Nightmares of Capitalist Modernity part 2

Introduction: Chimeras of boundless grandeur

Frontis image for Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (Revised Edition, 1831)

According to Franco Moretti, the fear of bourgeois society can be summed up in two names: Frankenstein and Dracula. He notes how both were born in 1816 on a rainy evening near Geneva, at a time when industrial development was just beginning to get underway (1997, 83). His argument is that Frankenstein and Dracula are dramatic, totalizing monsters. Unlike the feudal or aristocratic ghosts who were confined to a castle, these figures go international, expressing the motions of capital and labour. While originally published in 1983, his argument resonates most strongly in the late neoliberal period.

Through Frankenstein we see the figure of the proletarian who has been excluded from value production, for whom capital has no place. The castigation, containment and expulsion of the ‘monster’ mirrors the way ideology responds to migration, unemployment, disability and any other category of proletarian marked by the fact that they are surplus to requirement. 

Dracula today is finance capital. The metaphors of a blood sucking vampire, who can never be sated are obvious, and were exploited by Marx. The aspect worth picking up here is the mesmeric invisibility of the vampire, the sense of an omnipresent threat that escapes representation, in contrast with the viscerality of Frankenstein’s ‘monster’. The latter is designed to evoke sensory disgust and the former sensory seduction. Both are key co-ordinates in how ideology works – disgust works to create an underclass, while seduction works on upward identification. 

The unacknowledged contradiction between these positions has resulted in a split register for understanding the daemonic and the horror story under capitalism. The vampiric works by penetrating and controlling the victim, while the monstrous works by expulsion. 

What Moretti doesn’t note is the immediate context. Byron’s challenge to his friends Mary and Percy Shelley and John Polidori was to create a ghost story that outdid the German romantic stories they had been reading that night. Out of this came Frankenstein and Polidori’s short novel The Vampyre.1 

This splitting in the register of the daemonic emerged out of an interplay between German and English Romanticism. I have, therefore, substituted Polidori’s novel for Hoffmann’s der Magnetiseur. Moretti makes a strong claim for Polidori’s novel lacking the dynamic, totalizing qualities displayed by Mary Shelley’s creature. However, when we look at Hoffmann’s story, published in 1815, we see it already formed the basic mythos of the vampire. Therefore, by placing both stories together we see how the fundamental nightmares of capitalist modernity were being forged at a unique conjuncture, most powerfully concentrated within the crisis of Romanticism.

To paraphrase Gramsci, Victor Frankenstein’s act of production becomes a morbid symptom of a world where the old is dying and the new not yet born. As we live in a conjuncture similarly marked, it makes sense once more to return to this novel on its bicentenary.2 

Romantic poesy, chemical experiments + the collision of ages 

The age is a chemical age. Revolutions are chemical movements rather than universal organisms… How could one otherwise be able to determine whether the age has an individual identity or is just the collision point of other ages. Where is the beginning and the end? How is it possible to understand the current period of the world if one is not trying to anticipate the universal character of the following period?

Friedrich Schlegel, Athenäums Fragmente (1978, 136).3 

Romanticism has been misunderstood by many as a reactionary movement. Yet when we think about Friedrich Schlegel’s quotation from 1797, we are faced with an argument that estranges two key features commonly associated with Romanticism. The first is that Romanticism extols an organic conception of art, society and history. The second is that it is backward looking – seeking to restore a world dismembered by science, rationality and the Enlightenment.

That these became the key features of the movement was something not yet apparent. As Friedrich Schlegel tried to anticipate ‘the universal character of the following period’ he was basing it on emergent tendencies that were revolutionary in more senses than the narrowly political: 

The French Revolution, Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre and Goethe’s Meister are the greatest tendencies of the age. Anyone who seeks to put a stop to this way of giving structure to the times has yet to be lifted to a high standpoint in the history of humanity – the revolution for them has failed to be loud and material.

Friedrich Schlegel, Athenäums Fragmente (1978, 99).

This quotation denotes the self-appointed task of the Romantics – to combine in a kind of chemical experiment all the most progressive political and cultural tendencies and see what happens. 

Behind this was a desire to be part of the changes that were taking place in society, and a call to a kind of praxis in which intellectuals fight on whatever terrain their historical circumstances offer.4 By linking Idealist philosophy to the revolution and novels like Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister these early Romantics were tracing a tendential process of dissolution across all aspects of social life for which the science of chemistry acted as a meta-code. 

Trade is the chemistry of the economy, and there is also an alchemy of art. The chemical nature of novels, criticism, wit, gregariousness and the latest rhetoric shines through. Before one can arrive at a characteristic of the universe and a classification of humanity, one must take note and be satisfied with the with basic tone and specific manner of the epoch. 

Friedrich Schlegel, Athenäums Fragmente (1978, 136).

The Romantics developed an acute sense of motion and transformation. Trade was dissolving the economic structure of society, just as new forms of writing like the novel were dissolving the traditional genres of drama, lyric poetry and the epic (also breaking barriers between poetry and history, or fact and fiction, that were erected as far back as Aristotle’s Poetics). Criticism like Schlegel’s own writings had the task of dissolving the barrier between poet and critic. 

Schlegel saw in motion a realisation of poesy. That is the creative impulse at work across all aspects of life, resulting from an expanded conception of the poetic:

The Romantic form of poesy is a universal progressive poesy. Its vocation is nothing less than the reunification of the separate species of poesy, and to set poesy in contact with philosophy and rhetoric… Only [Romantic poesy] can become, like the epic, a mirror of the encompassing world, an image of the age. It could hover free from all ideal and material interests on the wings of poetic reflexion, between the representation and the represented, ever raising these reflections to a higher power, to endlessly multiply them, as in a row of mirrors. It is capable of producing the highest and most all-rounded culture, not merely from the inside out, but from the outside in… Other forms of poetry have been completed and can be taken to pieces. Only romantic poesy is in a state of becoming. That is its essence, ever to be becoming, never to be completed…. In a certain sense all poesy is or must become romantic.

Friedrich Schlegel, Athenäums Fragmente (1978, 90-1).

Such was the high point of Romanticism. Twenty years later Napoleon had been defeated, and Europe was under the heel of reactionary monarchies. Most of the Romantics of the 1790s had died or moved to the right.5 Increasingly Romanticism became an emotionalism, operating with fixed binaries – feeling versus intellect, nationalism versus cosmopolitanism; religious mysticism versus reason; organism versus mechanism; the medieval versus the modern. 

Under the pressure of these events the notion of poesy or poesis undergoes a transformation into the daemonic. Before looking at how this takes form in the work of Mary Shelley and Hoffmann we will need to look briefly at the questions of science and the decline of theology.

Excursus 1 – poesy as the transmutation of nature


Anupam Roy, Class Consciousness is Not Possible without Caste Consciousness, charcoal drawing on paper.


