UC Berkeley Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal

A Premier Humanities Research Journal at the University of California, Berkeley

Deadly Duplications in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Hope H. Rogers

 Pieced together from bodies of men and beasts, the monster from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein appears to embody the miscegenated Other. Critics who have explored this idea, however, have failed to notice the book’s overriding drive for homogeneity that ultimately characterizes the monster not as the Other but as Victor’s double. In this Hegelian reading, I establish how the Frankensteins and other characters preserve the integrity of their homogenous community by constantly duplicating themselves, absorbing and effacing difference through semi-incestuous relations and assimilatory practices. These doublings threaten the Hegelian dichotomy between Self and Other, a threat realized in Victor’s unnatural creation of the monster, his perfect double. This distillation of Self totally destroys the Other, breaking the dichotomy and resulting in the death of Self, a consequence acted out through the monster’s murders. Shelley’s novel is a tale not of difference, racial or otherwise, but of the destructiveness of forced homogeneity.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has generated a huge amount of criticism in fields as far-ranging as theory of the novel [1], feminism [2], and domesticity [3]. The monster alone has been analyzed as everything from Frankenstein’s id [4] to a symbol of the oppressed proletariat [5]. Among this mass of criticism, however, racial readings of the novel have been surprisingly infrequent. Of those written, the studies by H.L. Malchow and Allan Lloyd Smith, though helpful, are largely limited to establishing that the monster is depicted as the racial Other and then giving historical background on race issues of the time. Elizabeth Bohls and Anne Mellor [6] go further, arguing that the novel is a critique of imperialism and its inherent racism, yet their arguments, though insightful, do not fully account for the novel’s treatment of race. Particularly concerning is Mellor’s brief concluding discussion of miscegenation in Frankenstein, which has yet to be discussed at any length elsewhere. In it, she argues that, although Frankenstein’s fear of miscegenation motivates him to destroy the mate, Shelley herself may be suggesting that interracial unions like that of Safie and Felix actually promote peace and evolution. However, Mellor does not put the couplings of Safie and Felix and the monster and his mate into conversation with the pairing of Victor and Elizabeth. Doing so reveals disturbing similarities among the three and an ultimate emphasis on homogeneity rather than the possibility of racial miscegenation.

In fact, setting up a comparison between these relationships allows us to see a tension in the story between homogeneity and difference, which Shelley relates to the contrast between the Frankensteins’ incestuous relationships and the miscegenation represented in the union of Safie and Felix and in the creation of the monster. I am using the term miscegenation in its strictest sense of “the mixing or interbreeding of (people of) different races or ethnic groups, esp. the interbreeding or sexual union of whites and non-whites” (OED n. 1). Though literal miscegenation is possible in the novel, synthesis is not. I now use synthesis to describe any union of difference: not just racial, but also cultural difference. For example, if Safie and Felix’s union through marriage had resulted in a combination of European and Arab cultural elements, including religion and gender roles, then synthesis would have taken place. In using this term, I have in mind a Hegelian synthesis between a thesis and an antithesis, in this case, Self and Other, which, as I discuss below, is Shelley’s concern rather than Said’s Self/Other distinction based on a dialectic between East and West. In Frankenstein, no synthesis occurs; the characters instead attempt to destroy the Other in any form by assimilating it through duplication.

In this essay, I first briefly describe my theoretical framework, explaining my choice of Hegel to describe the Self/Other distinction rather than Said. I then set up the contrast between homogeneity and difference by showing how Shelley uses the same ideas of nineteenth-century racial science that separate the monster from the human race to divide the Frankensteins, isolated in their domestic circle, from their fellow men. That is, she compares cultural barriers to miscegenation to the Frankenstein’s prevention of synthesis in order to preserve the Self/Other distinction. Having established their division from all difference, I demonstrate that it drives the Frankensteins to incest, and finally to self-duplications that eliminate difference from the reproductive process. These duplications do not take place only within the family; they also constantly occur as homogeneity is forced onto characters that represent any kind of difference. Even in the interracial relationship between Safie and Felix, there is no synthesis; instead, Safie is assimilated into European culture. The Other is destroyed through these duplications, ultimately resulting in the death of the Self, and the monster becomes a representation of the deadliness of duplications, himself a duplicate of his creator, and is likewise driven to incest and then to self-duplications through his murders, actualizing the negation of Self that has taken place.

