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Mary Shelley's 'Mathilda': melancholy and the political economy of Romanticism

by Tilottama Rajan

 Although Mary Shelley was better known in her lifetime than her husband, her writings other than Frankenstein have been largely forgotten until recently. it is, moreover, a curious fact that the reassessment of her place in the canon (and of the canon in relation to that "place") is being mobilized by the reissuing of two of her most depressing texts: The Last Man and Mathilda.(1) Part of the fascination of the latter seems to be that it was never published. "Censored" by Godwin, who was asked to secure a publisher for it but found its focus on father-daughter incest "disgusting,"(2) and then left behind by Mary Shelley herself as she turned from the political to the domestic novel in Lodore, it was first brought out by Elizabeth Nitchie in 1959, when it must have seemed no more than a psychobiographical curiosity.(3) That it lends itself more to psychoanalytic than to formalist interpretation, and that it is unlikely to impress those committed to an ideology of the aesthetic, are, by contrast, reasons for its borderline attraction within a very different political economy of reception.

Mathilda is a short, bare narrative of trauma: a lyric novella in which the feeling gives importance to the situation and not the reverse. Beginning with its narrator's idealization of a father who returns after an absence of sixteen years, it deals with his (ambiguously reciprocated) incestuous desire for her, her horror at his confession, his flight and suicide, and her subsequent incurable dejection. The narrative is addressed at the point of death to Woodville, a Shelleyan visionary who has also suffered an overwhelming loss and has tried unsuccessfully to draw Mathilda back into the world of the living. The situation of Mathilda encrypts that of Mary Shelley herself as she experienced the deaths of her children while she tried to deal with Shelley's intellectual abstractedness and Godwin's massive indifference to anything but his own financial troubles. Even as she repudiates him, Mathilda is haunted by the figure of her father, whom she cannot mourn but whose loss leaves her in a state of incurable melancholy, and whose image she introjects rather than incorporates, maintaining him "intact as the living dead . . . a foreign crypt that inhabits the Ego," instead of transforming him into a "representational idealization."(4) The site of this introjection is her refusal to communicate her grief to Woodville because, unlike his own more conventional mourning for his fiancee, it is "polluted" (p. 238), yet by the same token somehow "sacred" and "mystic" (pp. 175-76): abjected but protected, invested with the powers of horror.

 Revising Freud, for whom melancholy is a failure to mourn successfully and thus to incorporate the dead person into one's life, Julia Kristeva sees such melancholy as en-gendered by a resistance to "normality" that is both dysfunctional and profoundly legitimate. Melancholy is the refusal to accept the loss of what has been effaced by the structures of familial and linguistic interpellation constructed by the Symbolic order as characterized by Lacan.(5) The melancholic, according to Kristeva, remains "glued" to the "Thing" she has lost as a fantasy "ingested, buried" inside her body: she "cannot endure Eros" but prefers "to be with the Thing up to the limit of negative narcissism leading . . . to Thanatos."(6) Whereas mourning economizes loss by making it a ground for revaluing and reengaging (but thus complying) with things as they are, melancholy contests the Symbolic order with an unusable negativity. In the normatively social form of narrative, this refusal to put negativity to work makes itself felt in two areas: in the narrator's relation to language and in her relation to the economy of reading. Like Kristeva's melancholic, Mathilda maintains a relation to language as the fragile border between affect and socialization. But she uses signs in a "monotonous way."(7) Likewise she transmits a tale to a reader, but almost posthumously, as if to extinguish the possibility that its reading will change anything, either for her or in the world.

I suggest here that the current appeal of Mathilda lies in its introjection of the Thing (or in Lacan's term the "Real") that cannot be incorporated into the Romantic canon. For Lacan we encounter the Real only by missing it: Mathilda's narrativization of this Thing through a story of "incest" that misrecognizes a figure for trauma as its cause is, in this sense, an encounter with a Real that makes itself felt only as a resistance to its textualization. Unable to represent the Real, the text encrypts it, communicating on the level of affect rather than content. Moreover, what is encrypted, transmitted to a reader named in the text yet withdrawn by its actual transmission to Godwin, is on some level the (un)readability of the primal scene of trauma. For if Mathilda addresses her story to Woodville and thus reenters the circuit of communication at the point of death, Mary Shelley at the same time discards her text by sending it to her father, who might be expected to read the text only to bury it once again.


By introjecting rather than incorporating trauma, Mary Shelley produces what I have elsewhere called a "textual abject."(8) Briefly, Kristeva defines the abject as that which does not fit, and associates it with waste material or threshold substances that are neither inside nor outside, with things or states that lack clear conceptual boundaries. As the site of some undefinable horror, the abject must be expelled for the subject to constitute itself as a bounded ego. But the very term "abjection" resists such boundaries, intercontaminating self and other, act and affect. "Abjection" refers to the violent expulsion of what is other, but the "abject" simultaneously refers to the other that is thus cast out, implicating the self in what it rejects. "Abjection" can also refer to a feeling not unlike what Coleridge calls dejection, but it is less clear whose feeling this is: that of the subject who responds to a threat by abjecting it, or that of the other whose abjection prevents it from being a full-fledged subject. This confusion is evident in Mathilda, where the language of abjection and monstrosity is used with reference to both Mathilda and her father (pp. 239, 201), and where it is unclear who occupies the position of abject (and thus what the tale is about). Polluted by what she has suffered, from one point of view it is clearly Mathilda who occupies this position, and who abjects herself from a society in which she cannot participate. In this sense the text seems to narrate the treatment of the feminine within an incestuously patriarchal society. But on another level it is also the father who occupies the position of abject, pathetically echoing the words of the creature in Frankenstein (p. 201). For in accepting her abjection from the Symbolic order, Mathilda constitutes through her melancholy "a primitive self-wounded, incomplete, empty"(9) -- of which her father becomes the unsettling and abjected rem(a)inder. From this point of view the text seems to mourn the loss of a relationship to a "masculine Romanticism"(10) figured in the father and Woodville as discarded images of Shelley and Godwin. De-jecting each of these narrativizations, or con-fusing and retaining the trace of each, Mathilda is neither this nor that and is instead a textual abject.


The "textual abject" is by no means coterminous with the larger category of the "abject." As a concretion of trauma the latter is figured in numerous Romantic texts. Blake's (First) Book of Urizen unfolds from a pre-thetic horror that can only be named in terms of what it is not, while the creature in Frankenstein is associated with monstrosity and filth. In general, Romantic literature re-covers, both in the sense of redeeming and of covering up, the abject by absorbing its affect into narrative and explanatory structures. But whereas the "normal" subject protects herself from dejection by casting out or sublimating the abject, the melancholic is someone who introjects it. The result is the "textual abject," a form in which the writer submerges in some trauma or affect from which she will not separate by constructing an objective correlative for it in the Symbolic order. As already suggested, it is the unreadability of this trauma that leads the writer to pass on her story while seeming to bypass the reader, thereby simultaneously discarding and protecting that story. Thus Mathilda puts her tale in words only when she is "too weak both in body and mind to resist" telling it (p. 175). Dejected in content, such texts are also "abjected" or otherwise defaced so that they cannot be absorbed into conventional philosophical or aesthetic frames. Though it is about abjection, Frankenstein is therefore not a textual abject. Instead, its multiple narratives frame and reframe its central horror so as to keep open the (im)possibility of explaining and overcoming trauma. Mathilda, however, discloses in its very textual history a resistance to the logic of incorporation inscribed in the gesture of framing. In its first version as The Fields of Fancy, the text is prefaced by an interlude in the Elysian fields where an extradiegetic narrator who has also suffered some misfortune is led to the Prophetess Diotima, among whose disciples is Mathilda, whom Diotima calls upon to narrate "her earthly history."(11) By interpellating Mathilda into a Platonic and Dantesque bildung, and by implying an instructional hierarchy that descends from Diotima through Mathilda to a narrator who represents the reader, the original frame conventionalizes suffering as purgatorial. This apparatus of temporal and narratorial distancing, which mimes what one is supposed to do in shaping "life" into "art," is entirely dropped in Mathilda. Echoes of Dante remain, but instead of being incorporated into the text's structure, they survive only on the level of affect, where they protect a desire for idealization that the text is unable to use.


