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Much Later Printing. Clean and unmarked. And why do so many such stories involve such heroines and end as they do? Because, Radway demonstrates through painstaking research into publishing houses, bookstores, and reading communities, their consumers want them to be that way.
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They don't buy--or, if they buy they don't recommend--romances in which, for example, a heroine is raped: thus, in time, fewer and fewer such plots find their way onto the racks by the supermarket checkout. Radway's reading is typical of feminist cultural criticism in that it is political--but not exclusively about oppression.
The subjectivities of women may be "produced" by romances--that is, their thinking is governed by what they read--but the same women also govern, to some extent, what gets written or produced, thus doing "cultural work" of their own. Rather than seeing all forms of popular culture as manifestations of ideology, soon to be remanifested in the minds of victimized audiences, non-Marxist cultural critics tend to see a sometimes disheartening but always dynamic synergy between cultural forms and the culture's consumers.
Mary Poovey does this in The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer , a book in which she traces the evolution of female "propriety. Therefore, writings by women that reinforced proprieties also shored up the proprietary status quo. Finally, though, Poovey also shows that some of the women writers who reinforced proprieties and were seen as "textbook Proper Ladies" in fact "crossed the borders of that limited domain" They may have written stories showing the audacity, for women, of trying to lead an imaginative, let alone audacious, life beyond the bounds of domestic propriety.
But they did so imaginatively and audaciously.
Whereas Mary Poovey, in The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer , viewed Frankenstein in terms of its relation to conduct manuals and novels by Jane Austen, most cultural critics who have written about Mary Shelley's best-known novel have instead read it in the context of a very different popular form: the Gothic tale. Paul O'Flinn, for instance, begins his essay on "Production and Reproduction: The Case of Frankenstein " by pointing out that the novel was published in the same year as a famous attack on the fifty-year-old tradition of Gothic fiction.
In the essay that follows, Lee E. Heller begins by treating Frankenstein as Gothic fiction and by suggesting that the interesting thing about Gothic is its "existence in both 'highbrow' and popular forms. Although it remains a classic, Frankenstein is also, quite dearly, a fit subject for the new cultural criticism. Heller next places the Frankenstein "original" in the cultural contexts of a late-eighteenth-century debate about education and literacy.
This was a period during which the "reading class" had grown to include most of the middle class, a fact that at once had allowed the novel to emerge as a form, it is more dedicated to representing ordinary life than is poetry and which, at the same time, had set off a somewhat moralistic debate about what constitutes proper entertainment for readers in need of instruction. That debate had been intensified by the advent of Gothic fiction, the audience for which tended to be more female than male and less prosperous than the audiences of, say, Fielding and Smollett.
Should such an audience be reading a kind of writing that seemed only to excite the emotions needlessly and not to instruct?
Art and culture; critical essays.
Perhaps because many people were answering that question in the negative, the Gothic evolved to combine the moral elements of the "serious" eighteenth-century novel with the entertaining, escapist excitement that it had come to be known for. Heller's interest in audience--and in the novel as a consumer product -is as typical for a critic practicing cultural criticism as is her interest in a text that defies the boundaries between "Literature" and popular fiction.
So, of course, is her concern with the "cultural work" Jane Tompkins's phrase done by a given form in a given historical moment. What makes Heller's version of the new cultural criticism particularly complex and exciting is that she identifies within a given literary form here Gothic three distinguishable forms of that form horror Gothic, sentimental-educational Gothic, and "high" philosophical Gothic , each of which is then shown to have been doing a different kind of cultural work for a different class or kind of audience--but all within the same text.
Thus, she explains Frankenstein's ability to persist in popularity over the centuries, among a range of socioeconomic classes and via a variety of forms, by showing it to be a hybrid form, a variegated thread twisted together of sensational, middle-class sentimental, and philosophical strands. In the process, she provides a strikingly original reading, one that shows not only how a cultural debate lies behind a text but also how it is foregrounded within the text.
For she shows that Frankenstein is as much about good and bad education, salutary books, and Cornelius Agrippa's corrupting, "sad trash," as it is about ghouls and their horrifying acts. Finally, though, Heller's work represents cultural criticism at its best by virtue of the fact that it sets the text in its later historical periods, including our own. Through her essay, we can see the radical metamorphosis of its meaning and function in subsequent film versions from the classic through the crop of "Freddie" and "Jason" movies ; the changing ways in which we have used the word Frankenstein to speak of historical figures and atrocities from Adolf Hitler to the atom bomb to the monstrous "wildings" that have been committed in Central Park.
Thus, Heller makes Frankenstein speak in a way that critics taking other approaches to the novel can only hope to make it speak, for she shows all Frankensteins to be versions of Frankenstein and shows how the current version speaks now. Desan, Ferguson, and Griswold. Chicago: U of Chicago P. Eagleton, Terry. Gunn, Giles. The Culture of Criticism and the Criticism of Culture. New York: Oxford, Hall, Stuart.
Popular Fictions: Essays in Literature and History. New York: Methuen, See especially the intro. Hunt, Lynn, ed. The New Cultural History: Essays. Berkeley: U of California P. Johnson, Richard. Pfister, Joel. Punter, David, ed. Introduction to Contemporary Critical Studies.