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Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Milton's Monstrous Myth

Author(s): John B. Lamb


Source: Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 47, No. 3 (Dec., 1992), pp. 303-319
Published by: University of California Press
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MaryShelley's
and
Frankenstein
Milton'sMonstrousMyth
JOHN B. LAMB

t A
the close of Frankenstein,
the monster
locates a significantevent in his his-
toryin a moment of self-identification laden with Miltonic
overtones:"Evil thenceforthbecame mygood. Urged thusfar,
I had no choice but to adapt mynatureto an elementwhichI
had willinglychosen."' It would be a mistake,however,to read
Mary Shelley'snovel as a nineteenth-century reenactmentof
the fall of Milton's Satan, despite her conscious use of such
Miltonicparallels. For the only real sense in whichthe mon-
ster'shistorycan be read as a fall,fortunateor unfortunate,is
in his "fall"into cultureand language, especiallyintothe lim-
ited and limitingontologyof Milton'sParadise Lost. The mon-
ster'serrorhas not been in his rebellionagainstthe father,but
in his mistakenassumptionthathis "nature"was a thingthat
he could "willingly"choose. As Frankensteinmakes quite clear,
the monster'sidentityhas been shaped by a culturalmythin
which the fallen can be only Adam or Lucifer.He findsthe
answerto his agonizingquestion "Whatwas I?" in thepages of
Paradise Lost,and in so doing recapitulatesthehegemonic,that
systemof meanings and values encoded in Milton's epic,

(C 1992 by The Regents of the Universityof California


'Mary W. Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The ModernPrometheus, ed. M. K. Joseph
(Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1969), p. 220. Subsequent referencesare cited in the
text.

303

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304 NINETEENTH-CENTURY LITERATURE

whichshapes his perceptionof hisselfand comes to constitute


his only sense of reality.2
Frankenstein should be read then as an attackupon the
monologic and monolithicvoice of ParadiseLost.3 As Mary
Shelley's husband noted in the "Preface" to his Prometheus
Unbound,the characterof Satan (and we mightadd Paradise
Lost itself) "engenders in the mind a pernicious casuistry,"
and that "in the minds of those who consider that magnifi-
cent fictionwith a religious feeling, it engenderssomething
worse"(emphasisadded).4 As Ellen Moers has suggested,Fran-
kensteinis a "birthmyth,"5but it is about the culturalengen-
dering of a pernicious and powerfulideology of identityor
"somethingworse." If the novel is in some sense an answerto
2See Raymond Williams,Marxismand Literature(London: Oxford Univ. Press,
1969), pp. 108-14.
3Contemporarystudyof Frankenstein thattreats,at least in part,the relationship
between Mary Shelley'snovel and Milton'sParadiseLostbeginswithHarold Bloom's
"Frankenstein,or the New Prometheus,"PartisanReview,32 (1965), 611-18, and can
be divided into two groups. In the firstgroup, criticslike Bloom see Shelley'snovel
essentiallyas a Romantic version of Paradise Lost, in which Milton's epic serves
ironicallyas a gloss upon the action of the novel and the identityof the characters.
See, forexample, Burton R. Pollin,"Philosophicaland LiterarySources of Franken-
stein,"Comparative Literature,17 (1965), 97- 1o8; MiltonA. Mays,"Frankenstein: Mary
Shelley'sBlack Theodicy,"SouthernHumanitiesReview,3 (1969), 146-53; Joseph H.
Gardner,"MaryShelley'sDivine Tragedy,"Essaysin Literature, 4 (1977), 182-97; and
Leslie Tannenbaum, "From FilthyType to Truth: MiltonicMythin Frankenstein,"
Keats-ShelleyJournal,26 (1977), 101-13. More recently,however,criticshave begun
to see Frankenstein not simply as a Romantic reworkingof ParadiseLost but as a
critique and/orsubversionof Milton'sepic and its inherentideology.See, particu-
larly,Sandra M. Gilbertand Susan Gubar, The Madwomanin theAttic:The Woman
Writer and theNineteenth-Century LiteraryImagination(New Haven: Yale Univ. Press,
1979), pp. 213-47; Peter McInerney,"Frankenstein and the Godlike Science of Let-
ters,"Genre,13 (1980), 455-76; Paul Sherwin,"Frankenstein: Creation as Catastro-
phe," PMLA, 96 (1981), 883-903; MaryJacobus,"Is There a Woman in This Text?,"
New LiteraryHistory,14 (1982), 117-42; JoyceCarol Oates, "Frankenstein'sFallen
Angel," CriticalInquiry,lo (1984), 543-54; Margaret Homans, Bearing theWord:
Language and FemaleExperiencein Nineteenth-Century Women's Writing(Chicago: Univ.
of Chicago Press, 1986), pp. 1oo- 19; and Chris Baldick, In Frankenstein's Shadow:
Myth,Monstrosity, and Nineteenth-Century Writing(New York: Oxford Univ. Press,
1987), pp. 30-62. This essay takes part in this recent trend of reading Shelley's
novels as a critiqueof Milton'sepic and differsprimarilyin thatit argues that the
focus of her critiqueis the ideology of identityand parametersof being encoded in
ParadiseLost.
4"Preface" to PrometheusUnbound,in Shelley'sPoetryand Prose, ed. Donald H.
Reiman and Sharon B. Powers (New York: Norton, 1977), p. 133.
5LiteraryWomen(New York: Doubleday, 1976), p. 92.

