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A map of Russia and understanding Frankenstein /


(A Geo-Angelological Folly in Seven Chapters)

enPublié en ligne le 19 décembre 2017

Par Zbigniew BIALAS

Abstract

Cet article étudie les implications géographiques, linguistiques et symboliques des occurrences de deux noms de ville russe cités dans l'incipit  épistolaire du roman : St Petersbourg et Arkhangelsk. Ces deux lieux définissent un premier parcours, celui de l'explorateur Walton, en route vers le Pôle, mais surtout l'onomastique suggère des associations avec les protagonistes du récit. Le nom St Petersbourg  signifie, pour les russes, la ville de Pierre Le Grand, son fondateur, mais peut aussi se comprendre comme la ville de St Pierre, apôtre du Christ. Cette référence apostolique est à mettre en relation avec le message de Victor aux marins, les exhortant à se comporter en apôtres. De même, le vocable « Arkhangelsk » renvoie à la nature de la créature, entre ange (archange) et démon. Victor lui même se définit comme archange déchu. L'auteur met en relief l'importance de la polarité vers le Nord et de la progression vers le vide, le blanc qui correspond aussi à un territoire inexploré. L'enquête étymologique met ainsi en relief certains des motifs essentiels de l'œuvre.

The First Blank : A Map

1A blissfully absurd subtitle to this essay evokes almost as a matter of necessity Lewis Carroll’s crooked wisdom. Like Bellman in The Hunting of the Snark, I will be dealing here with « conventions of terrestrial geography »1. Bellman’s expedition in search of the mysterious and elusive Snark is apparently facilitated by a map which is a perfect blank. The quotation to follow is somewhat lengthy but I cannot resist such an adequate motto :

He had bought the large map representing the sea,
Without the least vestige of land :
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand.

« What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines ? »
So the Bellman would cry : and the crew would reply
« They are merely conventional signs !

« Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank »
/So the crew would protest/ «that he` s bought us the best
– A perfect and absolute blank !2

2Blankness of the map does not help Bellman much however, despite the glee of his mariners. Blankness of Mary Shelley’s vision of the Arctic remains equally mysterious, unless one marks some meaningful black dots on it, much as everybody may despise such a trite and conventional act3.

3We can enrich our understanding of the «global» – chiefly in terms of the globe – scope/scape of Frankenstein, if we concentrate on several – as yet uncharted – geographical and linguistic implications of the map of Russia as evidenced by the epistolography of the novel. I think that there is a certain metaphysical trait here which cannot be fully grasped without understanding the possibilities offered by an interpretation, shunned until now – maybe out of fear of linguistic misjudgement. Illumination, even if achieved through implied linguistic manipulation, ideally suits the purposes of quasi-philosophical and semi-critical musings on the harmony of literary passageways and routes. One of the keys to the secret combination lock lies in the cities of the Russian empire.

The Second Blank : Russia

4The opening passage of the novel offers marginally and randomly, it might seem, two proper names which delineate the scope of the first narrative progress through space : from St. Petersburg to Arkhangelsk. St. Petersburg is mentioned in the heading of the first letter to Mrs. Saville, Arkhangelsk in the heading of the second letter, following the first one closely. (The spelling in the second heading is not contemporary but employs, naturally, the traditional, nineteenth century English form) :

5St. Petersburg, Dec. 11th, 17--

6Archangel, March 28th, 17--

7Russia’s vast, subarctic space graciously provides amply monstrous scope for all narratives4. But the space is skipped perfunctorily. The reader can only suspect that the snowy deserts, leaped over, conspicuously undefined in the novel, are spaces created for monstrosity – be it under the label of Prometheanism, or some different – ism of ultimately unresolved angelology5. My essay deals mainly with the two letter headings and their possible implications. Or : to be more precise – is it possible to construe on scanty premises the whole ladder of divine miscreation around the name of two Russian cities ?

The First Black Dot on the Blank Map : St. Petersburg

8Like Walton let us concentrate first on St. Petersburg. For many western readers the obvious understanding of the meaning of the city’s name is « the city of St. Peter the Apostle ». For Russians and those who claim to know the history of Russia, St. Petersburg stands rather for « the holy city of Peter the Great », the first Russian Emperor who founded the city in 1705. In this interpretation, the name pays homage to the czar, not to the apostle. « What’s in a name » becomes the field for serious considerations now. The necessity for explanations is noticed by the editors of the English translation of the nineteenth century Russian gothic tales. V. Odoyevsky, in a gothic story whose excerpts were first printed in 1835 in Russia, refers to the foundation of the city, opting for what is known to be « a historical fact » : « The evidence of history convincingly shows that this city was founded by the great sovereign whose name it bears ».6

9This sovereign is Peter the Great. So much for the Russian explanation.

