Sex and Sexual Violence in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

By Rachel Chung
2017, Vol. 9 No. 03 | pg. 2/2 |

Frankenstein Fan-Fiction and Forbidden Queerness

Texts like Frankenstein, rich in references to the forbidden and unknown, often lend themselves to fan-written fiction. These pieces, or “fan-fiction,” comprise a genre of their own. Fan-fictions, which range from 800 words to thousands of pages, can be written by anyone, from high school students to published authors. These works often concern themselves with imagined relationships between the characters of an existing work. Fan-fictions are often targeted toward groups of adolescent and young adult readers, referred to as “fandoms,” who are fervently devoted to the universes in which the fictions occur. The anonymity of the internet forums on which these pieces are published allows the authors to explore more graphic representations of sex.

It is these depictions that often garner criticism from the literary world; fan-fiction is labeled “smut” and is often dismissed as unworthy of close reading. However, fan-fiction provides a rare window into the possibilities of a text. Unconstrained by the social norms and demands of publishers to which mainstream authors are subject, fan-fiction writers are free to explore the darkest and most deeply hidden aspects of a work, bringing to life Creatures of their own in their enthralling and indulgent additions. These pieces often have no authors; instead, writers choose anonymous usernames and pen-names through which to express themselves. In the case of Frankenstein, the fan-fiction world has created a substantial body of work concerned with the homoerotic undertones of the text.

The depictions of gay sex in three such pieces of fiction, “Unhallowed” by Kassidy62, “Shattered Realization” by Rama Olendris, and “Victor Frankenstein x Monster” by infinite999, demonstrate the varied style of writing and content prevalent in the genre. These texts illustrate the dualism of male gayness: they emphasize the effeminizing experience of being penetrated by another man as well as the lack of tenderness—or even consent—that has become a fixture in representations of male sexual encounters in fan-fiction.The encounters described in these works of fan-fiction are almost characterized by the forbidden nature of queer sex, happening in secret and, in two of the three stories, against the wishes of one participant.31 32 Frankenstein’s experiment and gay sex compliment each other—while Frankenstein’s aim was to create a being without needing sex, gay sex is the exact opposite. However, both actions exclude women, focusing entirely on the masculine. The sex portrayed in these fan-fictions is masculine in its aggression and urgency. The lack of female influence is not overt in all three stories, but it is nevertheless essential.

The implication of Frankenstein’s experiment is that the creation of a perfect man is not possible through sexual reproduction. The involvement of the female body automatically taints the formation of a new man. Frankenstein seeks to have control over the process, replacing and outdating the womb. This style of scientific pursuit is grounded in masculine sport. There is reward in the chase, and destruction in the consequences. Frankenstein takes this masculine exercise to another level, altogether abandoning Elizabeth and driving himself insane with his work. Rigby writes:

Frankenstein’s and theatre progeny have continued to put the of homosexual deviance into play, presenting audiences with numerous paranoid, secretive, effeminate, unhealthy, nervous, death-obsessed, insane Frankensteins who repeatedly abandon their families and neglect their women in favour of ‘monsters.’33

Rigby connects Frankenstein’s abandonment of Elizabeth with his own secret sexual deviance—his obsession with both the monster himself and the monster of scientific pursuit, consuming and destructive. Frankenstein’s quest, then, is driven by his need to eliminate the need for sexual reproduction, placing himself at the top of the human food chain and excusing him from his betrothal to Elizabeth. In “Unhallowed” especially, there is a kind of relief in Victor’s infidelity to Elizabeth. The author writes:

Elizabeth, I thought, the last cry of a damnation entirely of my own making. Then obsession swallowed me utterly, and I kissed him back.34

This author has masterfully excavated Rigby’s “homosexual panic” from Shelley’s text, unearthing Frankenstein’s anxiety about his betrothal to Elizabeth and his unnatural obsession with his creation. The monster presents Frankenstein with the opportunity to release himself from his contract with Elizabeth, if only for a moment.

In Shelley’s text, Elizabeth is a mother, caregiver, and sister—never a possible lover. The authors of these fan-fictions capitalize on this relationship to paint Frankenstein as a closeted homosexual, who creates a monster out of a subconscious desire for male companionship. Likewise, “Shattered Realization” features a sexual relationship between Frankenstein and Henry Clerval. The author writes from the perspective of the monster, who describes Clerval as Frankenstein’s “own Eve.”35 Olendris’s Clerval is Frankenstein’s lover, an imagined relationship impossible in Shelley’s universe not only because it is between two men, but because it paints Frankenstein in a romantic light. However, this Frankenstein still exhibits the same trepidation at his relationship with Elizabeth and the same eschewal of straight sex. Again, the reimagined Victor Frankenstein is pursuing science in search of an outlet for his sexual confusion and to cope with his lack of attraction to Elizabeth.

