Metamorphoses Within Frankenstein

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The Critical Metamorphoses of Mary Shelley’s

You must excuse a trif ling d eviation,
From Mrs. Shelley’s marvellous narration — from th e musical Frankenstein; or,
The Vamp ire’s Victim (1849)
Like Coleridge’ s Ancient Mariner , who erupts into Mary Sh elley’s text as o ccasionally and inev itably as th e Monster into Victor
Frankenstein’s lif e, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometh eus passes, like night, from land to land and w ith stang ely ad aptable powers of speech addresses itself to a critical aud ien ce that is larger and mor e diverse than that of almo st any oth er work of liter atur e in Eng lish :
Mary Shelley’s Franken stein is famously reinterpretable. It can be a late v ersion of th e Faust my
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Wher e Blake and Shelley and Byron wrote of
Romanticism from the v exed insid e, that is, Mary Shelley offered what was at best a simp lif ied v ersion from th e outside, at wo rst ‘a passiv e


Sydney S tudies

Critica l Metamorphoses of Frankenstein

reflection of some of the wild fantasies which, as it w ere, h ung in the air
about her’ ( Mario Pr az) . ‘Lik e almost ev erything else about her lif e,
Frankenstein is an instance of gen ius observed and ad mired bu t not
shared’, according to Robert K iely; ‘one of those second-rate works’, declared D. W . Harding, ‘written under the influen ce of more
distinguished minds’.
Thanks largely to some Copern ican ch anges in our critical u niverse,
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein now has a reputation commen surate w ith the looming bulk of its own Monster, h aving been unofficially canonized by the sh eer v ariety and extent of interpretative activity th at it has insp ired over the last thir ty years. This article offers a cr itical map o f that activ ity, asking what in its natur e and extent it might have to say about
Frankenstein itself, as well as about the cr itical conditions under
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