I read a fabulous book last week -- John Lauritsen's "The
Man Who Wrote Frankenstein".... Its thesis is that the poet Percy
Bysshe Shelley, and not his wife, the feminist idol, Mary Shelley,
wrote "Frankenstein" and that the hidden theme of that book is
As I sat there reading while proctoring exams, I tried
unsuccessfully to stifle my chortles and guffaws of admiring
laughter -- which were definitely distracting the students in the
first rows. Lauritsen's book is important not only for its
audacious theme but for the devastating portrait it draws of the
insularity and turgidity of the current academy. As an independent
scholar, Lauritsen is beholden to no one. As a consequence, he can
fight openly with myopic professors and, without fear of
retribution, condemn them for their inability to read and reason.
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 cr*ppy
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.
Lauritsen assembles an overwhelming case that Mary Shelley, as a
badly educated teenager, could not possibly have written the
soaring prose of "Frankenstein" (which has her husband's intensity
of tone and headlong cadences all over it) and that the so-called
manuscript in her hand is simply one example of the clerical work
she did for many writers as a copyist....
The stupidity and invested self-interest of prominent literary
scholars are lavishly on display here in exchanged reproduced from
a Romanticism listserv or in dueling letters to the editor, which
Lauritsen forcefully contradicts in acerbic footnotes. This is a
funny, wonderful, revelatory book that I hope will inspire
ambitious graduate students and young faculty to strike blows for
truth in our mired profession, paralyzed by convention and fear. --Camille Paglia, Salon.com, 14 March 2007.
John Lauritsen is a gay scholar who has challenged many received
truths.... Now he has got his teeth into what he regards as
another myth. The powerful novel Frankenstein was not written by
Mary Shelley, as all the world's libraries will have you believe,
but by Percy Bysshe Shelley himself.
He presents mountains of evidence, much of which is
startlingly persuasive. He considers that Mary Shelley's lack of
formal education would not have fitted her for such a literary
composition. This ignores the intelligence of her parents Mary
Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. But the most stunning evidence
comes when you put Frankenstein, a masterpiece, beside her other
novels, for instance Valperga and The Last Man, the turgid,
pallid, banal novels she wrote after Percy Bysshe Shelley's death.
This argument is reinforced when the edition revised in 1831 by
herself and William Godwin is put beside the 1818 edition: almost
every alteration weakens the text of the original....
She did her husband's oeuvre great disservice by
bowdlerising later editions, turning him into a Victorian angel
"suitable for enshrinement among the gods of respectability and
convention". She prettified the radical, whose unorthodox beliefs
covered politics, sexual relationships, marriage, diet, and
Perhaps the summit of Lauritsen's case is the evidence of
ideas relating to revolution, forgiveness, science, revenge,
psychology, and nature, which are so characteristic of Percy
Bysshe Shelley. Mary Shelley showed no intellectual interest in
The extra-textual evidence is examined carefully and I am
convinced that the three friends who in Switzerland agreed each to
write a story of the supernatural are Byron, Polidori and Percy
Bysshe Shelley. The original of Frankenstein is found in Mary
Shelley's handwriting, but this is no argument for her authorship,
because she often acted as scribe for Percy Bysshe Shelley.
The most substantial chapter deals with Male Love in
Frankenstein. Lauritsen is convincing that Percy Bysshe Shelley,
had homoerotic feelings and deep friendships for men....
The strongest argument for Percy Bysshe Shelley's authorship
is the imagination and ideas and poetry of Frankenstein, and
Lauritsen presents this powerfully. In the monster's discussion
with a blind old man, in the prayer for vengeance, in the
description of the craggy Swiss scenery (which demonstrates a
pantheistic tinge typical of Percy Bysshe Shelley) the novel has
enormous sweep. Lauritsen's book does readers a great service by
bringing out Frankenstein's stature as a "profound and moving
masterpiece". --Jim Herrick, Gay Humanist Quarterly, Spring 2007
The thesis of the work: it was Shelley himself, and not his
uneducated, prosaic, teenage wife, who wrote the profound,
complex, poetic and very masculine Frankenstein. Yes, I was
persuaded by his argument, but that is a determination that every
reader will have to make for himself. Instead I would like to
concentrate on his approach, which can best be described as
minimalist, and all the more effective for it.
The first part of the book has the quality -- rare for a
work of literary criticism -- of being a suspenseful page turner,
much like a good detective novel, for a detective is what
Lauritsen is, and he does it particularly well and with
understated humor. He is at his best when he lets academics who
argue for Mary Shelley's authorship undermine their own arguments.
In the excitement of it all one might almost miss the fact that an
enormous amount of research has gone into building this case,
research that pulls together correspondence, comments, and
manuscript evidence, and which convincingly recreates the mores
and ways of the world in which Frankenstein was conceived and
Even more eye-opening is the second part of the work, in
which Lauritsen reads the text from the perspective of a gay
historian pointing out instance after instance of homoerotic
imagery and encoded social commentary in a work heretofore thought
to be a mere one-dimensional horror story. It is a skillful
textual analysis, made all the easier by the fact that few have
preceded him, allowing Lauritsen to romp through virgin territory.
He does it well and thoroughly....
Not that this book is all about the Shelleys
and Frankenstein. It is also about Lauritsen himself, who allows his
personality, by turns cranky and profound, to shine through. It is
an eccentric touch, a fitting flourish for a work that is anything
but mainstream, and which aims to shake that mainstream by the
scruff of its stuffy scholarly neck. I personally hope it
succeeds. --Andrew Calimach, author of Lovers Legends: The Gay Greek Myths
About the Author
John Lauritsen studied English Literature and Social Relations at Harvard. A retired market research analyst, his writings, including ten books, have won him international acclaim.