Tag Archive: the workshop of filthy creation

Samantha Shapiro

Warren Montag, in his work, The “Workshop of Filthy Creation”: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein, notes that a literary text, is a “node within a network” (469), perhaps a part of a whole. However, a literary text doesn’t merely have a place within history, but also develops meaning through readership, and shines a light on a collective readership. From this view, I interpret that Montag determined that Frankenstein’s creation was established as “the modern…singularity” of the masses, and thus indescribable due to breadth from the absence of the proletariat within the novel (480).

Through a defined and educating viewpoint, he unveils the tension and conflict in Frankenstein and his creation, basing the relationship between the two on a comparison of the new elites in the French and English revolutions “…[conjuring] up a monster that, once unleashed, could not be controlled” (471). He establishes tension created from the omissions in the text as a creation of a “world of effects without causes” (477).

Within his interpretation, the symbolism of the monster may hold true. However, the larger picture of history to me involves why and how a conflict was established, which can bring in human emotion. From Montag’s educating manner, the readers are neglected their ability to empathize with the creation/masses due distancing the reader from relating to the creation. While he notes there could be sympathy or pity, he fails to mention any other emotion, which is motif throughout the novel. Chapter Ten notes Victor’s change of emotions from seeing both nature, from grief to “rage and horror” from seeing the creation (92). The conflict between the two is characterized with rage and a lack of acceptance between one another, and Shelley does this through their dialogue. This expressive dialogue is seen with Victor exclaiming, “Begone, vile insect! or rather, stay, that I may trample you to dust!” or the creature responding, “Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me…How dare you sport thus with life?” (92). These elements that develop the complex relationship between the two could add more depth to the conflict between the two, but remains untouched.

A Marxist Perspective

Tania De Lira-Miranda 

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In Warren Montag’s essay “The ‘Workshop of Filthy Creation’: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein,”  it is stated that Mary Shelley writing shows the “birth of [the] monster, simultaneously the object of pity and fear, the industrial working class” thus making the creature be classified as a proletariat. Montag further explains that this is due to the creature not being natural but instead artificial and how it made from a “multitude of different individuals.” But while Montag gives evidence to show that Mary Shelley intended the creature to be a representation of the working class, Montag own opinion is that the creature is not “the sign of the proletariat.”

I agree with Montag as the reasons why the creature could be considered a proletariat can be disproven. While it is true that the creature is not a natural being but artificial, Mary Shelley does not write on how the creature is created; only that Victor sewed up the body parts he took from the graveyard and then that the creature was alive. Thus the statement that the creature was created from a “multitude of different individuals” cannot be proven by the novel.  Another reason would be the difference on the reasons why to pity/fear the creature and the proletariats. The creature is to be pitied because of the loneliness he is subjected to as when Victor, his creator, ran out of the room because of the creature’s appearance (60) and when he was chased out of the cottage by Felix though he had done nothing to deserve it (121) and he should be feared due to the fact that he was the one who killed William (75) and Elizabeth (167). But the proletariats were pitied due to how poor they were and they were feared because of the revolution they could bring. So while the creature was a byproduct of a middle-class capitalist, Victor Frankenstein, the creature cannot be truly be seen as a proletariat thus making Montag’s view to be correct.

The Nameless Proletariat

At first I wasn’t sure I agreed entirely with Warren Montag’s assertion in “The Workshop of Filthy Creation” that the creature is “not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability.” (395) It seemed to me that the purposely ambiguous narrative structure of the novel was the principal catalyst of much of his interpretation: For instance, Montag cites the absence of science and technology throughout the narrative, and especially at the creation scene, as evidence of the creature’s total isolation and thus the reduction of all modernity “to the absolute singularity of Frankenstein’s creation.”(395)  But since the creature’s perspective is veiled by Victor’s narration, I wondered if perhaps the inevitable bias, the degree of separation between speaker and subject, creator and creation, is what makes the creature and everything it represents impossible to define. This bias, to me, seemed to serve mainly to emphasize the bourgeoisie, and I did not identify immediately with Montag’s employment of many of the same ambiguities to make a point about the proletariat.

This initial confusion, however, is in itself a product of the “unrepresentability” of the proletariat – while it is a single entity, represented by the creature, the contradictions of the character make it impossible to assign to it a single identity. The creature is, in Montag’s words, “monstrous by virtue of its being artificial rather than natural; lacking the unity of a natural organism, the monster is a factitious totality assembled from the parts of a multitude of different individuals, in particular, the “poor”, the urban mass that, because it is a multitude rather than an individual, is itself as nameless as Frankenstein’s creation.”  (387)

An important implication of the enigmatic nature of the proletariat is the bourgeoisie’s lack of the total control they desire and demand: What cannot be defined cannot be controlled, and history sees the manifestation of this lack of control, in one form or another, as the eruption of class struggles that Marxism asserts is the essence of human history itself. At the center of this conflict is a rejection by the upper class of their own powerlessness, and we see throughout the narrative that, from the moment of creation, Frankenstein denies his own lack of power, acting according to his needs and trying but failing to assert his authority as creator over the creature, his creation. By assuming the role of master, he alienates himself from his creation, and it is not until death that he realizes otherwise: “Although he once dreamed of creating a race that would worship him as master, he realizes as he lies dying that his relation to science ought rather to be described as a state of servitude. The ironic reversal of Frankenstein’s position is perhaps clearest when his creation, far more powerful than he, calls him ‘slave’.” (390)

Based on my limited knowledge of Marxism, it seems that the ideology defends the inevitable rise and victory of the proletariat:  “What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable” (from the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx). I wondered, then, who would be considered the conqueror of this tale, if there were one at all. And it seems to me that the lack of control that comes with lack of identity is an unfortunate side effect not only for the creator, but for the creature, and as such there doesn’t seem to be one true champion. Once Frankenstein dies, the creature follows – a chilling reflection of history, as noted by Montag: “It was widely felt, even by those sympathetic to such experiments, that the mass mobilizations necessary to destroy the old order effectively blocked the creation of the new.” (386)

Warren Montag’s interpretation thus illuminates a different dimension to the text, one that both reflects the sociopolitical climate of Shelley’s time, and is easily understood in the context of our own time. The narrative structure that at first distorted my understanding of Montag’s argument actually reinforces it, as it is necessary to emphasize the enigma that is the creature and everything it represents.