10The Western explanation, both in the nineteenth century and today, still shows preference for the apostolic option, stressing the fact that the heart of the city is the fortress of SS. Peter and Paul with the cathedral of SS.Peter and Paul in itscentre. In the notes to the English translation of Bely’s Petersburg the controversy is explained in such a way that the Russian version is treated only as a secondary idea, and the apostolic interpretation is given priority (since St. Peter was the patron saint of Peter the Great).

Its first official name was the Russian form of the Dutch for Saint Peter’s City – Saint Pieter Burkh – which became Sankt-Petersburg. Russians, however, have always associated the city with its founder, not his patron saint, and have called it simply Petersburg or, more colloquially Pieter.7

11We can safely assume that nineteenth century Western readers and writers would not make a mistake, if contrary to the apparently commonsensical and educated explanations, they persisted in believing that St. Petersburg could be associated with the patron saint, rather than with the founding monarch.

12In one aspect though, the Russian perspective and Mary Shelley’s perspective seem to converge : both impose the meaning of centrality upon the city. There is a passage in Bely’s book, when the narrator compares other cities (say Arkhangelsk ?) to Petersburg ; it sounds almost like a footnote to Mary Shelley’s two mysterious letter headings :

[…] Russian cities are a wooden heap of hovels. And strikingly different from them all is Petersburg [...] Petersburg not only appears to us, but actually does appear – on maps : in the form of two small circles, one set inside the other, with a black dotin the centre ; and from precisely this mathematical point, which has no dimension, it proclaims forcefully that it exists : from here, from this very point surges and swarms the printed book ; from this invisible point speeds the official circular » (ibid., p. 2) (emphasis mine ; Z.B.I.).

13From this very point, we might add, speedsWalton in order to proceed from this mathematical centre strikingly different from « them all » to a wooden heap of hovels, another disquieting point on the map : Arkhangelsk.

14Do I suggest the intricacies of apostolic transcendence as one of the less popular motifs of the novel? Yes, by all means. Are there any hitherto unnoticed hints in Frankenstein of the very transcendence suggested subtly by the name of the city ? Of course. Just before his death Victor Frankenstein is quite explicit in this matter, when he emphatically and rather prescriptively scorns the mariners :

Oh ! be men, or be more than men. Be steady to your purposes and firm as a rock. This ice is not made of such stuff as your hearts may be.8

15Ignoring Shakespearean tone (« ambition should be made of sterner stuff », etc., – one of numerous Shakespearean semi-quotations that appear in the final speeches – a case however for a separate study), this plea functions as the call to make the participants of the voyage behave like apostles. They are too « ordinary » to become anything more than that ; Walton stresses it repeatedly in his letters. Still, the call to be more than men is an appeal at trying to act arch-humanly. To be firm as a rock and to be steady is the sacred prerogative of Peter the Apostle, whose very name entails these particular qualities – steadiness and firmness of a rock. Frankenstein’s final, cryptic speech appears to be a moral lesson, even more so because it is a final public speech : be like the arch-apostle and you will be arch-human, even if you cannot be arch-angelic, because that is reserved in this novel for a different generation of species.

The Second Black Dot on the Blank Map : Arkhangelsk

16Now, in turn, we shall make a truly Waltonian leap to Arkhangelsk. I mentioned already that Mary Shelley uses the form of Archangel, and not without reason. If she could use the form Arkhangelsk, the name would probably remain an empty cluster for an English reader. In the Polish translation of the novel, for instance, Archangel is translated into « Archangielsk » (very proper indeed, but what meaningless and utterly unfortunate case of propriety)9. Arkhangelsk in Russian sounds more or less like Los Angeles in English – a slightly distorted, not a very direct reference to the angelological root). Archangel of Frankenstein stands not only for the city, it is an Arch-Angel – a major Angel in the angelic hierarchy. This should not be overlooked as a mere geographical coincidence, especially in a book devoted to a modern Prometheus, to the categories of creatures in-between, to missing links in the process of creation, to monsters and demons. Roland Barthes in his Lover’s Discourse states that repulsing demons is possible – they are fought by language10. Demons are also created by language, I might add, were I not afraid of improving Barthes. But it is a case of Frankenstein.

