Thursday, October 25, 2018

Frankenstein and the Critics

Thursday, October 25, 2018
Frankenstein, annotated 2017
Loretta reports:

Mary Shelley’s reviewers had extremely different reactions to Frankenstein.

Following a plot summary, John Croker has this to say:
“Our readers will guess from this summary, what a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity this work presents ... The dreams of insanity are embodied in the strong and striking language of the insane, and the author, notwithstanding the rationality of his preface, often leaves us in doubt whether he is not as mad as his hero." 
Following samples of the prose style:
“... we take the liberty of assuring [the author] ... that the style which he has adopted in the present publication merely tends to defeat his own purpose, if he really had any other object in view than that of leaving the wearied reader, after a struggle between laughter and loathing, in doubt whether the head or the heart of the author be the most diseased."
Quarterly Review 18 (January [delayed until 12 June] 1818): 379-385. From the Mary Shelley Chronology and Resource Site, Scholarly Resources, Romantic Circles.

Walter Scott, however, is thrilled:
“So concludes this extraordinary tale, in which the author seems to us to disclose uncommon powers of poetic imagination. The feeling with which we perused the unexpected and fearful, yet, allowing the possibility of the event, very natural conclusion of Frankenstein's experiment, shook a little even our firm nerves ...

It is no slight merit in our eyes, that the tale, though wild in incident, is written in plain and forcible English, without exhibiting that mixture of hyperbolical Germanisms with which tales of wonder are usually told, as if it were necessary that the language should be as extravagant as the fiction. The ideas of the author are always clearly as well as forcibly expressed; and his descriptions of landscape have in them the choice requisites of truth, freshness, precision, and beauty ... 

Upon the whole, the work impresses us with a high idea of the author's original genius and happy power of expression ... If Gray's definition of Paradise, to lie on a couch, namely, and read new novels, come any thing near truth, no small praise is due to him, who, like the author of Frankenstein, has enlarged the sphere of that fascinating enjoyment."
Start of review in La Belle Assemblée
Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 2 (March 1818)
His whole review is well worth reading, as are others. You can read them here at the Romantic Circles website.

If you are in New York between now and the last week of January, you might want to stop by the Morgan Library for the exhibition, “It’s Alive! Frankenstein at 200.”

Images: Cover of 2017 annotated edition of Frankenstein; Beginning of La Belle Assemblée review of Frankenstein, Vol. 17, March 1818

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on a caption link will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed. And just so you know, if you order a book through one of my posts, I might get a small share of the sale.


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