Corresponding to the text's de-jection of itself from conventional forms of understanding is the reader's uncertainty as to what she should "do" with the text. For the abject has no clear sense of how it wants to influence a reader, indeed of whether it wants a reader at all. We could say that the abjecting of the reader resentfully resists a reading socialized in conventional ways, and thus operates as a political gesture. But this would be to recuperate the text by using the supplement of reading to engage it in a dialectic of enlightenment. It would be to represent too positively what may well be an unusable negativity. This unusable negativity may in fact be the source of the text's current fascination as a document resistant both to formalist analysis and to the political reading that has now replaced it. Both of these approaches "economize" the text by allowing the reader a return on her investment: through pleasure or katharsis on the one hand, and by making literature a catalyst in social and intellectual reform on the other hand. Since the political novel lies at the origins of the cultural critique that is now our dominant discourse, Mary Shelley's text takes us back to our own critical origins so as to contest not only the laws of genre as she inherited them, but also the frames of our own discipline. For Mathilda, as I shall suggest, operates at an oblique angle to the political novel developed by Godwin, Hays, and Wollstonecraft. These novels, along with the political narratives of Percy Shelley,(12) provide an important context for the novella, whose abjected relationship to a family of texts is at least as important as the title character's unresolved relationship to her father. And Mathilda, in turn, is the condition of possibility for Shelley's own dialogical participation in this family, in the three other novels of her early period: Frankenstein, Valperga, and The Last Man.


Mathilda's status as the "abject" of this family can be elaborated on three levels: in terms of its indeterminate generic shape, its con-fused psychic content, and the hermeneutic desire inscribed and de-jected by the ambiguous nature of its non-publication. From the beginning of her career, Mary Shelley marked her difference from her husband generically. Using as the medium for most of her work "the story of particular facts," she chose a form that disfigured the Shelleyan project of a poetry "which makes beautiful that which is distorted."(13) If there is in this turn to prose a certain bitterness with a Romantic idealism that effaced material detail, evident likewise in the violence and monstrosity that plague her texts up to The Last Man, Shelley also chooses in narrative a form associated with socialization, with putting this negativity to use within the process of social or personal reform. I assume here a distinction between the Novel, a form which Mary Shelley did not use until later, and narrative. By the Victorian period it would seem that the Novel had become a form of surveillance and consolidation, both domestic and national. Narrative, however, is not necessarily part of an ideological state apparatus, and can also be thought of as constituting a subject-in-process who participates in the Symbolic order only as part of a negative dialectic. For if we identify it not with the plot that is its end product but with the narrative process, we can argue that narrative allows authors to tell their histories otherwise by cross-dressing as or impersonating characters with whom they (dis)claim identification, and that it allows readers to work through a dialogue between interpellation and resistant identifications with characters (like Beatrice in Valperga) who challenge the Symbolic order. In other words, because it contains a cast of characters (and thus multiple subject-positions placed in diacritical relationships to one another) narrative allows us a space to think through the gaps around which the social text is constituted.


Mathilda, however, is not a narrative. In its fixation on a single mood, its lack of action, and its virtual exclusion of characters other than the protagonist, it seems closer to lyric. At the same time, it also lacks lyric's ability to idealize mood so as to constitute the subject according to Imaginary rather than Symbolic laws. Mathilda's lyricism, in other words, is less a positive identity than a subtraction from narrative, while its bare realism "obscures and distorts"(14) what the traces of Dante and Wordsworth (pp. 183, 208, 241, 243) might have made beautiful. We can refer to the text for convenience's sake as a "novella" or perhaps as an extended short story. But these terms are simply place-holders for something that is neither narrative nor lyric: something that discards by its brevity the participation in kinship structures and the belief in "bildung," or in time, as cognitive progress implicit in narrative, without projecting instead an instantaneous, non-temporal self affectively defined in relation to itself. If the novel can be seen as the form par excellence of the Symbolic order, and if narrative more generally constitutes a subject-in-process which constructively engages with that order, the novella is rather a form of melancholy. It gestures towards Symbolic structures but refuses to participate in them. It retains elements like plot and character but paralyzes them, deferring their usefulness or perhaps discarding them as unusable.


As uncertain as the text's status between lyric and narrative is its position between autobiography and fiction: modes which it con-fuses rather than using intertextually in the manner of the "autonarrative" fictions of Wollstonecraft and Mary Hays. Mathilda is not, like The Last Man, an essentially fictional work with (auto) biographical traces," since it can be fully appreciated only with reference to the author's life. The presence of that "life" as an element that is introjected rather than incorporated into the text, unravels the separation of art from life on which reception into the canon is traditionally based. Moreover, the revisions made in reworking The Fields of Fancy as Mathilda collapse that separation by replacing a third- with a first-person narration that brings the text traumatically inside the narrator's psyche. But if Mathilda is not fiction, it is also not autobiography, since its deliberate disfiguration of Mary Shelley's relationship with Godwin achieves its effect by occupying an uncertain space between the literal and the figural. To read incest as simply a figure for the warped structure of the patriarchal economy would be to absolve the latter of the horror it should arouse, by theorizing it and thus disposessing it of its materiality. It is this materiality that Shelley emphasizes in sending her novella to Godwin. But to read the text as the record of a definable event would be to foreclose the possibility of change buried in the fact that this incest (both in the text and in Mary Shelley's "life") never quite takes place, and is not quite what the narrative is about.(15) Neither fictional nor autobiographical, Mathilda makes use of a signifying mode that is somewhere in between, so as to materialize yet screen its trauma by projecting the affect of a primal scene that is on some level fictitious, a narrativization of the Real.


The uncertain position of the text on the border between the fictional and the Real is repeated in the peculiar circumstances of its (non)transmission. When Shelley wrote the novella, her relationship with Godwin was at a crisis. She had lost both of her surviving children, but Godwin seemed less concerned with her grief than with extracting money from the Shelleys to pay his debts, to the point that Percy for fear of upsetting her had to withhold from her any correspondence from her father. She nevertheless sent the manuscript to Godwin, ostensibly so that he could publish it and pay his debts. Not surprisingly, though he was impressed with parts of Mathilda, he did nothing with the book. Shelley tried for two years to retrieve the manuscript, after which she dropped the matter.


Those who have discussed the peculiar fate of the manuscript have assumed that Mary's "gift" was further evidence of her generosity rather than a bitter mimicry of it, that she wanted to publish Mathilda and that Godwin frustrated her plans. It is true that Mary Shelley was not an established author, that she did not have immediate access to English publishers in Italy, and that Godwin was later to function as a literary agent for Valperga, also donated to him as a way of paying his debts. But it is surely preposterous to assume that even Godwin would publish a text which, however disguised its biographical origins might have seemed to its author, was clearly a daughter's accusation against her father. For him to profit from Mathilda would have been to publish in his very actions the scandalously patriarchal relationship of father to daughter represented in the text. Nor is it clear that the manuscript sent to Godwin was Mary's only copy of the novel, and that in confiscating it, he precluded further attempts to get it published. Mary read some version of Mathilda to Edward Williams on August 6th and to Jane Williams on September 4th, 1821.(16) The transmission of the manuscript to Godwin is, rather, a part of a highly overdetermined psychic text. On one level, it is an act of textual violence that continues the abjection of Symbolic structures also evident in Mary Shelley's withdrawal from the decorums of genre. In sending the manuscript to Godwin, she does not so much seek the normal participation in the literary community signified by publication, as introject the need for community by locking her text within an incestuous mode of transmission. On another level, desperate and bitter as this gesture is about the (im)possibility of publication, it is also (self)protective. Mary protects her story from the publication she also wants by sending it to Godwin; like Mathilda, she accuses and thus abjects her father, but also protects him and rejects her own work by sending him the manuscript and thus deferring its publication.