The idea that Frankenstein does not know that he wants to have sex with a man leads to some problematic content. In both stories in which Frankenstein has sex with his creation, the encounter is initiated against his consent. In both stories, Frankenstein discovers after the start of the encounter that it is actually what he wants. This trope perpetuates many misconceptions about consent and plays an interesting role in the interpretation of Shelley’s text. Like in Nick Dear’s adaptation, rape plays an integral role in the storyline, but it serves a vastly different purpose. In these fan-fictions, rape is a tool for enforcing gender roles in sex and undermining Frankenstein’s own sexual identity. Dear taps into these roles and uses them to further distort the characterization of the Creature: it is not until the Creature rapes Elizabeth the he truly becomes a man. There is something distinctly feminine in being the victim of rape—in being penetrated. Rape is a tool for the transfer of . But in these fan-fictions, rape is part of sex, leading to the vast misrepresentation of consent and gay sex.

There is certainly validity in using rape in interpretations of Shelley’s text. Dear’s portrayal of rape highlights Shelley’s emphasis on the unspeakable and mirrors Frankenstein’s rape of nature. Dear is also making reference to the nobility of rape in classic literature. Like Lucretia, Elizabeth becomes a sort of martyr in Victor’s cause against the monster. She is idolized and dehumanized simultaneously. This is not the result of rape in these fan-fictions. In these stories, rape is simply a period during which Frankenstein must discover his own desire, eventually conceding and giving consent after the fact. There is an element of surrender—surrender not just to the sexual act happening currently, but to Frankenstein’s own secret desires overall. In the fan-fictions, Frankenstein surrenders the power afforded him by gender, intelligence, and class to his own creation, who possesses only physical power. The monster becomes the pursuer, and Frankenstein the pursued.

My question is this: why is non-consent sexy? Rigby writes:

There is often something queer about recognition in Gothic fiction. Uncanny, potentially erotic, overwhelming and paranoia-inducing, one consistent quality of the condition I would like to call ‘queer Gothic recognition’ is a sense of enthralment to a more powerful, more knowing figure, one who wields an inexplicable and dangerous power to arrest and dominate.36

According to Rigby, Gothic fiction in particular lends itself to an anxious obsession with forbidden sex and, by extrapolation, with non-consensual sex. The Gothic emphasis on nearly supernatural power lends itself to the idea of that power being sexualized—the idea that Frankenstein’s monster is not just a force for evil, but a force for sex. Fan-fiction seeks not only to bring the darker and more taboo implications of a text to light, but also to actively reject societal conceptions of the acceptable. The environment of Frankenstein plays into this mindset all too well. Frankenstein himself animates the dead, literally reinvigorating an outcast of nature. The ancient science embraced by Frankenstein comes from the same tradition of classical representations of rape and homoeroticism, which feature a lover and a beloved.37 Unlike many portrayals of modern love, ancient love has an object, whose agency comes not from loving the lover, but from conceding to the lover’s wishes. The rape depicted in fan-fiction turns Frankenstein into the object of this love, where he had previously been only the pursuer. This role reversal is key in erotic literature about Frankenstein, as is the idea that queer desire was locked inside Victor all along, until it is released by the monster.

These fan-fictions also expand on Frankenstein’s social deviance. In Shelley’s text, Frankenstein recounts:

Study had before secluded me from the intercourse of my fellow-creatures, and rendered me unsocial; but Clerval called forth the better feelings of my heart; he again taught me to love the aspect of nature, and the cheerful faces of children.38

Clerval acts as the bridge between Frankenstein’s new world at Ingolstadt and the world he left behind in Geneva. Clerval’s arrival at Ingolstadt initiates the struggle between the dangerous forbidden and the tranquil known. As Frankenstein’s monster matures, the unknown penetrates the known world, coming into contact first with the De Laceys and then with Frankenstein’s own family. Frankenstein recounts that he had forgotten the beauty of nature in his pursuit of science. Again, the natural and unnatural are pitted against each other; the “feelings of my heart” against the pursuit of knowledge. Frankenstein’s form of social deviance places knowledge above feeling and opens up his character to the interpretation of the fan-fiction authors. In these texts, Frankenstein undergoes a transformation from the unfeeling scientist to the passionate lover, unlocking what the authors postulate to be feelings lurking inside him. In the fan-fictions, the only way these feelings can be exposed is through rape. These stories depict an environment of terrible violence, secrecy, and brutality that reflect the darkest aspects of Frankenstein’s world, polarizing the stormy unnatural and tranquil nature even further.

____________________________

Between the high-school authors of 800-word fan-fictions and the award-winning dramatic adaptation by Nick Dear, sexual deviance has been pulled from between the lines of Shelley’s text in countless different ways. Frankenstein paints a perfect picture of a world torn apart. Because of Frankenstein’s hubris, his whole world is destroyed by the all-consuming hatred of his spurned creature. The primary difference between Nick Dear’s play and the fan-fictions is the subject: who is represented in the story? In the fan-fictions, and even in Shelley’s text, Elizabeth is a non-person. She is more representative of an ideal than of a living person. In Dear’s text, Elizabeth is constantly struggling to reach beyond her role as stand-in mother and stay-at-home wife. It is this ambition—the desire for personhood—that makes her vulnerable to her the Creature’s deception. Dear’s gift of narrative arc to Elizabeth and to the Creature give a more contemporary feel to Shelley’s story, bringing complex interactions to characters other than Victor. On the other hand, the short, vignette-type narratives of the fan-fictions erase everything but the key features of Shelley’s story, building upon the laws of Frankenstein’s world to create new narratives.

