A Series of Documents from an Eighteenth Century Scrivener

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the creature learns of inequality and social injustice, “the strange system of human society was explained to me. I heard of the division of property, of immense wealth and squalid poverty, of rank, descent, and noble blood” (Shelley 135). Here and elsewhere in the novel, Mary Shelley presents a radical critique of the hierarchical social structures that framed the contours of early nineteenth century society. In this paper, I attempt to contextualize this critique through the historical epoch in which she lived. By reading Frankenstein not as an isolated text, but one in conversation with other works of the period, I argue that Mary Shelley further articulates the proto-socialist legacy of her parents, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. I further argue that Mary Shelley’s intervention in this conversation is not proto-Marxist, as it has occasionally been considered, but can instead be seen as a radical precursor to modern postcolonial theorists. In particular, I consider the twentieth century Martiniquan theorist Frantz Fanon’s foundational book The Wretched of the Earth, and the contemporary Cameroonian scholar Achille Mbembe’s landmark article “Necropolitics.” It is within this postcolonial framework that we can configure Shelley’s creature as the revolting, colonized subject in opposition to the necropolitical power of Victor Frankenstein. Through these depictions, Frankenstein can be understood as a novel that articulates the ties between economic injustice and colonial oppression: a story in protest of Victor Frankenstein and other vile masters of mankind.