Romantic scientists were in no way opposed to rigorous scientific experiment and made a number of valuable, still valid discoveries. They believed, however, that their results had to be integrated into a wider metaphysical perspective. It was the higher aspiration of Romantic science to find the unifying principle in nature, to falsify the Cartesian subject-object divide and to overcome the alienation of man [sic] and his environment which modernity, and in particular modern science has caused.

Barkhoff (2009, 210). 

Contrary to conservative readings, it is atomism, not science and the pursuit of knowledge, which comprises the axis of danger in [Frankenstein]. What the book criticises is… the dangers of intellectual, scientific and artistic production in an age of possessive individualism. In such a social order, scientific investigation all too easily serves personal aggrandisement… As the Creature remarks upon being first warmed then subsequently burnt by fire: ‘How strange, I thought, that the same cause should produce such opposite effects!’

McNally (2011, 90).

Romantic poesis works on the conception of a praxis that aimed to disclose a totality of relations that had no boundaries - applying equally to art, philosophy, religion and science. 

In the century prior to the Romantics the focus of what we call science lay in mechanics. This studied the regular lawful motion of objects in homogenous space, building upon Renaissance developments in anatomy.6 By the time of the Romantics there had been major developments in electro-magnetism, chemistry and biology (including discovery of the cellular structure of the body and early versions of the theory of evolution7). The shift was registered aesthetically in a move from structure to process – neoclassical aesthetics took an anatomical approach focusing on timeless rules and how they interlock, while Romantic aesthetics focused on the dynamic properties of an artwork. This meant thinking in terms of polarities, metamorphoses and dramatic contrasts.

Poesis was the notion of the material world arising out of the forces of its composition, having an irreducibly subjective component that is also unconscious and merged with its object. The notion of genius8 was important in the arts, and its ‘master’ signifier was ‘magnetism.’ Also contained in the notion of poesis is the discovery of ourselves through our discoveries about the natural world. That by delving into the invisible forces of the natural world we uncover our own unconscious processes. 

Poesis and the figure of the genius were the ideal to strive for, but as Romanticism darkened, this figure was inverted. Where the genius was a utopian figure, projecting a sense of potential reconciliation of mind and nature, now the same figure becomes a daemon9 unleashed and running amok. 

The contemporary fascination with magnetism provides a window into the unstable polarities at work in the way Romanticism related to science. In the 1780s Anton Mesmer created an international stir with his theory of animal magnetism, which postulated a universal life force that ran through all of nature and had a direct nervous effect on humans.10 Barkhoff explains the method of the magnetiseur who could channel these forces:

A magetiseur, saturated with the magnetic fluid and empowered by nature to share it, could remedy [nervous complaints] by administering magnetic strokes, as the positive pole pouring his excess of magnetic fluid into the needy patient, the negative pole, thus re-establishing (usually) her relation with the cosmic harmony. 

Barkhoff (2009, 213).

The fascination with the magnetic trance that the patient was put under, drew parallels with other transgressive states such as sleep, somnambulism, artistic ecstasy and sex. 

As with all aspects of Romanticism there was a tension between emancipatory and oppressive forces in the use of mesmerism. Mesmerism provided a philosophically informed alternative to the incarceration of people suffering from mental illness. Rather than seeing sanity and insanity in binary terms, the monistic approach at work with Mesmerism was based on establishing rapport between healer and patient. On the other hand, as the gendered role-play bore out, it gave men huge power to indulge a sexual fantasy of a seminal fluid pervading the atmosphere, that they can inseminate into vulnerable young women. Here we see how the transgressive properties of Mesmerism were also a seedbed for the Vampire, who, arguably started out as a magnetiseur.

While this formed one half of a dialectical relation between Romantic praxis and science, the other lay in the relation to sciences that owed their roots to analysis, atomism and dissection. In Frankenstein we witness how Victor Frankenstein is initially inspired to understand the kind of issues that drew Romantics to Mesmerism:

 I have described myself as always having been imbued with a fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature… The untaught peasant beheld the elements around him and was acquainted with their practical uses. The most learned philosopher knew little more. He had partially unveiled the face of nature, but her immortal lineaments were still a wonder and a mystery. He might dissect, anatomise and give names; but not to speak of a final cause… Under the guidance of my new preceptors [Renaissance alchemists Paracelsus and Cornelius Agrippa] I entered with greatest diligence into the search for the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life: but the latter soon obtained my undivided attention.

Frankenstein (1968, 298-9).

While this awakened his interest in science, his father and teachers at university lambast these ideas as ‘exploded systems.’ Under a competitive pressure (note the individualistic bourgeois notion of science as personal success) he adopts the ‘materialist’ methods:

I was required to exchange chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth. 

Frankenstein (1968, 306).

Finally, he makes his ‘breakthrough’ by resorting to the very practices of dissection that Romanticism had rebelled against:

To examine the causes of life, we must first have recourse to death. I became acquainted with the science of anatomy, but this was not sufficient; I must also observe the natural decay and corruption of the human body… My attention was fixed upon every object the most unsupportable to the delicacy of human beings… I saw how the worm inherited the wonders of the eye and the brain. I paused, examining and analysing all the minutiae of causation, as exemplified in the change from life to death, and death to life, until from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me… I was surprised that among so many men of genius… that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a secret.

Frankenstein (1968, 311-12).

In this sense just as the vampiric emerged out of Mesmerism and ‘field’ theories of science, so the monstrous emerged out of scientific practices of dissection. In the one case this takes the form of healers who become possessors of minds, and in the other of inventors who lose control of their inventions and are turned metaphorically into slaves. 

This understanding of science is predicated on the way science had begun to absorb and materialize the theological categories of good and evil.


Mary Shelley


Excursus 2 – The problem of evil as perversion

For Shaftesbury’s normative ethics, his emphasis on the role of sympathy and the natural passions, the expression of which serves only to confirm… the beneficent impulses already present in the heart of man, is, in the final analysis, potentially more intolerant than the doctrine of original sin, which it seeks to supplant.

Morse (1981, 198).

In his book on Romanticism, David Morse has a fascinating passage exploring what happens to the notion of evil once a secular set of ethics takes over from a theological one. In the context of a wider discussion of the genealogy of Romanticism out of the Reformation, Morse describes a process whereby the Calvinist assumption of innate evil is increasingly questioned. Morality is subject to the same treatment as motion in Newton’s system: god sets things in motion, but the human being, once created, is wholly free to choose good or evil actions.

In the early 1700s the Earl of Shaftesbury developed this argument by suggesting that all human beings have a basic moral sense, which is nurtured by belonging in society. Unlike the theological world in which each soul is suspended between good and evil forces, the psyche of a secularized world is responsible for the good and evil inside itself. That acts of evil are transgressions against human nature, and the result of their own perverse will. 

