If you read "The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein" expecting to find a horror story similar to Mary Shelley's classic, then you will be extremely disappointed. But Theodore Roszak's novel is an excuse to make an argument, albeit in narrative form, concerning what Dr. Frankenstein wrought up in his laboratory. After all, Roszak is not only a novelist ("Flicker") but also a historian ("The Making of a Counter Culture"). The novel "Frankenstein" represents an important paradigm shift in human history, where science became God, replacing religion. In that regard you can say that the myth of Frankenstein replaced that of Faustus. Essentially "Frankenstein" argues that "there are some things man was not meant to tamper with," a tale that you can trace back to the Tower of Babel or see behind the story of the Titanic for that matter. Roszak makes a similar and no less compelling case for a different kind of shift. For Roszak the science of Dr. Frankenstein represents the "masculine," which replaces the older "feminine" wisdom represented by Elizabeth.
As an infant, Elizabeth Lavenza is given to a wandering gypsy. She is illegitimate, without a mother and rejected by her father. Nine years later she is adopted by the strange wife of Baron Alphonse Frankenstein. Elizabeth discovers that Lady Caroline Frankenstein belongs to a secret witches' coven. She has adopted Elizabeth to create an intellectual companion for her son Victor. Lady Caroline has the two children tutored by an old crone, Seraphina, who teaches the "women's mysteries," which includes a series of erotic devotions that serve to reveal the ancient secrets of life. However, Victor would rather dissect animals and study electrical storms. Rejecting magic, instinct and sensuality for the power of aggressive intellect, Victor destroys his friendship with Elizabeth in a brutal act. This sets up Roszak's one ironic twist on the original novel, for when the creature finally emerges in the final chapters of the novel, he befriends Elizabeth; of course, this is before he strangles her on her wedding night. Ultimately, Roszak has written an allegory that despite its willingness to wallow in arcane sexual rites argues for the privileged position of supposedly "feminist" ideals. For Roszak, Dr. Frankenstein is more Pandora than "The Modern Prometheus." If you have read Shelley's novel (not to be confused with the various film versions) and have an appreciation for how the dawn of the Age of Science changed things, then you will find "The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein" to be a provocative story.