Self versus Other: From Said back to Hegel
A paper dealing with concepts of race and the Other might be assumed to rely on Said’s theories to characterize that Other. Such a reading of Frankenstein might then point to racially Other characters like Safie and the monster as representations of the East that are alternately feminized and threatening. However, I am arguing that Shelley’s concern is not specifically with race but with all kinds of difference, and that, in the story, this difference is assimilated through duplication, though the possibility of synthesis is also present. My reading thus calls for a more basic theory of Self and Other that is not specifically concerned with race and that allows for the possibility of the Other being destroyed (as it is in assimilation) and synthesized. For this purpose I turn back to Said’s predecessor Hegel.

In his description of the Master-Slave Dialectic, Hegel writes that every consciousness “exists only in being acknowledged;” a Self must be defined in opposition to an Other, which in turn recognizes that Self (541). However, this Other is threatening because it is a second Self, another independent consciousness, so the Self attempts to destroy it: “each seeks the death of the other” to “raise their certainty of being for themselves to truth” and to “rid itself of its self-externality” (543). However, if the Self succeeds, it is left with no consciousness to define itself against and thus negates its own existence. As Hegel writes, “death is the natural negation of consciousness, negation without independence, which thus remains without the required significance of recognition” (543). The two Selves become “lifeless, merely immediate, unopposed extremes” (Hegel 544). Therefore, the Other must instead be sublated so that it can exist, but only in relation to the Self, only as Other: “one is the independent consciousness whose essential nature is to be for itself, the other is the dependent consciousness whose essential nature is simply to live or to be for another” (Hegel 544). Thus “the lord achieves his recognition through another consciousness; for in them, that other consciousness is expressly something nonessential;” the Other is “merely negative” (Hegel 545, 544). As with all dialectics, however, there is a potential for synthesis, which reconciles the thesis and antithesis, in this case Self and Other, and in turn opposes them to a new antithesis.

In Frankenstein, the Frankenstein family defines themselves against all outsiders, cementing their unity by labeling anything outside the family as repugnant: they define their collective Self against the Other of those to whom they are not related. Furthermore, just as miscegenation threatens Said’s East/West dichotomy, synthesis threatens their distinction between Self and Other. To prevent synthesis, the Frankensteins instead attempt to assimilate the Other through duplications, effectively destroying it by making it part of their collective Self. Nevertheless, this collective Self (the Frankenstein family) is still made up of individual Selves, allowing for some difference and thus enabling them to continue living; the individual members of the Frankenstein family can define themselves against each other. When Victor creates the monster, however, he turns something that should be totally Other into a perfect double of himself, a distillation of Self that destroys the life-giving dialectic between Self and Other. There is now only Self, and thus Self is negated and killed, a fate which is realized through the monster’s murders.

From Miscegenation to Synthesis
Robert Young writes that the idea of a unified British identity was created only through a “desire for the Other” that relocated difference from within Britain to an East-West divide (2-6). That is, Western self-definition required an East that was Other with which to contrast itself and thus to create itself. Young writes, “The idea of race here shows itself to be profoundly dialectical: it only works when defined against potential intermixture, which also threatens to undo its calculations altogether” (19). In the nineteenth century, imperialism brought with it the threat of miscegenation, which had the potential to subvert the East-West distinction and thus collapse the definition of the Western self as opposed to the Eastern other. Many writers responded to this threat by arguing that other races are actually different species and thus that miscegenation is impossible. When it became apparent that intercourse between white Europeans and those of other races was quite capable of producing fertile offspring, the scientific qualification for being of the same species, writers changed tactics, arguing that the species separation was enforced instead by mutual repulsion, emphasizing “the way in which males and females of each species are clearly attracted to each other and mate freely, whereas between different species there appears to be a natural mutual repugnance to pairing that keeps them apart” (Young 15). The homogeneity and thus the identity of Europeans was protected from mixture with the racial Other and the consequent breakdown of the distinction between the two because there could be no desire for interracial unions.

