, "He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains, and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes" (228). The vision turns uncanny as it expands to involve the narrator, who recalls opening her eyes in terror: "I see them still; the very room, the dark parquet, the closed shutters, with the moonlight struggling through, and the sense I had that the glassy lake and the white high Alps were beyond" (228). "Everywhere I turn I see the same figure," says Victor of his nightmare image (193). To "get rid" of "my hideous phantom," the author hides herself in "my ghost story," announcing at the same time, "`I have found it!'" (228). Subtracting nine months from her August birthdate, she begins the next day "with the words, It was on a dreary night of November" (228). This choice, and the awkward plot device which gives the monster fortuitous access to Frankenstein's journal of the months preceding its creation, points to Mary Godwin's fascination with her own conception (Rubenstein 169-70). Looking into her father's methodically-kept journals after she had learned, like the monster, "to decypher the characters in which they were written," Mary Godwin could have followed "the whole detail of that series of disgusting circum- stances" (e.g. 25 November 1796, "chez elle; ----.") which led to "my accursed origin" (126; see St. Clair ill. 6 for a photograph of two pertinent pages from Godwin's journal, and his Appendix 1). The date of the eye-opening phantasied primal scene marks a key moment in Mary Godwin's phantasmagoria, for it entails the emerging recognition that her father loved ("really," sexually) someone other than herself.
Frankenstein records the shock, pain, and anger of an adolescent discovering the extent of her loss and the massive imperfections of an idealization (father) she cannot afford to renounce because there is no other. In William Godwin's Memoirs of The Author of "The Rights of Woman", Mary read that "no two persons ever found in each other's society, a satisfaction more pure and refined" than had her parents, and that "[w]hat it was in itself, can now only be known, in its full extent, to the survivor" ( 262). Mary also was "the survivor," but she knew nothing of that satisfaction.
The novel's originating phrase, "It was on a dreary night of November," came to stand at the beginning of chapter 4 (chapter 5 in the third edition), and within two sentences Victor sees "the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs" (52). Two paragraphs later, waking from the cauchemar of his mère caché Victor reports that now his "every limb became convulsed," and he remains "in the greatest agitation" (53). "Unable to endure the aspect" of the monster's "yellow," "watery" and "speculative" eyes (52), Victor rushes from the room to dream the nightmare of his dead mother already related. He then starts from the dream into the scene of the novel's conception specified in the 1831 Introduction: "by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window-shutters, I beheld the wretch--the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me" (53). This fascination with gaze and gazing recurs throughout the book, particularly in two later scenes which reassemble the moon, the monster, the female corpse (the maternal body), and the window.
In the midst of the monster's creation, Victor reports, "the moon gazed on my midnight labours" (49). Three fictional years later, Victor is meditating upon the mate for the monster which he has nearly completed, "when, on looking up, I saw, by the light of the moon, the daemon at the casement. A ghastly grin wrinkled his lips as he gazed on me" (163-64). The monster, framed by the window, stands in place of the moon (dae mon in dae moon), his "yellow eye" condensing the "yellow light" of the moon's eye. The gaze drives Victor, now officially engaged to Elizabeth, to tear "to pieces the thing on which I was engaged" (164), and the potentially integral, sexually viable female creature is scattered into fragments. Mary Godwin terminates the possibility of female sexuality not because of an absent mother, but at the instigation of the father conveyed in the monster's gaze. As Matilda's father explains to her, reflecting what Mary Godwin had herself felt long before at her father's remarriage, "when I saw you become the object of another's love ... then the fiend awoke within me" (39). The gaze becomes a kind of irresistible trigger reactivating the phantasy of a pre-oedipal, dyadic, exclusive relation: what makes Frankenstein so extraordinary, in part, is that this earliest, foundational relationship is imaged in what was traditionally its rarest form, the male-male (father- son) dyad.
