Mary Shelley didn't write Frankenstein!

I was reading a comment where someone wondered whether Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein? I think I may be able to add fuel to the fire on that question. Mary’s father was a philosopher (William Godwin) of modest reputation. He would have been quite capable of writing Frankenstein. If we assume that he is in fact a ghost author for the book then, this would explain the intellectual maturity and complexity of the story. One of the problems with attributing the story to Mary is that she was too young to have acquired the lexicon used in the narrative. This is why many doubt her authorial claim.

Perhaps William Godwin dictated the story to Mary so as to provide the young lady with a means of income. Back in those days reputation was everything. Poor Mary had family problems so the father may have thought that giving her the story might help her out a little?

Welcome to the Straight Dope Message Boards, uchtungbaby, we’re glad to have you with us. The comment you were reading was a Straight Dope Staff Report: Did Mary Shelley not write “Frankenstein”?

When you start a thread, it’s helpful to other readers if you provide a link to the Staff Report. That helps keep everyone on the same page, saves search time, and avoids repetition. In this case, I point out that while there is considerable speculation, the Staff Report says that there is no evidence whatsoever of any authorship other than Mary Shelley, and that the writing style is consistent with her other writings. It’s certainly possible that her father (or her uncle or her second cousin or Francis Bacon) wrote everything she is credited with, but in the absence of any evidence, it’s all interesting speculation.

The Staff Report does comment on the “family problems” which were pretty significant, she had eloped to live with P.B. Shelley, who was a married man.

Then “many” are imbeciles. She was a well educated 19-year-old with a lifelong literary bent, and the lover of one of England’s greatest poets. And her father, by the way, was not of “modest reputation”; he was the Karl Marx of his day.

There is, however, one little error in the Staff Report: “wacky Victorian women,” forsooth! The reign of Victoria was long indeed, but it did not comprise the entire 19[sup]th[/sup] century. Frankenstein was written and published during the nearly as long reign of George III.

Maybe he said it because it was Mary’s love of the products of Victoria’s Secret that so enraptured Shelley.

Then again, it might’ve just been because she put out.

Heh. We all know that Cecil’s grandfather wrote “Frankenstein.”
Actually, there’s a rumor going around that the big guy WAS Cecil’s grandaddy.

Touchy,touchy. Maybe if you were to read the lost manuscript ‘Maurice or The Fisher’s Cot’ thought to be an early work by Mary you would see: That the narrative is influenced by the rote learning of stories by her father. It is not a matter that should cause shame however! The writing of stories is often a cumulative process of learning handed down from parent to child. In the case of Frankenstein the evidence is very compelling that Mary had been taught the story by her father. For example, Mary could not have known things of science implicit to the story because women were not allowed to attend universities to learn the scientific discipline of medicine. Medical knowledge was the domain of men. This is why Mary Shelley could not have written Frankenstein. Now some people have tried to get around this fact by suggesting that Mary would put on her husbands’ clothes and pretend to be a man so as to get into the lecture theatres. This is a bit far fetched because a self-repecting Victorian women would never denounce her weak feminine demeanour just to look at a pack of old corpses. Those who believe Mary wrote Frankenstein are suffering from the brainwashing of modern feminism and the revisionism of gay science. In other words, you have all fallen for the biggest trick in a conmans book: False history.

So: in order to show that a work that has been widely recognised as Mary Shelley’s for over a century is not in fact hers, you submit as evidence a “lost” manuscript. Why do you believe that Maurice was written by her, but not that Frankenstein was? Why is the Maurice case so much stronger?

Also consider that one reviewer had this to say:

It is? Let’s hope there are some pretty solid cites coming.

And were they also prohibited from talking to men who went to university, or reading their books?

Oh, that bald assertion above *was *your evidence. Sad.

They have? Cite?

It certainly is, and quite unnecessary.

Did it miss your gaze, up there? Frankenstein was written during George III’s reign, not Victoria’s.

“Denounce her demeanor”? What are you talking about? Do you actually know any women? I mean real ones, not inflatable.

Ah, so the real agenda arrives. Misogyny and homophobia, two for the price of one.

Yes, and you alone know The Truth. BTW, who exactly are the conmen here? Are you also alleging a deliberate conspiracy?

You know, I don’t get why so many ignorant people weave such wild and crazy theories based solely upon the speculation that the people credited with certain accomplishments were just too ignorant to have been able to do it themselves… It’s just the pot calling the kettle black.

One thing that upper class 19th century women could do was read books, and being that it was one of their only real outlets, they could learn a lot, lot more than random modern conspiracy theorists ever go. I would personally bet everything that Mary Shelley knows far more about pretty much any subject imaginable (except for those things that didn’t even exist until after she died, so of course never had the chance to learn about) than whomever this uchtungbaby person is. She was one very smart young woman, raised at a time when education (for people of her class) was quite superior to what it is today.

