Frankenstein: Intertextuality

A working definition of the literary concept of intertextuality, forwarded from the Bedford edition of Frankenstein (ed. Johanna M. Smith, 2000):

The condition of interconnectedness among texts, or the concept that any text is an amalgam of others, either because it exhibits signs of influence or because its language inevitably contains common points of reference with other texts through such things as allusion, quotation, genre, stylistic features, and even revisions (455).

We have seen that the complications–the layerings, or amalgamations–of meaning in Frankenstein begin even before you finish the title: the subtitle “The Modern Prometheus.” This is where the intertextuality of the novel begins. (And it continues, as you know, with the epigraph taken from Milton’s Paradise Lost.  Intertextuality can be defined as the presence in a literary text (in our case, the novel Frankenstein) of elements from other texts. That presence can be a direct or indirect quotation, an allusion, an implication, an echo–in some way, a previous text or story is forwarded into the text you are reading. In contemporary music terms, intertextuality is sampling. In  digital parlance, it might be viewed as the mashup.

For further reading on Prometheus:

“Hesiod and Plato on Prometheus.” An overview of the myth of Prometheus as evident in the classical sources of Hesiod and Plato, by the writer/blogger Neal Burton. Note that this extends the myth of Prometheus to the invention of the arts, most particularly the arts of discourse and reason, in Greek known by the word “logos.”

Plato’s Prometheus. Summary of Promethus myth, with links to Plato’s use of the myth in dialogues, including Plato’s “Protagoras.”

Another intertextual complication in the novel:

Wordsworth, “Tintern Abbey”

Other possible places to go with the idea of intertextuality (that is, dealing with the amalgam-like quality of the novel, the recognition that there are multiple layers in the novel): Dante, the author’s introduction, Paradise Lost, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” medieval science. Lots of places.

In the second project, you are pursuing a close (slow) reading of key parts of the novel; but you will still be making an argument–there is a problem of some sort that you are exploring and (in your thesis) attempt to respond to and resolve. You can think of the problem/response in this way:

Many people tend to think of Frankenstein in simple terms, as a story about ______; however, there is a more complex story suggested by the intertext–a complexity that I read as important in the larger significance of Frankenstein as a novel about _______.

A link to the full poem of “Mutability.” And another, different poem also titled “Mutability” by the same poet.

Some ‘machines’ you might find useful in your intertextual reading of Frankenstein:

Electronic Paradise Lost (Milton, 1667).

Electronic Bible (from UVA’s Electronic Text Center)

Electronic Frankenstein.

And a final reminder, a resource useful for close reading, and for thinking more critically about keywords and terms in the reading–as well as in our writing–is the OED. It focuses on the inherent intertextuality in our language by highlighting the etymology and evolution of our words.

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Intertextuality: Mutability

Percy Shelley’s poem from 1816, “Mutability,” which shows up in Victor’s narrative. [there is another poem of his, written later, also titled “Mutability“].

We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly! -yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost for ever:

Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
One mood or modulation like the last.

We rest.—A dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise.—One wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:

It is the same!—For, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free:
Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutablilty.

Intertextuality can be defined as the connection or implication of one (or more than one) text within a text. One version of this: an allusion. In the case of Shelley’s poem, the reference is a direct quotation (though the author is not named). Where it gets interesting, of course, is recognizing that the author of the poem is the novelist’s husband. Perhaps the best way to think about intertextuality and the stunning range of implications (texts referring to texts) is to consider almost any bumber sticker you might have seen. Usually, amazingly, some reference is made or assumed to another text, often another bumber sticker. So intertextuality demands or commands interpretation; it also reminds us that we read and interpret much of what we see in our world. A lesson we will consider as we explore the rich intertextuality in Shelley’s novel, and of her novel, is that we need to slow down and read the texts, illuminate and follow up on the implications of texts, in order to make sense of what we have in front of us. That doesn’t necessarily mean get the ‘right’ answer to the text; more that we need to be willing and able to follow the implications, trace the threads of the text (text originally means “woven thing”) in our creative effort to make something of what we are reading.

Consider: there isn’t only one way to read a bumber sticker–good ones, indeed, will open up to several possible readings. But it is possible to misread one.

Another type of intertextuality around the same scene in chapter X: reference to the imagery of sublime landscape. A Romantic painter from the same period in which Shelley is writing is Caspar David Freidrich. Think of this as a visual intertext that Shelley seems to be using in her writing–both as a matter of relevant philosophy (the sublime is a prominent idea in Romanticism) and perhaps as a method of style.

You are welcome to explore and further illuminate these intertexts, or any other you come upon in the novel, for your second writing project.

One final thought, for now. Can even think of intertextuality as inherent in our language–implications in any of the words that Shelley uses–given the history embedded in any word. Certainly a word unfamiliar to you such as “sublime”; but also familiar ones, such as “author” or “creator.” In this case, the intertetuality is part of its etymology. For more on that, consult one of the great tools for writing and critical reading: the OED. You can get to it electronically through the library reference database.