 At the heart of this ambivalence is the nature of the primal scene whose trauma is conveyed by the text. For at the same time as Mary Shelley uses the figure of incest to affect us with a sense of horror, it is also far from clear whose incestuous desire the text is about and also whether it protects or abjects that desire. The narrative is ostensibly about the father's passion for Mathilda and yet, just as powerfully about her desire for him. In one of the few sustained discussions of Mathilda, Terence Harpold, in effect, reads through this contradiction so as to reduce the text's profound ambivalence. He argues that the novella (including its transmission to Godwin) acts out a seduction fantasy which testifies to the way Mathilda/Mary, who knows her mother only through the mediation of her father, is caught in a desire that is always already constructed within the patriarchal order.(17) In its Romantic context, however, incest was a motif appropriated by both radicals and conservatives in contradictory ways: a figure for a warped patriarchy in The Cenci, and yet also the site of an (il)legitimately subversive desire in Laon and Cythna and Manfred. Incest operates not just as part of a Symbolic economy, but also on the border between the Symbolic and the semiotic (Kristeva's term for the realm of drives that precedes and is excluded from the paternal order of language). A metonym for patriarchy's abuse of women, it is also the social abject created by the confusion of masculine power with radical desire in the socioliterary text of "Romanticism." Moreover, we cannot read incest in purely biographical terms, and what is at issue here is not so much Mary's desire for Godwin enacted in the substitutive medium of fiction, as a form of desire whose textual transmission (both in Mary's and in Godwin's fiction) recognizes its figural structure. Mary's desire, moreover, is specifically a literary desire, a desire for Godwin as he might have been: as the imaginary and imaginative father of the radical feminist novel.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the family romance of this text is the reversal by which it attributes to the fictional father what seems to have been Shelley's own "excessive & romantic" attachment to Godwin."(18) This reversal is on one level accusatory. Paula Cohen has discussed the use of the daughter in the nineteenth-century family as a means of resolving the tensions inherent in the dyadic formation of the couple. Persistently "triangulated," the daughter was required to mediate between her parents and to take her mother's place. She was, moreover, required to continue the father's desires into the next generation, which meant that he controlled her even in marriage: in effect, that he married her.(19) Shelley's position was exacerbated by the fact that she had no mother. This situation was sufficiently common to have become a part of the nineteenth-century psychosocial fabric: large numbers of women died in childbirth and daughters were therefore brought up by fathers much more often than sons by mothers. Conditioned to transpose her feelings for the mother onto the father as her means of access to society and language, the daughter was constructed to desire the father and to express his "incestuous" desire as hers. Troping her desire for Godwin, or for what he represented, as the father's incestuous love for Mathilda, Shelley expresses her anger at a patriarchal economy that uses female desire as Symbolic capital, thus economizing and containing what in her case was not just a desire for the mother, but for a mother associated with political radicalism. "Incest" registers the horrifying effects of this economy, sexualizing a rape that is, in fact, far more subtle.


But incest in Mathilda also is more subtle than in The Cenci, the narrative that Mary translated from Italian and that Percy wanted her to write as a play. For by making the father a subject of desire, Shelley marks him as incomplete, inscribing not patriarchy but masculine Romanticism as haunted by a lack that is disfigured or negatively troped in the (ab)use of women as figures in a cultural Imaginary. In general, her fascination with monstrosity from Frankenstein to The Last Man is part of an abjected hermeneutic which tries both to read and to resist this disfigurement by in turn, dis-figuring it. Her treatment of Godwin in Mathilda is part of this same hermeneutic. Thus, if the accusation of incest is an act of textual violence towards him, the association of the father with unsatisfied desire is an attempt at understanding. It is for this latter reason that Mary Shelley keeps the father's desire innocent and makes him a figure of pathos. Unlike Count Cenci's, his desire is never enacted and his declaration "I love you!" is not only sexually unspecific (following as it does the words "I hate you!" [p. 201]), but also curiously echoes words that the young Mathilda has dreamed of hearing from her father (p. 185). The father's desire remains in excess of its misrepresentation as incest, and what is disclosed when he finally verbalizes this desire is not so much "the truth" as a secret encrypted within his melodramatic uneasiness with language. Significantly, he himself points to the illegibility of his desire when he warns Mathilda that if she wrests his "secrets" from him "I shall utter strange words, and you will believe them, and we shall be both lost for ever" (p. 200). When he does utter these words, he is profoundly remorseful, and removes himself forever from his daughter's company.


The father's desire, moreover, is ambiguously legitimized by the fact that Mathilda returns it. After his death, she speaks of him as having "for ever deserted" her (p. 229) and longs for "our union" (p. 24 1), for a shroud that is to be her "marriage dress" (p. 244). Mathilda's desire for her father, a desire for "eternal mental union" (p. 244) that is nevertheless powerfully eroticized to mark the ways it exceeds this description, is a complex phenomenon: a desire for his desire, for his incompleteness. It is clear that the father's desire is, to some extent, a transference onto the daughter of his desire for her mother Diana (pp. 194-95,208), and that in reciprocating it, Mathilda transfers onto her father her own desire for the parent she has lost. But it is also clear that this initial desire was always already in excess of its gendered object: we are never told that the father loved Diana, but simply that "He loved" (p. 178). For both Mathilda and her father, then, desire remains unspecific: a desire for everything that has been effaced from the culture in which they have been brought up.


We can approach Mathilda's desire through Kristeva's notion of the imaginary father, for what Mathilda longs for is not her father but something more "archaic" which she has never known. The imaginary father (as distinct from the Law of the Father) is Kristeva's metaphor for a pre-symbolic and androgynous affective space that semiotically prefigures the linking of affect and language necessary for the child's emergence as a speaking subject. A trans-position of the mother, "he" is also a "third term" (between mother and child) that libidinally directs affect into signification and without whom the child remains stuck in abjection.(20) Incest thus functions within two very different signifying paths whose inevitable con-fusion in Mathilda results in its abjection. On the one hand, it is the desire for the imaginary father: a desire that is radical and forbidden because it involves, for him as well as for her, what cannot be accommodated within the Symbolic order. On the other hand, incest is also the form taken by a Symbolic economy that allows this desire to emerge only in warped ways.(21) Confronted not with the imaginary but with the Symbolic father, Mary Shelley must "kill" him, putting him in the position of the "mother" as that which precedes and is abjected from language, so as to return him to his semiotic potential.


As crucial to understanding Mathilda's desire is the text's functioning as an abjected psychoanalysis of Godwin's fiction, considered as a body of (self)writing split between its phenotext and its genotext. For this desire is a literary desire which cathects onto Mathilda's father the affect associated with the Godwinian hero: an outcast or a kind of sublime abject haunted by some dark secret which is both horrifying and subversive. Of particular importance (because she would have read it before writing Mathilda) is Godwin's penetrating (self)exposure of patriarchy in his confessional novel Fleetwood (1805). The novel deals with a brooding and Byronic protagonist who, at the age of forty-five, marries a young orphan called Mary, and whose misanthropy and jealousy traumatically end their relationship. Fleetwood cannot be exactly identified with Godwin, who did not marry a much younger wife and does not seem to have resented her having an independent social and literary life. Yet the age at which the character marries inscribes the traces of Godwin's complicity in a patriarchal script that played itself out in the life of his daughter if not his wife. For if descriptions of "Mary" resemble anyone, it is not Mary Wollstonecraft but her daughter, who in Mathilda serves the protagonist's father as a figure for his lost wife. In a way that seems almost to prophesy Mary Shelley's life, Mary Macneil loses her parents and sisters all at once in their disastrous voyage to Italy and is propelled into a sudden dependence on the man whom her father has left her behind to marry. Like Godwin (who was unable to comprehend his daughter's response to the deaths of her children), Fleetwood never fully understands the effects of this trauma on his wife who obsessively dreams of drowning herself so as to be reunited with her family. Referring back to an incestuous pre-text elaborated in Godwin's fiction rather than his life, Mary Shelley transposes the woman's dream of drowning onto the man, who lives it out as reality.