Shaftesbury… is the fountainhead of a whole and distinctively modern tradition of intolerance, in which any person who is deemed not to be normal or who does not conform to social definition of normality is labelled as ‘unnatural’, or ‘deviant’ and is punished… by being treated as social pariah. It is to Shaftesbury’s system that we must look for the origins of Poe’s concept of the perverse.

Morse (1981, 198).

The significance of this passage for Morse lies in setting out the one-sided arguments on morality that the Romantics sought to transform. But as Romanticism developed into the phase we are looking at, we see figures closer to Shaftesbury’s notion of the transgressor of human nature coming to the fore. In the Byronic hero, figures like Cain and Manfred, who know they are transgressing morality, do not understand their motivation, but defy god or any other to judge them. Goethe’s Faust, by knowingly making a pact with Mephistopheles, is driven by his psyche to seek goals that he knows will end in final damnation. Victor Frankenstein fully understands his motives, but not where they come from:

In drawing the picture of my early days, I also record those events which led, by insensible steps, to my after tale of misery, for when I would account to myself for the birth of that passion which afterwards ruled my destiny I find it arise, like a mountain river, from ignoble and almost forgotten sources; but swelling as it proceeded, it became the torrent which, in its course, has swept away all my hopes and joys.

Frankenstein (1968, 297).

Yet it is when this new secular morality is linked to science, and the act of transgression involves power to use and abuse science, that we see the fully modern version of Shaftesbury’s system in the figures of Alban in die Magnetiseur and Victor Frankenstein.

This latter point is underscored by McNally: 

The great weakness of Victor Frankenstein is not that he thirsts for scientific knowledge, but that he pursues it in unhealthy, even dangerous, isolation from social affections and interactions. It is not science the novel condemns but individualistic enterprise detached from social obligations.

McNally (2011, 93).

While true, this is insufficient if read through Morse’s interpretation of Shaftesbury and can be misappropriated by a reactionary reading in which the collective expunges the individual who is deemed a transgressor. Thus, while Victor Frankenstein willingly ‘trangresses’ by creating his monster in isolation, the latter, had no choice in his creation, and bears like Cain, and Grendel, the mark of an entire civilization’s hatred. 

The notion of evil arising out of the denial of sociability discussed by Shaftesbury is clearly a dominant theme in Frankenstein. The novel is framed by letters written by R. Walton, an arctic explorer engaged in his own ‘enterprise,’ who addresses his sister at the beginning:

But I have one want which I have never yet been able to satisfy; and the absence of the object of which I now feel as a most severe evil. I have no friend, Margaret: when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success, there will be none to participate in my joy; if I am assailed by disappointment, no one will endeavour to sustain me in my dejection… I desire the company of a man who could sympathise with me, who eyes would reply to mine. You may deem me romantic, dear sister, but I bitterly feel the want of a friend.

Frankenstein (1968, 273).

This theme runs like a leitmotiv through the novel, marking out Victor Frankenstein and his secret, and then the ‘monster’ whose destructive vengeance is laid at the door of a society whose eyes refused to reply to his.

Here we see a difference in the split register of horror: between the vampiric and the monstrous. The monstrous traces evil to fragmentation. The monster is a fragment that cannot be integrated into society and retains the stigma of being an outcast. All attempts result in the monster directly attacking society.

The vampire works in the opposite direction - accumulating other subjects into their expanded self. They capitalize bodies by drinking their blood and metabolizing them into their own undead lifeforce. In the case of Mesmerism, this force works by capitalizing the psyches of its victims in the same way. 

To trace this process by which a scientifically mediated notion of the daemonic – as a post-theological notion of evil - developed, we shall now turn to Hoffmann’s der Magnetiseur and Shelley’s Frankenstein. As the former is less well known, I shall provide a close reading of the text before attempting a critical reading. For the latter, I will range across the novel discussing it thematically. 

ETA Hoffmann’s der Magnetiseur – the daemonic as vampire 

‘Mere mention of the word magnetic makes me shudder’, stormed the Baron, ‘… If you tug at nature’s veil with your clumsy hands, you will get off lightly if such curiosity does not end in your destruction.’

The Baron in Hoffmann’s, der Magnetiseur (1983, 165).

I cannot really explain to you what has happened to me. I don’t really know; there is no pain, or none that can be identified, and yet all calmness and cheerfulness has gone. Everything appears altered. Loud words and footsteps are like spikes being driven into my head. Now and then everything around me consists of lifeless things, sounds and tones, which taunt and torture me; I am being torn away from the real world by strange imaginations. Recall to mind, dear Adelgrund, the silly children’s stories [Kindermärchen] which Auntie Klara so sweetly told, of the green bird, prince Fakardin of Trebisond and I know not what; these now appear before me in life, but in a terrifying manner… I often feel that an inner, unknown power is consuming me…

Marie on the account of her undergoing Mesmeric ‘healing’, in Hoffmann’s, der Magnetiseur (1983, 184).

Nature has organised the female so that she is passive in all her tendencies. Willing abandonment, a yearning conception for the other…, the recognition and veneration of a higher principle; in all this the truly childlike mentality arises that is the property of the female, and the domination and assimilation of this constitutes the highest bliss.

Alban, boasting of his magnetic powers in a letter to a fellow magnetiseur, in Hoffmann’s der Magnetiseur (1983. 191-2).

ETA Hoffmann published der Magnetiseur in 1815, as part of his series of Phantasiestücke, or Fantasy Pieces. The aim of these tales was to situate the Märchen (translated in English as Fairy Tale) in contemporary life and provide a double estrangement – first from daily life, and second from the increasingly stereotypical Romantic attempt to transcend daily life.11 

Hoffmann saw in the Märchen a form that would allow him to fulfil Schlegel’s notion of poesy as the chemical mixing of satire, dreams, science and philosophy and watch how they formed a combustible solution. Yet rather than seeing in poesy a capacity to create a more unified world, Hoffmann seized on its opposite capacity – to point out social division and irresolution.

Der Magetiseur stages the debates on Mesermism, by portraying Schlegel’s ‘collision of ages’ within a family circle. The story consists of a lengthy discussion around the fireside between the Baron, his son Ottmar and friend Franz Bickert, while his daughter Marie looks on. The Baron opens the discussion with the declamation that ‘dreams are froth.’

What follows is his son’s passionate advocacy of dreams giving us access to a higher reality, and that Mesmerism is the proof of their true power. 


F. Schlegal


At this point we are led to believe that the Baron is a rationalist, who has no use for transcendent arguments and his son a rejector of the scientific method, but Hoffmann doesn’t let us have it that simple. 

