In “Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, and the Spectacle of Masculinity,” Bette London examines the relationship between sensationalism and the male body, a relationship complicated by the novel’s authorship, primary narrators, and its near absence of feminine characters. London focuses in part on the creation of masculine cultural identity in “a novel structured around . . . the making of a man” and Victor Frankenstein’s unwitting ability to transform himself into a subject of spectacle (261). During the novel’s most sensational moments, Frankenstein draws attention away from the scene by cataloguing his own body. After hearing Elizabeth’s cry, but before rushing to her side, Frankenstein pauses to note his own physical response to his knowledge of what has just occurred: “the motion of every muscle and fibre was suspended; I could feel the blood trickling in my veins, and tingling in the extremities of my limbs” (135). Although London asserts that the text “reveals that male spectacle is an integral part of masculinity,” there is also the issue of Frankenstein’s appearance in these moments of spectacle as a sensationalized body (261).

Considering Frankenstein’s corporeal relationship to sensationalism, London draws upon D.A. Miller’s sense of the “sensationalized body,”

a body culturally coded as feminine . . . but subject to discursive appropriation in the masculine domain. Such a body renders visible the culture’s sexual codes and mechanisms of identification—mechanisms that would seem to provide little space for women. [263]

However, in Victor’s case, he is a male pre-Victorian character who is plagued by the physical sensitivities usually present in female Victorian characters. At various points in the narrative, Frankenstein experiences his “flesh tingle with an excess of sensitiveness,” and is struck by the “commencement of [many] a nervous fever,” ailments that are more often associated with female characters in Victorian literature (37). Although Victor’s weak nerves and illness certainly contribute to his position as a spectacle within the text, these frailties complicate his construction as a masculine character. How is the relationship between spectacle and sensationalism, and spectacle and gender figured in Frankenstein? In Victorian literature in general?

Questions

1. How does Victor’s sensitivity to sensation compare to Walter Hartright’s response to moments of sensation in The Woman in White?

2. London asserts that “the story’s horror is dramatized in the experiences of men, in the exchange of sensations between male bodies” (263). Why might Mary Shelley choose to display horror solely through the experiences of men (Walton’s sister is not present within the text, and Elizabeth never hears the story of horror that Victor has promised her)?

3. What is the significance of Mary Shelley’s juxtaposition of the sublime and the abject in the text as they relate to Victor’s creation, the monster? How does this compare to typical representations of creation?

4. How might one read a female-narrated novel such as Fingersmith against the male-narrated Frankenstein? What are the benefits (if any) of constructing a novel in which one gender is minimized, and indirectly or sparsely represented?

References

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996. Print.

London, Bette. “Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, and the Spectacle of Masculinity.” PMLA. 108.2 (March 1993).


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Last modified 26 April 2010