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FRANKENSTEIN AND MILTON 305
the question Mary Shelley claimed in the 1838 "Introduc-
tion" was oftenposed by her readers-how she had come to
"thinkof, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea" (p.
5)-then we are invited to see that "hideous idea" repre-
sented not by the monsteror in his creationby VictorFran-
kenstein,but in a monstrousmythof identitythatleads not
only to violence, but also to the destructionof any other
emergentvoicesa culturemightfoster.The largerphilosophi-
cal issue central to Frankenstein,as Anne K. Mellor notes, is
"what,finally,is being," and how is it constituted?;and Mary
Shelley's answer to that question is that being is a verbal
construct,the product of a cultural naming or misnaming
whose pervasivenessand power,perhaps, is unavoidable.6
As a literarytextcontributingto the productionof cul-
turalidentity, ParadiseLoststandsalone in the eighteenthand
nineteenthcenturiesatop the literaryhierarchy,and Milton's
epic is clearlyrooted in the historyof Puritanismand in the
bourgeois ideal of the individual,the "conceptof the person
as a relativelyautonomous self-containedand distinctiveuni-
verse."7 Individuality,Miltonclaims,means being "By nature
free, not over-rul'd by Fate / Inextricable,or strictneces-
sity;"8and in ParadiseLosthe presentstwo possible figuresof
individualism: Lucifer and Adam. But as FrederickGarber
suggests,it is ultimatelyin the characterof Satan that"Milton
isolated and identifiedwhat came to be seen as a predomi-
nant form of autonomous selfhood."9For later generations
6Anne K. Mellor, Mary Shelley:Her Life,Her Fiction,Her Monsters(New York:
Routledge, 1989), p. 136. Like Mellor,who does not deal specificallywithParadise
Lost,I believe thatMary Shelley sees the monster'sidentityas "an arbitrary semantic
construction"imposed upon him and thatseverelylimitsthe possible answersto his
ontologicalcrisis(p. 128). But, whereas Mellor maintainsthatidentityin the novel is
a process of seeing, I feel thatit is more of a process of "reading,"in whichParadise
Lostand the ontologicalchoices it providesservesas a restrictive culturalrepository
of the lineamentsof being and thatMilton'sepic as such names notjust the monster
but Frankensteinand Walton as well.
7Edward E. Sampson, "The Deconstructionof the Self," in TextsofIdentity, ed.
John Shotterand KennethJ.Gergen (London: Sage Publications,1989), p. 3.
8JohnMilton, Paradise Lost, in CompletePoemsand Major Prose, ed. MerrittY.
Hughes (Indianapolis: Odyssey Press, 1957), Bk. V, 11.527-28. Subsequent refer-
ences are cited in the text.
9TheAutonomy oftheSelffromRichardsontoHuysmans(Princeton:PrincetonUniv.
Press, 1982), p. 33.

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306 NINETEENTH-CENTURY LITERATURE

of writers,especially the Romantics,it is Lucifer who best


representsthe drive for autonomywithinthe social and cos-
mic orders. Thus, not only did Milton help to inaugurate a
particularliteraryand cultural notion of autonomy,but he
also encompassed thatnotionin a limitedtaxonomyof possi-
ble selves. He engendered a culturalsystemof signsby which
those who attemptto achieve autonomous selfhood inevita-
bly come to name themselves"Lucifer,"and to believe that
identityhas been freelychosen. As an intertextParadise Lost
functionsin the novel exactlyas it did in nineteenth-century
patternsof self-
culture: as a literaryrepositoryof restrictive
identification,so deified by traditionas to have become, as
the monsterclaims, a "true history"of what we are. Milton
bequeathed to the world a texton whichwere inscribedthe
cultural commandmentsof being, and Mary Shelley set out
to break those stone tabletsand to expose the illusorynature
of bourgeois individualism.Frankensteinis, then, about au-
thorship,about creating a space in nineteenth-century cul-
ture to frame a differentanswer to the question "What was
I?" and to add another voice to the discourseof identity.But
such a clearing of cultural space required, if not a clear-
cutting,at leastan underminingof thepersuasivenessofPara-
dise Lost and Milton'smonstrousmyth.
Such a deconstructionor undercuttingof Paradise Lost
was aptlysuited to Gothic fiction,and Frankensteintakes part
in the Romantic desecrationof Milton.The impulse behind
the Gothic is an impulse toward formalinnovationor insur-
gency.In its challenge to the structuraland ideological con-
straintsof the realisticnovel, Gothic fiction"emerges as the
formthatcan answer the ontologicaland epistemological,as
well as the structural,demands of the Gothicists."'' In its
investigationof what constitutesbeing, the Gothic novel is
best suited to the exploration of ontologicalcrisisand onto-
logical insecurity.Althoughthe monstermakes claimsforhis
own autonomy,he findshimselfso differentfromthe restof
the world that his identityis always in question. In Mary
Shelley'scritiqueof Milton'sepic, such ontologicalinsecurity
loGeorge E. Haggerty,GothicFiction/GothicForm(UniversityPark: Pennsylvania
State Univ.Press, 1989), p. 14.