Mathilda is, on one level, Mary Shelley's revenge, a rewriting of Godwin's novel in which an incestuous patriarchy pays through death instead of being allowed the luxury of a Rousseauvian and self-vindicating confession. Yet in alluding to Fleetwood, Mary Shelley also evokes a "Godwin" who criticized what is here urged against him. For Godwin does not simply use his "metaphysical dissecting knife"(22) on Fleetwood; he also raises questions about the seemingly unselfish Macneil, whose family embodies the ideal of rational domesticity offered as a cure for Fleetwood's restless "ennui." It is, after all, Macneil who inexplicably and suddenly emigrates to Italy, taking his entire family but leaving his youngest daughter behind for Fleetwood to court. More important than his misgivings about the match, it would seem, is his desire to prove his theory: that domesticity is the cure for his protege's misanthropic egotism. While Fleetwood can be criticized for treating his wife as a kind of toy,(23) Macneil is scarcely different in bringing up his daughters to follow decorative pursuits such as painting, piano-playing, and gardening.(24) At once a corrected Rousseau and an example of Burke's benevolent patriarch, Macneil is Godwin's confession that on the feminist issue there is not much to choose between opposed political positions, philanthrope and misanthrope, perhaps even author and character.


As important, the novel ends with neither the death of the woman nor her reabsorption into the domestic ideology. There is no reconciliation of mutilated survivors as in Jane Eyre, and Fleetwood's confession (unlike Caleb Williams') does little to justify him. Rather, the novel is an unusually candid portrayal of a "Romanticism" that both attracted and disturbed Mary Shelley in ways that are reflected in her ambivalent admiration for Byron. For Fleetwood is driven by a perpetual discontent with things as they are. He seems discontent not only with the world of Restoration sex in which he makes his adult debut, but also with its "cure" in the enlightened Macneil family whose abrupt departure and death are the symptoms of its ineffectual and merely theoretical quality. Finding no more than a conventionalized satisfaction in the family, Fleetwood loves Mary most when she has lost everything and is driven to a melancholy that constitutes their deepest bond. It is as though he seeks in her an image of his own radical alienation from the Symbolic order: an alienation caused by a loss which, in his case, has no specific referent.


Driven by a dissatisfaction variously theorized in Germany as "sentimentality," "irony," and indeed "Romanticism" (as distinct from Classicism), Fleetwood can neither put this discontent to any use, nor understand the melancholic ground of his attraction to Mary, whose affinities with him he tries to displace by writing her into a position of gendered inequality. Instead, and because of his status as a male member of the leisured class, his restlessness is dissipated in ennui and spleen. What would otherwise be Godwin's critique of a social type is, however, complicated by the inability of the text to make ideological and narratological authority coincide. For while Fleetwood is scathingly anatomized, the fact that the narrative is told in the first person also leads us to feel that there must be something in him, recuperating not Fleetwood himself, but that unfocused dissatisfaction with which he infects the novel. Fleetwood's discontent with things as they are inscribes in the text the trace of a negativity that is never politicized, never used productively. One has, at the end, a sense of disappointment which comes from the fact that the novel is without issue; its characters do not seem to go onto anything. But the effects of this unused negativity within the dialectic of enlightenment that is the conventional model for the reading process are already deeply contradictory. On the one hand, Fleetwood's self-knowledge does not result in anything and is not structurally confirmed and rewarded by a reconciliation with his wife: given the repetitive pattern of his previous behavior, we must wonder if he has changed, and if enlightenment makes any difference. On the other hand, Mary clearly has changed: in leaving her husband, she has been radicalized, perhaps even more so than Maria at the end of Wollstonecraft's Wrongs of Woman. Yet the plot has no means of registering this change, of making it matter, because the novel is the story of Fleetwood and not of Mary, who at the end simply goes away. Finally, therefore, the sense of waste also implicates Godwin himself in the novel's confession, as well as transmitting to the reader a dissatisfaction that is the other side of desire. For just as Fleetwood cannot understand what draws him to his wife, so Godwin cannot write a feminist novel, curtailing the radicalism of his insight within the egotism of the masculine confessional mode.


But this waste, this unused negativity generated by unfulfilled expectations, can also be seen as the ground of something yet to be. For our depression at the end of the novel has two sources. On one level, the example of Fleetwood suggests that while intellectual change is possible, its effects are dissipated in the repetitive nature of emotional behavior. On another level, the example of Mary suggests that change does not occur because there is no way of recording it in the Symbolic order: no tradition of what Mary Shelley will attempt in Valperga, namely a "history" trans-scribed by women. At the same time, however, the condition of possibility for this new history is the restless Romanticism of Fleetwood rather than the contented Enlightenment rationality of Macneil: the Romanticism that Mary Shelley critiques but never entirely rejects in the Byronic figure of Castruccio in Valperga.


In alluding to Fleetwood Mary Shelley therefore summons up a complex past: one that connects her to her mother through the (dis)continuous mediation of her father. Her profound ambivalence towards this past is evident in her need to kill the father fictionally, so that she can bring him back as a ghostly archetype haunting Mathilda's thoughts, a form without a content. But this ambivalence does not function in the manner characteristic of Godwin's novels: novels which stimulated her desire in away that Shelley's poetry could not, because of their fascination with a "deeply-trenched wound," a "wound" that could only be "skinned over" and which is recognized in Deloraine as the wound of gender.(25) For Godwin's novels use trauma as part of a negative dialectic. It is important to emphasize that they differ from Holcroft's novels in being dialectical rather than rhetorical and didactic: they do not simply show us what is wrong, they ask us to think through political justice for ourselves. Their significance consists not in what they say but in what Godwin terms their "effect."(26) At the same time, Godwin's centrality to Romantic (as distinct from Enlightenment) political narrative also stems from a feature recently noted by Gary Handwerk: namely his interest in traumas that suspend the diagnostic and curative project of cultural critique. This interest in trauma marks Godwin's divergence from the simpler Jacobin tradition of Holcroft and Bage, as well as from the meliorism (perhaps simplistically) attributed to Political Justice.(27) For we tend to associate Godwin's critique of institutions with the utopian assumption that to know the good is to desire the good. But in his novels, he increasingly explores the functioning of (social) trauma as a cause or as a perpetuating effect of political injustice, a gap in the social text that aborts dialectic in repetition. The novels, then, are traversed by a psychic violence that suspends dialectic: a negativity which we also find in Blake's Visions and Europe, in Shelley's Zastrozzi, and in the intertextual complicities between Prometheus Unbound and The Cenci. Despite the role of trauma in his writing, however, it is still arguable that Godwin's fiction prior to Mandeville is constructed around an aporia between trauma and critique. We can characterize this aporia in two ways. Because we are never certain whether the origins of trauma are personal or social, we cannot assume that these texts are accessible only to psychoanalysis, resistant to cultural critique and the social change for which it is a disciplinary trope. Secondly, because we cannot gauge the effects of trauma (in the present and in the future, on the protagonists and on a reader detached from the situation), we also cannot say whether it blocks or mobilizes social change. This aporia generates what is best described as a negative dialectic felt in our uncertainty as to whether the "effect" of reading is revolution or further trauma. Godwin's novels, ending (in the case of Caleb Williams, Fleetwood, and Deloraine) in the wreck or death of their protagonists, shock us with the urgency of thinking beyond things as they are. To think, however, is not to change, since we must also rethink these texts through the blindnesses in their own (self)analysis, as well as through the space between textual and actual progress inscribed by Godwin's "auto-graphing" of the texts with traces from his own life.


