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So Strange a Vehicle
A d v e r t i s e m e n t
Frankenstein can be analyzed as a metaphor for the making
of a book, Danny from Vermont observes, adding that there are
many clues in the text that support this. He sees the Creature as a
metaphor for the anxiety an author experiences when writing a
book that might not be liked and that might become more than the
author expected. Book Club of the Air host, Ray Suarez, asks a
teacher from San Francisco and Leonard Wolf to respond to
Danny’s comments. Neither does. Here, however, not only is
Danny’s mental robustness commended for making so useful the
boundaries and promises of the Frankenstein preface, but, as the
reader may appreciate, it is identified as having contributed to this
book’s physical allusions, such as the bolts that hold the Creature’s
head on in films.
The two books mentioned in Shelley’s dedication of
Frankenstein, are of the kind Danny is talking about. Political
Justice was certain to elicit a very negative response from Britain’s
repressive government. Thomas Paine had been condemned to
death less than three months before Godwin’s book was published.
Caleb Williams was so disliked by one of Godwin’s closest friends,
that the friend urged Godwin to burn it at once. To some
contributors this adds to the weight of possibility that Shelley
invented the Vitebsk story. Noting that Godwin’s friend had made
his recommendation before Godwin had written half of the novel,
they suggest that the translators in the Vitebsk oral tradition may
represent those of Godwin’s friends who thought that James
Marshal might later change his mind about the story. Further,
Godwin was required by his publisher to change the ending of
Caleb Williams. Shelley’s reference to her father’s novel may be
another clue for the reader that the ending of her story does not
appear in the book.
In Frankenstein, the lieutenant asks why the guest had come “in
so strange a vehicle”. Yet, as Walton’s first letter has already
established, there is nothing strange about the vehicle in such a
setting. “This is the most favorable period for traveling in Russia.
They fly quickly over the snow in their sledges; the motion is
pleasant, and, in my opinion, far more agreeable than that of an
English stage-coach.” The lieutenant, as a resident of Archangel,
would not find anything strange about a sledge or sled being used
on snow and ice. So, in what strange vehicle does the guest arrive?
Might not the strange vehicle be the book itself?
30 [To a Candid World Menu]
To a Candid World, Copyright 1998, Thomas Wolfsehr