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FRANKENSTEIN AND MILTON 307
is marked by the conflictof identitiesthe monstercontem-
plates in answer to his question "Who was I?" As Chris
Baldick notes, "When Victor and his monster refer them-
selves back to ParadiseLost-a guiding textwithapparently
fixed moral roles-they can no longer be sure whetherthey
correspond to Adam, to God, or to Satan, or to some or all of
these figures"(p. 44). ParadiseLost, Shelley suggests,splits
man up verbally,a cultural fragmentationthat cannot be
healed as long as such terms as "Adam" and "Satan" hold
exclusive claim to denote identity;and Milton'smyth,there-
fore,engenders a typeof culturalschizophrenia,a disruption
of the self's relationwiththe world and withitself.
The thematicfocus of Gothic fiction,therefore,is the
nature of identity;and in Frankenstein thatfocus is extended
to include the culturaland literarycodes thatshape and con-
tain thatidentity.In its subversionof the claimsof verisimili-
tude, or in its substitutionof one typeof verisimilitude(sub-
jective) for another (objective), the Gothic novel becomes
both a way to demonstratehow subjectiveself-representation
is infiltrated,and indeed controlled,by largerand more pow-
erful culturallydetermined "objective"ideas of personality
and, at the same time, a way to critique or indeed subvert
hegemonic notionsof identityand the hegemonicas a "sense
of reality"(Williams,p. i io). Realism and the realisticnovel
are "slavishlychained to the statusquo,"", and the hegemonic
thrivesin a realisticliteraturein which the formof the text
and its accompanyingideology-its systemof meaningsand
values-are said to mirrorthe "natural" and, hence, appro-
priate condition of humans. The subjectiveor fantasticele-
ment in Gothic fiction,however,subvertsthe primacyof a
realisticreading and calls into question the ideology of the
real and the hegemonic statusquo. As George E. Haggerty
suggests,the keyto the subjectivity in Gothicfiction
liesin itsabilityto confuseour senseof whatis "real."Such confu-
sion is at the heart of the tale form: In the tale's momentary
suspension from the world of the novel, we are left without the

"Claudio Guillkn,Literature
as System: EssaysTowardtheTheoryofLiterary
History
(Princeton:PrincetonUniv.Press, 1971), p. 65.

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308 NINETEENTH-CENTURY LITERATURE

reassurance of what we think of as "natural" limits.The ontologi-


cal basis of the experience of fictionhas shifted,and "realism" has
given way to "fantasy" as a way of interpretingexperience itself.
(p. 32)

Gothicfictionoftenparodies the truthclaimsof realisticnar-


rative and, therefore,challenges its embedded systemof
meanings and values. Seen in thisway,Frankensteinbecomes
an example of the counter-hegemonic,an ideological act that
seeks to undermine the potency of the master narrative-
here, Paradise Lost.I2 Mary Shelley's novel is a fable of false
identity, of the residual conceptsand ideas derived fromMil-
ton that exist in nineteenth-century culture and that delin-
eate and prescribethe boundaries of self.Having a self,the
novel suggests,depends upon being definedas an object in a
world thatis already given over to a culturalsystemof signs,
preeminentlylanguage, and hence the "self" the monster
"has" is only the one posited by the language of thatcultural
system.By having her monstergive primacyto ParadiseLost
in whatis admittedlyhis own limitedliteraryhierarchy,Shel-
ley recognizes that Milton's text occupies a central place in
such a culturalsystem.

As a series of "enveloped" first-person


narratives,Frankenstein continuallyreveals the cultural and
linguisticformationof identity,
especiallyas itapplies toPara-
dise Lost. The monster's autobiographical fragment-the
heart of Mary Shelley's investigationof Milton's monstrous
myth-is circumscribedby the narrativesof VictorFranken-
steinand Robert Walton. Shelley'suse of the autobiographi-
cal form in her novel is central to her investigationof the
pernicious influenceof Milton's ontologybecause such self-
representationis apt to show most clearlythe ways in which
the hegemonic prescribesthe boundaries of self.The mon-

l2The term "master narrative"is borrowed fromFredricJameson'sThe Political


Unconscious:Narrativeas a SociallySymbolic
Act(Ithaca: Cornell Univ.Press, 198 1), p.
28.

