‘It is the custom of the Irish to hate villains’— the Irish episode in Frankenstein

Tony Canavan looks at ‘The Irish Angle’


Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was published 200 years ago in 1818. Its Irish episode, however, is often overlooked by scholars and is not in any stage or screen adaptation. This is perhaps not strange, as the episode comes late in the narrative, beginning in Chapter 20, and does not affect the novel’s course. We might wonder why Shelley included it at all.

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, her name before marriage to Percy Shelley, had Irish connections. Her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Dixon, was born in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal. Mary inherited the principles of her radical parents. She was aware of the situation in Ireland and her husband, the romantic poet and radical, espoused the Irish cause.

In 1811, while at Oxford University, Shelley published a ‘poetical essay’ championing the Irish journalist Peter Finnerty, jailed for libeling Lord Castlereagh. Shelley came to Ireland in 1812, with his then wife Harriet, in hopes of sparking off revolution. […]

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September/October 2018(issue no.381)

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