We soon learn that the Baron’s objection is neither epistemological nor ontological, but rather out of fear. When he says that dreams are froth, this is really because of his youthful experiences in the military academy with the uncanny figure of the Danish Major. He recounts the strange behaviour of this man, who turns out to be a practitioner of a version of the magnetic cure, which he used to gain psychic possession and control.  

He explains the Danish Major’s attraction for the Baron and how he would speak all kinds of strange things to him while staring into his eyes and grasping his hand. In a phallo-aggressive episode in which the Baron takes on the passive role, he narrates a dream where the Major appears at his bedside taking hold of his hand and saying: 

‘Poor human child, acknowledge your lord and master…why do you writhe… in the servitude [Knechtschaft] that you struggle in vain to throw off? – I am your god, who can see through your innermost self, and everything that you have hidden there and will hide there lies clear before me. Have no doubts about my power over you, you worm, I will force my way… into the workshop [Werkstatt] of your mind.’ – Suddenly I saw a sharp glowing instrument in his hand that he drove into my brain. 

Der Megnetiseur (1983, 167). 

The Baron awoke almost in a faint, but then hearing the voice of the Major in the distance he wakes up another officer who also heard the cries from outside. They lead a delegation to the Major’s room to find him lying dead on the bed with blood foaming round his mouth and grasping a knife. Meanwhile, we as readers are left unsure as to what is causing these events, whether the Major is the dead person or has escaped. 

In response, Ottmar gives another account intended to be proof of the positive healing power of the magnetic cure. It concerns his friend Alban (who is staying with them and is out for a walk) and his friend and fellow magnetiseur Theobald. 

The story focuses on Theobald and his love for Augustine, the daughter of his foster parents. On returning from university he finds that Augustine had fallen in love with an Italian soldier who had been billeted with the family on campaign in the Napoleonic Wars. He finds Augustine psychically possessed by the soldier who, while dying in battle called out her name. She falls into a somnambulistic seizure, from which Theobald cures her by getting into her thoughts and replacing the image of her dead lover with memories of their childhood. 

On waking she transfers her love to Theobald, but just as Ottmar is finishing his story, his sister Marie has a seizure and collapses unconscious. 

At that moment Alban mysteriously enters to administer the magnetic cure. Here the evening comes to an end, and the rest of the story consists of kaleidoscope of perspectives that unpack what had happened that evening and the path to destruction that it opened.

Excerpts from Marie’s + Alban’s letters

Like the society it represents, the story is split in two. The first part takes place in a dramatic form with the characters all acting in in one time and place. The second part is fragmentary yet provides the subjective clue to what has been happening.12

Hoffmann gives us extracts from two lengthy letters. The first is from Marie to a friend Adelgunde (who turns out to be the sister of her fiancé Hypolit – who is also fighting in the war), in which she gives an account of her magnetic ‘treatment.’ The second is from Alban to Theobald in which he gives his account of the treatment. Both accounts are vitally important for understanding the darkening of Romanticism through the Märchen, or Fairy Tale.


The first signs of transformation lie in the uncanniness of Marie’s description of her ‘illness’ (her brother and the ‘doctor’ – Alban, have told her it is an illness). She says how the Märchen from their childhood now appear in real life threatening her. But then goes on to describe Alban and his powers of healing. She describes how he appears in her mind as a ‘Romantic king’ from out of their märchenhafte Geisterwelt. And she identifies with him, describing an inner connection between them and the dedication of her life to him. After describing the beneficial effects of the treatment, she goes on to explain that she only has to think of Alban and he appears in her mind, and that she sinks into an unconscious state in which she thinks his thoughts. Satirically playing on fashionable German Idealist terminology she describes this process as ‘diesem mit Ihm-und in Ihm-Sein’ (this being-with-him-and in-him, (1983, 186, italics in original)). 

At this point she moves from a phenomenologically rich description of her treatment to reassure Adelgunde of her love for Hypolit – but in such a way that suggests there is conflict within her psyche. While she prays for Hypolit, it is Alban who is her ‘Herr und Meister’, and only through him (italics in original) can she love Hypolit, and protect him from death in battle.

Here the account takes a swerve:

When praying for Hypolit, Alban’s form arises within me, incensed and menacing, [claiming] I have dared to venture outside the circle which he has circumscribed for me, like an evil child, who forgetting the father’s warning leaves the friendly garden to go into the woods, where blood thirsty animals lurk behind the pleasant green bushes. 

Der Magnetiseur (1983, 186).

Hoffmann use of the fairy tale as monition acts as a hinge to anchor the temporal structure of events. For we learn that all this is before the evening in which the Baron and his son were debating whether dreams are just froth. We now learn that Alban had already been working on Marie when her brother gave an account of Theobald’s ‘cure.’ We furthermore intimate that Marie’s seizure was brought on by discovering the parallels between Ottmar’s story and what Alban is doing to her.

‘All doubts about the Master [Alban] awoke in my soul with greater force. How I am being made to serve his secret hellish cure, and he is shackling me as his slave’ (‘mich zu seiner Sklavin zu fesseln’.) 

Der Magnetiseur (1983, 187).

She now is gripped with a feeling of deadly angst, as if able to penetrate the ideology of the magnetiseur. She now penetrates his world, describing the alchemical workshop in which he operates, and how his face that was so peaceful and attractive had become exaggerated into a terrifying mask (entseztliche Larve). 

Her letter leaves off at the point where Alban knows that she knows, and there is a pretence at normality, but also dramatic irresolution.

The fragment from Alban’s letter that follows is wrapped in a discussion between two magnetiseurs locked within a quasi-religion of method, that anticipates 20th century critical theory on the idealisation of technique and instrumental rationality. Behind a facade of ‘piety’ (Frommigheit) the credo of the future vampire as developed by Stoker slips out – here Alban’s motives of sexual power, control over technique, sexism, the aggressive accumulative logic of capital and a Nietzschean will to power collides with a quasi-Darwinisim: 

All existence consists of struggle and arises out of struggle. In a mounting climax [Klimax] is victory given to the mighty, and through the subordination of his vassals is his power accumulated. 

Der Magnetiseur(1983, 188)

He also reveals how despite the teachings of Christ, all yearnings for a higher nature spring out of human nature and are grounded within it. This again marks a turning point in which the transcendent qualities of Romanticism – already reduced to mysticism among many of the reactionary Romantics of the time – is transformed into a daemonic power that can be unleashed by techniques that exert control over physical and psychic forces. He talks about magnetism as a Zweck der Wirkung (means to an end). This is the turning point from an idealism pointing to the infinite in Romanticism to a diabolic materialism. Narratively it marks a dialectical inversion, in that Alban is now the most materialistic protagonist of the story, while the Baron is shown to be in thrall to the very froth he seeks to debunk.

