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In Frankenstein's Shadow by Chris Baldick (1987)

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In Frankenstein's Shadow cover. Image source: http://www.amazon.com/Frankensteins-Shadow-Monstrosity-Nineteenth-Century-Paperbacks/dp/0198122497

Chapter 1: Introduction Edit

Chris Baldick opens his study with the idea that a story like Frankenstein should not have become the modern myth that it has become by tracing its evolution from a ghost story written in the early eighteen hundreds to a story that has been adapted, in many ways, into a myth. Mary Shelley was able to do this, according to Baldick, because she created a story that could be changed and adapted to new meanings but still carry the core storyline. Victor creates an atrocity with beautiful parts; the parts do not make the whole beautiful. Baldick also mentions the fact that myths can come to a "closed" idea. Baldick's idea of closure for this myth comes in the form of the 1931 adaptation of the myth into the bolt-necked, square-headed monster that is now synonymous with the myth. Baldick proposes that the reason the myth is so popular is because the monster, a version of technology, only magnifies the qualities of the creator. In Victor's case, he produces life outside of the natural way and, according to Baldick, made something that reflects himself.

Chapter 2: The Politics of Monstrosity Edit

In this chapter, Baldick dives into the definition, origin, and connotation of the word "monstrosity/monster". He argues that monstrosity has not always had the same frame of reference that it does now in modern culture, and it was very important that Shelley chose such a word. According to him, one of the first important uses of the word was in reference to inmates in insane asylums. Monstrosity was said in reference to something that should be shown or put on display to show the results of "vice, folly, and unreason." Without explaining too much of Baldick's work, he presents a great insight into the choice of words for Shelley. Later in the same chapter, Baldick relates the events of the French Revolution to that of the monster. The government of the time was a "monster" in the eyes of Mary Shelley and her circle of friends and family. The influence of Godwin and Wollstonecraft are also presented in fair depth here. The frame of reference that the connotation of "monster" presents a new direction for thought when reading or studying Frankenstein.

Chapter 3: The Monster Speaks: Mary Shelley's Novel Edit

Baldick starts this chapter with: "Books themselves behave monstrously towards their creators, running loose from authorial intention and turning to mock their begetters by displaying a vitality of their own." Touching on the idea in the introduction, Baldick discusses how the novel has taken on many different interpretations throughout time. The novel is universal for this reason, according to Baldick.

Baldick later jumps into the many different interpretations throughout time; some of them are very interesting while others seem to be a stretch or from someone that simply did not like the novel (as many didn't, apparently, when it was first published).  

Chapter 4: Tales of Transgression, Fables of Industry: Hoffman, Hawthorne, Melville, and Gaskell Edit

Chapter Four is covers other nineteenth-century stories that carry similar ideas as Frankenstein. The "mad-scientist" idea caught the imaginations of many talented writers at the time. Along with that idea, Baldick proceeds to compare several stories that share similar "obsessed creator/outcast creature" themes. Those include (but aren't limited to) Moby Dick, "The Birthmark" by Hawthorne, La Recherche de l'Absolu by Balzac, Dr. Faustus, and others.  Baldick looks at political cartoons and renditions of the Frankenstein monster that made him appear fearsome and violent. This part is very interesting in the way it shows the transitions from original monster to the current monster very well.

Chapter 5: The Galvanic World: Carlyle and the Dickens Monster Edit

In this section, Baldick looks at the influence of Frankensteinian ideals on Carlyle. The French Revolution (1837) revives the idea of Frankenstein being related to government, according to Baldick. Burkean themes were brought back into play, questioned and put to the test. Baldick explores the many ways this happened in this chapter. This chapter seems to go on somewhat of a tangent with Carlyle. It focuses on the heroism of Carlyle's characters and how they related to the French Revolution. The relation of Dickens' work to Carlyle and Shelley is also explored here in great depth.

Chapter 6: Karl Marx's Vampires and Grave-diggers Edit

Here, Baldick relates the Marxist movement to Frankenstein in relation to monstrosity. He repeatedly brings up the image of "animated monster" that Karl Marx used in his manifesto. This section is especially difficult to summarize because of the intricacy that Baldick introduces his ideas. A quote from Marx sums up the relation between the Frankenstein myth and the growing industrial world: "All our invention and progress seem to result in endowing material forces with intellectual life, and in stultifying human life into material force". 

Chapter 7: Dangerous Discoveries and Mad Scientists: Some Late-Victorian Horrors Edit

The mad scientist and new, modern spin offs are talked about in this chapter. One example in a mad-scientist creator that makes a monster and want the monster to love him, but, unlike Frankenstein, the monster refuses his maker; an opposite story of Frankenstein.

The section covers many other adaptations of the myth and how it has been spun in a variety of different ways but still keeps the Frankenstein myth alive. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by R.L. Stevenson is thoroughly referenced and compared in this section in an interesting way. The flaw of the scientist (supposedly trying to help mankind) brings about his own unfortunate ending. The cliche mad-scientist trope was partially developed through Frankenstein with the help of some other Gothic and Romantic works and Baldick explores many of the popular ones here. This is one of the most interesting sections since the mad scientist does represent a certain aspect of human pride that aptly applies to everyone and reflects the feelings of people in the growing industrial age.

Chapter 8: Monsters of Empire: Conrad and Lawrence Edit

Through H.G. Wells use of the Frankenstein ideals in The Island of Dr. Moreau, Joseph Conrad and D.H. Lawrence found inspiration. The "quest for heroic discoveries" is a common theme in all of these writers and Baldick really explores that. Heart of Darkness is mentioned and compared to Frankenstein and is strikingly similar to it. Monstrosity of nature and man is explored in this section as well in accordance with Conrad and Lawrence's works. Again, the monstrosities of these works are compared to the inner workings of the protagonists of the stories. This section really covers just about the same topics as previous ones just with new authors; it's interesting, but a little redundant in my opinion.

Chapter 9: Realism and the Aspiring Anatomist Edit

This section seems to be devoted to the somewhat comical use of the cliche Frankenstein myth. The mad scientist, as used by Melville in White-Jacket, gets in trouble for carelessly lighting matches instead of dismembering bodies. Baldick mentions that the realist sets certain restraints to pull the mad scientist back to society, but he is still susceptible to his own self-destruction. He feels that instead of having a Faustus type situation, writers have moved on to people being the makers of their own destinies albeit ultimate failure. Baldick also goes on to investigate the "monstrosity" ideal in the domestic situation in Hardy's The Woodlanders. In the final chapter of the book, Baldick says this: The body of fictional work whose Frankensteinian filiations I have traced in this book cannot seriously be offered as a rival tradition to contend with that of realism, which remains the highest achievement of nineteenth-century fiction. At the same time, this monstrously symbolic mode of writing does retain and important and enduring claim upon our attention, one which a purely realistic mode would forbid itself from offering" This quote sums up the ideas of this chapter very well.

Works Cited Edit

Chris Baldick. In Frankenstein's Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity, and Nineteenth-Century Writing. Oxford: Clarendon, 1987. Print.

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