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Journal of No. 118

March 11th, 2010

The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Theodore Roszak @ 11:11 am

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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.
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Date:March 14th, 2010 07:42 pm (UTC)
Well, we can't agree about everything... I always enjoy Roszak's erudition, even though he approaches things from a rather touchy-feely perspective. Bearing in mind that he's a social sciences academic whose salad days were the 1960s, I tend to disregard a lot of the more "groovy" elements of his work -- such as the male/female dichotomy in _Memoirs_ (which I deem largely symbolic anyway, linked thematically to the whole alchemical marriage deal), or the outrageous Tantric sex practices described in _Flicker_. (The latter being a conspiracy romp about a plot by the resurgent Cathars to destroy the world with the power of movies. I mean, come on! That's a hoot.) For me, Roszak falls into a category that includes people like Umberto Eco and Vladimir Nabokov... the kind of writers who play with both idea and erudition, and that's actually part of the entertainment value of their books. But like any lecturer, you either like them and/or their ideas or you don't, so I could definitely see where Roszak might leave you cold. He really *is* somewhat muddled and murky, and some of his ideas (like the tired idea of old male/female divide in analytic thinking) are just outmoded literary/social science saws that the old dog can't abandon in favor of new tricks. But like I say, I enjoy most of what he writes, and that's good enough for me...

Journal of No. 118