Alban goes on to explain that he has not mastered these techniques just to cure headaches and toothaches. Rather the purpose is to strive for power equal to god’s and to have power over all aspects of the psyche. He claims that the physical means are merely the signs that a Master uses to dominate the vassals (Vasallen).

He turns to the circumstances in the Baron’s household. We see Ottmar as Alban’s tool, whom he satirizes as being the typical Romantic youth who are aesthetically seduced but do not understand magnetism. Passing over the distrust of the Baron and his friend Bickert, Alban makes plain that his goal is the possession of Marie. He describes how her love for Hypolit is a counter-force at work in her, and that he does not want to kill Hypolit, but is waiting for when he comes back to gain the final victory.

What this is we learn later, but at this point the fragment breaks off, in the same place as Marie’s letter.  The rest of the narrative is taken up by an overseer who has been commissioned to go to the Baron’s estate three years later. He arrives as the local community are burying Bickert. The reader learns that Marie and her father had already died, that Ottmar had moved away and the Baron’s old friend Bickert had stayed on in the castle transforming it into a gothic work of art.

From Bickert’s papers the overseer learns that Marie died mysteriously at the alter when marrying Hypolit, and that he suspects Alban of murdering her using magnetism. The papers also reveal the Baron’s anxiety that Alban may be connected somehow to the Danish Major, or even be a rejuvenated Döppelganger (this theme is never resolved). Alban has now fled, and Bickert vows vengeance but shows no sign of acting on his vow.

Interpreting der Magnetiseur

Hoffmann’s story stages the moment when Romantic utopianism is inverted. In Marxist terms, the story stages the process by which the spiritual is revealed to be an ideological form of real relations. From Alban we see an emergent notion of capital as a self-acting substance, value in expansion, something intangible yet magnetic in the power it gives those in its possession.  Through Marie, we view the process from the standpoint of the victim of capital. In her letter we see also how this is a seductive process, and how it operates through ideology, and how it is possible to become conscious of one’s condition.

Yet these are emergent features, reflecting the flux of real relations at the time. This is perhaps the deeper theme of the story - enacting the clash of periods, that Schlegel sensed in 1797. In this reading, Alban is a symbolic placeholder for a new social relation whose possession is technique and the capacity to apply it. This sets him against the Baron whose possession is his land. The fact that Alban wins suggests that despite the temporary post-Napoleonic victory of the Ancien Regime, the new forces unleashed by the revolution are still in motion. It is in this sense that the Napoleonic War is the political unconscious of the story. 

We should note that the story is hermetically sealed from the outside world. Apart from memories, the war forms the main external point of reference. Marie opens her letter by expressing gladness that Adelgunde has found refuge from the war in a safe city (a pointer to the fact that this is the opposite of Marie’s position). There is also the significant fact that the women in the story have an erotic attachment to men who are in combat in the war rather than the magnetiseurs. The relationship, therefore, between the war and the action in the story is magnetic – the dying Italian soldier reaching into Augustine’s psyche, and Hypolit as the ‘good’ psychic influence battling with Alban for control over Marie. 

The Baron’s tale of the Danish Major has Napoleonic resonances, as Denmark fought on the French side and the penetration of a Dane into the Prussian military would have had symbolic resonance at the time. It provides also a sense that the phallic power of the magnetiseur will seek out all vulnerability, and, like capital, is an omnivore. The psychic rape that the Baron experienced is to be seen alongside Alban’s psychic rape of Marie and Theobald’s of Augustine. All are a violation of feudal relations that are based on the family, possession and inheritance. The aggression of the magnetiseurs is directed at this whole structure, and places them in the same position as Napoleon. This attack on a totality marks out the conjunctural explosiveness of Hoffmann’s work compared to later renditions of the vampire. 

In Stoker’s version the exclusive focus is on male-on-female violence – from the standpoint of the male protector – shows a different stage of history – a fully developed capitalist mode of production. The vampire is no longer a threat that cannot be accommodated, and in Stoker is made a fusion of the feudal and the capitalist (even the class compromise that was achieved in Victorian Britain). The myth becomes one of warring brothers over the control of female sexuality and their role in social reproduction. 

In absolute contrast to Dracula, Alban is young, declassé (possibly an avatar of the Danish Major) and seeks to destroy the social order, but to establish a new one based on a new principle of power.13 In this sense, by defeating Hypolit and the Baron, the story is channelling the Napoleonic War to present the horror story as the representation of a split society. 

Frankenstein + the Daemon as Monster

I was the slave not the master of an impulse which I detested but could not disobey.

Frankenstein’s ‘monster’ speaking (1968, 493).

Through the whole period during which I was the slave of my creature I allowed myself to be governed by the impulses of the moment.

Victor Frankenstein speaking (1968, 422).

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the inaugural moment when the daemonic appears as monstrous.  Given the ubiquity of the story (in contrast to Hoffmann’s piece), we will not subject the novel to a close reading but assume the reader knows the plot. That Victor Frankenstein animates an artificial being made up of the body parts of corpses. The physical revulsion he feels on seeing his creation come to life forces him to reject the being. This sets off a chain reaction resulting in a trail of destruction, finally leading to what Marx would describe in the Communist Manifesto as the ruin of the contending forces.

Interestingly, unlike the films, we do not have a final encounter between Victor and his ‘monster,’14 but rather the former dies from exhaustion and the latter departs across the ice having vowed to immolate himself. For both contenders there is no victory. If Victor wins, it is revenge pure and simple, while his competitor realizes, with Victor dead, the one person in existence who could grant his wish for another person like him, has taken the secret of his creation with him.

The question is how the being created by Victor Frankenstein came to conclude that his only hope lay in having a mate. In this lies the riddle of the daemonic as the monstrous.

On the dialectic of monstrosity

Monstrosity begins with the existence of a physically threatening being who lives just off the margins of society and predates on that society. As Adorno and Horkheimer found, if we place the beginning of the process of Enlightenment in the overcoming of the terror of nature, then the monster lurks at the roots of our civilizational process. 

Grendel in Beowulf makes a better starting point than Homer’s Odyssey for the version of the dialectic of Enlightenment that leads to Frankenstein.15 The ontological world of Beowulf consists of human society as a small island surrounded by the darkness of a threatening natural world personified by Grendel: 

The grim spirit was called Grendel.

Infamous stalker of the borders, keeper of moors,

Fen and fasts; miserable creature

from the race of monsters (fifel-cynnes eard).

Beowulf (lines 102-5). 

