Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley: Writing Lives

By Helen M. Buss; D. L. Macdonald et al. | Go to book overview

“Unconceiving Marble”: Anatomy and
Animation in Frankenstein
and The Last Man

Anne McWhir

To write a novel whose hero brings a creature to life is to write life twice—once in the narrative events, and once in the authorial labour that mirrors dissection, obsession, and construction. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley writes her “hideous progeny”1 into textual life, while her modern Prometheus constructs an artificial creature out of the body of death. Recognizing the parallel between these creative acts, however, one also recognizes the difference between a metaphor of birth and one of construction: Shelley implies that she has given birth to a monstrous text; her Prometheus, like his classical prototype (though using different materials), constructs his creature. Through her metaphor, Shelley reminds us that reproduction is primarily a physical process, not just the mass-production or replication of artifacts. Whereas creating life can be a labour of the will (like Frankenstein's construction of the creature) or of the imagination (as in most romantic aesthetic theory), it is most fundamentally a labour of the body bound to time. Considering the creature in Frankenstein as a product of life writing, this essay will explore the limits of artificial creation and its relation to the time-bound processes of conception, gestation, and birth. Further, it will consider the conclusion of The Last Man, amid the stat-

Notes are on pp. 173–75.

-159-

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