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FRANKENSTEIN AND MILTON 309
ster's text,which announces his self-identification with Mil-
ton's Satan, is surrounded byothertextsthatsuggestthatthe
tropesallowingsuch self-identification existpriorto and inde-
pendent of his own "birth"or fall into language. The mon-
sterand his text,or the monsteras text,are engendered in a
world in whichthe process of namingreliesupon a culturally
predeterminedsystemof signs: Adam and Lucifer,the only
two constructsforthe fallenmale in Milton'scosmology.The
ontologicalchoices in Paradise Lost controlnot only the mon-
ster'sself-namingbut the self-characterizations of Victorand
Walton as well.
Walton's declaration at the outset of his narrative,"I
shall commit my thoughts to paper" (p. is), suggests the
essentiallinguisticnature of self in Frankenstein,an idea that
is repeated and reinforcedin Victor'sand the monster'sensu-
ing narratives.Early on in his epistolaryexchange with his
sister,Walton tropes himself as a rebellious angel, acting
against his father'sinjunctionnot "to embark in a seafaring
life" (p. 17), and his expedition to the Arcticclearlyrecalls
the fallenangels' explorationof the "dismalworld"of Hell in
Book II of Paradise Lost:
Far offfromthesea slowand silentstream,
Lethethe Riverof Oblivionrolls
Her wat'ryLabyrinth, whereofwho drinks,
Forthwith his formerstateand beingforgets,
Forgetsbothjoy and grief,pleasureand pain.
Beyondthisflooda frozenContinent
Lies dark and wild,beat withperpetualstorms
Of Whirlwindand dire Hail, whichon firmland
Thaws not,but gathersheap, and ruinseems
Of ancientpile; all else deep snowand ice.
(11.582-91)

The Miltonic subtext of Walton's voyage suggests that his


journey to the "frozencontinent"is an attemptto pass both
through and beyond Lethe: to forget"his formerstate and
being" and to inscribe a new and more heroic version of
himself-to rename himself"God" or "Adam." It may also
implythe self'sdesire to escape or elude thesocial determina-
tion of identityin a quest for autonomy.Ironically,however,

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310 NINETEENTH-CENTURY LITERATURE

as his letterstestify,Waltonvoyageson a sea of words,and his


identityis already indeliblyetched; the boundaries of self
ordained by the masternarrativeare inescapable. Thus, Wal-
ton leaves England as a rebelliousangel and returnsas such,
chastenedbut not saved, not an Adam but onlyanotherLuci-
fer of diminishedstature.Walton'sjourney of forgetfulness,
hisattemptedvoyagebeyondtheculturallyprescribedbound-
aries of self, is later reenacted in the monster'sattemptto
overcome his physicaldeformityby learning the art of lan-
guage, and, like Walton's,the monster'sattemptis a failure.
Victor'sautobiography,whichfollowsWalton'snarrative
and envelops the monster's,betraysa similarimprisonment
in the ontology of ParadiseLost. His scientificresearch,like
Walton's exploration,is described as a revoltagainst the fa-
ther,specificallyagainst his father'sclaim thatthe writingof
Cornelius Agrippa is "sad trash" (p. 39). It is importantto
note thatVictor'ssubsequentcreationof themonsterand the
birth of the "monstrous" is precipitatedby books, by lan-
guage itself.Like the being he creates, he "falls" into lan-
guage, intothe "treasures"of Agrippa,Paracelsus,and Alber-
tus Magnus: "But here were books, and here were men who
had penetrateddeeper and knewmore. I tooktheirword for
all that they averred, and I became their disciple" (p. 40).
The lure of such textsis theirapparent masteryof the world,
and in them Victor finds his "ferventlonging to penetrate
the secrets of nature" defined (p. 39), and, thus, through
themhe begins to shape both his sense of selfand his destiny.
Such a totalacceptance of the truthclaimsof such textsfore-
shadows the monster'sunquestioningassent to the ontologi-
cal claims of ParadiseLostand suggeststhe insidiouspower of
hegemonic forms that can perpetuate their own claims to
"speak" the truth.The self that begins to evolve in Victor's
autobiography is conspicuously un-Adamic, and Victor re-
jects the role of the natural philosopher who, like Adam,
"mightdissect,anatomise, and give names"(p. 40, emphasis
added) but never acquire the sublime knowledge of God.
Victor'screation of the monsteris an attemptto create man
in hisown image, and the monster'shideousness impliesthe
distortionof selfthathis fall into language entails:

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FRANKENSTEIN AND MILTON 311
Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcelycovered the work of
muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and
flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only
formed a more horrid contrast with his wateryeyes, that seemed
almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they
were set, his shrivelled complexion and straightblack lips.
(p. 57)