In making Godwin a character within her text but also its first reader, Mary Shelley alludes to that space and evokes the negative dialectic of the political novel as a context for Mathilda. But the novella itself does not function dialectically. For the abject introjects dialectic as paralysis, rather than incorporating ambivalence into dialectic. Or to put it differently, "effect" in Mathilda is encrypted within affect, with the result that melancholy does not become a source of a productive negativity. In this respect Mathilda draws on a pessimistic countercurrent in the Romantic political novel exemplified by Eliza Fenwick's Secresy (1795), Mary Hays' Victim of Prejudice (1797), and Mary Wollstonecraft's The Wrongs of Woman (1798). Trauma is central to these novels, interrupting or negating the project of critique initially implied by their emphasis on sociohistorical detail. Hays' novel, which focuses on its protagonist's victimization by the criminal (hi)story of her mother, is the most definite in de-jecting the tradition of Jacobin meliorism by narrating the repetitive return of social trauma in the lives of two very different women. This repetition finally results in a return to the mother, in which Mary resists the patriarchal system by compulsively reenacting her mother's abjection from the social order: albeit antithetically, through an uncompromising adherence to truth and chastity. But Fenwick's novel, though more accommodating in its attitude to this system, is no less depressing. Secresy is the closest of these novels to the Enlightenment model, focalized as it is through the character of Caroline Ashburn who tries to arrange the lives of her friends so as to bring about a balance between sense and sensibility. But Caroline's plans fail, decentered by the novel's form as a series of intersecting epistolary narratives rather than the single omniscient narrative we might expect. Her critique of "error" and her attribution of a secondary responsibility to Murden and Sibella for the code of secrecy in which society inscribes them, come to sound more and more ineffectual as a way of economizing the waste of their deaths, so that the novel is by the end an uncertain autocritique of the failures of sensitivity built into its own mode.


Where Fenwick's novel is finally overwhelmed by its own secret, by the trauma it has kept from itself, Hays' novel consciously disengages us from the tradition of enlightened critique evoked by the preface. For, in the preface, Hays had spoken of the damage caused by the means used to preserve a reputation for chastity, and had implied that Mary was the victim both of society's prejudice against her and of her own defensive counter-prejudices; but, by the end, this balanced perspective can only seem complicit with what it critiques. However, the most interesting of these texts for Shelley's novella is the one by Wollstonecraft, which is unable to find an adequate discourse either in sentiment, critique, or in the negative dialectic of the revolutionary novel, and which, in the end, simply breaks off. In this respect, it comes closer to Mathilda than Secresy, which narrates the unravelling of a politicized novel of manners to which it remains formally committed, or Victim, which is what Susan Fraiman has called a novel of "unbecoming"(28) that takes on the form of a bildungsroman, only to reject an aesthetic economy that makes experience into a source of symbolic capital. Where these texts include trauma in generically conventional forms, trauma enters The Wrongs of Woman structurally in the fact that it is broken off. Trauma thus becomes the signifier as well as a signified of the text. The sudden break followed by various notations for endings abjects what had seemed in the trial scene to be a dialectical hermeneutic in which the wrongs of woman antithetically stimulated an extratextual reader to establish justice in the theatre of the mind. The notes deflect revolutionary anger into despair. They wipe out the intellectual progress made in the previous chapters, but hurriedly, as if unwilling to reengage in dialogue by explaining their sudden doubts. The figure of Darnford swallows up "Godwin" in "Imlay," in ways suggesting that the difference between repetition and change scarcely matters, or perhaps that the distinction cannot easily be made. But the impatience with which this is done can either seem hysterical, or can imply legitimate fears that there are things elided by the conventions of plot and rational argument, whether conservative or revolutionary. Taking in the radical pessimism of other women novelists who allow effect to be lost in affect, the text's dis-figuration of its project thus also exhibits the obscurity and ambivalence characteristic of the textual abject.

 In drawing on her mother's work, Mary Shelley condenses into one text a trajectory of relationships with "the literary tradition" that unfolds over a much longer period in Wollstonecraft's career. The Fields of Fancy invokes the title of Wollstonecraft's Caves of Fancy, probably abandoned because its piously Platonic framing of women's experience no longer rang true. In similarly jettisoning the frame of Mathilda, Shelley follows the turn her mother took towards a more personal realism, in which the author projects a fictionalized version of herself into a text that arises from and is affected by her life. For the greater part of The Wrongs of Woman, this new "realism" takes the form of autonarration: a mode which displaces the mimetic assumptions of autobiography by intertextualizing the author's "life" with her text, so as to bring out the ways in which both life and text are constructed within the Symbolic order. Refusing to posit either as closer to reality than the other, autonarration asks the reader to focus on the differences between them, so as to recover the "Real" which is the absent cause of autonarrative desire.(29) It thus generates a negative dialectic in which the reader must work through these differences as spaces ambiguously connected to change and/or loss.(30) Crucial to its "effect" is the way it uses a rhetoric of the personal to implicate the reader in the continuation of this project. Gesturing towards autonarration by transposing her own experience into her novella, Mary Shelley turns away from its negative dialectic. Instead, she returns to the reluctant de-jection of the political novel by its feminist sub-version, as inscribed in the very form in which Wollstonecraft's text, like her life, is cut off from productive reading. For the fragmentary continuations of Wrongs, con-fused as they are within a despair that traverses both the hopeful and the pessimistic versions, raise the question of whether the negativity and anger of the narrative can be put to use, and of whether the text will survive as a revolutionary document or as an abandoned project whose death is figured in the death of the daughter who was to have been its future reader. The desire that underwrites Mathilda's relationship to its literary family is, however, more ambivalent than this negative trajectory suggests. In one sense, its very writing conceals a return to the mother which would not be evident except for the Fields of Fancy framework. Yet in returning to a mother whom both she and her husband idolized as the first feminist, Mary Shelley returns not to Wollstonecraft's radicalism, but to its dejection from an intellectual economy in whose values Fenwick and Hays were similarly unable to find a place. This dejection, moreover, seems to be what emerges when women write fiction and not political theory, and thus write from experience. It is as though the legacy of Wollstonecraft for Mary Shelley is not the rational feminism of A Vindication, but is rather the abjection of those ideals in a textual moment that becomes a metonymy for Wollstonecraft's entire career. On the other hand, this very metonymy is heavily mediated by Godwin, who edited the Wrongs posthumously and defaced what might otherwise have been a revolutionary fragment by ending it with various "scattered heads for the continuation of the story" whose textual status is unknown.(31) Godwin, in other words, chose to publish the text in a form that cuts off its dialectical effect, even as he chose not to publish his own dejection of dialectic in the original ending of Caleb Williams. Writing through Wollstonecraft what was later to become his own anxiety about trauma as irrecuperable, he disables her text from speaking of trauma as socially caused, and makes the rest of the narrative seem almost irrelevant in relation to the return of a pessimism it has vainly sought to defer. Godwin's handling of his wife's novel prefigures his treatment of Mary in Fleetwood: his de-jection of her from a narrative in which the waste of Fleetwood's life is presumed to speak for hers. Thus, despite Godwin's claims that he has "intrud[ed] nothing of himself into the work," The Wrongs of Woman does not give us "the words, as well as ideas, of the real author."(32) Its editorial situation accidentally repeats the situation of woman in the Symbolic order, including the Symbolic order of radical discourse. This situation opens the possibility that Wrongs is not Wollstonecraft's text, that the "real" author is still illegible, and that woman's writing is merely constructed as abject by things as they are.

By repeating the editorial situation of the Wrongs in making Godwin her own literary agent, Shelley inscribes the reading of her own novella in the ambiguities of that situation. The desire to return to the revolutionary legacy of the mother (gesturally inscribed in allusions to her work rather than explicitly verbalized in the story) must be set against the fact that Shelley can recover her mother only as abject. At the same time, Godwin's intervention in the process of writing "Wollstonecraft" into history is the Symbolic site of a recognition that the abjection of women's writing (Wollstonecraft's excessive pessimism, but also Godwin's abjection of his wife by writing her as he does) is itself part of a social text. But this intervention itself is highly overdetermined, and by no means simply patriarchal. For Godwin's (re)construction of Wollstonecraft's text (indeed of Wollstonecraft as text) is a complex mixture of sympathy and dissociation, rejection and confession. By ending the Wrongs not with a trial scene obviously modelled on the one in Caleb Williams, but with the anticlimactic "scattered heads," Godwin constructs it in antithesis to his own novel, attributing its failure to sustain the negative dialectic of the Godwinian novel to a private and feminine grief over Imlay, Moreover, he deconstructs the text, as if to dismiss rapidly the troubling (in)compatibilities it foregrounds between masculine political critique and radical feminism. On the other hand, ending it as he does is also a gesture of solidarity: a disfiguration of his own doctrine of perfectibility, not only on a theoretical but also on an intensely personal level. For the endings show masculine behavior repeating itself, and also make public Wollstonecraft's fears that the author of Political Justice might prove a second Imlay. Haunted by the possibility that he might have failed his wife, Godwin in Fleetwood and Deloraine anatomized masculine guilt and strengthened his bond with Wollstonecraft by making "her" pessimism about social change his own. He also compulsively repeated, with reference to his daughter, the blindnesses he had never actually shown towards his wife. As editor and author Godwin confessed, and in that very confession repeated, the wrongs of woman.