17In Darwinian theory of evolution one can be tempted to look for the missing link between an ape and man, in Frankenstein the hidden concern is the missing link between a man (like a Mr Walton coming from an England – an average man from an average country) and some icy absolute11. The book is about going up north – and the crucial passage is not even described, so it becomes a missing passage, a missing crossing, a missing link ; so many important clues are left out in this book : the process of creation is not described, the ritual passages are not presented. Solutions are missing, and that is why it is such a valid presentation of the difficulties of dealing with the missing theme. Snow is crucial here and so is frost because all fossils and defossilised creatures are best preserved in cold climes. So, Mr Walton starts from England and he wants to mystically explore the land till the Absolute is reached, he wants to get to the point where the magnetic needle has nothing further to show. We can clearly judge from the attitude evident in his first letter that the North Pole signals the absolute, the end of the crossing, the fulfilment of creation12. The crossing from England to the North Pole is a geographical equivalent of the passage from humanity to divinity. Of course, on the way one has to be aware of staging posts. The last post on the map is Arkhangel` sk but Mary Shelley prefers to call it Archangel. In this way every post-structuralist reader, who does not care for anybody’s intentions, can presume that this is a marked element of the text, since Archangels actually are (now we enter the angelological, not the geographical realm) almost the last staging post between humanity and divinity, at least in certain versions, if they do not become fallen angels.

18The existence of archangels entails the existence of angels. That would be reflected in the realm of the crossing between St. Petersburg and Arkhangelsk. St. Petersburg is the first point on the map of Mr Walton. If one understands, or should I say, misunderstands – who knows – St. Petersburg as a the city of St. Peter (the apostle not the czar) then, it is not surprising that this city forms the first black dot on the blank map. If among men – according to the doctrine – there are men more suitable for holiness than others, they are, I presume, the apostles. Among the apostles, St. Peter functions more or less in the same way as the Archangel among the Angels. St. Peter is the Arch apostle. Thus, the mysterious, undefined crossing from St. Petersburg to Arkhangelsk is, in metaphysical terms, a crossing from the Arch apostle to Archangel – hastily – on the way to the sublime end of all of it, to the North Pole.

19It is rather natural in such a context that the progress from England to St. Petersburg is not interesting from this perspective of the novel : it matches the progress from a common man to the Arch apostle, but remains within the boundaries of « mere » humanity. It is from St. Petersburg to Arkhangelsk that the progress is more interesting because here it becomes the Promethean progress, seen at least in this novel as the realm of monstrosity. Yes, monstrosity, in the understanding that it is not the domain of humanity and not the domain of divinity. Being an angel is monstrous, since it entails being more than human or less than human and less than divine. Did Victor Frankenstein create a warped angel ? An archangel ? A fallen angel ? Possibly one of them, although it is by no means univocally stated who is the archangel, who the angel and who only the apostle. This ambivalence can be perceived in numerous quotations from the text. Geographically the space given to monstrosity is as vast as the distance between St. Petersburg and Arkhangelsk. Metaphysically, the space created for monstrosity covers the gap between the Arch apostle and the Archangel. Still another question is now the new missing link between Arkhangelsk and the North Pole, i.e. Archangel and God. Is there enough space for monstrosity in this realm ? Here Aldous Huxley would provide an affirmative answer. Having thoroughly studied seventeenth and nineteenth century texts on dernonology he claims that angels and even archangels were lower class devils of small account. Those who were once Dominions and Principalities or Powers constitute the haute bourgeoisie of hell. The quondam Cherubims and Serafims are an aristocracy13.

20We can end up with an interesting vision of the monster : in terms of stages leading to icy divinity. In this interpretation the monster is obviously not the only contestant in the race towards the North Pole. Victor Frankenstein, finishing his narrative, believes that it is he himself that is the archangelic figure : « All my speculations and hopes are as nothing ; and, like the archangel who aspired to omnipotence, I am chained in an eternal hell » (p. 229).