Victor creates not Adam but an unnamed horror,"a thing


such as even Dante could not have conceived"(p. 58), but that
Miltonhad. Satan firstappears inParadiseLostwithouta name
and possessed of a questionable identity.In Book I, Milton,
wonderingwhatcaused Adam and Eve's fall,questions"Who
firstseduc'd themto thatfoulrevolt?"and answers,"Th' infer-
nal Serpent; hee it was" (11.33-34). Satan, thoughdescribed
by analogy to the serpent,is not actuallycalled Satan by Mil-
ton until later in ParadiseLost,just as Victor withholdshis
directnaming of his creationuntillaterin his narrativewhen
he relatesthe eventsthattake place on Mont Saleve: "A flash
of lightningilluminatedthe object,and discovered its shape
plainly to me; its giganticstature,and the deformityof its
aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity,instantlyin-
formedme thatit was the wretch,the filthy demon,to whom I
had givenlife"(p. 76, emphasisadded). The monster,firstan
"object," is named as "demon" and then later as "Devil" (p.
99); he is signified.But when Victorbeginsto name and desig-
nate the monster'sidentityhe imposes selectiveculturalcate-
gories thatexist prior to thatnamingand to the actionof the
novel and thatreflectthe self-namingsin Walton'slettersand
Victor's own claim that he "bore a hell within[him], which
nothingcould extinguish"(p. 88). Victor'snamingof his cre-
ationas "Devil" immediatelyprecedes themonster'sown auto-
biographical fragment,thus reinforcingthe notion that the
monster'sautobiography,his self-signifying, is immured in
Victor'snaming of him. Figuratively, the monster'snarrative
is Victor's narrative-a "creature" engendered by a shared
systemof signs-and by analogy Walton'sas well. The mon-
ster'sfallinto language bothreenactsand glossesVictor'sand
Walton's descent into a limitedculturalontology.The mon-
ster'sreply to Victor's"Devil" indicatesthatVictor'snaming

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312 NINETEENTH-CENTURY LITERATURE

onlyconfirmsan identitythe monsterhimselfhas accepted as


his own: "Remember,thatI am thycreature;I oughtto be thy
Adam; but I am ratherthe fallen angel, whom thou drivest
fromjoy forno misdeed" (p. ioo).
The monsterrepeatedlyentreatsVictorto "listento my
tale" and to "listento me," once again confirmingthe notion
of self as text in Frankensteinand revealing the monster's
mistakenbelief that his language is empowering,thatit will
convince Victor of the justice of his position and his de-
mands. Having mastered the "godlike science" of language,
the monsteris betrayedinto the belief thathe is the master
of his historyand of his world, that he can shape and con-
trol the self he would become. That the monsterconceives
of language as a "godlike science" clearly recalls Victor's
experimentswith human creation,and for the firsttime in
the novel Mary Shelley links language to the creationof the
monstrousitself.Both Victorand the monsterseek mastery
over originsand the fullnessof presence. Language tantaliz-
ingly presents itself as an escape from the boundaries of
self,a transcendentalmedium withwhichto masterthe mon-
strous, the finitelimitationsof life and identity.But, ironi-
cally,language is the monstrous,a limitingand limitedtaxon-
omy,a preestablishedcultural hierarchythat definesall the
possible definitionsof self-here, Adam or Lucifer. Lan-
guage as the monstrous insures what Foucault calls the
"emergence of difference"'3-"I ought to be thyAdam; but
I am rather the fallen angel"-and as such continues to
promote ontologicaluncertainty, a verbal self-fragmentation
that cannot be "healed" until the taxonomic field is ex-
panded. What the monster'snarrativereveals is not thatone
can master self through language but that self is mastered
by language and the hegemonicformsencased withinit.

The monster'sautobiographyis the his-


tory of his fall into language and into the meanings and
13TheOrderof Things:An Archaeology
of theHuman Sciences(New York: Vintage
Books, 1973), p. 156.

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FRANKENSTEIN AND MILTON 313
values encoded in Milton's mythology.It is the tale of how
ParadiseLostalmostexclusivelycomes to definethe monster's
sense of who he is and of what constituteshis "being." Even
though his historybegins at what he calls the "originalera of
my being," it is marked by insistent moments of self-
definitionin the Miltonic mode and by an insistentmove-
ment toward the word "Satan" as the best suited to his con-
figurationof self.The shepherd'shut he describesearlyon in
his narrativeis "as exquisiteand divinea retreatas Pandaemo-
nium appeared to the daemonsof hell aftertheirsufferings
in the lake of fire,"and his hovel adjoining the DeLacey's
cabin appears a "paradise" (pp. 106-7). If language is the
cultural systeminto which the Monsteras individualsubject
is inserted,14then thatsystem,as Walton'sand Victor'snarra-
tiveshave previouslyattested,is alreadydominatedbya mas-
ter text: ParadiseLost; and what seems conspicuouslyabsent
from the monster's self-representationare those allusions
that might suggest the influence of the other texts from
which he cons the "godlike science" of language. Goethe's
SorrowsofWerter, forexample, mighthave provided an oppo-
sitionalvoice to ParadiseLost,a differentculturalsource for
identityformation,but that voice, the novel suggests,has
been stifledand silenced by Milton.15
When the monsterbegins lifehis mind is a blank,likethe
emptypage or the uninscribedtext-"No distinctideas occu-
pied my mind; all was confused" (p. 103)-and he struggles
to articulate even the simplest of his sense impressions:
"Sometimes I wished to express my sensations in my own
mode, but the uncouth and inarticulatesounds whichbroke
fromme frightenedme into silence again" (p. 104). But the
space of silence is a space withoutlanguage, and hence anti-
theticalto the formationof identity.The monsteris held back
fromboth self-expressionand self-identification because he
lacks language: "but at that time I knew nothingof the sci-
ence of words or letters" (p. 1og).

