My Monster/My Self

Barbara Johnson utilizes a clearly feministic method of writing and thinking in her penning of the article “My Monster/My Self”. She links Victor’s creation of his monster to Mary’s creation of her novel and then proceeds to compare Victor’s abandonment of his monster to post partum depression. This article reminded me of a poem by Philip Larkin that I read in a creative writing class. It was called “This be the Verse” and iterates that all parents mess up their children whether they mean to or not. Johnson states, “there is inherently monstrous about the prevailing parental arrangements”. Johnson argues that Victor and his creation become parallel to one another because, even though, Victor was raised by two loving parents and the monster was abandoned at birth each “reach an equal degree of alienation and self-torture.” Although, I don’t necessarily agree with this statement, I do see the point Johnson intends to make and can understand how she came to that conclusion.

‘This be the verse’

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.

 

But they were fucked up in their turn

By fools in old-style hats and coats,

Who half the time were soppy-stern

And half at one another’s throats.

 

Man hands on misery to man.

It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

And don’t have any kids yourself.

What difference does it make who is speaking?

In Foucault’s discussion of the author’s name as one aspect of the “author function” (in “What is an Author?”), he states, “it performs a certain role with regard to narrative discourse, assuring a classificatory function.  Such a name permits one to group together a certain number of texts, define them, differentiate them from and contrast them to others” (210).  This immediately brought to mind the Shelleys, both Mary and Percy, and what the name “Shelley” does to categorize their writing.  Additionally, what status does Mary Shelley automatically gain simply through the privilege of her married name?  Her text isn’t simply grouped together with other texts published under the name “Mary Shelley” but also those published under the name “Percy Bysshe Shelley.” Although, in her case, had she published using the last name of her father (Godwin) or her mother (Wollstonecraft) she would have been accorded similar privileged status. This is because a Name has particular coded problems associated with gender that Foucault does not mention in this essay, although we can easily apply his theory to this problem.

If the author’s name “seems always to be present, marking off the edges of the text” and “indicates the status of this discourse within a society and culture”, then surely the implied sex of the author’s name matters.  In my very traditional undergraduate study, professors routinely referred to all male authors by their last names (Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Hemingway, etc.) but often used first names with the women, most memorably “Emily” for Dickinson.  I felt this was in some ways to slight her importance but in others to continually remind the readers that this was a woman, that her author function must always be present in order for us to properly “read” her.  And, I can’t help make the leap here to Hilary Rodham Clinton– The name Hilary Rodham had achievement as a lawyer in her own right, under her own name, but because we have grouped her together with her husband, she has risen to great heights politically, only to be commonly referred to simply as “Hilary.”  If we say “Clinton”, we automatically think of her husband.

It also brings to mind the tradition of women publishing under men’s names– George Sand and George Eliot, the Bronte sisters and their masculine pseudonyms– this may have been a practical consideration in a time where a female name would have limited the audience or possible revenue, but what implications does it bring to the text itself?  How did it change the reading?  How would the discourse change again when the true gender of the author was revealed?