Monster Essay

Far on the ice plain, the ship’s crew beholds “the shape of a man, but apparently of gigantic stature,” driving a dogsled.

Three paragraphs on, another man-shape arrives off the side of the ship on a fragment of ice, alone but for one sled dog.

If you haven’t read Europe was scarred by a long war, concluding on Waterloo fields in May 1815. Young Frankenstein begins his university studies in 1789, the year of the French Revolution.

In 1790, Edmund Burke’s international best-selling recoiled at the new government as a “monster of a state,” with a “monster of a constitution” and “monstrous democratic assemblies.” Within a few months, another international best-seller, Tom Paine’s a “ferocious monster”; her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was on the same page: Any aristocracy was an “artificial monster,” the monarchy a “luxurious monster,” and Europe’s despots a “race of monsters in human shape.” makes no direct reference to the Revolution, but its first readers would have felt the force of its setting in the 1790s, a decade that also saw polemics for (and against) the rights of men, women, and slaves.

The only person to address him with sympathy is blind, spared the shock of the “countenance.” Readers are blind this way, too, finding the Creature only on the page and speaking a common language.

This continuity, rather than antithesis, to the human is reflected in the first illustrations: In the cover for the 1823 play, above, the Creature looks quite human, dishy even — alarming only in size and that gaze of expectation.

The iconic “other” in is of course this horrifying Creature (he’s never a “human being”).

But the deepest force of the novel is not this unique situation but its reverberation of routine judgments of beings that seem “other” to any possibility of social sympathy.

To turn him loose in the manhood of his physical strength ...

would be to raise up a creature resembling the splendid fiction of a recent romance.” He meant Mary Shelley heard about this reference, and knew, moreover, that women (though with gilding) were a slave class, too, insofar as they were valued for bodies rather than minds, were denied participatory citizenship and most legal rights, and were systemically subjugated as “other” by the masculine world.

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