Describe how any two texts written between 1680 and 1830 explore, challenge orembody the idea of the ‘monstrous’.Abstract
This paper explores the ways in which both Mary Shelley’s
and Aphra Behn’s
challenge the idea of the monstrous. In particular, these two texts areconcerned with the question of whether monstrosity is an innate characteristic or a learnedone. In
, the text which has entered the collective unconscious as epitomisingthe monstrous, Mary Shelley challenges us to see the creature as a victim of monstrosityrather than just a perpetrator of it. The creature is born innately good but, due to his ugly anddeformed appearance, he is instantly misjudged and shunned by the rest of humanity as amonster. In the end, he is left with no other choice but to live up to this image which has beenforced upon him. Oroonoko, on the other hand, has ‘learnt his humanity’
,implying that therest of his race are uncivilised and brutish. Like Frankenstein’s creature, Oroonoko is also judged on his appearance but his perceived physical superiority over the rest of his racecauses him to be much loved and admired as opposed to hated. In a way, it is Oroonoko’sappearance that allows him to be judged as honourable. Thus Behn inverts the usualstereotype between the civilised (the white) and the barbaric (the black) just as Shelley makeit impossible for us to place Victor Frankenstein and his creature in a binary opposition of victim and monster. Therefore, these texts, in many ways, subvert our expectations and ideasof the monstrous.
Both Mary Shelley’s
and Aphra Behn’s
explore, and in manyways challenge, the idea of the ‘monstrous’. The myth of Frankenstein’s creature has become inextricably bound up with the modern definition of the word ‘monstrous’ – aterm applied to something that is ‘strange or unnatural in conduct or disposition’ or ‘of extraordinarily large dimensions’
. However, the word was also commonly usedduring the time when both
written to define animmoral action. A monster was ‘one who has so far transgressed the boundaries of nature as to become a moral advertisement’.
Here the unnatural element of monstrosity that will survive to the later meaning can be seen but it is important tokeep in mind that it can apply to moral as well as physical and social aspects of life.These two texts particularly explore the question of whether monstrosity is an innatecharacteristic or a learned one. In
, the text which has entered the
All quotations from Oroonoko in this essay are taken from Aphra Behn,
A Norton CriticalEdition (London: W.W. Norton and Company Ltd, 1997)
Baldick, Chris p48