The psychotextual triangle within which Mathilda emerges is thus a highly complex one. That complexity is repeated within the text itself in the ambiguous position of the father as the cause and cure of trauma. In psychoanalytic terms, Mathilda's inordinate longing for the father who has wronged her recognizes as suicidal the merging with affect that Kristeva associates with the "maternal position," and mourns the loss of a "paternal position" necessary for the transposition of affect into language and history. The need for this paternal position is recognized in Mathilda's sense that she should but cannot love Woodville, and in his function as the temporary recipient of her tale. However, this association of the mother with affect and the father with socialization neglects a curious feature of the novella: namely that it is the father who is consistently associated with affect. Not only is it the image of the father that collects the most powerful affective charges in Mathilda's story; while alive he also says very little, and communicates mostly in terms of his moods. In melancholy, according to Kristeva, we introject abjection as dejection in order to avoid killing the mother, by keeping her inside us as corpse or abjected rem(a)inder. But it is the father whom Mathilda "kills" and then melancholically "loves" in order to avoid killing him again. Suffocated inside her, he is, in a sense, denied a voice in her tale and thus disables her from telling her story. The father, in other words, occupies the position held by the mother in the Kristevan dialectic. The figure of Woodville offers Mathilda an opportunity to transpose the semiotic drives that collect around the father into a "normal" relationship with the sociolinguistic order. And indeed Woodville (like Shelley himself) promises to be a symbolic refiguration of the imaginary father: a visionary reformer who is friendly rather than patriarchal, a softer and feminized version of the father. But if Mathilda's relationship to her father is almost purely on the level of affect, her relationship to Woodville is entirely linguistic. Though Mary Shelley even revised the manuscript to make Woodville's arguments more persuasive,(33) he remains oddly disappointing:

 He was younger, less worn, more passionless than my father and in no degree reminded me of him: he suffered under immediate grief yet its gentle influence instead of calling feelings otherwise dormant into action, seemed only to veil that which otherwise would have been too

dazzling for me. (p. 228; emphasis mine)(34) His (dis)appearance as an image the narrative cannot use leaves unsatisfied a desire for the father which is the only reason for the story's transmission.


The curious position of the father can only partly be explained by arguing that he takes the place of Mathilda's lost mother, as Mary Shelley herself transferred to Godwin her emotional and intellectual desire for Mary Wollstonecraft. It must also be explained historically in terms of Shelley's ambivalence towards the "masculine Romanticism" which critics such as Anne Mellor see her as rejecting, but which remained an object of literary desire even when she was profoundly critical of it (as in Valperga). Mathilda's desire for her father is not so much a literally incestuous desire on the part of Mary Shelley for Godwin, as it is a figural desire for the Romanticism (mis)represented by Godwinian characters such as Fleetwood. We can only begin, very inadequately, to decode that desire. Romantic radicalism created a climate in which radical feminism was and remains possible. German distinctions of Romanticism as "striving" and "discontent" from Classicism as Hegel's adequate embodiment of the Idea in things as they are, are the philosophical condition of possibility for political radicalism. As important, it is Romanticism which inaugurated our interest in marginal voices, and which initiated a fascination with the challenge posed to "normal" society by madness and borderline states that continues to resonate in the work of theorists such as Foucault and Kristeva. Mary Shelley's fiction from Frankenstein to The Last Man is on one level a continuous auto-metaphoric record of her relationship to a Romanticism which she displaces between novelistic equivalents of Godwin, Byron, and Shelley (as they figure themselves in both life and text), so as to defer reaching a conclusion about it. In Mathilda, however, that relationship remains profoundly blocked. The symptom of that blockage is the abjection of the father who cannot be understood and exists only at the level of affect, as a buried life entombed in Mathilda's melancholy. The more conventional "Romanticism" of Woodville proves sadly inadequate for transposing the father's desire into language, idealizing trauma as "grief," and thus veiling the radical consequences of suffering instead of calling "into action" those "dormant" feelings which Kristeva names the semiotic chora.


That desire remains illegible in part because Godwin himself could not read his own texts. In sending him her story, Mary Shelley appeals for such reading, even as she cuts her own text off from a more public reading as part of the literary canon. Instinctively, she seems to replicate what Godwin failed to see in his own texts. She con-fuses life and text by sending Mathilda to the person who is its fictional subject. In so doing, she evokes the interimplication of the aesthetic and the personal which is part of Romanticism's legitimating rhetoric, so as to set up a complex series of transferences, openings and betrayals between life and text. Accusing Godwin fictionally of something he had not actually done, but then sending her fiction to the "real" Godwin, she mimics the transference between life and text which had allowed him, like Dorian Gray, to do in his life what he confessed in his art. As important, she repeats the editorial situation of the Wrongs so as to place the reading of Mathilda within the transference between mother and daughter that operates in and between Godwin's fiction and his life.


We must be clear about what Mary Shelley "does" with her text in sending it to her father. She hopes to "affect" Godwin rather than to "effect" change. The effecting of change is explicitly inscribed in The Wrongs of Woman through the addressing of Maria's memoirs to intradiegetic readers such as Jemima and Damford. Mathilda, however, does not make its reading part of its diegesis, addressing itself only posthumously to Woodville, to whom the protagonist writes "as if I wrote for strangers" (p. 176). Rather, it confronts the Symbolic order with an unusable negativity, a crucial part of which is its resistance to productive reading.


To read Mathilda intertextually, indeed to read it at all, is to reimplicate the text in the economy it resists. But such an approach is to some extent justified by the fact that it is what Shelley herself eventually does. For the remaining novels of her early period are attempt store economize the dejection of Mathilda, so as to enter once again into dialogue with the Romanticism of Godwin and Percy Shelley. A more detailed tracing of the intertextual relationship between the Shelleys in the period 1817-1823 is the subject of another article. Suffice it to say that this relationship is the scene of a complex dialogue on the subject of what masculine Romanticism leaves out. Working within the same modes as her father and husband, she views mythopoeic idealism and historical narrative from the other side, so as to articulate an inside that does not so much oppose as inhabit the major texts of Godwin and Shelley in ways that the latter comes to recognize in The Triumph of Life. A fuller treatment of the textual interchange between the Shelleys would recognize their relationship as one of difference, of a divergence that is also a defeffal, in which Mary's darker vision is the unconscious of Percy's increasingly qualified idealism which, in turn, remains the mobilizing force behind her pessimism. As the con-fused resistance to her abjection by and of Romanticism, Mathilda introjects ambivalence as paralysis rather than using it dialogically. It is nevertheless the condition of possibility for Mary Shelley's reengagement in Valperga with the political economy of Romanticism.

 That reengagement aesthetically trans-codes a libidinal movement from "Godwin" to "Shelley," which allows Mary Shelley to reemerge as a writing subject by transferring her desire for a "Godwin" she could only introject as corpse, to a "Shelley" no longer abjected as the excessively idealistic Woodville but incorporated into the figure of Euthanasia, the heroine of Valperga.(35) Written between 1820 and 1822, Valperga was actually conceived in 1817 and researched while Mary Shelley was copying Prometheus Unbound and writing Mathilda. Its relationship to the novella is somewhat like the one Wordsworth describes between "The Old Cumberland Beggar" and the briefer "Old Man Travelling." Mathilda can be seen as "an overflowing" "split off"(36) I from Valperga, or perhaps as the abject which the longer novel (like Wordsworth's narrativization of "Incipient Madness" in The Ruined Cottage) attempts to re-cover. Unlike Wordsworth, however, Mary Shelley does not use the gendered syntax of narrative to set aside the trauma localized in the abject. For Valperga narrates through its principal characters (Castruccio, Euthanasia, and Beatrice) the complex interdependence of masculine and feminine, as well as the libidinal bonds that connect both Symbolic positions to the abject as the hiding-place of Romantic power. In the process, its triangle of characters also stages an unconcluded dialogue between the negative dialectic of the political novel, and an unusable negativity dis-figured in Beatrice, a refiguration of Mathilda and the text's most powerful character.