14See Peter Brooks, "Godlike Science / Unhallowed Arts: Language and Mon-
strosityin Frankenstein,"
NewLiteraryHistory,9 (1978), 593.
ljameson claims (p. 85) thatsuch silencingis part of the veryprocess of hege-
monic culture.

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314 NINETEENTH-CENTURY LITERATURE

The monster learns the "science of words or letters"


fromthe DeLaceys, and it is then thathe enterscultureand
begins erroneouslyto believe thatlanguage is a formof mas-
teryand a way to overcome difference:"although I eagerly
longed to discover myselfto the cottagers,I ought not to
make an attempt until I had firstbecome master of their
language; which knowledge mightenable me to make them
overlook the deformity of my figure" (pp. 113-14). In retro-
spect, the monsterclaims that he "did not yetentirelyknow
the fatal effectsof this miserable deformity"(p. i14), and
hence he is encouraged "to apply with freshardour to the
acquiring the art of language" (p. 115).
Hasteningto narratethe "more movingpart"of his story,
the monsterbegins to relate those eventsthathe claims "im-
pressed me withfeelingswhich,fromwhat I had been, have
made me what I am" (p. 1 i6). Those eventsprimarilycenter
around his learningthe artof language: "Mydays were spent
in close attention,thatI mightmore speedilymasterthe lan-
guage" (p. i i8). He is first"instructed"byVolney'sTheRuin of
Empires,which appears merelyto foreshadowthe lessons of
ParadiseLost,especiallythe historyof mankindthatthe angel
Michael relates to Adam in Books XI and XII: "so violence /
Proceeded, and Oppression, and Sword-Law / Through all
the Plain, and refugenone was found" (XI, 11.671-73). Such
instructionleads the monsterto self-reflection: "The words
induced me to turntowardsmyself,"and to the question that
lies at the heart of his narrative,"What was I?" (p. 120). The
fall into language is a descent into introspectionand the na-
tureof identity;however,thequestion"Whatwas I?" can only
be answered bylanguage itself.Identitycan onlybe soughtin
cultureand itsmasterworks, and so themonsterturnstoPara-
diseLost,which,along withthe Sorrows ofWerterand Plutarch's
Lives,is the "prize" he believes he has found one nightin his
rambles.Again his reading promptsinsistentself-questioning
about his originsand his identity:"Who was I? What was I?
Whence did I come? What was mydestination?These ques-
tionscontinuallyrecurred,but I was unable to solve them"(p.
128). The monster's"birth"into language and culture pro-
motes the ontological insecurityFrankenstein sets out to ex-

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FRANKENSTEIN AND MILTON 315
plore. Because the monster cannot distinguish between levels
and types of discourse-for him all narratives are "histories,"
and therefore true-he reads Milton's text in the same light he
has interpreted the tales the DeLaceys and Saphie relate, as "a
true history" (p. 129). But forthe monster,Paradise Lost,unlike
Volney's Ruins, is not simply a history of civilization but a
chronicle of self,in which he searches for the lineaments of his
own identity,in which he searches for a name:

I oftenreferredthe severalsituations,as theirsimilarity struck


me, to myown. Like Adam, I was apparentlyunitedbyno linkto
any otherbeing in existence;but his statewas fardifferentfrom
minein everyotherrespect.He had come forthfromthehandsof
God a perfectcreature,happy and prosperous,guarded by the
especialcare of his Creator;he was allowedto conversewith,and
acquire knowledgefrom,beingsof a superiornature:but I was
wretched,helpless,and alone. ManytimesI consideredSatan as
the fitteremblemof my condition;for often,like him,when I
viewed the bliss of my protectors,the bittergall of envy rose
withinme. (p. 129)

What he finds in the character of Satan is what he feels is the


best name to fit the facts of his existence, and when he is
rejected by the DeLaceys he accepts that name as his own: "I,
like the arch-fiend, bore a hell within me; and, finding myself
unsympathised with, wished to tear up the trees, spread
havoc and destruction around me, and then to have sat down
and enjoyed the ruin" (p. 136).
As Raymond Williams notes, "the true condition of hege-
mony is effective self-identification with the hegemonic forms:
a specific and internalized 'socialization' which is expected to
be positive but which, if that is not possible, will rest on a
(resigned) recognition of the inevitable and the necessary" (p.
1 i 8). This, in effect,is what has happened to the monster. In
accepting Paradise Lost as his own "true history"-a history
that is corroborated by his subsequent reading of Victor's
journal-he has begun a process of self-identificationwith
the possible ontological choices encoded in the master narra-
tive. At firsthe hopes for the name and identityof Adam and
the positive attributes that, in his mind, accompany such a
self; he hopes that he too can be "a perfect creature, happy

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316 NINETEENTH-CENTURY LITERATURE

and prosperous,guarded by the especial care of his Creator."