Have you read the book? At all? The explicit science in the book amounts to no more than a handful of common words – “Chemistry”, “artery” and the like. The scientific thinking which is implicit in it was not only common knowledge, but a hot topic of conversation among the educated classes of the time. No in-depth research, no imaginary visits to dissecting theatres, would have been necessary for anyone of Mary’s class and time to write what she wrote. What the book does show knowledge of is the areas of Europe that we know that Mary visited around the time that she wrote the novel – did she get that from her father as well?

Oddly enough, Mary’s mother was a feminist (and presumably her father had sympathy with her views) – would Mary really have been raised as an ignorant, mindless chattel? Her biography seems to indicate that she wasn’t.

WotNot has already answered this, but I’d like to call your attention to the opening paragraph of the Straight Dope Staff Report: Would Frankenstein’s monster be possible today? (written by my son the biochemist):

In short, the argument that Mary Shelley didn’t know science (whether true or not) is completely irrelevant – there’s no science in the book, not even the slightest hint thereof. However, to the contrary, her father WOULD have had some grounding in science, and the absence of any such is indicative that he did NOT write the work.

And yes, John W. Kennedy, we knew it was written before Victoria ascended to the throne, but the joke is lost if someone says, “Those wacky Georgians!” My son is not above sacrificing roughly two decades for the sake of a joke.

Good god. You presume that there was never a SINGLE woman who transgressed the social norms, and you presume that medical knowledge was so arcane that there was no way to pick it up except first hand at a dissection, and presume that NO well educated 19 year old author with an unusual amount of life experience has ever managed to “acquire a lexicon” or “show emotional depth and maturity”? I thik it’s pretty clear that Shelley did transgress the social norms in a BIG way (note the affair referenced above). I won’t even go further into the question of how far sexism, homophobia and ignorance will take you here. You’ll find out soon enough.

“Those wacky Regency women” would be just as funny–and true.

“Revisionism of gay science.” Will someone please explain that that means in general, and what that meana in this argument? I can’t wrap my mind around it.

That’s Achtung , with an A.

No, most of us realize that’s how the German word is spelled (though probably not the original poster), but this guy is definitely more of an Uch.

Yes, I was hoping for some elucidation on this point as well. Should be quite interesting.

I think you are all missing the point. During the period in which the novel is written scientific knowledge was the domain of a select group of a predominantly male demographic. If Mary was to acquire the knowledge of electricity for example, then she would have had to have acquired that knowledge from her father. Up until the publication of Frankenstein, the phenomenon of electricity was a mystery. Some people thought that electricity was a type of magic and some still do. A common practice at the time was for scientists’ to collect the dismembered corpses of criminals. They would take them to a university lecture theatre and subject the limbs to jolts of electricity in an effort to procure a spasm from the dead appendage. Only men would attend such experiments. The only way Mary could have known of the link between electricity and muscle spasms would have been as a result of hearing the story from her father who regularly attended public executions .

Some have claimed that the link between electricity and muscle spasms was common knowledge at the time. This is untrue! After the publication of Frankenstein it became common knowledge and not before. In fact, it became fashionable after the publication of the novel for the ‘well to do’ to purchase ‘buzz boxes’ from curiosity shops. They would take the electrical device with them to parties and proceed to kill a stray dog or cat so that they could try and solicit a muscle response from the dead animal by subjecting it to an electric jolt.

The knowledge of electricity before the publication of Frankenstein was a secret medical knowledge. It was maintained as a secret in an effort to monopolise power over life and death in the hands of a few. It was not a conspiracy. It was simply accepted practice at the time.

Whatever else it was, electricity was not ‘secret medical knowledge’ in the opening decades of the nineteenth century. The idea of using it on dead bodies had been widely publicised by Galvani’s nephew, Giovanni Aldini, in public demonstrations across Europe in the early 1800s. The most famous of those, then as well as now, had taken place in London in January 1803 and that had been widely reported in the press. Indeed, you can read one of those accounts for yourself from the Newgate Calendar, hardly a publication aimed at an elite, all-male readership. Note, in particular, that it assumes that the reader will know what ‘galvanism’ means and that they will be able to work out who Aldini’s uncle was without it being spelled out. That was because Galvani was already a celebrity and a household name.

Have you read the other posts in this thread? And, as WotNot asked, have you read Frankenstein?

I’d like to see some cites that confirm your claims of how electricity was viewed in Shelley’s time. But it’s not really relevant to this debate: As the quote in Dex’s post said: There’s no amination by electricity in Frankenstein.

(Full text of the novel here.) See? Not much explicit science there.

A really interesting account, APB, and in its way more horrifying than Shelley’s excellent work of fiction. “The Chief Baron, in summing up to the jury, said that this was a case which almost entirely depended upon circumstantial evidence, but in some cases that might be the best evidence, as it was certainly the most difficult, if not impossible, to fabricate.”
“Some of the uninformed bystanders thought that the wretched man was on the eve of being restored to life. This, however, was impossible, as several of his friends, who were under the scaffold, had violently pulled his legs, in order to put a more speedy termination to his sufferings.” :eek: