Mary Shelley and the Monstrosity of War: Frankenstein and the Post-Waterloo Politics of Life Neil Ramsey
Eighteenth-Century Life, Volume 44, Number 3, September 2020. pp. 96-118
Although Frankenstein has long been read in relation to revolutionary politics, there has been little specific discussion of the themes of suffering and the trauma of war in the novel, concerns that were central to much of Mary Shelley's writing. Taking inspiration from Ahmed Saadawi's acclaimed Frankenstein in Baghdad (2014), which explicitly rewrites Shelley's novel as a war story, this article draws on recent rereadings of Romanticism that focus on the atmospherics and trauma of war, to examine how Frankenstein can be considered a postwar novel. In particular, it follows Carl Freedman's discussion of Shelley's novel as proto-science fiction that emerges in the same postwar historical matrix that informed historical novels such as Sir Walter Scott's Waverley (1814). However, where the historical novel, in Georg Lukács's reading, describes the wartime poetic awakening of the people in terms of the march of progress and development of the "inner life" of the nation, Frankenstein offers a different vision of awakening life by turning the novel, as Sara Guyer claims, toward biopolitical concerns with the organization of life and death. In Frankenstein, the wartime awakening of the people is entangled with estrangement, monstrosity. and suffering. The novel appeared in a postwar world of ruins, dismembered bodies, and revenants that formed around a newly heightened awareness of the living forces and traumas that compose war.