Reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) as a passing novel, this essay examines the work’s rendering of speech acquisition and verbal performance from a disability studies perspective to consider how elocutionary discourse shapes Romantic-era notions of normality, deformity, monstrosity, and humanity. In order to understand how the novel constructs disability in terms of speech, the essay places Frankenstein alongside key works by eighteenth-century elocutionists, philosophers, and linguists. I argue that Shelley’s rendering of elocution as the basis for social inclusion and as the central feature of human development is deeply ambivalent in the way it positions eloquent speech as both the vehicle for intimacy and as the very agent of social and political deception. Focusing on the creature’s own narrative from the viewpoint of critical disability studies and Romantic-era elocutionary discourse, this essay examines how Shelley’s work imagines speech in its capacity for making and unmaking the disabled Romantic subject.
Shawangunk Review Volume XXXI Copyright © 2020 by Jared S. Richman. All Rights Reserved.