As most of you know, I rarely review books here, especially books of literary criticism, and especially one in which I was asked to contribute the Foreword, but this time I have to. The book in question is my friend of many years, and co-author Dr Scott D. de Hart's Shelley Unbound: Discovering Frankenstein's True Creator. Rarely is a book of literary criticism essential reading, but this one is for the simple reason that reading the novel as a "ghost story" by Mary Shelley - the standard line - completely misses the point of the book. The problem here is reviewing a book without giving away all its arguments and secrets.
Dr. de Hart peels back many layers of meaning in Shelley's novel by a careful and meticulous comparison of the themes of Shelley's life and poetry, his normal modus operandi - writing anonymously and even then employing an amanuensis to record his words, usually his wife Mary - his driving ambition to create a revolution of culture in Europe, based around the principles and doctrines of the Illuminati, his obsession both with science and alchemy (with its obscure texts)... one could go on, but I think the reader gets the point: the arguments are marshaled here, neatly summarized and artfully presented.
This is not the beauty of this book however. The beauty of the book is that it is not dry academic literary criticism; it's a biographical study, literary criticism, and even an exploration of esoteric and alchemical themes that inform a major work of English literature, a work that, when the Mary Shelley mythology is stripped away from it, and its true author restored and his motivations known, reveals itself to be a prophetic work about man's coming of age in an era of science, and with the ever-present moral choices and dilemmas it presents. It is, in a word, a transhumanist prophecy long before the phenomenon even had a name, and it is a prophecy in depth. Politics, society, religion, morality are plumbed, and Dr. de Hart ably demonstrates the links between all these themes in Shelley's multi-layered contrapuntal poetry, and the themes of the novel.
Simply put, it is inconceivable that Mary Shelley could have authored such a complex work. Here, similarly, the book shines, for it is not an attack on Mary Shelley either, but an examination of why she would have been a party to what amounts to a grand literary hoax, one that has survived in academia since the book's subsequent re-printing with her listed as the authoress, a fact not readily appreciated until one remembers that when the book first appeared, it was simply published anonymously - Shelley's favorite M.O. - and that many literary critics of the time thought it to be by Percy Shelley himself.
Enjoy this one folks - it's well worth it, and it will contribute to a new appreciation of what is now happening all around us, as science seeks to intervene in the processes of life itself.
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