While Frankenstein has become one of the most famous works of literature and is generally praised by modern audiences, the reception by Mary Shelley’s contemporaries was not always so positive. A review from Monthly Review states, “a serious examination is scarcely necessary for so excentric a vagary of the imagination as this tale presents” (Frankenstein 390). Much negative criticism focuses upon Shelley’s reliance on the imagination to create terror, which some critics deem, “a very crude and ill-digested plan” (Frankenstein 390). Negative criticism also addresses the fact that a woman wrote such a horror-filled novel, which “is the prevailing fault of the novel” (Frankenstein 386).
Excess of imagination seems to be a dominating theme in reviews of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, with such excess “being too grotesque and bizarre ever to approach near the sublime” (Frankenstein 388). Shelley’s use of imagination, and even the requirement of imagination, requires readers to embrace something that can be a bit fleeting, imagination. This leap of faith, such as embracing the possibility of giving life to death, causes critics to conclude the novel is “…trenching in some degree on delicacy, setting probability at defiance, and leading to conclusion either moral or philosophical” (Frankenstein 389). Gentleman’s Magazine states, “…we are shocked at the idea of the event on which the fiction is founded,” furthering the notion of disdain for Shelley’s stretch of the imagination. While many novels require such leaps of faith, Frankenstein may have more involvement in reality, which is why several of the critics dislike the novel. Science had made giving life to death all the more plausible, whereas traditional horror stories have no association with reality.
A few of the reviews address the fact that a woman wrote the novel or may have written the novel. The British Critic, in their review, explicitly state:
The writer of it is, we understand, a female; this is an aggravation of that which is the prevailing fault of the novel; but if our authoress can forget the gentleness of her sex, it is no reason why we should; and we shall therefore dismiss the novel without further comment (Frankenstein 389).
This comment seems to fault Shelley’s sex for writing such a horror novel, and such a dismissal detracts from the arguments presented throughout the review. Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine states:
We learned that Frankenstein was written by Mrs. Shelley; and then we most undoubtedly said to ourselves, ‘For a man it was excellent, but for a woman it is wonderful’ (Frankenstein 391).
By focusing a review upon the author’s gender, any argument developed lacks credibility, and therefore, all of the reviews that focus on gender must perused carefully.