This next book wasn’t banned in the United States, but since when should censorship discussions be limited to just one country? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (written in 1816 and published in 1818) was banned by the South African government in 1955 for being “indecent” and “obscene.” Okay, it’s been about 5 years since I read this book, but I loved it, hung on every word, and I have to say that I must be completely clueless about 19th-century obscenity because by 21st-century standards, I’m not seeing it. Is it frightening? Sure. Okay, not to me, but I have a really high tolerance for scary books and movies. Nothing really gets to me. Nonetheless, I know that there’s a lot of potential for this book to be a scary one. But obscene? Hardly. Mary Shelley relies more on psychological devices rather than blood and gore. Stephen King has nothing on Shelley and her ability to create a complex, subtle, and frightening novel.
Frankenstein actually has very little to do with the monster, and almost everything to do with Dr. Frankenstein, the scientist whose creation is mostly recognized in film. The scientist, although he doesn’t fit the stereotypical defiinition of a “mad” scientist, is certainly obsessive about his attempt to create life from cadavers. Dr. Frankenstein assembles the monster, who ultimately turns on his creator because he is rejected by society. And in fact, “monster” isn’t even the correct term, because the creation is not inherently evil or malevolent. This creature wants love and acceptance, just like everyone else. However, he is doomed to be denied what he wants, largely due to his frigtening appearance. The creature destroys everything Frankenstein holds dear, and the scientist spends the rest of his life in pursuit of revenge.
There’s a lot going on in Frankenstein. The idea of a male creating life, for example, and the horror that emerges from him trying to do so, rather than leaving creation to females. The fear of what happens when science tries to interfere with the natural order. The terrible, monstrous things that can arise from birth. Shelley had suffered miscarriages as well as the deaths of some of her children. So of course the monstrosity of birth and creation were important themes. While Frankenstein is typically regarded as a proto-scifi novel, there is some great feminist criticism out there about the book as well.
Interesting note: film versions of the novel have been banned in various countries as well. Of course, these film versions are nothing like the original. Althogh it’s been awhile since I’ve read it, Frankenstein is definitely one of my favorites.
Another note: Mary Shelley is the daughter of kick-ass feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.
Crossposted at This is What a Feminist Blogs Like