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Incomprehensible Incest

August 6, 2010

After Frankenstein, Mary wrote a novel (Matilda) that features a father falling in love with his daughter. Meanwhile, Shelley was writing a poem about a girl who kills her father after he rapes her. To further complicate things, Mary’s father was also busy writing a novel, but his was about a much older man marrying a much younger woman named Mary who resembles his daughter quite closely.

This tangle of family love affairs is distressing to consider, let alone figure out what it all might mean. So, I turned to the experts. Here is what Tilottama Rajan has to say: “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.” The word “trauma” suggests she is saying something interesting. But what might it be?

Somehow I have to speculate about these incestuous fantasies in one or two breezy sentences, because I don’t want to slow the story down, something scholars don’t have to worry about. In fact, they seem quite happy to slow us down, right to a grinding unhappy halt.

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