Frankenstein’s Historical Context: Review of “In Frankenstein’s Shadow” by Chris Baldrick Essay (Critical Writing)
Mary Shelley’s story of Frankenstein and the monster remains one of our contemporary myths. This study reviews this myth by analyzing its history in literature in the pre-film times, beginning with an examination of the strings of meaning arising out of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in respect of the political “monstrosity” images occasioned by the French Revolution.
Baldrick goes on to trace the erratic makeovers of the myth in the imaginary tales of Lawrence, Hoffmann, Melville, Hawthorne, Conrad, and Dickens, as well as in writings of Carlyle and Marx (12).
Monstrosity, according to Baldrick, is to be construed as that was regularly applied as a figure of a specific vice or transgression (13).
And when the monster is the king, the quintessence of regal/imperial power whose sanctions or privileges drew expressly from a celestial source, the moral lesson offers even much more fascinating consequences, since a monster-king almost entirely appears as a symbol of God’s trial for the sins and mistakes of a nation or country (14-15).
Baldrick further establishes that “the representation of fearful transgression, in the figure of physical deformity, arises as a variant of that venerable cliché of political discourse, the body politic” (14). He also goes on to contend that in such cases where political turmoil and revolt appear, the ‘body’ is said to be sickly, unproductive, and distorted/ deformed monstrous (15).
In addition, Baldrick concedes that as the state is put in jeopardy to such an extent that it can no longer be reasonably associated with a central and hallowed totality (that is ‘the king’s body’), then the “humanity recognizable form of the body politic is lost, dispersed into a chaos of dismembered and contending organs” (14).
Lack of appreciation is a monster that relates to another element of monstrosity, and Baldrick stresses that it is the “vices of ingratitude, rebellion, and disobedience, particularly towards parents, that most commonly attract the appellation ‘monstrous’: to be a monster is to break the natural bonds of obligation towards blood-relation” (13).
In Frankenstein, therefore, the most notable attribute of the association between the creator and the creature is insurgency, resistance, or disobedience, regardless of how much it can be reasonable.
Baldrick’s ‘In Frankenstein’s Shadow’ is an indispensable input to what is promptly gaining primacy as decisive and learned compromise regarding the integral nature of Mary Shelly’s narrative to the comprehension of the two concepts of the Romantic ‘spirit of the age’ and of mythical modernism (15).
Baldrick convincingly explores and analyzes the extent to which the ‘myth of modernism’ and Shelly’s discourse permeated the 1800s, particularly in England, France, and Germany.
It is to be appreciated here. Thus, that of significance is affectionate, motherly, and fostering presence in the rearing of a child. Mastery of language and a myriad of emotions, and isolation and lack of motherly or relational love and care alter personality into a real monstrous self (24).
The damage and waste occasioned by the constant fights between the creator and the creature have been construed as a warning of the imminent dangers of contemporary science.
Aims and objectives of the book under review
In his new and fascinating book, Chris Baldrick (1987) reviews the importance of monstrosity in respect of the 1800s writings with a concentration on the significance of monstrosity in the context of the nineteen-century writing, focusing on the classification of Frankenstein as a myth.
In fact, Baldrick succeeds in impressing upon us the contention or assertion that “in modern usage, ‘monster’ means something frighteningly unnatural or of enormous dimensions” (10).
Conversely, prior usages which persist to the 1800s, the term ‘monster’ was associated with such implications/undertones which were both physical and obviously moral and as Baldrick contends, the ultimate goal is: “to reveal the results of vice, folly, and unreason visibly, as a warning to erring humanity” (10).
In this, he succeeds by comparing colonialism and imperialism to the monster, which was created by humans but which has finally turned against them.
He goes on to propose that, in general, sense, it is worth appreciating that the monster is “one who has far transgressed the bounds of nature as to become a moral advertisement” (12). Therefore, one who disobeys authority is a monster.
In spite of the wits and lots of significance that Baldrick’s review project, it is pretty obvious that he fails to invoke other writers’ ideas in expounding on the subject. Notable here is his failure to refer to Richard III, yet this is an excellent resource worth being consulted.
Therefore, my belief is that the story/drama maintains reasonable associations with the skeptic’s contentions, in which Richard III appears to provide a connection in the main chain of the handling of monstrosity resulting in the theoretical framework which appears in Frankenstein.
From a conflict perspective, therefore, the monster here stands for the industrial working class, the fodder of the owners of the means, the obliteration of the body politic by the masses during the French Revolution, and a dystopia born of excessively massive growth in population (16).
Baldrick’s view of both the monster and the intended companion as subalterns and less human is central to the process and practice of colonization and the whole concept of imperialism, in which the colonial master is powerful and superior compared to the powerless and inferior servant/slave. The novel further generates, unexpectedly, patriarchal anxiety arising from the fact that the author, Shelly, is a woman (45).
Though the completion of this novel might have gained the impetus from the desires of both Mary and her husband, such other factors as debates between the vitalism and materialism school of thoughts might also have motivated the completion.
The central thesis of the book is an actual nightmare of being held up in a monster that is disturbed by its own image on top of being frowned at, shunned and avoided by the society, qualify as a social repugnant.
This novel essentially proposes to the contemporary reader to rethink the position and propositions of science, especially in view of such controversial subjects as genetic engineering and other areas where modern technology is highly appropriated. The book also succeeds in impressing upon us the need to reconsider the association we have with our own body and its association with the universe.
This Baldrick proposes to be done by questioning the preconceived viewpoints of aesthetics, especially the manner in which the creature is shunned by the society by virtue of its physical appearance. Finally, Baldrick reveals that the myth’s most influential associations have “centered on human relationships, the family, work, and politics” (33).
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