Grendel’s strength, lack of language and cannibalism (he is a descendent of Cain) are markers of his absolute otherness. By defeating him, Beowulf secures a partial victory over the natural world, thus enlarging the scope of human domination one bit further. To extend the dialectic, the epic poem shows that heroic action can defeat monsters, but in the end, it is the widening scope for human social relations that this creates that is the real tragedy. For anyone who has not read the poem, the real subject of the story is the transition from a struggle between nature and culture, to a triangular one between nature and mutually opposed kingdoms, whose scope for social conflict increases as the power of nature decreases.16

Frankenstein can be viewed as the endpoint of this particular dialectic. If the monstrous was wholly outside human society, the gradual expansion of that society into the natural world performed an inversion, to the point where the monster has become a product of society. From being permanently an object, the ‘monster’ becomes a subject capable of forming political demands and critiquing the social basis of its abjection.

We see this in several ways that define Frankenstein. First Frankenstein produces the monster using the latest scientific techniques, so the point is literal – the monster is manufactured. Second, the monster is a social product and from the start has been given all the potential and powers of reasoning that exists when a baby is born. Much of the story consists of the monster learning about human

society, learning to speak and read, to interact with human beings and to seek recognition as a member of society. More importantly, we know this because around twenty percent of the narrative consists of the monster’s first-hand account of his creation, expulsion, desire for restitution and threat of destruction if Frankenstein refuses to create a female mate for him. It is the failure of society’s recognition of the legitimacy of these demands, that leads the monster to realize that his only hope lies in restoring a version of the ontology of Beowulf, by establishing a space outside society where he and a mate can live. 

I swear to you by the earth I inhabit, and by you that made me, that with the companion you bestow, I will quit the neighbourhood of man and dwell, as it may chance, in the most savage of places.

Frankenstein (1968, 414).

The turn of the dialectic here is that the very society that rejects him, refuses to let him go. Rather than imagining that the monster will live with his mate peacefully in a parallel society, Frankenstein falls for the kind of logic that shows how intimately connected terror and racism are within the notion of the daemonic as monstrous:

If they were to leave Europe and inhabit the deserts of the new world, yet one of the first results of those sympathies for which the daemon thirsted would be children, and a race of evils would be propagated upon the earth who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror.

Frankenstein (1968, 435-6).

By acting on this fantasy he ensures the death of his best friend, his wife on the night of their marriage and finally himself. 

Yet Mary Shelley wrote a perspectival novel in which Frankenstein’s account is given through the experience of Walton, who encounters Frankenstein and the monster on an arctic expedition. It is Walton’s letters to his sister that frame the narrative of Frankenstein.

This means that the dialectic of the monstrous can have two outcomes, revealing an historicity lacking in Victor Frankenstein’s fatalism. If the ending that Frankenstein pursues is to kill the monster and then keep his knowledge secret, Walton takes a different path. 

As McNally has noted, Walton is captain of a ship that has become icebound. ‘I am surrounded by mountains of ice which admit of no escape and threaten every moment to crush my vessel.’ (1968, 485). From the ship they see a figure on the ice who disappears then another in pursuit – this is Frankenstein chasing his monster to the ends of the earth. He takes Frankenstein on board, who tells his story and the monster’s. Then on his death, the monster appears for a final encounter. Having heard from the monster first hand, Walton lets him go, and succumbing to the demands of his sailors abandons his mission of exploration. 

The threat of mutiny, and the revolt of the monster are direct parallels. In the one case the representative of the ruling class accedes and both classes survive, in the other he fights to their mutual destruction. Interestingly, it is only when the ontological relation of society to nature reverts to the one faced by Beowulf that it becomes possible to begin to be reconciled to a monster who is a human.17 That by being trapped in threatening ice, Walton is symbolically thrust back to the point where the dialectic of the monstrous began. Yet as with any dialectic a return is a progression, and this means that Walton becomes the only person who listens to the monster without taking fright and lets the monster decide his own fate. It is the closest we get to any moment of recognition for the monster, or reconciliation.

The missing encounter between capital + labour

Shelley stamps a decidedly anti-working-class identity on Frankenstein. And, in the anatomist’s assembly of the monster, she imaginatively reconstructs the process by which the working class was created: first dissected (separated from the land and their communities), then reassembled as a frightening collective entity that grotesque conglomeration known as the proletarian mob. ‘Like the proletariat,’ notes Moretti, ‘the monster is denied a name and individuality… Like the proletariat, he is a collective and artificial creature.’ Consistent with this plebeian identity, all three figures who address the monster refer to him as ‘wretch’, a common expression of class-snobbery.

McNally (2011, 95-6)

In the novel there is only one point where capital and labour directly meet, and that is when Walton’s crew threaten to mutiny. The absence of the class relation in the central conflict of a novel about a creator whose creature wreaks vengeance upon him runs counter to Marxist readings of Frankenstein. Yet this is central to the way the monstrous operates within capitalism. 

Understanding this requires attention to the relation between Frankenstein and his monster. Undoubtedly there is a relation of domination based upon an act of production. Most notably Frankenstein refers to himself as the slave of his monster three times over two pages:

Some accident might meanwhile occur to destroy him and put an end to my slavery forever. 

It was the prospect of that day when, enfranchised from my miserable slavery…

I was the slave of my creature.

Frankenstein (1968, 421-2). 

In this sense the novel is rooted in Marx’s ontological outlook – that production is the metabolic social process, and all developed forms of social life metabolize through a productive process. By bypassing the process by which this includes ‘natural’ childbirth, Shelley is creating an allegory for industrial production, and it is here that we can begin to locate the monstrous.18

Before the steam engine and coal, all production was powered by animal and human muscles or in proximity to sources of power, notably wind, water and woodlands.19 The separation of this proximity opens the path to machine production, the complete separation of production from consumption and social reproduction and ultimately a completely automated society, run by machines in a post-human world. The first step on this path is taken by the fantasy of the automaton that gains traction during the Romantic period. Hoffmann’s story der Sandmann involved the struggle over possession of an automaton, and Shelley takes this a step further by constructing an automaton that has the principle of life:   

After days and nights of incredible fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter.

Frankenstein (1968, 312). 

Hoffmann’s interest in mechanical beings lies in the way we fetishise them, as if they were alive, while masking the diabolic forces that animate them; Shelley’s lies in the question of the political ethics of the real beings our society manufactures. Whereas Hoffmann stops at the point of exposing exchange relations, Shelley takes us to the hidden abode of production:

In a solitary chamber, or rather cell, at the top of the house, and separated by all the other apartments by a gallery, I kept my workshop of filthy creation… The dissecting room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials; and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation, whilst, still urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased, I brought my work near to a conclusion.

Frankenstein (1968, 315).

There is something monstrous in Frankenstein’s conjugation of the dissecting room, slaughter house and garret. It parallels the situation where a chicken appears in a cellophane wrapper, having passed through the battery farm, the haulage system, the abattoir and the food processing factory. The visceral impact is registered by Frankenstein’s loathing towards his occupation, foreshadowing the relation most workers have felt for their labour over the past couple of centuries.

