Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Frankenstein ... Through the Looking-Glass?

First of all, I have a confession to make. I had never, up until very, very recently, finished Frankenstein. Yes, I picked the novel up several times throughout the course of my life, but I promptly put it back down. I disliked the style of the novel: the "ponderous" plot (thank you, Dr. Jamie, for this word - you know who you are), the emotive language, the Noble Savage who spoke like a nineteenth-century professor even though he was just assembled out of parts from the charnel house. I prefer my books to have more meat on their bones, so to speak. The only reason I picked the book back up recently? I had to teach it. This time, I suppose, it's growing on me. Like a fungus.

Now to my point. This morning, as I was reading up on the long afterlife of the novel while preparing for tomorrow's class, I discovered that John Tenniel, the gentleman who so famously illustrated Carroll's Alice books, repeatedly drew upon Frankenstein to critique current state affairs in his political cartoons.

"The Russian Frankenstein and His Monster" (Punch 1854), depicting Russia as a war machine
bent on the destruction of British men.

"The Brummagem Frankenstein" (1866), drawn to protest the decision to give the lower classes voting rights. Here, Tenniel draws a brute, bearded, working-class Birmingham rough as the rebellious creation of an "ill-advised" politician.
Incidentally, Tenniel is also responsible for the illustrations so often connected to Poe's "The Raven," his melancholic print perfectly capturing the despondent and star-crossed narrator.
To close, two quotes from Shelley. The first, perhaps, my favorite: "I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper" (from the 1831 preface to the revised novel). Who doesn't want their work to do the same? Writers, after all, are Frankensteins of a sort, piecing together textual bodies from fragments called up from the tomb of the brain. 

The second, a more poignant, and painful, observation: "the survivors are the greatest sufferers, and for them time is the only consolation" (Volume I, Chapter VI). How true this is. At the heart of Frankenstein is an acute "rage at the dying of the light," the anger that all that we hold dear could slip into the arms of the grave at any moment. The Frankenstein metaphor was used aptly, and oh so terribly, thus in last season's American Horror Story. And if you haven't jumped on that show's train yet, you are really missing out (the new season starts in a few short weeks).

Until next time, Adieu. ~Alice
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