MEMOIRS OF ELIZABETH FRANKENSTEIN
by Theodore Roszak
Random House, ISBN 0-679-43732-0, 1995, 425pp, US$22
A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 1996 Evelyn C. Leeper
Is it that Mary Shelley's story has always been this popular, or is it that it is having a revival now? In 1994 there was a major film based on it and a major science fiction novel using it as a starting point. Now there is MEMOIRS OF ELIZABETH FRANKENSTEIN, a re-telling of the story from Elizabeth's perspective.
At first, I had the impression that Roszak was following in the footsteps of many modern writers, wanting to show women were not the innocent creatures they had been depicted as, and thinking that the only way was to show their "seamier" side. But it soon became clear that this was not what Roszak had in mind. Roszak is instead elaborating on the conflict between Romanticism and Rationalism that Shelley used in her original work. Though his approach owes perhaps as much to Fritz Leiber as to Mary Shelley, he has a style that is distinct from either. His approach to Romanticism is certainly different from Shelley's, and clearly inspired more by present-day New Age and Wiccan beliefs than by the Romanticism of the 18th century. There's also more than a touch of the search for hidden, occult knowledge that was current during Shelley's time.
There are a few slip-ups. Roszak (and his proof-reader) seem to confuse "prone" with "supine" (twice on page 15). And the description of the automata on page 49 is inconsistent with the earlier description of its performance. As for more substantive questions involving the accuracy of the mystic and pagan traditions as depicted by Roszak, I am not knowledgeable enough to say. But given that Roszak has made a previous foray into the field of secret medieval societies (FLICKER) and there is some overlap in the research involved for the two books, I would expect that he had in fact been reasonably diligent, and certainly diligent enought for the lay reader. While this probably won't appeal to readers who are more attracted to the science fictional aspects of the Shelley novel, I do recommend it for those who see it more for its place in the European literary and philosophical corpus.
%T Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein %A Theodore Roszak %C New York %D 1995 %I Random House %O hardback, US$22 %G ISBN 0-679-43732-0 %P 425pp %S Frankenstein %V 2
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