Victor's wedding night realizes his nightmare as he again "embraces" Elizabeth only to find that he holds in his arms the corpse of his beloved. While he continues to "hang over" the dead body,
... I happened to look up. The windows of the room had before been darkened; and I felt a kind of panic on seeing the pale yellow light of the moon illuminate the chamber. The shutters had been thrown back; and ... I saw at the open window a figure the most hideous and abhorred.    (194-95)
"Every where I turn I see the same figure," were Victor's words two paragraphs before. Now he sees a "grin" on the face of the monster as it points towards the corpse before "plunging" (194) into the same lake which earlier had tempted Victor "to plunge" (87) in suicide. As with Johnson's Rasselas, the lake (the appropriately named Lac L‚man in this case) can perhaps image the lack generating the story. Hours later, put to bed "hardly conscious of what had happened," Victor reports that "my eyes wandered round the room, as if to seek something that I had lost" (194). To heighten the element of maternal search, Mary Shelley adds in the 1831 edition that Victor "as if by instinct, crawled into the room where the corpse of [his] beloved lay" (257). If repetition is the mark of the unconscious, and the unconscious is timeless (which is why it doesn't remark compulsive repetition), then perhaps one might see the figure of Victor crawling toward Elizabeth's body as the phantasy image of a baby seeking again a breast for comfort. What seems to happen, however, is that the sought-for breast transforms into the monster's threatening eye, doubled by a yellow moon behind it. Indeed, shortly after listening to the German Fantasmagoriana and being challenged to give birth to a ghost story of her own, Mary Godwin saw such an hallucinatory transformation enacted when, in the scene recounted by Polidori which we have already detailed (Chapter Two), Percy Shelley fled from his Christabel- inspired vision of Mary Godwin with "eyes instead of nipples." The moon can join the association of eye and breast via the word "orb"; Erasmus Darwin, for instance, whose experiments as recounted by Byron and Percy Shelley encouraged Mary Godwin's reanimation fantasies (227), details in his poetry and scientific digressions a prescient object-relational sense of the infant's consuming interest in "the pearly orbs" or "the bosoms velvet orbs" (Economy of Vegetation 3.356, Temple of Nature 3.169). Percy Shelley's hallucination, like Victor's repeated vision described by Mary Godwin, suggests the residual effect of problematic early nurturing as an anxious projection of parental reproach, itself the imagined consequence of infantile anger and frustration over oral deprivation.(6)
The reiterated primal scene of the novel encodes this reproach through the monster's fixed gaze and recurrent grin: "his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. ... while a grin wrinkled his cheeks" (53); "A ghastly grin wrinkled his lips as he gazed on me" (163-64); "I happened to look up .... I felt a kind of panic .... A grin was on the face of the monster" (193-94). Though today grins express amusement or laughter, an earlier and less dentally attended age saw anger or scorn in the showing of teeth; so Milton, in a passage which continues to a pun noted above, imagines that DeathThe gaze, on the other hand, directs us back to the infant and its attempt to make sense of the eyes of an Other which solicit its attention. How are they not mine? What do they (want to) see? Why am "I" being watched? Lacan argues that "[f]rom the moment that this gaze appears, the subject tries to adapt himself to it," one result being the experience of "primal separation" which is confused with "self-mutilation" and "failure" (Concepts 83). Without the compensation of good-enough nurturing and mirroring/modelling feedback, negative internalizations become foundational. Regardless of the outcome, the gaze of an other becomes permanently invested with the power to access the unconscious and the timeless time of its constitution: "The gaze I encounter ... is, not a seen gaze, but a gaze imagined by me in the field of the Other" (Concepts 84). Any particular gaze, then, is not actually seen so much as recalled in the kind of "afterglow" effect Percy Shelley's spectral "Wanderer" imprints in "the infant" who
Grinned horrible a gastly smile, to hear
His famine should be fill'd, and blest his maw
Destin'd to that good hour: no less rejoyc'd
His mother bad ...
(Paradise Lost 2.845-49, emphasis added)...would conceal
His troubled visage in his mother's robe
In terror at the glare of those wild eyes,
To remember their strange light in many a dream
(Alastor 262- 66)
After the monster has killed the creator's angelic double, Henry Clerval, the imprisoned Victor, sees... nothing but a dense and frightful darkness, penetrated by no light but the glimmer of two eyes that glared upon me. Sometimes they were the expressive eyes of Henry, languishing in death, the dark orbs nearly covered by the lids, and the long black lashes that fringed them; sometimes it was the watery clouded eyes of the monster, as I first saw them in my chamber at Ingolstadt. : : (179- 80).
To these haunting eyes one might add the Godwinian, liquid, "dark deep orbs" of Mathilda's father with "the long lashes that fringed them," and Victor's mother's "dark eyes, fringed by deep lashes."
Frankenstein's author cannot escape ("I see them still," she writes in the 1831 Introduction, fifteen years afterwards ) a fearful--because undefined, unrecognized--sense of being observed by "the dull yellow eye of the creature," "the dim and yellow light of the moon" which "forced its way through the window- shutters" (52, 53), through her "shut eyes" (227). The eye of her father was the breast she suckled at, and grasping that, what she sees gazing back in her moment of vision is the imagined projection of herself, terrifying in its inescapable fixation on her own aborted development, and for the same reason enraging: "I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on. Even now my blood boils at the recollection of this injustice" (219). The novel's pervasive concern with injustice returns the focus to the author of Political Justice, the father who could not mother enough and who principally inscribes his daughter's weak sense of self. For the child, according to Bruno Bettelheim, "worries not whether there is justice for individual man, but whether he will be treated justly" ( 47). The monster's language here (notably the now much remarked description, "an abortion") owes something to Percy Shelley, who was writing for Mary and himself to remonstrate with Godwin's "harshness and cruelty" some three months before Frankenstein was begun: "my blood boils in my veins, and my gall rises against all that bears human form, when I think of what I, their benefactor and ardent lover, have endured of enmity and contempt from you" (6 March 1816, Letters 324).
