Review of Reviews
John Wilson Croker, “a famously caustic” contributor-writer for the Quarterly Review-a notoriously right wing publication under the patronage of Church and Court, takes the opportunity in reviewing the 1818 anonymously published Frankenstein , to write a very witty and entertaining satire. Though entirely negative, it spurs curiosity and desire for the public to read the book and find the identity of its author.
Mr.Croker’s approach is attacking the many flaws of the novel while pointing the inconsistencies both in plot and characters. His own masterful use of the satirical form and brilliant language is convincing, sharp, funny and at the same time a definite death sentence to the novel. His hostility is so straight forward as is his declaration: “Our readers will guess from this summary, what a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity this work presents” (376). However, when openly attacking his political enemy, Mr. Godwin, to whom the novel is dedicated, Mr. Croker’s criticism looses its merit, becoming vicious personal bile spilling commentary. His biggest misconception remains in finding no moral lessons in the novel, showing his lack of perceptiveness and shallow personal moral judgment, when he writes: “Our taste and judgment alike revolt at this kind of writing, and the greater the ability with which it may be executed the worst it is-it inculcates no lesson of conduct, manners or morality” (377). His fear of acknowledging the powers “both of conception and language” the author of Frankenstein possesses, and his reference to his male gender show clearly Mr. Croker’s and his supporters’ short sightedness and prejudice.
The following two reviews, both from April 1818, The Gentleman’s Magazine, found in the eighteen century and The Monthly Review new series 85, a review for university educated gentlemen, are written in the spirit of good will and bring some justice to Mary Shelly’s novel.
The first one, points out the novelty of writing and its main idea, as well as the indubitable talent of its undisclosed author in describing Nature. In fact, there are very few positive reviews at the time of the first publication of Frankenstein and this is one of them, its tone almost apologetic.
“This Tale is evidently the production of no ordinary Writer; and, though we are shocked at the idea of the event on which the fiction is founded, many parts of it are strikingly good, and the description of scenery is excellent” (389).
The second one touches on the attractiveness of the novel, found in the truly improbable, yet undeniably attached to reality story, the one, that would become the myth of Frankenstein. “In some passages, the writer appears to favor the doctrines of materialism: but a serious examination is scarcely necessary for so eccentric a vagary of the imagination as this tale presents” (390).
The most supportive, profoundly touching and human is Percy B. Shelly’s review, published posthumously by his cousin Thomas Medwin in The Athenaeum 263 (10 November 1832). It is evident from the start that he has reverence for the author and deep understanding of the foundation on which the “novel rests its claim on being a source of powerful and profound emotion” (400). Most impressive are his explanations of “the crimes and malevolence of the single Being” as the children “of Necessity and Human Nature” (400). His almost prophetic words sound just as strong and true today as they did then. “Treat a person ill, and he will become wicked. Require affection with scorn; - let one being be selected, for what ever cause, as the refuse of his kind-divide him, a social being, from society, and you impose upon him the irresistible obligation-malevolence and selfishness” (401). The failed social ethics, one of the strongest themes of the book do not elude Percy B. Shelley’s judgment. His encouragement and support during the actual writing of the novel, his ambition for Mary Shelley’s success as a writer also become apparent through every word and sentences of his review and rightfully so.