Mocking Stupendous Mechanisms: Romantic Parody and Frankenstein's Dream

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, often read as an indictment of Romantic excess, instead takes a parodic stance that opens up a critical distance on conventionally Romantic attitudes even as it maintains a familiarity that precludes wholesale dismissal. The novel takes its place in an alternative Romantic tradition that reads literary activity as inherently parodic, in which authors create not out of a void but from a chaos of pre-existing texts. The practice of parody calls attention to the ways in which authors are themselves readers; it also underscores the value of eliciting imitations, flattering or otherwise, from a scribbling readership. By mocking and partially adopting the characteristic excesses of her contemporaries, Mary Shelley accepts the possibility of being parodied herself, which would at least foster a future audience, however damaging such a response might be to the fantasy of unqualified success. Frankenstein, in the way it treats its antecedent texts, suggests that parody in the Romantic era is less antagonistic than is often assumed.