The breadth and variety of material in the fan-fiction universe are impossible to address in one sitting. However, excerpts from the genre provide a unique window into the minds of Frankenstein’s contemporary readers—what do they see in Shelley’s text? What do they want to see? Fan-fiction often elaborates on events the authors wish had happened in the text. These imagined sub-stories illuminate threads that are already present in the original text and elaborate on hints of taboo or socially inappropriate topics buried in the text. , which is in many ways still unmentionable in contemporary literature, is a frequent fixation in fan-fiction, especially from literature written in a time when gay sex was so strictly forbidden. Fan-fiction authors have excavated Frankenstein’s cultivation of the unspoken and unnatural to produce some thoughtful, poignant texts. On the other hand, some writers have used the skeleton of the Frankenstein universe to write stories simply for the pleasure of the reader, focusing on erotic encounters, which are not only nonexistent, but more or less impossible within the original text.

These depictions of sex and rape inform and are informed by the way we view sex today. The secret nature of gay sex in the arts makes it prime material for fan written stories; these stories provide readers with something they would be hard-pressed to find even in contemporary literature. On the other hand, Nick Dear, writing for audiences of thousands, capitalizes on the gendered nature of rape to tell the story of Frankenstein’s Creature, desperate to become a man. The marginal nature of homoerotic fan-fiction and the mainstream dispersion of Nick Dear’s adaptation reflect the remaining stigma around gay sex and gay rape. The monster of homosexuality still plagues the male consciousness, while portrayals of heterosexual rape are onstage at the National Theatre of London. The secret and forbidden nature of gay sex is still trapped in the Foucaultian paradox: in its banishment from our thoughts, it has become our obsession. The advent of fan-fiction has given readers an outlet to explore representations of the forbidden. It is through the expression and witnessing of these subversive stories that we can confront and conquer our anxieties surrounding sex and its mystery.


References

Dear, Nick. Frankenstein. London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 2011.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. trans. Robert Hurley. vol. I. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978. 77-154.

Infinite999. “Victor Frankenstein x Monster.” fanfiction.net. Apr 18, 2016. https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11903812/1/Victor-Frankenstein-x-Monster.

Kassidy62. “Unhallowed.” fanfiction.net. Nov 1, 2016. https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11590793/1/Unhallowed.

Olendris, Rama. “Shattered Realization.” fanfiction.net. Feb 1, 2006. https://www.fanfiction.net/s/2780681/1/Shattered-Realization.

Plato. The Symposium. Hackett Publishing Co., 1989.

Rigby, Mair. “Do You Share My Madness?: Frankenstein’s Queer Gothic.” Queering the Gothic. ed. William Hughes and Andrew Smith,. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009. 36-54.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2003.


Endnotes

  1. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2003), 33.
  2. Mair Rigby, “Do You Share My Madness?: Frankenstein’s Queer Gothic” in Queering the Gothic, ed. William Hughes and Andrew Smith, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009), 43.
  3. Shelley, Frankenstein, 220.
  4. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, trans. Robert Hurley, vol. I, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978), 77.
  5. Rigby, “Do You Share My Madness?,” 39.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid., 42.
  8. Ibid., 39.
  9. Shelley, Frankenstein, 36.
  10. Ibid., 52.
  11. Rigby, “Do You Share My Madness?,” 38.
  12. Nick Dear, Frankenstein, (London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 2011).
  13. Ibid., 20.
  14. Ibid, 24.
  15. Ibid., 42.
  16. Ibid., 59.
  17. Ibid., 43-44.
  18. Ibid., 49.
  19. Ibid., 47-48.
  20. Ibid., 69.
  21. Ibid., 70.
  22. Ibid., 71.
  23. Ibid, 72.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Rigby, “Do You Share My Madness?,” 42.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid., 56.
  28. Ibid., 42.
  29. Ibid., 55.
  30. Ibid., 42.
  31. Infinite999, “Victor Frankenstein x Monster,” fanfiction.net, Apr 18, 2016, https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11903812/1/Victor-Frankenstein-x-Monster.
  32. Kassidy62, “Unhallowed,” fanfiction.net, Nov 1, 2016, https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11590793/1/Unhallowed.
  33. Rigby, “Do You Share My Madness?,” 45.
  34. Kassidy62, “Unhallowed.”
  35. Rama Olendris, “Shattered Realization,” fanfiction.net, Feb 1, 2006, https://www.fanfiction.net/s/2780681/1/Shattered-Realization.
  36. Rigby, “Do You Share My Madness?,” 41.
  37. Plato, The Symposium, (Hackett, 1989). The most poignant example of the lover and the beloved can be found in Socrates’ appeals to Alcibiedes, the young and beautiful.
  38. Shelley, Frankenstein, 68.

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