Some ‘machines’ you might find useful in your intertextual reading of Frankenstein:

Electronic Paradise Lost (Milton, 1667).

Electronic Bible (from UVA’s Electronic Text Center)

Electronic Frankenstein.


Frankenstein: A More Complicated Monster

Even if you have never read Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, you know the name. The image of the monster (perhaps of the scene when it comes to life, lightning crashing, the mad scientist screaming, “It’s alive”). Those of you who have read the novel know–and for first time readers, it won’t take long to see–that such images from film don’t match up with the original novel.  [more on the history of Frankenstein in film]

We don’t get to the famous creation scene until 5 or 6 chapters in. And, of course, by then we know that Frankenstein is not the monster; it is, rather, the name of its creator. And a bit later in the reading, we wonder how the monster ever became the green hulking, inarticulate thing from the movies. Hint: the monster reads Paradise Lost.

A keyword I will be using as we discuss the novel and explore it with our second writing project in mind (we focus on intertextuality and close reading of text): complication. We will work on complicating our reading of this novel. That doesn’t mean we will make it difficult or harder than it needs to be. It means recognizing that the novel, as a text, is already a layer of complications–stories and images and other texts woven and folded in to its narrative.

There are two marks of those complications (of text as woven materials) even before we begin the story. The first comes in the author’s introduction–where we learn of the complex origins of the story. And more to the point, it seems to me, we learn of the complication that our author, Mary Shelley, views her creation of the novel in very similar terms as those used by Frankenstein concerning his. She concludes the introduction bidding her “hideous progeny go forth and prosper.” The novel, apparently, is also a monster.

A second location of complication: the title page. Look at the intertextuality–the presence of one or more other texts within a text–we are confronted with before we even get past the title. As we will see, this is only the beginnings of a text that is woven by numerous connections, links, echoes, allusions to other texts.

The point I will be making in the face of this complication–of this multiplicity of texts and voices and narrators and stories–is that we need to do close reading not to find some sort of hidden meaning. I know that is what it often felt like in high school English. The problem of this novel–the problem that makes it compelling and engaging, it seems to me–is that there is too much meaning. It is hard to know what to do with it all.

By the way, speaking of this multiplicity, I wonder what you think of the Electronic Frankenstein site I have linked here. It strikes me that it could help with the of kind layering of text that we start to get as early as the title page. One way to think of things–perhaps Shelley’s novel is a hypertext of sorts. Is it better to read the novel in digital form?


Intertextuality: Mutability

Percy Shelley’s poem from 1816, “Mutability,” which shows up in Victor’s narrative.

We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly! -yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost for ever:

Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
One mood or modulation like the last.

We rest.—A dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise.—One wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:

It is the same!—For, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free:
Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutablilty.

 

Intertextuality can be defined as the connection or implication of one (or more than one) text within a text. One version of this: an allusion. In the case of Shelley’s poem, the reference is a direct quotation (though the author is not named). Where it gets interesting, of course, is recognizing that the author of the poem is the novelist’s husband. Perhaps the best way to think about intertextuality and the stunning range of implications (texts referring to texts) is to consider almost any bumber sticker you might have seen. Usually, amazingly, some reference is made or assumed to another text, often another bumber sticker. So intertextuality demands or commands interpretation; it also reminds us that we read and interpret much of what we see in our world. A lesson we will consider as we explore the rich intertextuality in Shelley’s novel, and of her novel, is that we need to slow down and read the texts, illuminate and follow up on the implications of texts, in order to make sense of what we have in front of us. That doesn’t necessarily mean get the ‘right’ answer to the text; more that we need to be willing and able to follow the implications, trace the threads of the text (text originally means “woven thing”) in our creative effort to make something of what we are reading.

Consider: there isn’t only one way to read a bumber sticker–good ones, indeed, will open up to several possible readings. But it is possible to misread one.

Another type of intertextuality around the same scene in chapter X: reference to the imagery of sublime landscape. A Romantic painter from the same period in which Shelley is writing is Caspar David Freidrich. Think of this as a visual intertext that Shelley seems to be using in her writing–both as a matter of relevant philosophy (the sublime is a prominent idea in Romanticism) and perhaps as a method of style.

You are welcome to explore and furhter illuminate these intertexts, or any other you come upon in the novel, for your second writing project.

One final thought, for now. Can even think of intertextuality as inherent in our language–implications in any of the words that Shelley uses–given the history embedded in any word. Certainly a word unfamiliar to you such as “sublime”; but also familiar ones, such as “author” or “creator.” In this case, the intertetuality is part of its etymology. For more on that, consult one of the great tools for writing and critical reading: the OED. You can get to it electronically through the library reference database.

Some ‘machines’ you might find useful in your intertextual reading of Frankenstein:

Electronic Paradise Lost (Milton, 1667).

Electronic Bible (from UVA’s Electronic Text Center)