Lauritsen’s Frankenstein

20071001_frankensteinlauritsen Jesse’s Journal by Jesse Monteagudo


We first heard of gay activist scholar John Lauritsen in 1974, when he wrote (with David Thorstad) The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935).
In 1982, Lauritsen founded Pagan Press to "publish books of interest to the intelligent gay man." To that intent Lauritsen published classic works by John Addington Symonds and Edward Carpenter as well as his own thought-provoking essays. More controversially, Lauritsen is an "AIDS dissident" who does not believe that HIV is the cause of AIDS. Lauritsen’s writings on AIDS appear in The AIDS War (1993) and in the anthology The AIDS Cult (1997), which he co-edited with Ian Young.

Lauritsen calls himself "an independent scholar" who has "the freedom to tell the truth as I see it, without concerns for career or ‘collegiality.’" Lauritsen’s willingness to challenge conventional wisdom is evident in his most recent book, The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein (Pagan Press; $16.95). In this book, Lauritsen takes on one of English literature’s most famous works: Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus. Lauritsen’s Frankenstein has three theses, all controversial: "[1] Frankenstein is a great work which has consistently been underrated and misinterpreted. [2] The real author of Frankenstein is Percy Bysshe Shelley, not his second wife, the former Mary Godwin. [3] Male love is the dominant theme of Frankenstein " Let’s look at each of the 3 theses.

"[1] Frankenstein is a great work which has consistently been underrated and misinterpreted." Certainly Frankenstein has a bad reputation, the product of a century of bad movie versions. Most critics, Lauritsen writes, "have failed to appreciate the excellence of its prose, the power of its symbolism, and the profundity of its ideas." Above all, Frankenstein is "a moral allegory about the evil effects of intolerance and prejudice, ostracism and alienation, both to the victims of intolerance and to society at large." Among these "victims of intolerance" are gay men; and Lauritsen contends that, "at least on one level, Shelley wrote Frankenstein for a select audience, gay men; his novel deals with their oppression and with the crimes and monstrosities which flow from that oppression." It should be noted that Lauritsen prefers the original 1818 edition of Frankenstein over the 1831 revision by Mary Shelley. "Without exception, every ‘revision’ was for the worse. Whenever hostile to Shelley’s radical ideas – on science, love, or religion – she expurgated them."

"[2] The real author of Frankenstein is Percy Bysshe Shelley, not his second wife, the former Mary Godwin." As noted in the previous paragraph, Lauritsen has no love for Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who most people believe was the author of Frankenstein. Lauritsen even denies that Mary Shelley took part in the famous "ghost writing contest" (1816) that led to the writing of this book. "If there really was a contest, the participants must have been [Lord George] Byron, Shelley, and [Dr. John] Polidori – three brilliant, well educated young men, who were already accomplished writers. In contrast, Mary Godwin (a the time, merely Shelley’s mistress) was far from brilliant, had virtually no schooling of any kind, and had never written anything of consequence." The way Lauritsen saw it, Mary Shelley "had a commonplace mind, almost no formal education, and little talent for writing. . . . Nowhere in Mary’s writing is there a single passage of the quality found in almost every paragraph of the 1818 Frankenstein." [This is true.] On the other hand, Lauritsen writes, "In ideas and style, Frankenstein is a man’s work and consistently Shelley’s creation." "Frankenstein is [Percy] Shelley’s work, and his alone – his ideas, his life, his language. . . . Read the 1818 Frankenstein, read the works of Shelley, and you will recognize the author of Frankenstein."

"[3] Male love is the dominant theme of Frankenstein " In spite of his two wives, Percy Shelley was interested in "Greek love," as seen in his translation of Plato’s Symposium – recently published by Pagan Press – and in his strong (though possibly platonic) friendships with other men. If Percy Shelley did write Frankenstein, it is not surprising that "passionate friendships" between men is a major theme. Lauritsen lists three "passionate" couples: [1] Dr. Victor Frankenstein and Captain Thomas Walton, who rescues the wandering doctor; [2] Frankenstein and his schoolmate, Henry Clerval; and [3] Frankenstein’s father and a man named Beaufort. Even Frankenstein’s monstrous creation was meant to be, according to Lauritsen, "not only a companion, but a big, beautiful and obedient sex partner." On the other hand, "when Victor Frankenstein flees his workroom after viewing the creature . . ., and when he runs out of the house after the monster tries to get in bed with him, he seems to be exhibiting ‘homosexual panic’ – hysteria resulting from a clash between intense homoerotic desire and social condemnation." Lauritsen concludes that "Shelley wrote on two levels; he wanted general readers to regard Frankenstein and Clerval as loving friends, but his special readers, the sunetoi [a Greek term used by Shelley that Lauritsen suggests could be a "code word for ‘gay’"] to discern that they are also sexual partners. All things considered, it is understandable that Shelley chose to conceal his authorship of Frankenstein."

The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein suffers from Lauritsen’s constant complaints about "feminists," a convenient scapegoat in all of his books. But what do we make of the three theses? I believe [1] Is true. Just as too many people confuse Dr. Frankenstein with his monster, so do many people judge the novel by its mostly horrific (in both senses of the word) film versions. [2] could also be true, though there is no conclusive proof. As for [3], it hinges upon [2]: It is possible that Percy Shelley would write a book about male relationships and then, considering the times, deny having written it. On the other hand, if Frankenstein was indeed written by Mary Shelley, such a theme would not make sense. In any case, The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein is an important and thought-provoking book, whether or not you agree with it’s author’s premises.

Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance author who lives and writes in South Florida.

One thought on “Lauritsen’s Frankenstein”

  1. Why wouldn’t it make sense for Mary Shelley to write about the theme of “male love”? Certainly women (and people of all genders) can write about this theme. Especially if someone close to them, such as their husband, is, in reality or rumor, interested in “male love.”

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