Shelley places the monster in this discourse by her repeated use of the term species to differentiate the monster from humans: Victor looks forward to his “new species” and the monster demands a mate “of the same species” (32, 97). Nevertheless, the possibility of intercourse between the two species remains very real. The monster displays interracial desire when he sees Caroline’s portrait and in his interactions with the sleeping Justine, when, in the 1831 edition, he whispers, “Awake, fairest, thy lover is near—he who would give his life but to obtain one look of affection from thine eyes; my beloved, awake!” (Shelley 132). Similarly, Victor is prompted to destroy the monster’s mate by his fear that she “might turn with disgust from [the monster] to the superior beauty of man,” desiring miscegenation (Shelley 114). Such desire suggests that the monster has the biological ability to mate with humans. Nevertheless, the monster is barred from miscegenation by his repulsiveness to humans in the same way that European writers predicted that races would be forced to remain separate. For instance, the monster’s fantasy about Justine ends when he remembers that his appearance would be disgusting to her, as it is to every human he encounters. Repugnance does indeed preclude interracial unions for the monster just as effectively as any biological barrier.

However, Shelley does not use this repugnance to support the idea of a species distinction between races. Instead, she connects it to the more basic Self/Other distinction articulated by Hegel. Each individual consciousness must be recognized by another consciousness to exist; just as the West defines itself in opposition to the East, each Self exists only in contrast to an Other. And as in the East/West dichotomy, this Other must be sublated so that it does not exist as a threatening, independent Self but rather only in opposition to the first Self. Shelley parallels the threat of miscegenation to the East/West dichotomy to the threat of synthesis to the Self/Other distinction by having Victor demonstrate repugnance toward anyone outside his domestic circle, just like the repugnance the European characters show to the racially Other monster. Though the Frankensteins at first seem to be the paradigm of the “domestic affection” that Percy Shelley’s preface claims the book praises (6), they are actually an example of extreme homogeneity created by designating anything outside their domestic circle as Other, a division characteristic of eighteenth and nineteenth century domesticity. As Komisaruk writes, “The cult of domesticity expresses a wider bourgeois consciousness that predicates the public trust upon exclusivity and self-interest,” resulting in “the antipathy of the family toward the non-family” (410). Their love exists only at the exclusion and even hatred of outsiders. For example, when Walton expresses his desire for friendship and brotherhood with Victor, Victor “repulses” him:

When you speak of new ties, and fresh affections, think you that any can replace those who are gone? Can any man be to me as Clerval was; or any woman another Elizabeth? Even where the affections are not strongly moved by any superior excellence, the companions of our childhood always possess a certain power over our minds, which hardly any later friend can obtain. (Shelley 147)

He continues to explain the special value of childhood friends and that his remain with him even after their deaths, utterly silencing the affectionate Walton and ending the possibility of a new and nurturing relationship. Even more disturbingly, Victor earlier has claimed that his “secluded and domestic” life has given him an “invincible repugnance to new countenances” (Shelley 26). Though in the 1831 edition he seems to recant this opinion and to unify himself with humanity, his actual statement suggests otherwise: “I abhorred the face of man. Oh, not abhorred! They were my brethren, my fellow beings, and I felt attracted even to the most repulsive among them, as to creatures of an angelic nature and celestial mechanism” (Shelley 174). Even while claiming love he dwells on the repulsiveness of those outside of his domestic circle. The repugnance he feels for those outside of his family closely mirrors the disgust that humans feel for the monster, suggesting that this hatred actually has nothing to do with racial difference but instead with difference in general. Frankenstein thus evidences a concern not primarily with miscegenation, which threatens the East/West dichotomy, but with synthesis, which threatens the distinction between Self and Other and thus the homogenous identity of the Frankensteins.