Valperga may well be the first feminist historical novel, and can be contrasted in this respect with Sophia Lee's The Recess: a romance or counterfactual history about the claims of Mary Queen of Scots' daughters to the throne of England. Attempting to write women into history by replacing the masculinized queen "Elizabeth" with "Mary" as a point of origin, and by transposing the heroic romance of Tasso and Spenser into what was then the "feminine" form of the novel, Lee nevertheless cross-dresses female desire as masculine ambition and therefore, in the end, fails to challenge the postulates of the historical novel. Mary Shelley, by contrast, follows Scott in focalizing her history of ambition and conquest through a character displaced from the center of the action and thus displacing this action itself from its centrality. She constructs her account of the Guelph warlord Castruccio from the chronicles of Euthanasia, a character she invented in a deliberate swerve away from the sources on which she based her research. In so doing, she uses a distinction between "public histories" and "private chronicles" (3:263) to question the losses at the heart of (hi)story as a discipline in which the recording of information is predicated on the destruction of other bodies of experience and forms of knowledge.(37)


Valperga is the history of the fourteenth-century prince Castruccio, a regional overlord who attempted to unify various Italian city-states under his power. It is clearly critical of the nationalist project at the heart of the historical novel as written by Scott. But, it also evokes the deferred utopianism of more "radical" histories by Percy Shelley and Godwin. For Mary Shelley implicates her husband's texts in a conversation with her own by setting her novel in the country he associated with republican liberty, by refiguring Asia as Euthanasia (also an allusion to Godwin's anarchist hope for an "euthanasia of government") and by returning to the abjected dialogue between Prometheus Unbound and The Cenci in linking her own Beatrice to Beatrice Cenci. She also writes very much in the mode of Godwin's St. Leon, likewise a historical novel that puts perfectibility on trial by (dis)figuring it through the career of a potentially Promethean individual. Unlike Prometheus and Asia, Castruccio and Euthanasia are never united. In refiguring Prometheus as the Byronic Castiruccio, Mary Shelley tacitly criticizes her husband for effacing the materiality of gender and power in an imaginary marriage used to sanctify a sublimated (inter)nationalism. Unlike St. Leon, who abuses the unlimited power conferred on him by the philosopher's stone but is ambiguously rehabilitated in the second part of the novel, Castruccio's career of ambition and domination takes him from bad to worse. But more significantly, Valperga inverts the perspective of St. Leon, positioning "history" on the outside of the text, and displacing the hero from its center so as to focalize what is still his story through its impact on the two women in his life.


If Valperga is Castruccio's history, then, it is also the lost story of the two women whose love provides him with narrative legitimacy. Euthanasia, his childhood sweetheart, is Mary's most "Shelleyan" figure: committed to the ideal of freedom embodied in Florence, but as a woman, denied Promethean power. Beatrice, the Ancilla Dei who is briefly elevated by the people's superstitious belief in her prophetic power (the only "power" allowed to a woman), is driven into hysteria and madness when Castruccio abandons her to return unsuccessfully to an Euthanasia whose political ideals he has betrayed. Perhaps the most compelling part of the novel concerns Euthanasia's relationship to Beatrice, whom she gives a home, whose Paterin belief in a darkly demonic God she listens to, and whose deep dejection she can "skin over" but can never finally cure. As a version of Mathilda, Mary's figure for her withdrawal from Percy's idealism, Beatrice also refers to his literary failure to deal through gender with the material realities of history. For Percy had already given voice to the Paterin vision in the form of the Furies. Antithetically casting out this vision by demonizing it in Prometheus Unbound, he suffers its return in The Cenci, which Mary had refused to release him from writing. Arguably, The Cenci is no more sensitive to trauma than Prometheus, finally criticizing Beatrice for not forgiving her father so as to preserve intact the political mythology of masculine Romanticism. In returning to the intertextual scene of this Romanticism, Valperga tries to revision the symbiosis between Promethean desire and the abject. For the relationship of Euthanasia to Beatrice repeats the relationship of Prometheus Unbound to the Furies unleashed in The Cenci. But where Percy deals in a histrionically external way with the horror of Beatrice's rape, Euthanasia's bond with her Beatrice is the affective core of Mary Shelley's novel. Euthanasia, it is arguable, finds her vocation and her own cure in caring for Beatrice. After Beatrice dies, Euthanasia returns to loving the man she can never accept ethically and intellectually. Resisting him politically so as to save the better part of him, she herself becomes sullied by the world of politics, is defeated, exiled by Castruccio, and dies.


Both Mathilda and Beatrice are figures of incurable trauma. Such figures, who use melancholy and hysteria to resist interpellation into the Symbolic order, have recently come to preoccupy feminist criticism. But it is important to emphasize that Mary Shelley's textual counterpart is not just Beatrice but Euthanasia: that Valperga, unlike Mathilda, is not the abjection of masculine Romanticism. Where Mary in The Last Man figures herself as Adrian, in Valperga she figures Percy as herself, as Euthanasia. Dis-figuring Romanticism by representing both Byron and the Godwinian hero as Castruccio, she also recuperates it through Euthanasia, who never ceases to love Castruccio though she can never be united with him.

 This recuperation of Shelleyan Romanticism, however, is possible only because of the bond the narrative dramatizes between the Shelleyan Imaginary and the abject, which in turn makes Euthanasia a more credible character than Woodville. It is therefore worth pausing over the psychodynamics of the relationship between Euthanasia and Beatrice. On one level, this bonding between women turns away from participation in the Symbolic order and thus, we could say, from masculine Romanticism. As long as Euthanasia cares for Beatrice, both women are disengaged from Castruccio, desire for whom leads both to their death. But, on another level, it is clear that what Euthanasia loves in Beatrice is Castruccio, for once Beatrice is dead, her unfulfilled desire for him returns. Reversing the "normal" transposition of maternal affect onto a masculine love-object who represents the semiotic within the Symbolic, she loves Beatrice because Castruccio has loved her. In other words, she transposes the paternal and social onto the maternal, embracing at the level of affect that part of Castruccio which he has abjected from the world of realpolitik, as well as that part of herself which cannot be accommodated within a world of masculine politics to which she remains profoundly drawn. This curious inversion of the dialectic of heterosexual love as Kristeva describes it mirrors libidinally what Mary Shelley was trying to do with the masculine mode of the historical novel, by replacing it not with the domestic novel but with a feminist historical narrative that she could articulate only negatively, as an absence. Euthanasia is the symbol of that absence, and it is worth noting that she has no interest in the family, and that unlike Beatrice she places political responsibility above romantic desire. Even her love for Castruccio is in part political: what she loves is not simply the man, but a certain power of action and a desire for political justice that he once represented. As a figure for a feminist history Euthanasia is, of course, ineffectual. Yet she does not exactly die: she is "never heard of more" (3:261), until Mary Shelley recovers her for the Romantic cultural Imaginary. The description of her disappearance resonates with echoes of the Poet's death in Alastor, and also with anticipations of Byron's last poem The Island (1823), in which the lovers also do not die but "[sleep] in the oozy cavern of the ocean" (3:261). These resonances acknowledge Romanticism as the psycho-intellectual complex that gave Shelley the space to develop her feminism. At the same time Valperga, as a dialectical return to Mathilda, reaches no firm conclusions about the (im)possibility of both Romanticism and feminism. For the narrative, as a psychoanalysis of Romanticism that places it in dialogue with the abject, remains profoundly ambivalent. On the one hand, this psychoanalysis has as its goal to establish on a saner basis the economy of gender that underwrites the economy of history. This project is critical in nature, and clearly had consequences in (literary) history. Godwin returned to the feminist issue in Deloraine (1833), a new version of Fleetwood which he wrote under Mary Shelley's influence, while re-reading Mathilda.(38) Percy Shelley, as I hope to argue elsewhere, was powerfully influenced in The Triumph of Life by Valperga: a fact acknowledged in The Lastman. On the other hand, the critical project which allows Shelley to engage in dialogue with her literary family is constantly jeopardized by her own bond with the abject: her dialogue with her own text. For Euthanasia is her own highly Romantic attempt to "skin over" the wound of Mathilda and to economize negativity, and the fate of Beatrice stands as a reminder that that may not be possible.



(1) I refer to the reissuing of Hugh Luke's edition of The Last Man by Anne Mellor (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1993), and to the republication of Mathilda by Betty T. Bennett and Charles E. Robinson in The Mary Shelley Reader (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1990). All references to Mathilda are to this edition. References to Valperga are to Valperga; or, the Life and Adventures of Castruccio Prince of Lucca, 3 vols. (London: G. and W. B. Whittaker, 1823).

(2) F. L. Jones, ed., Maria Gisborne & Edwarde. Williams, Shelley's Friends: Their Journals and Letters (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1951), p. 44.

(3) Elizabeth Nitchie, ed., Mathilda, Studies in Philology, Extra Series (Oct. 1959, No. 3).

(4) Eugenio Donato, "Bodies: On the Limits of Representation in Romantic Poetics," in The Script of Decadence: Essays on the Fictions of Flaubert and the Poetics of Romanticism (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993), p. 203. Donato develops his distinction between the concept as incorporation and the image as introjection from the work of Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok, which is also a major influence on Kristeva's analysis of the introjective structure of melancholy in Black Sun.

(5) For Kristeva the lost object is specifically the "mother," whom the melancholic keeps inside herself in a suicidal choice of affect over the "paternal" process of language and symbolization. I shall argue, however, that the place occupied in Kristeva's scheme by the mother is occupied in Mathilda by the father, as a socially mediated transposition of the mother who, as such, is both abjected and mourned.

(6) Julia Kristeva, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1989), pp. 51, 76, 20.

(7) Ibid., p. 47.

(8) Tilottama Rajan, "Coleridge, Wordsworth, and the Textual Abject," The Wordsworth Circle, 24:2 (1993): 61-68. In defining this (non)genre I depart somewhat from Kristeva, by merging her discussion of abjection in Powers of Horror with her discussion of melancholy in Black Sun.

(9) Kristeva, Black Sun, p. 12.

(10) I borrow the term "masculine Romanticism" from Anne Mellor's Romanticism and Gender (New York: Routledge, 1993), but my reading of Mary Shelley's relationship to it is very different from Mellor's reading in Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters (New York: Routledge, 1988).

(11) The Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts, vol. 4, ed. E. B. Murray (New York: Garland, 1988), f. 129v rev.

(12) I refer to Percy's early novels Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne, as well as to Prometheus Unbound, The Cenci, and The Triumph of Life.

(13) Percy Shelley, The Defence of Poetry, in Shelley's Poetry and Prose, ed. Donald H. Reiman and Sharon B. Powers (New York: Norton, 1977), p. 485.

(14) Percy Shelley, Defence, p. 485.

(15) Significantly the word "incest" is not actually used in the text.

(16) Frederick L. Jones, Mary Shelley's Journal (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1947), pp. 159-60.

(17) Terence Harpold, "|Did you get Mathilda from Papa?': Seduction Fantasy and the Circulation of Mary Shelley's Mathilda," Studies in Romanticism, 28 (1989): 53-54. Mathilda has also been discussed by Anne Mellor, who sees it as a critique of the incestuous basis of the family (Mary Shelley, pp. 191-200), and by Susan Sniader Lanser, who reads it as a failure to find a voice that exposes the fundamental incompatibility between feminism and masculine Romanticism (Fictions of Authority: Women Writers and Narrative Voice [Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 19921, pp. 168-72).

(18) Betty T. Bennett, ed., The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, 3 vols. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1980-88), 2: 88.

(19) Paula Marantz Cohen, The Daughter's Dilemma: Family Process and the Nineteenth-Century Domestic Novel (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1991), pp. 22-34.

(20) Julia Kristeva, Tales of Love, trans. Leon Roudiez (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1987), pp. 34, 40-41.

(21) The incestuous nature of the psychosexual economy is a recurring concern of both Godwin's and Mary Shelley's novels. Fleetwood and Deloraine both marry women young enough to be their daughters. In Mary Shelley's Lodore, Lord Lodore's much younger wife is on the verge of having an affair with her husband's illegitimate son, and Lodore, having angrily insulted his |rival' then flees to America to avoid having to fight a duel with his son, thus precipitating his eventual death.

(22) Godwin, "Preface" to Fleetwood: or, The New Man of Feeling (London: Richard Bentley, 1832), p. xi.

(23) The phrase is actually used in Deloraine, ed. Maurice Hindle (Collected Novels and Memoirs of William Godwin, 8 vols, ed. Mark Philp [London: William Pickering, 1992], 8:103

(24) Since Godwin was careful not to give his daughter a typically feminine education, we must take this as a criticism of Macneil.

(25) Deloraine, p. 95; Fleetwood, p. 130. For a powerful account of the relationship between the plague and the problems of imperialism and gender in The Last Man, see Steven Goldsmith, Unbuilding Jerusalem: Apocalypse and Romantic Representation (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1993), pp. 261-313.

(26) William Godwin, "A Choice in Reading," The Enquirer: Reflections on Education, Manners, and Literature, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: 1797), 1:109.

(27) Gary Handwerk, "Romantic Historicity and the Limits of the Liberal Imagination: William Godwin's Historical Fiction," Comparative Criticism 16 (forthcoming, 1994). While I am very much indebted to this article, I differ from Handwerk in reading Godwinian trauma as part of a negative dialectic.

(28) Susan Fraiman, Unbecoming Women: British Women Writers and the Novel of Development (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1993), pp. 1-31.

(29) For a discussion of autonarration see my "Autonarration and Genotext in Mary Hays' Memoirs of Emma Courtney," Studies in Romanticism (forthcoming, Summer 1993).

(30) Thus Darnford is modelled on Gilbert Imlay, but as Maria's second lover he also plays the role played in Wollstonectaft's life by Godwin. The text does not so much identify the character with a biographical person, as defer its own conclusions by making the identification incomplete. For the space between Darnford and Imlay/Godwin raises two contradictory possibilities: that "Imlay" can change so as to justify the revolutionary desire invested in him, or that "Godwin" may once again be an Imlay unable to represent political justice.

(31) Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary and The Wrongs of Woman, ed. James Kinsley and Gary Kelly (Oxford and London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1980), p. 201. Since there is no surviving manuscript of the text, we do not know whether the endings immediately follow the narrative or even whether they are in the same notebook as the copy Wollstonecraft was said to be revising when she died. We also do not know whether they were part of this version or of an earlier version.

(32) Ibid., p. 72.

(33) In the original version, Lovel's idealism is vague. But in Mathilda Shelley adds several sentences specifically detailing Woodville's ideas on good and evil (Mathilda, p. 229; Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts, f. 154v rev, ,

(34) In Fields, Mathilda is less critical of Lovel and describes him as "less experienced" than her father, not "more passionless." The subsequent states of the text are more critical on two other counts as well: in Fields itself, Shelley pencils in the disappointed statement that Lovel in "no degree reminded" Mathilda of her father, and in Mathilda, she also makes the crucial point that his grief is incapable of "calling feelings otherwise dormant into action" (Mathilda, p. 228; Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts, f. 155r rev. .

(35) Here I also have in mind Kristeva's argument in Tales of Love that melancholy is the inability to love and is "cured" (although always partially and ambiguously) by the transference of the imaginary father into the Symbolic order through successful heterosexual love.

(36) Quoted in Wordsworth and Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads, ed. R. L. Brett and A. R. Jones (London: Methuen, 1965), p. 294.

(37) See Hans Kellner, Language and Historical Representation: Getting the Story Crooked (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1989), pp. 26-54.

(38) Maurice Hindle makes this claim (presumably on the basis of Godwin's diary) in the "Introductory Note" to Deloraine (p. vi). The protagonist of Deloraine, like the father, tries to replace his dead wife with a second wife young enough to be his daughter.

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