But the monstermustresignhimselfto theinevitableimplica-
tionsthatthe masternarrative,as a hegemonicformthathas
come to comprise his only sense of reality,prescribes:he is
not Adam but Satan, and, hence, he is forced to act out the
role of Satan: "fromthatmomentI declared everlastingwar
against the species, and, more than all, againsthim who had
formed me, and sent me forthto thisinsupportablemisery"
(p. 136). Confronted by the ontological insecurityengen-
dered by the master narrative,the monster now becomes
absorbed in waysof preservinghis identityand his supposed
autonomy.The monster'squest for revenge, then,becomes
the verymeans of maintaininghis existence,an existencehe
continuesto cling to at novel's end: "Evil thenceforthbecame
my good. Urged thus far,I had no choice but to adapt my
nature to an elementwhichI had willinglychosen. The com-
pletion of my demoniacal design became an insatiable pas-
sion. And now it is ended; there is my last victim!"(p. 220).
The movementwithinthemonster'sautobiographyfrom
Milton's"true history"to his discoveryof what he believes is
his "true" self suggeststhat,at novel's end, he comes to em-
body the hegemonic,whichexistsnot in the abstractbut in a
livedsystemof meaning and self-identification: he now is the
"monstrous." Though Victor Frankenstein,the monster's
"last victim,"lies dead, William,Clerval,and Elizabeth have
also been victimsof his necessaryacts of self-preservation. As
alternativeconfigurationsof self,theythreatenthe ontologi-
cal securitythe monsterachievesin his self-identificationwith
Milton'sSatan. William,Clerval,and Elizabethrepresentcom-
petingclaims to what definesthe "natural,"and, hence, their
continuedexistencethreatensthe monsterwiththe discovery
of his own unnaturalness.Their murder at the hands of the
monstersymbolicallyenacts the way in whichthe hegemonic
preservesitselfthroughthe destructionof alternativesystems
of meaningand value; and, therefore,thelinguisticprocessof
namingengendered byParadiseLostbecomes,as Mellornotes,
"a discourse of power that resultsin the dominationof the
ideologyof a rulingclass and leads directlyto the creationof
evil" (p. 134).

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FRANKENSTEIN AND MILTON 317
Such self-preservationof the hegemonic does not end
withthe death of VictorFrankenstein,however.As the mon-
ster admits,he "did not satisfy[his] own desires. They were
for ever ardent and craving" (p. 22i). As his earlier self-
identificationwithMilton'sSatan makes quite clear,the "de-
monical design" is not his own but society's,a hegemonic
formengendered by ParadiseLost; nor is it ended-it has to
be continually "renewed, recreated, defended, and modi-
fied" (Williams, p. 112). Although Victor is dead and the
monsteris about to resignhimselfto the silenceand darkness
of the Arctic night, Walton lives to return,to repeat and
recapitulate in his life and lettersthe triumphof Milton's
monstrousmyth.
DiaryVirginiaWoolfremarksthatin Milton
In A Writer's
"is summed up much of whatmenthoughtof ourplace in the
universe,of our duty to God, our religion" (emphasis add-
ed);'6 but in A RoomofOne's Own she claims thatthe woman
writermust"look past Milton'sbogey,"foronlythen"she will
be born."'7 Like Woolf,MaryShelleyrecognizedtheimmense
power of the monolithicand monologicvoice of ParadiseLost
particularlyas it pertained to the nineteenth-century dis-
course of identity;and she, too, attemptedto "look beyond"
the ontologicalboundaries prescribedbyMilton'sepic. But in
order to engender a counter-mythology of self,she had to
discover "new forms or adaptations of form" (Williams,p.
126), and Shelleyfound themin the Gothic.Concerned as itis
withquestions of identity,ontologicalinsecurity,and the cul-
turaland psychologicalboundariesof self-representation, the
Gothicnovel became the emergentliteraryformbestsuitedto
explore and unmaskthelimitedand limitingontologyofPara-
diseLost.
Gothic fictionbetraysan anxietyabout such boundaries
or limits-especially those that separate the individual self
from somethingthat is other'8-not only the limitsto self
that confrontthe charactersbut those thatconfrontthe au-
16AWrzter's
Diary,ed. Leonard Woolf (New York: Harcourt,Brace, 1953), p. 6.
RoomofOne'sOwn (New York: Harcourt,Brace, 1929), pp. 198-99.
17A

i8See Eugenia C. DeLamotte, Perilsof theNight:A FeministStudyof Nineteenth-


Century
Gothic(New York: Oxford Univ.Press, 19go), p. 19.

