March 11th, 2010


The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Theodore Roszak

I already bagged on this book somewhat. It didn't redeem itself in the end. The whole thing seemed quite uneven, with major plot points all but vanishing. A long middle section relating to the chemical marriage of alchemy seems as though it were part of a separate novel that, like bits of Frankenstein's monster, was then inexpertly grafted onto material associating it with the Frankenstein canon.
Underlying all of it is the rankling conceit that science, as epitomized by Victor, is a masculine endeavor, whereas femininity is embodied by a survival of the ancient European Sapphic witch-cult (which also has preserved a great deal of alchemical knowledge).
Of course, I'm closer to Victor than a lesbian cunning woman, so this no doubt explains my low opinion of the book.

It was interesting reading this just after Alias Grace. Both focus on the life stories of women, told from the woman's point of view, with epistolary commentary added by men who don't quite understand the central character. Furthermore, both main characters have something of a fear of doctors, due to some inexpert meddling with ladyparts. In the one case, a botched abortion, in the other an inexpert use of forceps in childbirth (and a complete disdain for the wisdom of midwives and their simples).
Similarly, both books make significant mention of Mesmerism/hypnotism and both protagonists undergo treatment

There are other strange connections with other recent reading material. Memoirs and Pynchon's Mason & Dixon both mention Vaucanson's duck, though rather differently.
Victor admires the work of de Saussure, who has already figured in my current nonfiction reading, the Age of Wonder, which is so far fascinating. (De Saussure, a Swiss scientist and devoted alpinist, may have served as a partial model for Shelley's Victor Frankenstein.)

Completing the round-robin of connections, Mason & Dixon were involved in making measurements of the transit of Venus in South Africa, while Age of Wonder begins with the highly interesting life-story of Joseph Banks, who was a part of Cook's voyage to measure the transit of Venus in Tahiti, where it seems the crew (most definitely including Banks) enjoyed their three month stay on the island.

What a difference 8 years makes.

2002: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rules 'under god' in the Pledge unconstitutional
(2004): The Supremes nullify it, saying Newdow doesn't have standing.
2010: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rules the Pledge constitutional. (200 page decision)

'Under god' is "a reference to the historical and religious traditions of our country, not a personal affirmation through prayer or invocation that the speaker believes in God." And the Pledge is an optional patriotic exercise.

[Similarly, 'In God We Trust' on our coinage is "of a patriotic or ceremonial
character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental
sponsorship of a religious exercise." (only a 15 pager!)]

I'm not really torqued about this. Especially since the courts keep reminding us that these are merely ceremonial utterances that don't really mean anything other than 'Yay America!'