John Owen Havard, “‘What Freedom?’: Frankenstein, Anti-Occidentalism, and English Liberty” (pp. 305–331)

“If he were vanquished,” Victor Frankenstein states of his monstrous creation in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), “I should be a free man.” But he goes on: “Alas! what freedom? such as the peasant enjoys when his family have been massacred before his eyes, his cottage burnt, his lands laid waste, and he is turned adrift, homeless, pennyless, and alone, but free.” Victor’s circumstances approximate the deracinated subject of an emergent economic liberalism, while looking to other destitute and shipwrecked heroes. Yet the ironic “freedom” described here carries an added charge, which Victor underscores when he concludes this account of his ravaged condition: “Such would be my liberty.” This essay revisits the geographic plotting of Frankenstein: the digression to the East in the nested “harem” episode, the voyage to England, the neglected episode of Victor’s imprisonment in Ireland, and the creature’s desire to live in South America. Locating Victor’s concluding appeal to his “free” condition within the novel’s expansive geography amplifies the political stakes of his downfall, calling attention to not only his own suffering but the wider trail of destruction left in his wake. Where existing critical accounts have emphasized the French Revolution and its violent aftermath, this obscures the novel’s pointed critique of a deep and tangled history of English liberty and its destructive legacies. Reexamining the novel’s geography in tandem with its use of form similarly allows us to rethink the overarching narrative design of Frankenstein, in ways that disrupt, if not more radically dislocate, existing rigid ways of thinking about the novel.

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