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How monsters are made: ‘No remorse, no pity’ in Shelley, Dickens and Priestley’s Mister Creecher

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Chris Priestley’s 2011 novel, Mister Creecher, promises to show ‘the making of a monster ...’ Set in 1818, the novel is a metafictional rewriting of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), imagining the monster’s journey as he tracks his creator to Scotland. In this version, the monster is aided by London pickpocket, Billy, whose provenance, the early novels of Charles Dickens, suggests further intertexts for this contemporary novel. It is Billy, rather than the eponymous ‘Creecher’, who is the novel’s protagonist: a sentimentalized, suffering Dickensian child, whose narrative is reconfigured through encounters with Shelley’s gothic novel and a range of other intertexts. Through Billy, Mister Creecher (2011) re-imagines Dickens’ children and the Dickensian bildungsroman, reconfiguring the positions of villain and innocent. Neo-Victorian texts have been characterized by a doubled relationship to their intertexts, a relationship that is parasitic on the one hand, revisiting the traumas of a past reconstructed as barbaric, and redemptive on the other hand, since these reconstructions are usually aimed at a revisionist critique. In the case of Mister Creecher (2011) the parasitic relationship of contemporary metafiction to past gothic and Victorian works is a part of the novel’s active intertextual fabric. This is a novel that explores how intertextuality itself functions as a corrupting parasite, problematizing and infecting any future encounter with back-grounded works. The introduction of Shelley’s creation into Dickens’ landscape is a wilfully contradictory gesture. On one hand, the doubling of Billy with Shelley’s monster provides a reverse bildungsroman, an account of villainy as social rather than simply essential or sensational, with reference to notions of family and childhood relevant in the contemporary moment. On the other hand, the monster’s invasion of Dickensian London is an aggressive act of gothic contagion or colonization, one akin to that imagined by Frankenstein himself in his fear that he has loosed ‘a race of devils … upon the earth, who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror’.
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Keywords: Charles Dickens; Gothic; Mary Shelley; child; intertextuality; metafiction; monstrosity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Lancaster University

Publication date: April 1, 2016

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  • Horror Studies intends to serve the international academic community in the humanities and specifically those scholars interested in horror. Exclusively examining horror, this journal will provide interested professionals with an opportunity to read outstanding scholarship from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including work conceived as interdisciplinary. By expanding the conversation to include specialists concerned with diverse historical periods, varied geography, and a wide variety of expressive media, this journal will inform and stimulate anyone interested in a wider and deeper understanding of horror
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