Here we begin to see the way that monstrosity lies in the process of production, rather than the identity of the producer or the product. Frankenstein achieves what Marx jokingly spells out in the chapter on commodity fetishism, where he imagines what a commodity would say if it could speak. But there is a twist. Frankenstein by being disgusted at his product refuses to turn it into a commodity. 

In other words, unlike Alban, he reaches the brink of forming a capitalist relation and steps back towards feudalism – but too late. 

I see by your eagerness… my friend, that you expect to be informed of the secret with which I am acquainted; that cannot be;…I will not lead you on, unguarded and ardent as I was then, to your destruction and infallible misery. Learn from me… how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow. 

Frankenstein (1968, 313) 

By being disgusted, Frankenstein refuses to engage in two of the main forms of class relations that had resulted from an artificial process of uprooting humans in his day – namely, slavery in the Americas, and the creation of an industrial working class in Britain and Europe. He does not sell his creature as a commodity (making him a slave) or turn his labour-power into an extractable commodity (making him into a worker). 

This is a central paradox for a Marxist reading, requiring we go beyond a correspondence theory that would see Frankenstein as bourgeois and the monster as proletarian. Perhaps the best way to answer this, is that the issue is not as far from fetishism as my juxtaposition of Shelley and Hoffmann would suggest. That capitalism, as a late mode of production, arises when the monstrous has been socially internalised to the point where morality and the categories are of good and evil are losing their theological form. Here the gap between the monstrous as productive process and the beautiful as commodity has widened to an absolute contradiction. This contradiction takes a bodily form in the being created by Frankenstein, whose outward appearance bears the scars of its production, much as a botched work that is scrapped on the production line. 

The cultural reflex of this contradiction lies in the specular force of judgement, by which a subject of such a society is formed and judged by their visual appearance. The creature’s sole transgression lies in his visual appearance, and Shelley presents this process as total. On describing the approach of a child (who turns out to be Frankenstein’s younger brother) he says:

Suddenly, as I gazed on him, an idea seized me that this little creature was unprejudiced and had lived too short a time to have imbibed a horror of deformity. If, therefore, I could seize him and educate him as my companion and friend, I should not be so desolate in this peopled earth.

… As soon as he beheld my form, he… uttered a shrill scream… ‘Let me go,’ he cried, ‘monster! Ugly wretch! You wish to eat me and tear me to pieces. You are an ogre…’ 

Frankenstein (1968, 409-10).

This is arguably the moral of one of the lengthiest digressions in the book, where the monster lives secretly outside the house where the de Lacey family live. This family is a replica of the household Mary and Percy Shelley at the time of writing the novel. The de Lacey’s have been exiled as political opponents and for the support they had given to a Muslim Turk who was threatened with imprisonment. Through listening in on their political discussions, he forms a level of class-consciousness:

I learnt that the possessions most esteemed by your fellow creatures were high and unsullied descent united with riches. A man might be respected with only one of these advantages, but without either he was considered… as a vagabond and slave, doomed to waste his powers for the profits of the chosen few! And what was I?... Was I, then, a monster, a blot on the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned?

Frankenstein (1968, 386). 

Yet when the creature finally reveals himself, the son recoils in horror and beats him with his stick - the result is a conflagration where the creature murders them all and burns down their house. 

Here we see that the most socially progressive people imaginable still fall for the ideological spell of the sensuous, and this is a valuable part of the creature’s political education. They may have the right ideas but are unable to step outside the social relations they condemn. 

The only space left where we come close to reconciliation is in the ice bound ship where Walton has no choice but to look on the monster and listen. He is in the monster’s world outside society rather than the other way. Just as Frankenstein is on the glacier under Mt. Blanc, where he encounters his creature and is forced to listen to his story. Here arguably lies the significance of the spatial geography of the novel.

This is the sense in which Frankenstein stages a secondary process that Marx would develop in his analysis of the reserve army of labour, and that exists in today’s politics of migration and the role of racism in structuring global class relations. 

Here Frankenstein represents a hybrid of the capitalist and the worker who has been incorporated into the system. He comes up with the capital to make the product, and does the labour, but represents an entire society pitted against an Other who he seeks to repel. This mirrors the role of nationality in structuring social identities, creating sharp boundaries that blur the fundamental division of class within each nation. It also mirrors the politics of dividing the workers in employment from the unemployed. Perhaps the most subversive element of Shelley’s novel lies in the sense of seeing how the monstrous is not the proletariat per se, but those elements who are refused citizenship or are harassed by the state as internal aliens. 


The notion of horror in a capitalist society remains split between two conceptions of the daemonic – the vampiric and the monstrous. Both taken on their own reflect a one-sided grasping of the problem. The vampiric exploits the specular surfaces of capitalist exchange relations, while the monstrous looks at the expulsion of sections of the proletariat from social relations altogether as a way of forging a class compromise between productive labour and capital. 

By tracing both to the crisis of Romanticism, we can see how our notions of horror are not the result of ontology, but are epistemological reflexes of a period in which utopia was thwarted. The transformation of Sehnsucht into the Unheimlich and poesis into the daemonic, trace a process rooted in the political unconscious of the French Revolution.

Moretti observed, in his essay on terror, that Frankenstein’s monster and the vampire rarely appear together. Perhaps doing so would be like putting the various layers of the totality Marx outlined in the introduction to 1857 Economic Notebooks together.

The result we are seeking to achieve is not that production, distribution, exchange and consumption are identical, rather that they form a totality, as differentiations within a unity.

Marx (2005, 34).

Perhaps we can end by paraphrasing Walter Benjamin. In the hope of politicising aesthetics today we could ask what would happen if the two registers of the daemonic are brought together. This tentative thought will be the subject of the next piece on robot rebellions.  


  • Barkoff, J. (2009), ‘Romantic science and psychology’, in N. Saul ed. A Cambridge Companion to German Romanticism, (Cambridge University Press).

  • Beowulf, ed. CL Wrenn (1953), (George Harrap and co., London).

  • Hoffmann, ETA, (1983), Der Magnetiseur, published in Werke, Band 1, (Caesar Verlag, Salzburg).

  • Kant, I., (2015), Kritik der Urteilskraft, (Anaconda, Köln).

  • Malm, A., (2016), Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming, (Verso, London).  

  • McNally, D., (2012), Monsters of the Market: Zombies: Vampires and Global Capitalism, (Haymarket, Chicago).

  • Moretti, F., (1983), ‘Dialectic of Fear’, in Signs Taken for Wonders, (Verso, London).

  • Morse, D., (1981), Perspectives on Romanticism: A Tranformational Analysis, (Macmillan, London).

  • Schlegel, F., (1978), “Athenäums” -Fragmente und andere Schriften, (Reclam, Stuttgart).

