A book coming out next month, The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein
, by independent scholar John Lauritsen, argues that Mary Shelley did not write Frankenstein. Instead, Lauritsen argues, the credit should go to her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Why? For one, Lauritsen suggests Mary was too young and inexperienced as a writer to have penned a classic like Frankenstein. (She was nineteen at the time.) Lauritsen also suggests that the language of Frankenstein sounds like something Percy would have written. The Sunday Times reports
He says some of the language, with lines such as "I will glut the maw of death", were pure Shelley, and that the young aristocrat wrote a handful of fashionable horror tales that echo the later tone of Frankenstein. Lauritsen said Shelley had many reasons to disguise his authorship, including hints of "free love" that had already driven him out of England and an undertone of "Romantic, but I would not say gay, male love". Another factor may have been the critics, who hated it. The Quarterly Review of 1818 said the story of Frankenstein, the Swiss scientist who creates a monster from body parts, only to see it run amok, was a "tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity".
Most literary critics aren't buying Lauritsen's argument. Germaine Greer, writing in The Guardian
, argues that Mary Shelley must have written Frankenstein because a) the book is actually pretty badly written, as one would expect from a 19-year-old, and b) the underlying theme of the book is a very feminine one:
"The driving impulse of this incoherent tale is a nameless female dread, the dread of gestating a monster... Percy was capable perhaps of imagining such a nightmare, but it is the novel's blindness to its underlying theme that provides the strongest evidence that the spinner of the tale is a woman. It is not until the end of the novel that the monster can describe himself as an abortion. If women's attraction to the gothic genre is explained by the opportunity it offers for the embodiment of the amoral female subconscious, Frankenstein is the ultimate expression of the female gothic."
I'm inclined to believe that Mary Shelley is the true author of Frankenstein. But it is an interesting question to think about.