21Here Victor – what an ironical name – assumes the role of the Fallen Archangel and the Monster can only be an arch-enemy (but it cannot possibly be God?) Yet, Victor is not a Fallen Archangel. He rarely is what he thinks he is. So, the monster proclaims that his own arch-enmity is archangelic. Now he, not Victor, is Satan before the fall, though Victor, being his Creator is not God either : « […] if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear ; and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred » (154).

22No wonder the monster was reading Paradise Lost (135) considering Satan a fit emblem of his condition. Even earlier he notices, « I ought to be thy Adam ; but I’m rather the fallen angel » (p. 101). And in the final speech he declares yet again, « the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil » (240). I want to stress at this moment that we still remain within the realm of angelology, since, to quote Huxley again, « Satan is merely the most considerable among a vast number in individual angels who at a given moment of time, chose to separate themselves from God. It is only by courtesy that we call him the Evil one » (Huxley, p. 171).

23The roles change almost too quickly. The Monster thinks he ought to be Adam, and Victor believes he is an Adamic figure too. Here comes a passage showing his volitional expulsion from Paradise, of course under the influence of the Angel of Destruction : « Chance – or rather the evil influence, the Angel of Destruction, which asserted omnipotent sway over me from the moment I turned my reluctant steps from my father’s door – led me first to M. Krempe, professor of natural philosophy » (p. 37).

24Mere angels do not disappear from the scene ; yet they are situated lower, much closer to « regular » humans. Victor does not fail to notice that humans can sometimes aspire at angelic traits – « their angelic countenances breathed smiles of consolation » (p. 137), or in an earlier passage, when he comments on « a countenance of angelic beauty and expression. » (p. 120) In majority of cases it is only countenances, but when driven to extremity, Victor does see in people « creatures of an angelic nature and celestial mechanism. » (p. 199).

25According to Lowry Nelson, Jr., « Walton is a young man determined to sail from St. Petersburg to the North Pole in a passionate effort to discover the secret of the magnet and simply to see what had never been seen before ». Nelson labels it a Faustian impulse but he does not proceed any further in this direction. It is a pity because we might get very close to understanding why Frankenstein isnot inwardly but outwardly oriented. It is not a question of « simply to see what had never been seen before »14. Walton and Frankenstein, like Faustus, meant to achieve divinity via knowledge. At the point where the three routes converge (the monster is the third participant) Walton and Frankenstein are duly defeated, whereas the Demon, if he ever reaches the Pole – we have only a statement of his intentions, nothing more – wants to be consumed by fire. Since there is no wood to be gathered for funeral pyre at the North Pole, the fire can only be symbolical – for instance the eschatological glare one is supposedly experiencing in the proximity of the Sublime/Absolute. Talking of polar extremes one can quote Irving Massey here as an anti-example of critical clarity. He plays with the fire and ice to an extent where his discourse, which is supposed to be explanatory, becomes almost incomprehensible : « the human principle frees itself from the negative but then, without it, must burn up in the ice. It burns, but surrounded by the ice of negation ; and it is destroyed »15.

Architecture : From a City to a Funeral Pyre

26There is yet another aspect of the route chosen by Walton : the one suggested by a heap of hovels. We might call it an architectural or a classicist shift. One does not need warmer climes and half-naked « savages » to shy away from nineteenth century British civilisation. The voyage from London (presumably) via St. Petersburg, via Arkhangelsk to the North Pole coincides with a voyage from the throng to emptiness, by steps ; the voyage from civilisation - at least as it was understood then – via another form of civilisation – since Petersburg was a highly civilised city in a less civilised empire – to Arkhangelsk which is already an outpost devoid of architectural grandeur. It is a minimalist and almost pantheistic manifesto. The fewer man-made wonders, the closer the mystery. After Arkhangelsk, no architectural form could distract Walton. Instead of Cosmic Black Holes we have two narrative White Holes in full indeterminacy : a White Hole of Land (between St. Petersburg and Arkhangelsk) and a White Hole of Sea – totally un-Conradian and un-Melvillian – between Arkhangelsk and the North Pole. Of both Holes, naturally, the reader learns next to nothing.