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318 NINETEENTH-CENTURY LITERATURE

thoras well. For Mary Shelleyand her monster,ParadiseLost


and its systemof naming presentsjust such an apparently
impenetrableboundary,which,in its ontologicallimitations,
cuts offthe selffromalternativenamingssuch as "Elizabeth"
or "Clerval." But as MaryPooveypointsout, the "representa-
tion of ideology (whetherconscious or not) can sometimes
expose its implicitcontradictions'; 9 and while the monster
remains trapped in the culturalparametersof being engen-
dered byParadiseLost,forthe author a means of escape from
such limitsmay be found in the Gothic formitself,in which
its two contradictorypatterns,realism and fantasy,overlap
but do notjoin. As stated earlier,the subjectiveor fantastic
element in Gothic fictionsubvertsthe primacyof a realistic
reading and calls intoquestion the ideologyof the real and of
the hegemonicstatus.In her consciousrepresentationof Mil-
ton's mythof identityand its disastrousconsequences, Mary
Shelley points out the contradictionsinherentin the bour-
geois ideal of the individual. Explicit in the narrativesof
Walton, Victor,and the monsteris Shelley'srecognitionthat
subjectiveself-representation is infiltratedand controlledby
culturallypredeterminedideas of personality;and yet, the
notion of self inaugurated by Milton's mythinsistson the
relativeautonomyof the individual,who is "bynature free."
In fact her novel suggests that the very moment the self
claims its greatestautonomymaybe the momentthatis most
marked by the culturalpredeterminantsof identity.As Fran-
kenstein makes clear, our nature is never "willinglychosen";
self is always a social construct.Such an intuitionon Mary
Shelley's part paves the way for other culturallydetermined
notions of male and female identity,for alternativedis-
courses of self based not on the ideal of autonomybut, per-
haps, on those of communityand companionship.As Euge-
nia DeLamotte points out, the boundaries of the self was a
crucial issue for nineteenth-century women, and the female
Gothicdramatizesthe awareness thatwomen have to "strug-
gle for self-realizationin an artificiallyenclosed world" (p.
l9TheProperLady and the WomanWriter:Ideologyas Stylein the Worksof Mary
Wollstonecraft,
MaryShelley,andJaneAusten(Chicago: Univ.of Chicago Press, 1984),
p. xv.

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FRANKENSTEIN AND MILTON 319
27). In Frankenstein the Miltonicsubtextstandsas a linguistic
mausoleum, and the novel deals with woman's and man's
(author's and character's)immurementin such an ideologi-
callyconfiningspace. By novel's end, however,Mary Shelley
may be suggestingthatwe can escape the artificialenclosure
of selfby expanding our idea of what the selfmeans, if only
to include the finalvision of ParadiseLost,where Adam and
Eve, "handin handwithwand'ringsteps and slow,/Through
Eden took thir solitary way" (XII, 11. 648-49; emphasis
added).
Yet, while Frankenstein clearly dramatizes the self's im-
murementin the restrictive ideologyofParadiseLost,the rela-
tionshipof MaryShelley'snovel to Milton'sepic remainsprob-
lematic.Since all literatureretainsculturalideology,and thisis
especiallythe case witha worklikeParadiseLost,whileShelley
may rejectMilton'sprescriptiveand prohibitiveontology,she
cannotavoid the ideologicaldetritusthather own deconstruc-
tionof Milton'smonstrousmythprecipitates.There is always
falloutwhen we explode inheritedsystemsof meaning,and as
criticismof the novel-past and present-evinces, Milton's
workretainsitspowerfulhold on MaryShelley'simagination
as well as our own.20Yet while she could not silence Milton's
voice,in hercritiqueofhisrole in theculturalformationofself
Shelleydid succeed in changingthediscourseofidentityfrom
monologue to dialogue. She began to reconstructand restore
the voices against which Milton's masterworkwas opposed,
voices"forthemostpartstifledand reduced to silence"(Jame-
son, p. 85). In FrankensteinMary Shelleylooked beyond "Mil-
ton'sbogey"in searchof another"truehistory"ofwhatwe are.

WestVirginiaUniversity

2oMartinTropp, in MaryShelley'sMonster:TheStory
ofFrankenstein
(Boston: Hough-
ton Mifflin,1976), forexample, perpetuatesthe readingof Frankensteinas a Roman-
tic version of Paradise Lost; and even Gilbert and Gubar claim, finally,that "by
parodyingParadiseLostin whatmayhave begun as a secret,barelyconsciousattempt
to subvertMilton,Shelleyended up telling,too, thecentralstoryof ParadiseLost"(p.
22 1).

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