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Annotated Bibliography: Race and Gender in the Traditions of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

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Anderson, Robert. "Misery Made Me A Fiend: Social Reproduction In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein And Robert Owen's Early Writings." Nineteenth-Century Contexts 24.4 (2002): 417-438. Web. 3 Apr. 2015. Edit

Anderson explores the literary tradition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein through the lens of social reproduction, rather than the commonly tackled theme of biological reproduction. Anderson highlights the similarities between the writings of Mary Shelley and Robert Owen, and attributes the similarities to a shared admiration of Shelley's father, William Godwin. While doing this, Anderson contends that the Godwinian perspective that "character is a product of environment" is present in the work of both authors and has larger interest in issues of social reproduction. Anderson's Marxist approach considers sympathy for the laboring class as well as paternalistic attitudes present in the works of both Shelley and Owen. Anderson explores the history of paternalistic debate in nineteenth-century literature, which including writings by Peter Gaskell and Hannah More. Anderson is able to provide a reading of Frankenstein that handles social reproduction without negating or devaluing the vast body of criticism that focuses on issues that pertain to the family and biological reproduction.

Hodges, Devon. “Frankenstein and the Feminine Subversion of the Novel.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 2.2 (Autumn, 1983): 155-164. Edit

Hodges addresses the various Feminist readings of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein from "birth myth," to "female powerlessness," but takes the discussion deeper by arguing that Shelley's female themes gain their power from her ability to "subvert patriarchal narrative conventions." Hodges demonstrates historically how the rise in the novel has been deeply connected to the rise in feminine authority. The early "feminine novel," as she puts it, was still a construct of patriarchal culture and she argues that the conventions of this construct have consistently threatened to silence or restrain the voice of female writers. As support, Hodges cites instances of literary indictments leveled against Shelley for breaking many of these conventional frameworks. Hodges' close reading reveals that Shelley's novel challenges the privileged position of the men in a patriarchal system by challenging any convention that paces a man at the "locus of truth, identity, and knowledge." This article by Devon Hodges is a useful source when studying the challenges facing nineteenth-century women writers and, specifically, how stylistic elements within Frankenstein are significant many of the feminist approaches to the novel.

Hoeveler, Diane Long.“Frankenstein, Feminism, and Literary Theory.” The Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley. Ed. Esther Schor. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 45-62. Web. Apr. 2015. Edit

Hoeveler explores Fred Botting’s claim that "Frankenstein is a product of criticism, not a work of literature." To this end, she discusses the major feminist literary interpretations of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein ranging from Ellen Moers "literary Women" to critical approaches that have their roots in cultural studies, queer theory, and disability studies. She begins by highlighting American, French, and British critics to represent the three major strands in feminist literary criticism. She begins with the Moers' coining of the "female gothic" and her subsequent reading of Frankenstein as a "birth myth" that deals in the guilt and dread surrounding the consequences of birth. Hoeveler maintains that Feminist critics tend to share a common respect for Frankenstein as a particularly potent discourse system and that the novel provides an argument against society's stereotypes about "the proper roles of mothers, daughters, servants, and friends." Hoeveler continues the novel's literary history into the 1980s when psychoanalytical approaches to reading began to dominate feminist criticism when people such as Juliet Mitchell tried to rethink Freudian concepts. Hoeveler’s research helps to solidify the importance of the "rediscovery" of Frankenstein by feminist literary critics beginning in the 1970s.

Kitson, Peter J. Romantic Literature, Race, and Colonial Encounter. New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Edit

Kitson surveys scholarship on the origins of the concept of race and emphasizes how it has shifted over time, from the Enlightenment's obsession with taxonomizing all objects and organisms to the writings of contemporary authors including Kant, Coleridge, and Hegel, emphasizing that "race" has never been a single hypothesis, but "several competing theories" about difference and origin in human beings. Kitson explores the Romantic science of Comparative Anatomy as a racially charged professional and scientific discipline. Kitson demonstrates how the philosophy and methodology of this emerging thought shapes the fictional creation of a monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Kitson comprehensively addresses scholarly criticism of slavery and the racial ideology of the Romantic period. Kitson highlights the highly racialized phenomenon of cannibalism in European commentary as well as the increasing racialization of the people of "the Far East" and the process by which China's rich and diverse cultures were stereotyped and homogenized in European discourse. Finally, Kitson argues that the dominant racial ideology of the nineteenth-century reveals far more about Western thought than about non-European peoples. Kitson's study is  essential to students and scholars endeavoring to understand the often cloudy nature of Eurocentric concepts of human difference and how they relate to Romantic philosophy, theology, anthropology, and science.

