Abstract

"Mummy, possest": Sadism and Sensibility in Shelley's Frankenstein

Frankenstein's dream after "giving birth" suggests that the creature represents the unspeakable body of the mother within the Symbolic Order. Shelley's representation of female characters implies that sadism and sensibility are complementary responses to the paradoxical views of motherhood within patriarchy. The novel is a hybrid of male and female Gothic narrative conventions: Frankenstein's story follows the male Gothic trajectory of the overreacher who fails and dies. Embedded in this story is the creature's Bildungsroman, tragically diverted from the comic female plot. Shelley does represent her own mother; her complex frame narrative contains, at five removes from the outer frame (Walton's letters), the story of a woman very like Mary Wollstonecraft. Subsequent versions of the Frankenstein myth in popular culture tend to repress the female (as Victor refuses to create a bride for this creature); she may appear, however, in the proliferation of horror movies about mummies.