In "My Monster / My Self," Barbara Johnson invokes Nancy Friday's My Mother / My Self to offer astute speculations about the "repression of autobiography" in Shelley's novel. For Johnson, "what is at stake in Mary's introduction as well as in the novel is the description of a primal scene of creation. Frankenstein combines a monstrous answer to two of the most fundamental questions one can ask: where do babies come from? and where do stories come from?" ( 7). Such questions reformulate the monster's queries, "Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come?" (124), "I" being both myself, a once-upon infant, and a present story. Regarding her question, Johnson writes, "In both cases, the scene of creation is described, but the answer to these questions is still withheld" (7). These scenes, the reiterated configuration re-presented above might suggest, are one and the same. In a book which offers "a psychology without explanation" (Levine 20), perhaps the scene of overlapping moon, eye, and monster is as close as one gets to some answer: "I" came from and now am what eye saw in another's eye, though that "I" is not me. Blake suggests in his consideration of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's mother, "The eye sees more than the heart knows" (VISIONS of the Daughters of Albion). A cold heart knows no reasoning for its emptiness, and the explanation it tries to see must, as per Freud's formulation in "The Uncanny," be resumed again and again in the futile attempt to de-monstrate the past-- what "really" happened--to its restless and lacking self. "Political justice" cannot redress psychological injuries of the first years of life.Chapter 4 -- Notes
1. The show enjoyed extended success, and Mary Godwin's journal entry for 28 December 1814 notes, "Go to Garnerin's Lecture of electricity, the gasses, and the phantasmagoria" (Mary Shelley's Journal 31). In The Last Man she draws upon her knowledge of the spectacle, writing that "futurity, like a dark image in a phantasmagoria, came nearer and more near, till it clasped the whole earth in its shadow" (186).
2. The drowned, gravid body of Shelley's wife, Harriet, was discovered on 10 December 1816; Percy Shelley and Mary Godwin learned of the suicide on the 15th and were married two weeks later, on the 30th. With the marriage, she dropped her patronymic and assumed the name of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley; Frankenstein was at this point well in hand. This discussion uses the name which accords best with the immediate reference.
3. This spelling is used to mark the distinction between the unconscious dynamic which figures largely in object-relations psychoanalytic theory and the more specific mental process of Freudian (and everyday) "fantasy" (see Greenberg and Mitchell 124).
4. Mary Shelley, then in Italy, sent the manuscript of Mathilda to her father for help in getting it published; he made no move to do so and refused her requests for its return (xi). Undeterred, she sent him her next novel, Valperga, and let him keep its earnings; this effort he did revise, informing her, "I have taken great liberties with it, and am afraid your amour propre will be proportionally shocked" (Locke 310).
5. The subvocalization of "Franklin" in "Frankenstein" encourages one to consider the fate of the name in our century, when cinematic treatments associated it with a rather different story. Already in 1921 William Carlos Williams imagined a benign "St. Francis Einstein of the Daffodils" who "has emerged triumphant" (Friedman and Donley 195-98). But with an actual Franz or Frank Einstein in place as the most widely recognized scientist of his time, one wonders whether James Whales' 1931 Universal Studios film Frankenstein could have become the classic popular representation of the scientist unleashing uncontrollable energy: the contra-diction would have been too blatant, too conscious, (too frank?) and for that reason the competing signifier of the book title would perhaps not have worked for the film. Consciousness pretends to the law of identity, and strives to avoid images divided against themselves--when it confronts figure- ground reversals (the duck/rabbit, the goblet/profiles) it usually settles on one and suppresses the other. Unlike consciousness, which cannot long hold two contradictory images, imagination facilitates its identifications by polysemy and paronomasia--hence Albert Einstein, good scientist, and brother "Frank" as projected alter ego. Hence also, the persistent confusion between Frankenstein and his creation, "the monster," who is never named in the story but now, as dictionaries attest, often labelled "Frankenstein." Martin Amis' 1987 title, Einstein's Monsters, testifies to the persistence of this particular subvocal theme.
6. Even the monster seems to enact this kind of projection: though full of "revenge and hatred," "rage of anger," and "fury" ( 134) over the failure of his plan to befriend the De Lacys and thus resolved to burn their cottage, he waits with "forced impatience" and "eyes ... fixed" in the direction of the descending moon until "[a] part of its orb was at length hid"; only when "the eye of the quiet moon" (164) has sunk does he, "with a loud scream," fire the home with "flames, which clung to it, and licked it with their forked and destroying tongues" (134-35).