Extreme Homogeneity: The Frankensteins
The Frankensteins reject difference and the possibility of synthesis through their incestuous unions, breeding within the family just as Europeans sought to breed only within their own race. As both Gilbert and Gubar and Ketterer point out, M. Frankenstein and Caroline’s relationship is nearly incestuous, as he looks on her as both daughter and wife (56, 41). The hint of incest is even stronger in the relationship between Victor and Elizabeth, actually cousins and effectively siblings. Even within the family there is concern that Victor may see her only as a sister and thus disappoint the hopes of a union.

Of course, marriages between cousins were acceptable at the time, but among many woman writers there was a push away from this inbreeding and towards marriages with those outside the family, a trend that occurs both in Charlotte Smith’s Emmeline (1788) as the titular heroine rejects her cousin Delamere in favor of Godolphin and in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) as Darcy forgoes marriage with his sickly, inbred cousin Anne de Bourgh to marry the vivacious if lower-class Elizabeth. In fact, Austen’s novel contains an explicit statement against the kind of domestic ties whence such marriages spring when Darcy laments that he was taught as a child “to be selfish and overbearing, to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of the rest of the world” (Austen 241). Similarly, when Fanny and Edmund, cousin-siblings much like Victor and Elizabeth, wed in Mansfield Park, their marriage results from the moral corruption of the Crawfords and the closed-off, exclusive setting of Mansfield Park rather than a victory of true love. Thus Shelley’s choice to have an increasingly unpopular form of marriage in her novel, especially when juxtaposed with the book’s concern with miscegenation, suggests that Victor and Elizabeth’s union may be intentionally un-ideal, a taboo extreme to which the family’s rejection of difference has driven them.

The Frankensteins preserve their own homogeneity through incest, but they also seek to appropriate the Other, not joining it to themselves through synthesis, but instead assimilating it into their collective Self through duplication. For example, children become extensions of the Self through which the Self can live on. Victor’s father decides to procreate for the purpose of “bestowing on the state sons who might carry his virtues and his name down to posterity,” and Victor is thus “the destined successor to all his labours and utility” (Shelley 18, 19). M. Frankenstein has reproduced not to create someone distinct from himself but instead to create a younger version of himself who can take his place in society. Moreover, the Frankensteins also create duplicates of those who are not actually their offspring and who therefore should be even more Other to themselves. Caroline chooses her niece Elizabeth as a duplicate to replace her. Their backstories are nearly identical (both are orphaned and impoverished, found by the Frankensteins in the countryside), and, when Caroline dies, she tells Elizabeth, “You must supply my place to your younger cousins” (Shelley 24). Even Justine, the adopted servant girl, adopts her mistress’s mannerisms so that “she often reminds [Elizabeth] of her” (Shelley 40); she has become another duplicate. Through these duplications, the Frankensteins prevent change and extend their collective Self.

Besides forgoing the possibility of improvement through difference, the Frankensteins create something monstrous through their incest and duplications, an outcome predicted by Hegel. He writes that the Self attempts to deal with the threat of the Other by killing it, but that, if it succeeds, it has also negated its own consciousness, killing itself because there is now no Other to recognize it. Similarly, by assimilating the Other through duplication so that there is no Other against which to define themselves, the Frankensteins court their own deaths. The idea that duplication leads to death first appears in Victor’s dream after he creates the monster:

I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her; but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel. (Shelley 34)

This dream magnifies the themes of incest and duplication as it equates Victor kissing Elizabeth with him kissing his mother, and it suggests that ultimately the incestuous, duplicating relationship can only produce death: corpses and worms. No new life has come with the presence of the Other; instead, the same dead characters, themselves shrouded and lacking any real identity, are recycled. Nevertheless, some difference remains; though part of the collective Frankenstein Self, Elizabeth and Caroline remain individuals. Since they create new and separate versions of the collective Self, the duplications are productive and can continue. Though dangerous, they have not yet led to actual death.

