“all the uncanny golems of the Gothic imagination“ – traces of Frankenstein in James Bradley’s Ghost Species

by Mariam Schmitt

There is something exceedingly exciting about the prospect of reversing death, be it in the form of a person or an entire species. By artificially bringing to life a being that should no longer exist, one dares to go beyond, defying nature. Fascination lies both in the act of playing God and the idea of a creature that is somehow human though still wholly different. But no act remains without consequences; in this case the creator’s downfall from hubris seems just as significant as the rejection and loneliness such a being would be subjected to. Of course, there are countless examples to be found in literature dealing with these moral implications, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein among the most popular of all. James Bradley’s Ghost Species likewise takes the route of creation with the help of science, focusing on the revival of extinct species. Overlap between the two exists plenty, to the point of a film adaption of the former being mentioned in the latter:

After that she seeks out other movies, not just about cavemen but about robots and monsters and patchwork people, all the uncanny golems of the Gothic imagination. Across that winter and into the summer she watches everything she can find, looking for guidance in films: Frankenstein, Splice, Blade Runner. Every time the story is the same: the thing created is monstrous but also tragic, its desire for life a violation of the natural order. (Bradley, 178-79)

These words are placed within the first chapter providing Eve’s point of view, fittingly creating an introduction to the way she attempts to separate her own perception of her identity from the othering constantly inflicted on her. She might be alienated from humankind as well, but even more so is she estranged from her supposed own kind: Other Neanderthals have been long extinct, and any portrayals in the world of art also fail to offer solace and understanding. There is however a sense of her striving to create her own narrative, one which after all does not seem to be that different from that of a sapient adolescent. Her relations to friends and what is generally understood to be her family are characterized by the same experiences and feelings of belonging like those of any other person. Any uncanny aspect about Eve is done away with by the novel shifting its perspective to her point of view; the chapter titled “I was a teenage Neanderthal” also inviting pop-cultural associations.

Similarly, Frankenstein’s monster also turns to other stories, which “consisted of Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch’s Lives, and the Sorrows of Werter” (Shelley, 93), for guidance within a society that has thus far abandoned him. He has yet acquired only limited language and social comprehension; these books, that he reads “as a true history” (Shelley, 94), accordingly function as a source of learning. This suggests that language and culture play an important role in transforming someone into a human being, whereas Ghost Species puts a focus on Eve’s experiences and the way they shape her future. Eve is granted a kind of agency which the monster does not receive even while recounting his own story. After all, in Frankenstein the telling of narratives is perpetually interwoven and epistolary, therefore denying clarity.

The artificial creation of Frankenstein’s monster can be seen as science eliminating the need for biological motherhood, though its absence is often reflected upon negatively within the novel. Paradise Lost, mentioned earlier and in the novel’s epigraph, serves as the reference point upon which the constant battle between creator and creation falls back on. Eve, her name certainly inviting similar biblical connotations, does have a mother figure, but as her life fades she must ultimately fight on her own. She brings about hope for the planet – however one in which Homo sapiens might not share a part.

Works Cited:

Bradley, James. Ghost Species. 2020. Hodder Studio, 2021.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 1818. Oxford University Press, 2019.