Enlightened monsters

Michael Saler in the Times Literary Supplement:

ScreenHunter_194 May. 14 16.01The child may be father to the man, but how did a girl become mother to the monster? We continue to ask that of Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818) before she turned twenty. It is a startling work from someone so young, combining profound philosophic disquisitions with melodramatic blood and thunder. Some see it as the first science fiction novel, but as Roseanne Montillo shows in The Lady and Her Monsters, Shelley’s narrative of a scientist’s quest to discover and harness the “principle of life” was less an extrapolation into the future than a faithful representation of contemporary practices. Indeed,Frankenstein is one of the earliest horror novels about modernity, directly confronting the instabilities provoked by the scientific, Industrial and French Revolutions. Shelley seemed predestined for this task: she was the daughter of the Enlightenment philosopher William Godwin and the radical critic and early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, as well as the wife of the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. The novel’s power stems from its young author’s often ambivalent wrestling with Enlightenment and Romantic responses to modernity, as well as her own traumas involving issues such as parenting and childbirth. (Her mother died eleven days after giving birth to her, and Shelley herself lost her first child shortly before commencing the book.)

More here.

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