Homogeneity through Assimilation: Safie and Felix
At first, the relationship between Safie and Felix seems to offer an alternative to the Frankensteins’ incest, as the couple represents the potential for miscegenation accompanied by synthesis, an escape from the closed-off realm of domesticity. However, Safie herself is biracial, the child of a Muslim Turk and an Arab Christian, yet her parents’ relationship has effected no change. Despite the apparent affection between her parents—her mother “won the heart of the father of Safie” (Shelley 83)—they have no moderating effect on each other. Her father instead falls further into the stereotype of the villainous Turk as the story continues, adopting none of what Europeans would have seen as his wife’s positive Christian values. Furthermore, their relationship is not sustainable; Safie’s mother dies to escape it. Their child, Safie, also evidences the lack of synthesis; she seems to be the child of only her mother, indicating another duplication rather than a mixing. She inherits her mother’s fair skin and Christian beliefs and abandons her villainous father at the first opportunity. Racial miscegenation has occurred, but cultural synthesis has proved impossible.

The relationship of Felix and Safie also does not allow for difference. The basis for their alliance is likeness, as Safie is a Christian like Felix, and her choice to be with him is a rejection of her own culture and an embracement of his: “A residence in Turkey was abhorrent to her; her religion and feelings were alike adverse to it,” while “The prospect of marrying a Christian, and remaining in a country where women were allowed to take a rank in society, was enchanting to her” (Shelley 84, 83).

Furthermore, this hope of empowerment instilled by her Arab Christian mother is disappointed; among the De Laceys, Safie loses much of the agency and independence that she has inherited from her mother, becoming more like the novel’s passive, traditionally feminine women like Elizabeth and Agatha. As Mellor has pointed out, Safie embodies many of the ideals that Mary Wollstonecraft advocates, potentially allowing her union with Felix to imbue the problematically passive women of this world with her agency and power (“Nature” 277). In contrast to this positive reading, Komisaruk notes that Safie has a darker connection to Wollstonecraft. Safie has escaped her father to be with Felix largely because she wants to eschew the low status afforded Muslim women and join European society, where she believes that she will have more rights. When Wollstonecraft discusses the plight of Muslim women, however, she uses it to emphasize that European women suffer the same indignities and discrimination (Komisaruk 439). Safie’s move will not help her achieve agency; in fact, her assimilation into European womanhood ultimately suppresses it far more effectively than Turkish culture has, stifling the potential for liberating synthesis in her relationship with Felix.

The tendency of both Turkish and European cultures towards subjugation is first shown when she is used as currency by both her father and Felix, for though Felix is too “delicate,” or proper, to openly accept the Turk’s offer of Safie in exchange for his freedom, he nonetheless acknowledges that “the captive possessed a treasure which would fully reward his toil and hazard” and tacitly accepts the offer (Shelley 82). Then, upon her arrival, her first action is to take off her veil, symbolic of her freedom from Muslim society but also troublingly reminiscent of earlier ideas of raping Nature, whose face, in the 1831 text, has already been “partially unveiled” (Shelley 25) and whom scientists will “penetrate… and shew how she works in her hiding places” (Shelley 28). The veil has offered protection from such violent exploitation, and she now fully exposes herself to the abuses of European society.

The rape of Safie when she removes her veil begins the process of a second duplication, now on a model of European femininity rather than that of her Arab mother. She becomes a replica of the idealized, passive woman much like Elizabeth or Agatha. This duplication takes place through her assimilation to European culture, which is effected through Felix’s education. In fact, this education, along with her name, creates another disturbing parallel to Wollstonecraft. Her name, usually interpreted as a variant of Sophia, is the same as that of Sophia in Rousseau’s Emile, a book Wollstonecraft strongly condemns. Wollstonecraft complains against the norms that Sophia must follow, particularly challenging the idea of the wife being her husband’s pupil and thus his inferior, as Sophia is to Emile, and questioning “how friendship can subsist when love expires, between the master and his pupil” (53). In becoming Felix’s pupil, Safie is continuing to give up her independence and conforming to a problematic form of European womanhood. Meanwhile, she is taught European texts and values, forced to accept their words, and meanwhile losing her own power of language: even after her instruction, she continues to speak in “broken accents” (Shelley 79). She thus assimilates to European culture and becomes part of its homogeneity, so that by the time of the monster’s “attack” she runs away, demonstrating that she has learned ladylike fear at the expense of her courage and independence. She has become a perfect duplicate of the European woman, unable to pass on any difference through her union with Felix, only to continue the cycle of duplication.