Time and Proto-Evolution

27One should not neglect the temporal aspect, either. In the two letter headings which the reader sees in the very beginning of Frankenstein one can notice that the dates are unspecified. The reader is entitled to presume that a part of one winter passed between December 17 – and January 17 —, but come to think of it, if Frankenstein is a sort of proto-fantasy novel, the date 17-- can be filled with any number from 1700 to 1799. Instead of two months we can end up with a whole century. Additionally, between any December and any January there come two dates suggesting birth of the new quality, whatever interpretation it is given :

28a) Christmas which almost coincides with pagan longest night/shortest day rituals, intensified here in the context of the Arctic night/day and b) the New Year. It is up to every reader to decide how many Christmases and New Year’s Eves one squeezes between the two unspecified dates in the headings. Temporal lucidity is so much blurred that there is enough time for countless new qualities to be born.

29We have already suggested here certain lack of specificity in the case of the first protagonist, Mr Walton. His position on a neat ladder of creation is also rather obscure. It would be logical to assume that Mr Walton could emerge as an evolving creature as well, since he is covering the Russian passages from St. Petersburg to Arkhangelsk and further with almost geometrical precision. Can he remain unaffected ? The logical conclusion would be that he is also experiencing a change from a mere human being to at least a superhuman being in the chain of supernatural surroundings.

30Mary Shelley, when writing Frankenstein, wasinspired by Erasmus Darwin (the grandfather of Charles Darwin)16. If so, it is quite plausible that Darwin’s speculation that « all the productions of nature are in their progress to greater perfection »17 acquires a more physical meaning of a progress (in the same way as for instance « pilgrim’s progress »). The three routes – Walton’s, Frankenstein’s and the Monster’s – converging in the vicinity of the « absolute » (the North Pole) are suggestive of this race to perfection undertaken by every miscreature, no matter whether it can identify its position on the ladder or not.

A Moral. A Handful of Thoughts Concerning Critics, Conventional Signs, Snarks and the Education of Monsters.

31A lot has been said about Frankenstein already. There are opinions with which it is difficult to disagree, like the one stating that Frankenstein is among other things, « Mary Shelley’s allegory about the Promethean ambitions of the Romantic ego »18 ; there are analyses which can be labelled as refreshingly amusing, when Mary Shelley’s work is seen as : « the most lasting of all the gothic novels […] with its terrifying and yet sympathetic monster »19. It may even be true, as some critics claim, that in the case of the monster, « the outward form created the warped inner being »20. However, I do not think I can wholeheartedly share the opinions of those critics who fail to see any significance in the passage presented in the book. Prickett, for instance, does not help much when he refers to « the image of a vast shape speeding over the ice on its mysterious and unexplained errand »21 and the monstrous pursuit across the ice is not necessarily as Muriel Spark understands, only « a sort of figure-of-eight macabresque, executed by two partners moving with the virtuosity of skilled ice-skaters »22. Intensity of the movements towards the North and the North Pole is of course essential and the compass directions are significant at all times. This was rightly noticed by James Rieger23. Frankenstein is indeed the slave of the magnet : he goes north to study at Ingolstadt, he moves later from Geneva to the Orkneys and still later from the Black Sea, across Siberia towards the North Pole. Unfortunately, Rieger notices only the fanaticism of the participants in the passage, he mentions the force which « drives fanatics north »24, and comments on a « blood trail northward »25.

32If the above critical remarks reflect only my distrust towards some of the hasty dismissals of an important element of the novel, I would definitely be less indulgent in case of the critics who present a rather irritating carelessness, when writing about the Arctic in Frankenstein. For Rosemary Jackson the protagonists « end in the Antarctic »26, as if magically tossed over to the South Pole instead, though the term Antarctic (from Greek antarktikos i.e. anti + arktikos) refers clearly to what the Arctic is not.

33Going North is rarely the same as going South, at least until one crosses the North Pole and continues. Even a not very well educated monster cares about the crucial difference : « Follow me ; I seek the everlasting ices of the north, where you will feel the misery of cold and frost to which I am impassive » (p. 222).

34Later, another passage confirms the Demon’s singular attachment to rules of conventional geography : « I shall quit your vessel on the ice-raft which brought me thither, and shall seek the most northern extremity of the globe » (p. 241).

35The monster seems to be very precise in defining his movements according to the signs. Some critics are less precise than monsters. They seem to share Bellman’s contempt for the charts : « What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators ? », they shrug, never thinking twice about it. Admiring the act of rejecting conventional signs, one should not forget, however, that in the eight delightful fits in Lewis Carroll’s poem, Bellman and his crew, hunting for the Snark, never manage to find what they are looking for.

