Will the real Mrs. Shelley please stand up?
Posted by: Keir Graff
Okay, I’ve completely missed the latest development in this nearly two-century-old controversy. Fortunately for me, Dan Kraus trolls for book news in the unlikeliest places. To be fair, I’m sure it was a saved keyword search that alerted him. Or maybe he found it on Salon first.
Long story short: there’s long been suspicion that Mary Shelley, given her inability to follow it up with another worldwide bestseller, didn’t write Frankenstein. A guy named John Lauritsen, a Harvard-educated independent scholar, has a book about it called The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein.
There’s a nice summary on Suicide Girls (“Who Wrote Frankenstein?“):
Now, however, one scholar is claiming that the story might not be true, at least when it comes to Mary Shelley and her monster. How did a marginally-educated nineteen-year old come up with what is now thought of as one of the first science-fiction novels, and why didn’t she ever write anything of merit again? Perhaps she wasn’t the author at all, according to John Lauritsen, who claims that Percy Bysshe Shelley actually wrote the novel.
They link to an article in Perth Now (“Frankenstein’s fraud“):
Even Mary seemed slightly amazed by the genesis of the monster when she was older.
Nearly a decade after her husband died in a boating accident, she wondered: “How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea.”
And both sources cite the ever-citable Camille Paglia, who, on Salon (“Hilary vs. Obama: It’s a drawl!”) is in fine fettle:
This book, which is a hybrid of mystery story, polemic and paean to poetic beauty, shows just how boring literary criticism has become over the past 40 years. I haven’t been this exhilarated by a book about literature since I devoured Leslie Fiedler’s iconoclastic essays in college back in the 1960s. All that crappy poststructuralism that poured out of universities for so long pretended to challenge power but was itself just the time-serving piety of a status-conscious new establishment. Lauritsen’s book shows what true sedition and transgression are all about.
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I’m torn here. On the one hand, I love a good literary scandal, so I want to believe that Mr. Shelley wrote it. On the other hand, the original tale of the book’s origins is so great that I want to believe in Mrs. Shelley.
Maybe they wrote it together?