And duplication is the only possibility for the De Laceys. Though the family begins the story connected to Parisian society and reaching out to the Other, as represented by the Turk, they become more and more like the Frankensteins, moving to an isolated setting and interacting with no one but each other. They project the proven villainy of the Turk onto all outsiders; when confronted by difference a second time in the form of the monster, they lash out in violence and then flee. Like the Frankensteins, they have created domestic homogeneity in hostile opposition to the Other, and their effacement of the Other through assimilation is similarly deadly.

Homogeneity Realized as Death: The Monster and His Mate(s)
The monster, then, is a horrifying representation of this impulse towards homogeneity, incest, and duplication. His creation perfectly appropriates the Other into Self, and he thus becomes the force that destroys that Self. He is first connected with the novel’s trend against miscegenation in an allusion to One Thousand Nights and One Night that appears when Victor is describing his discovery of the principle of life: “I was like the Arabian who had been buried with the dead, and found a passage to life aided only by one glimmering, and seemingly ineffectual light” (Shelley 31). The reference is to the story of Sinbad, who travels to an island where he is given a beautiful wife, only to discover that, according to the customs of the island, when she dies he must be buried alive with her (Mathers 299-301). Miscegenation has led him to a dangerous end, and the appearance of this story just as Victor finds a way to avoid the necessity of miscegenation or marriage at all suggests that his creation of the monster is a direct attack on miscegenation and the synthesis it can create.

At first, the monster being a representation of homogeneity seems counterintuitive, since the monster is a miscegenated creature, made up of the bodies of multiple people, as well as animals. However, though miscegenation has occurred, there has again been no synthesis. As many critics have noted, the monster is a double of Victor. Just as Victor is a copy of his father, his monster is a copy of him. He has done away with the need for intercourse or even assimilation, directly reduplicating himself. And just like Elizabeth in his dream, his offspring is a “corpse” (Shelley 35). Anca Vlasopolos argues that the monster is the embodiment of the punishment for Victor’s taboo-breaking in his incestuous relationship with his cousin/sister (129), but more than a punishment, the monster is simply an extreme and horrifying manifestation of Victor’s radical version of self-reproduction. In terms of Freud’s theory of the uncanny, the monster is both the ‘homely,’ the domestic, and the ‘unhomely,’ which Freud argues are synonymous (828). He is the familiar which has become unfamiliar, something which “ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light” (Freud 828). That is, he is the all-too-visible manifestation of the repressed monstrosity inherent in a domestic world that maintains its cohesion through a combination of incest, hatred of outsiders, and suppression of difference through duplication. More specifically, to return to Hegel’s terms, he is a miscegenated being that should be Other but has instead been wholly assimilated into the Self. He thus becomes a monstrously entropic force that destroys the dialectic between Self and Other and thereby kills the Self.

Separated from others by his repulsiveness, the monster imitates his creator by yearning for homogeneity. He demands that Victor make him a mate of the “same species,” with the “same defects,” since “one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me” (Shelley 97). Many critics, including Mellor, have discussed the monster’s potential relationship with the mate as a form of miscegenation, and certainly Victor demonstrates anxiety about interbreeding when he destroys the mate, fearing that the couple would want children and “a race of devils would be propagated on the earth” (Shelley 114). At closer inspection, however, the relationship between the monster and his mate is not really an example of miscegenation. In the end, the monster does not truly desire a mate so much as a sister. Such a desire is ingrained in him, both due to the high value his creator/double places on domestic affection and due to his education with the De Lacey family. From them the monster

heard of the difference of sexes; of the birth and growth of children; how the father doated on the smiles of the infant, and the lively sallies of the older child; how all the life and cares of the mother were wrapt up in the precious charge; how the mind of youth expanded and gained knowledge; of brother, sister, and all the various relationships which bind one human being to another in mutual bonds. (Shelley 81).