  • Schweizer, S., (2007), ‘Zwischen Poesie und Wissen. E.T.A. Hoffmanns Der Magnetiseur. „... und die Welt wird neu geordnet“. Kontinuität und Bruch,’ in www.goethezeitportal/fileadmin/PDF/db/wiss/hoffmann/schweizer_hoffman_magnetiseur.pdf.

  • Shelley, Mary, (1968) Frankenstein, published as Three Gothic Novels, (Penguin, London).

  • Tolkien, JRR., (1963), ‘Beowulf, the monsters and the critics’, reprinted in Beowulf (Notre Dame, Indiana). 


  1. For the account of this night and a description of the German ghost stories – that sound strikingly like Hoffmann, see Mary Shelley’s introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein (1968, 261).

  2. It is worth noting that Frankenstein’s act of production echoes a wide number of creation myths in which a male god creates the first humans. In polytheistic instances such as in Greek and Norse mythology this is done as part of a deliberate strategy to bypass reproduction of life that involves females, and is part of a power struggle between generations of gods. I hope to explore this whole issue of male creativity that excludes female ‘labour’in a future piece.

  3. All translations from German and Old English are the author’s. In block quotes I tend to use only the second name of the author, though have quoted Friedrich Schlegel in full so as not to confuse him with his sister Caroline and brother August Wilhelm, both of whom contributed to the Romantic movement.

  4. In German university towns like Jena this meant extolling philosophers like Fichte, who had recently been expelled from his post on the grounds of atheism. For the atheism dispute (where the word Nihilism made its entry) 

  5. Schlegel had converted to Catholicism in 1808, moved to Vienna and was became an ideologist for Metternich – the Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1808-49, who orchestrated the ‘Holy Alliance’ between the most reactionary Monarchies in Europe.

  6. McNally’s Monsters of the Market opens with in-depth assessment of the relationship between anatomy and the transformations in class relations attendant to the rise of capitalism. Of note is the Romantic objection to an anatomical view of nature and a form of society that subjects its labouring class to the status of ‘hands’ (2011, 111). He sees it as no accident that Victor Frankenstein was a practicing anatomist.

  7. Schelling’s Naturphilosophie sought to develop a monistic theory of nature and Geist that provided an intellectual framework for Romantic explorations of science along lines that stressed stages of development and quasi-evolutionary frameworks. Schweizer provides a detailed analysis of Hoffmann’s der Magnetiseur against this background.

  8. In section 46 of Kant’s Critique of Judgement he set out a definition of genius that would remain the template for an entire generation. The genius is a person endowed with such a level of talent that they invent the rules which less talented artists follow (Genie ist das Talent (Naturgabe), welches der Kunst die Regel gibt) Kant (2015). 

  9. The term daemon is used instead of demon. This is partially because the ‘monster’ in Frankenstein is frequently given this epithet, but also I wanted to signify the specific treatment of the demonic being undertaken in this piece.

  10. For a discussion of Mesmer see Barkhoff, (2009, 213-18). See also the following which has a lot on the English context 

  11. For detail on this see the editorial introduction (1983, 161).

  12. Schweizer provides a particularly thorough analysis of the interplay between the characters and the formal handling of the plot.

  13. The narrative is also clear that Theobald was brought up with foster parents. In Frankenstein we see this theme too. Victor’s foster sister Elizabeth is brought into the family.  A motif in the story lies in the difference between her treatment as a blue-eyed blond child and Frankenstein’s ‘monster,’ both of whom are seeking a family and belonging. It is no accident that Elizabeth’s murder on her wedding night to Victor forms the centre piece of the ‘monster’s’ revenge.

  14. In initial drafts for this piece I had toyed with replacing the designation ‘monster,’ ‘creature’ and the more neutral ‘being’ with ‘Daemon’ as this is how Victor Frankenstein introduces him to the narrator Walton. Where I have opted for a monster it is in the sense that this novel is a paradigm case of the monstrous in capitalist modernity. The fact that he becomes a politicized subject makes all notions of monster relative, and a reflex of the monstrous social process that underpins monstrosity in capitalism.

  15. It is worth noting that Beowulf survives in a single manuscript that remained buried in various libraries from around 1000CE to when it was unearthed at the about the same time as Frankenstein and first published (1815). Its discovery and publication is as much a product of Romanticism as the works discussed here. See Wrenn (1953, 10-14).

  16. Since JRR Tolkein’s essay ‘Beowulf, the monsters and the critics’ analysis of the Anglo-Saxon epic has been torn between emphasis on Beowulf’s monster slaying and conflicts between the various kingdoms that make up the background to the world depicted. My interpretation here is that as the monsters are slain, there is more room for inter-human forms of conflict to emerge and internalise the monstrous. 

  17. I take the basic notion of political subjectivity as the main qualification for ‘humanity’, seeing it less in binary terms (human/monster) and more as a position in a social structure.

  18. Space does not permit to explore the feminist dimensions of this act, which as suggested earlier will form the basis for a wider mythical reading of the question of parthenogenesis.

  19. I have taken this interpretation from Andreas Malm (2016). 

  20. For detail on this see the editorial introduction (1983, 161).

  21. Schweizer provides a particularly thorough analysis of the interplay between the characters and the formal handling of the plot.

  22. The narrative is also clear that Theobald was brought up with foster parents. In Frankenstein we see this theme too. Victor’s foster sister Elizabeth is brought into the family.  A motif in the story lies in the difference between her treatment as a blue-eyed blond child and Frankenstein’s ‘monster,’ both of whom are seeking a family and belonging. It is no accident that Elizabeth’s murder on her wedding night to Victor forms the centre piece of the ‘monster’s’ revenge.

  23. In initial drafts for this piece I had toyed with replacing the designation ‘monster,’ ‘creature’ and the more neutral ‘being’ with ‘Daemon’ as this is how Victor Frankenstein introduces him to the narrator Walton. Where I have opted for a monster it is in the sense that this novel is a paradigm case of the monstrous in capitalist modernity. The fact that he becomes a politicized subject makes all notions of monster relative, and a reflex of the monstrous social process that underpins monstrosity in capitalism.

  24. It is worth noting that Beowulf survives in a single manuscript that remained buried in various libraries from around 1000CE to when it was unearthed at the about the same time as Frankenstein and first published (1815). Its discovery and publication is as much a product of Romanticism as the works discussed here. See Wrenn (1953, 10-14).

  25. Since JRR Tolkein’s essay ‘Beowulf, the monsters and the critics’ analysis of the Anglo-Saxon epic has been torn between emphasis on Beowulf’s monster slaying and conflicts between the various kingdoms that make up the background to the world depicted. My interpretation here is that as the monsters are slain, there is more room for inter-human forms of conflict.

Joe Sabatini is a member of the Red Wedge editorial collective and edits Revolutionary Reflections for rs21 in Britain.