Bibliographie

BARTHES, R.

A Lover’s Discourse ; Fragments, tr. by Richard Howard, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1990.

BEHRENDT, S. C., (ed.)

Approaches to Teaching Shelley’s Frankenstein,The Modern Language Association of America, New York 1990.

BELY, A.

Petersburg, tr. by Robert A. Maguire and John E. Malmstad, Harvester Press, Hassocks 1979.

BLOOM, Harold, (ed.)

Mary Shelley : Modern Critical Views, Chelsea House Publishers, New York 1985.

BRONTË, Ch.

Jane Eyre, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1986.

CARROLL, L.

The Complete Illustrated Lewis Carroll, Wordsworth Editions, Ware 1991.

DARWIN, E.

The Temple of Nature, John Johnson, London 1803.

GRIFFIN, A.

Fire and Ice in «Frankenstein», in : George Levine and U.C. Knoepflmacher (eds), The Endurance of Frankenstein ; Essays on MaryShelley’s Novel, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London 1979, p. 49-73.

HUXLEY, A.

The Devils of Loudun, Grafton Books, London 1977.

JACKSON, R.

Fantasy : The Literature of Subversion, Routledge, London, New York 1991.

LOWRY, N., Jr.

Night Thoughts on the Gothic Novel, in : H. Bloom (ed.)...

MASSEY, I.

The Gaping Pig : Literature and Metamorphosis, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London 1976.

MELLOR, A. K.

Mary Shelley ; Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters, Routledge, New York and London 1989.

ODOYEVSKY, V.

4338 A.D., tr. by Alex Miller, in : Russian l9th Century Gothic Tales, Raduga Publishers, Moscow 1984.

PRICKETT, S.

Victorian Fantasy, The Harvester Press, Hassocks 1979.

RIEGER, J.

Frankenstein ; or, the Modern Prometheus, in : H. Bloom (ed.)...

SHELLEY, M.

Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus, Wordsworth Classics, Ware 1993.

SHELLEY, M. W.

Frankenstein, tr. by Henryk Goldmann, Wydawnictwo Poznanskie, Poznan 1989.

SPARK, M.

Frankenstein, in : Mary Shelley : Modern Critical Views, in : Harold Bloom (ed.)...

STONE, D. D.

The Romantic Impulse in Victorian Fiction, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., London 1980.

STREET, B. V.

The Savage in Literature ; Representations of « Primitive Society » in English Fiction 1858-1920, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London and Boston 1975.

SUNSTEIN, E. W.

Mary Shelley ; Romance and Reality, The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1989.

Notes

1  S. Prickett, Victorian Fantasy, Hassocks, 1979, p. 133.

2  L. Caroll, The Hunting of the Snark, in Complete and Illustrates…, Ware 1991, Fit II, st. 3 ; p. 683.

3  Mary Shelley’s knowledge of Russia and the Arctic was in fact purely abstract – based chiefly on her expériences of a childhood visit to Scotland. She might have gone as far John O’Groat facing the Orkneys and there places she was later to use in Frankenstein : « Dundee itself was a major port for nothern voyages, so she heard of whaler’s and explorers’ expéditions into Arctic – like Walton’s Frankenstein ; explorations of unknow regions were always to fascinate her », Sunstein, p. 61.

4  There is little doubt that the Arctic was to a large extent after the Romantics’ own heart. Jane Eyre, for instance, loves Reading of the Arctic : « […] the bleak shores of Lapland, Siberia, Spitzenberg, Nova Zembla, Iceland, Greenland, with “the vast sweep of the Artic zone, and those forlorn regions of dreary space, – that réservoir of frost and snow, where firm fields of ice, the accumulation of centuries of winters, glazed in Alpine heights above heights, surround the pole and concentre the multiplied rigors of extreme cold” », Brontë, p. 40.

5  Through Mary Shelley travelled extensively in Europe, « travel had always done wonders for Mary Shelley »/ Sunstein, p. 349/ and studies French, Greek, Latin and Italian/ Sunstein, p. 196-197/, her knowledge of intricacies of Russia naming was probably none and so was her actual knowledge of expanses of Russia. The only person to experience Russia first hand and to relate it to Mary might be Claire Clairmont, Mary’s stepsister, who worked for some time in this country as a governess, suffering miserably there/ Sunstein, p. 234/ but that was after 1823, whereas Frankenstein was published in 1818.