Among these most important relationships, there is a notable absence of that between husband and wife. Instead, there is only father and mother, brother and sister: the family; outsiders and spouses have no value in the closed-off, incestuous domestic worlds of both the De Laceys and the Frankensteins. Having learned to value this brand of domesticity, the monster goes looking not for a wife but for a companion, a family.

Moreover, the monster craves the Frankensteins’ homogeneity; his primary demand for his mate is the demand for sameness. Thus no miscegenation can occur; the monster no longer wishes to breed with humans but instead with one of his own kind, a new species. At best, he could be said to have formed a “separate identity,” seeing himself as a member of a mixed-race group and staying within that group (Yancey and Lewis 98), but this choice does not help fulfill the novel’s need for synthesis of difference. At worst, as Gilbert and Gubar point out, his relationship with the mate would have been incestuous just like his “parents’” union, since both he and the mate would share a father (56). Such a union would have only continued the Frankenstein family’s monstrous cycle of duplications.

Ultimately, the closest the monster comes to interbreeding is through his murders, through which he duplicates himself, creating the dead offspring first suggested in Victor’s dream of Elizabeth, the necessary result of the Self consuming the Other through duplication. Throughout the novel, these murders are described as if they are sexual encounters: Victor sees “the expressive eyes of Henry, languishing in death, the dark orbs nearly covered by the lids, and the long black lashes that fringed them” (126). As Mellor notes, this description is quite erotic (“Nature” 281), and indeed the word languishing implies not just weakness or illness but also lovesickness. Elizabeth’s murder is even more sexualized as she lies dead on her bridal bed, an image of rape. Both Victor and the monster go so far as to refer to their own deaths as a “consummation” of their relationship (Shelley 131, 155). The monster’s murders could thus be seen as a form of miscegenation, as he leaves the black mark of his fingers on their necks, making the victims a mixture of black and white. Ultimately, however, the outcome is the same: they are left dead, more corpses, and only become the monster’s duplicates. For instance, Victor imagines Clerval “ghastly and murdered,” paralleling his description of the monster as “ghastly and distorted” (Shelley 126, 141). Clerval’s eyes also become nearly indistinguishable from those of the monster; both appear to Victor as “two eyes that glared upon me” (126).

The doubling of Elizabeth and the monster is even more apparent. After her murder,

She was there, lifeless and inanimate, thrown across the bed, her head hanging down, and her pale and distorted features half covered by her hair. Every where I turn I see the same figure — her bloodless arms and relaxed form flung by the murderer on its bridal bier… the murderous mark of the fiend’s grasp was on her neck. (Shelley 135-6)

Similarly, when Walton first sees the monster, he observes:

Over him hung a form which I cannot find words to describe; gigantic in stature, yet uncouth and distorted in proportions. As he hung over the coffin, his face was concealed by long locks of ragged hair; but one vast hand was extended, in colour and apparent texture like that of a mummy. (Shelley 152)

Both are “hanging” or “hung,” both are “distorted,” both are pale, both have their hair covering their face. In his murder/rapes, the monster has not created anything new or productive. Instead, he has simply doubled himself and created more corpses, in keeping with his entropic nature as an Other that has been totally destroyed and absorbed into Self. The Self is thus negated and dead, and his doublings destroy difference to create more such negations: monstrous, dead blanks. The full consequences of the Frankensteins’ pattern of duplications are thus visited on the family; their goal of ultimate homogeneity has been achieved, but its fulfillment is their destruction.

Ultimately, though miscegenation may be possible in Frankenstein, unifying synthesis is not. Instead, synthesis is repugnant to the characters in the same way that racial scientists claimed that miscegenation was to different races; there is no broaching of the divide between Self and Other. When the characters do attempt to appropriate the Other, they do so through assimilation, not synthesis, which destroys the Other and thus also negates the Self which is defined against the Other. Though this process remains incomplete as long as there are individuals within the collective Frankenstein Self, the unnatural creation of the monster completes the destruction of the Other and thus of the Self. The novel, then, is a tale of duplications leading to death, a theme most literally realized in the monster, the corpse that is Victor’s double and which in turn duplicates himself through murder.

Perhaps even more troubling, Hegel’s theory predicts that synthesis only leads to another dialectic, that even if synthesis occurs, the new, unified Self will find a new Other against which to define itself. This idea resonates with the novel’s few, seemingly hopeful instances of successful unions of difference. In her first letter to Victor, Elizabeth describes two multi-national marriages, of “the pretty Miss Mansfield,” a native of Geneva, to an Englishman and of Victor’s schoolfellow Manoir to “a very lively pretty Frenchwoman, Madame Tavernier” (Shelley 41). At first, these seem to be successful syntheses, but, as Hegel predicts, each is immediately defined against a new Other. “The pretty Miss Mansfield” is immediately contrasted with “her ugly sister,” and, though Madame Tavernier’s nationality is not an issue, her age is immediately commented on as a differentiator: she is “much older than Manoir” (Shelley 41). The joining of nationalities only relocates difference to new criteria: beauty and age.

Similarly, Margaret Saville seems to have broken free of her family circle; though Walton emphasizes his tie to her as her brother, she has a family and name of her own and does not appear to be trapped by incestuous family dynamics like those of the Frankensteins. However, though she may have broken free of family ties, she remains in England, and Walton’s careful descriptions of the nationality of each character encountered remind her that difference has been very much preserved along national and racial lines. Moreover, Mellor points out that she shares her initials with Mary Shelley and has a similar authorial role (“Mary Shelley” 54). In this role, she synthesizes the text, which is constructed from disparate narratives which Margaret organizes and unifies: another, less literal synthesis. Nevertheless, the unified text is again situated against an Other, this time reality. In his preface, Percy Shelley writes that “the opinions which naturally spring from the character and situation of the hero are by no means to be conceived as existing always in my own conviction; nor is any inference justly to be drawn from the following pages as prejudicing any philosophical doctrine of whatever kind” (Shelley 6). That is, though the disparate elements of the text are united, it remains separate from any reality, and a synthesis between text and reality through common opinions and doctrines is forbidden. In the language of miscegenation, no offspring is to be “conceived.” Thus, when synthesis does occur in the text, it is quickly defined against a new Other; there is no way to peacefully and productively unite difference. Mellor’s hopeful vision of the miscegenated creature as “a more highly evolved variety of the human species, one capable of advancing rather than destroying human civilization” has proved impossible (“Yellow Peril” 25).

In the end, this disheartening message resonates not with Mellor’s celebration of difference but with Lawrence Lipking’s darker, more ambiguous reading of the novel. He writes, “Frankenstein does not let its readers feel good. It presents them with genuine, insoluble problems, not with any easy way out” (Lipking 319). Contrasting his reading with the common consensus that readers should sympathize with the Creature as the victimized racial Other while condemning the privileged Victor, he focuses on how both Victor and the Creature are morally ambiguous characters. This ambiguity and negativity extend to many aspects of the novel, including its treatment of difference that I have discussed. No matter how much we may want them, the novel does not offer happy endings or cheerful takeaways, and readings of the novel that accept and explore its ambiguities can ultimately offer conclusions that are both truer to the novel itself and more interesting and profound reflections on our world.

[1] See the work of Margaret Homans and Mary Poovey.

[2] See the work of Ellen Moers, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, and Anne K. Mellor.

[3] See the work of William Crisman, U.C. Knoepflmacher, and Adam Komisaruk.

[4] See the work of Paul Sherwin.

[5] See the work of Anca Vlasopolos.

[6] In “Frankenstein, Racial Science, and the Yellow Peril”

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