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Malchow, H. L. “Frankenstein’s Monster and Images of Race in Nineteenth-Century Britain.” Past & Present no. 139 (1993): 90-130. Web. 08 Dec. 2014. Edit

Malchow provides a racial reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein based on evidence that the author’s portrayal of the monster draws on contemporary attitudes towards non-whites and the political debate surrounding the abolition of slavery in the West Indies. Taking an historical and biographical approach, Malchow examines primary source documents--including Shelley’s own reading journal--to demonstrate how and why Shelley’s fictional creature parallels the racial stereotypes of the age. Malchow maintains that the Black Jacobins in St. Domingue guaranteed that issues of race played a singularly significant role in contemporary political debate. Malchow draws on the political writings of both William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, which address questions raised by the West Indian slavery debate to suggest sources of influence and inspiration for Shelley’s work. He also cites the existence anthropological works within Shelley’s reading journal, such as Mungo Park’s Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa and Brian Edwards’s A History of the Jamaican Slave Trade, sources that provide prototypes for the physiognomy for the monster. Malchow’s study is a very efficient source of insight regarding the racially charged political and social environment of Shelley’s intellectual circle as well as the British Empire as a whole.


Mellor, Anne K. "Frankenstein, Racial Science, And The Yellow Peril." Nineteenth-Century Contexts 23.1 (2001): 1. Web. 3 Apr. 2015.
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Mellor documents the historical beginnings and evolution of xenophobic relations between Europeans and Eastern cultures, while anchoring the discussion in a close reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Mellor pays close attention to scenes within the novel that highlight the creatures yellow skin. Additionally, Mellor argues that initial introduction of the creature as a yellow-skinned man crossing the steppes of Russia and Tartary, beardless and with long black hair, would have been “immediately recognized” as a member of the Mongolian race by nineteenth-century readers. Additionally, Mellor explores the development of physical anthropology and taxonomy to demonstrate yet another way that Shelley garnered insights from new scientific fields. Briefly outlining polygenist and monogenist theories, Mellor argues that these discussions became a defining component in the professional work of William Lawrence, who would go on to become the Shelley’s physician and personal friend. Mellor maintains that this relationship had significant influence on Victor Frankenstein’s creation. Throughout the discussion, Mellor refuses to define Mary Shelley as a contributor to nineteenth-century British racist science. Instead, she claims that Shelley never condemns the creature as a member of an inferior race, but encodes a possible “solution” to racial stereotyping and hatred. According to Mellor, Shelly saw racial amalgamation as representing a positive evolution of the human species. In this way, she situates Shelley within a movement of female writers, including Felicia Hemans, Esme Erskine, and Hannah More who have dealt in interracial romances and mark an early shift in the way European writers thought about race relations. Mellors study provides important historical context for anyone interested in the how the concept of race was painted in European consciousness with special attention to xenophobic attitudes towards peoples of the Far East.

Moers, Ellen. "Female Gothic." The Endurance of Frankenstein. Ed. George Levine & U. C. Knoepflmacher. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974, 77-87. Print. Edit

Moers argues that, within Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s twist on the Gothic tradition comes from her symbolic handling of a “birth myth” and the guilt, fear, and depression that comes with the trauma of afterbirth. This position is supported by contextual, biographical information about Shelley’s experiences with her own childbirth, the loss of her mother, and the suicides of young mothers within her circle, including her half-sister and Percy Shelley’s first wife. According to Moers, prior to the publication of Frankenstein, many of Shelley’s most profound experiences involved a combination of both birth and death. In this way, Victor Frankenstein’s creation is a parallel to the newly born infant, both monster and victim to be pitied. Moers provides a close reading that explores the contrast between Victor’s idealism of “fatherhood,” and the horrific reality of his creation. Moers maintains that the novel’s lack of interest in what happens before and during birth only works to emphasis and focus on the importance of what follows birth: “the trauma of birth” and “retribution for deficit infant care.” Moers' work has been cited in many publications and remains one of the most important early feminist interpretations of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.


Smith, Allan Lloyd. "‘This Thing Of Darkness’: Racial Discourse In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." Gothic Studies 6.2 (2004): 208-222. Web. 3 Apr. 2015.
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Allan Lloyd Smith explores the treatment of the monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and its relationship to racial discourse and the Gothic tradition. He presents many of the traditional readings of Frankenstein, but brings the discussion continuously towards education, society, and finally race. Lloyd Smith argues that issues of race and slavery were a central component to the culture with which Mary Shelley "eagerly engaged." Additionally, his study situates Mary Shelley's education and work within a period that coincides with waves of British abolitionist movement. Lloyd Smith's close reading of Frankenstein reveals monstrosity's heavy ties to racial "otherness," and is physically dependent on common colonial depictions of "savages."  The historical approach depends on popular, contemporary travel journals that depict the inhabitants of Africa, the Caribbean, and the Far East. Lloyd Smith also argues that the creature's account shares striking similarities to popular slave narratives with special attention to the elements of self taught literacy and ostracism in place of acceptance, citing works by Equiano, Vassa and Douglass. Smith explores a history of black insurrection and revolution in the Caribbean and maintains that much of the terror invoked by Shelley's monster depends on English fear of revolution in slave populations that began to outnumber planters in many colonies.

Young, Elizabeth. Black Frankenstein: The Making of an American Metaphor. New York and London: New York University Press, 2008. Print. Edit

Young demonstrates how the Frankenstein metaphor has been used in American discourses to describe anything from food products to foreign policies, and her study traces the history of the Frankenstein tale in American culture as it pertains to complex representation of New World slavery and subsequent black social struggle. Young argues that the black Frankenstein metaphor simultaneously affirms and challenges “structures of race and masculinity in U.S. culture.” The book provides an in-depth analysis of the literary productions of such writers as Stephen Crane and Paul Laurence Dunbar as well as an extended critique of several films that include James Whale’s 1935 film, Bride of Frankenstein, the 1910 Edison’s Frankenstein, and the 1973 blaxploitation film, Blackenstein. Young, additionally, demonstrates the history of monsters as politically charged forms and argues that the Black Frankenstein is a key figure, not only in monster culture but the language of politics as well. Throughout "Black Frankenstein", Young does not achieve this “transatlantic connection” by merely “adding” a component of race to the tradition of Frankenstein, but by representing the issues of race that she finds already present in Mary Shelley’s original production. In doing so, her study highlights the ways this connection has played out around the globe in the centuries following Frankenstein’s publication. potential impact a cultural narrative--in this case, Frankenstein--can have on political discourse, both symbolically and outright.

Young, Elizabeth. "Here Comes The Bride: Wedding Gender And Race In 'Bride Of Frankenstein'." Feminist Studies 17 (1991): 403-437. Web. 3 Apr. 2015. Edit

Elizabeth Young analyzes James Whale’s 1935 film, Bride of Frankenstein, relying on feminist criticism and social history to locate a series of complex narratives of historically situated power relations. She explores the “asymmetrical gender triangles” and the ways in which they enact the “exchange and erasure” of women. Young argues that the film challenges the static parameters of these triangular models by first transforming male rivalry into subversive homoeroticism and, second, undermining the demonization of women by granting a final moment of power to the film’s titular female. Through a precise assessment of the film’s relation to its historical moment, Young argues that the monster appears as a marker of racial difference and reflects problematic American discourse in the 1930s regarding masculinity, femininity, rape, and lynching. Young steers away from traditional psychoanalytic interpretation in order to maintain historical specificity. In this way, the arguments presented in the entry are attentive to the process of subjection and social formation of sex, gender, class, and race. Young’s article is a useful study on the ways in which gender and race crosscut each other at multiple points throughout Frankenstein and its adaptation tradition.

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