6  V. Odoyevsky, 4338 A.D., Russian 19th Century Gothic Tales, Mascow 1984, p. 292 and p. 602.

7  A. Bely, Petersburg, Hassocks 1979, p. 296.

8  M. Shelley, Frankenstein or the modern Prometheus, Ware 1993, p. 233.

9  M. W. Shelley, Frankenstein, Poznan, 1989, p. 8.

10  R. Barthes, A Lovers Discourse, Harmondsworth, 1990, p. 8.

11  A. Griffin, when writing on fire and ice in Frankenstein, notices that « to the Victorian imagination, anxious for clear alternatives in a confusing world, the polarities of fire and ice often irresistible », Griffin, p. 50.

12  Walton actually goes as far to dream of a more or less tropical paradise at the North Pole (Griffin, p. 50). Waltons narrative, framing the novel, is entirely Arctic, and it is in the Arctic that lines of the three narratives converge (Griffin, p. 54).

13  A. Huxley, The Devils of Loudun, London, 1977, p. 171.

14  L. Nelson, « Night Thoughts on the Gothic Novel », h. Bloom/ ed/ Mary Shelley : Modern Critical Views, New York, 19985, p. 37.

15  I. Massey, The Gaping Pig : Literature and Metamorphosis, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1976, p. 132.

16  A.K. Mellor, Mary Shelley ; Her life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters, New York, London, 1989, p. 95.

17  E. Darwin, The Temple of Nature, London, 1803, p. 54.

18  D.D. Stone, The Romantic Impulse in Victorian Fiction, Cambridge, Mass., London, 1980, p. 35.

19  Prickett, op. cit., p. 14.

20  Ibid., p. 87.

21  Ibid., p. 878.

22  M. Spark, Frankenstein, in H. Bloom (ed)…, p. 18.

23  J. Rieger, Frankenstein ; or, the Modern Prometheus, H. Blomm (ed), p. 52.

24  Ibid., p. 53.

25  Ibid., p. 54.

26  R. Jackson, Fantasy : The Literature of Subversion, London, New York, 1991, p. 100.

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Zbigniew BIALAS (2017). "A map of Russia and understanding Frankenstein /
". Cahiers Forell - Formes et Représentations en Linguistique et Littérature - Archives (1993-2001) | Autour de Frankenstein – Lectures critiques.

[En ligne] Publié en ligne le 19 décembre 2017.

URL : http://09.edel.univ-poitiers.fr/lescahiersforell/index.php?id=512

Consulté le 19/09/2019.

A propos des auteurs


Autour de Frankenstein – Lectures critiques - n°12

Depuis sa publication en 1818, Frankensteinn’a cessé de fasciner des générations de lecteurs et l’œuvre a donné naissance à un véritable mythe littéraire, prolongé au cinéma par d’innombrables adaptations, dont les deux chefs-d’œuvre de James Whale. Longtemps négligé par la critique,le roman de Mary Shelleysuscite depuis quelques années un tel intérêt, aux USA en particulier, qu’il est presque devenu un enjeu théorique et esthétique à propos duquel s’affrontent divers discours issus, en particulier, de la psychanalyse et de la critique féministe. Les raisons de cette fascination sont multiples. Le roman s’ancre dans diverses traditions philosophiques et esthétiques et bénéficie d’un héritage littéraire exceptionnel, celui de la littérature gothique et romantique. Il opère une relecture de mythes fondateurs, pose la question centrale de l’origine en relation avec le contexte scientifique de son époque. Il réinvente le couple savant démiurge/créature qui ne va cesser de se reconstituer dans les textes et les films. Il propose enfin une approche novatrice du monstre, à la fois figure d’altérité et sujet du discours. Les textes recueillis ici émanent de chercheurs européens qui s’efforcent, après bien d’autres, de prendre en compte les différentes facettes de l’œuvre, d’analyser sa structure, ses conventions narratives, d’explorer ses paysages, sa relation au mythe, à la littérature et à la science, son « discours du corps ». Ce volume propose également de nouvelles lectures et constitue un bilan critique provisoire, prélude à d’autres exégèses.

Illustration : (crédits : Philippe de Jozelon).



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