Patchwork Girl

Shelley Jackson's hypertext pastiche Patchwork Girl; or, A Modern Monster, published by Eastgate, is "parasitic on print predecessors" according to N. Katherine Hayles. 1 It is obvious from the title of this work that the story is derived from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Shelley Jackson found her name fortuitous for this writing and the opportunity to satirize her name with the famous female author irresistible. In addition to Mary Shelley, Jackson gathered material and writing styles from all possible sources--from canonical literature to popular culture, from feminism, gender and queer studies to science, and from philosophy to film. The intertextuality imbedded in the stitches of this hypertext is extensive and at times frustrating. Several critics, including Landow, praise Jackson for her unique genius in combining hypertext and images in a modern feminist rendition of Frankenstein. Although the technology of Patchwork Girl is finding its niche in mainstream culture, in both academic and non-academic circles, critical essays remain mostly within the Eastgate/Brown University hypertext community and focused on the form of the hypertext itself. While fascinating, the manner and material from which Jackson stitches her pastiche together is also worth investigating, to unravel the blind hem holding together her original and grabbed ideas.

A Beginning: Literature

After the title page of Patchwork Girl appears on the screen, the reader must choose which lexia to click to next, an ergodic action that can sometimes be confusing. Likewise, it is challenging to decide where to begin a discussion of the intertextuality of the work. So, let the title again be a springboard, in this instance to delve into the notable literary influences on the work. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is the text most alluded to and which Jackson uses extensively throughout her own work. Like Patchwork Girl, Shelley's work also draws upon other print sources for its story, including the myth of Prometheus, a Greek Titan who stole fire from Olympus, gave it to humankind in defiance of Zeus, and suffered the torture of being chained and eaten by an eagle until released by Hercules. Jackson also incorporates Greek mythology in her story, but most important is her use of Shelley's plot and characters.

In Frankenstein, the monster pleads to Dr. Victor Frankenstein:

I am alone and miserable; man will not associate with me; but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me. My companion must be of the same species and have the same defects. This being you must create. 2
The Doctor did not comply with the monster's wishes. However, in her cyber fiction, Jackson has Mary Shelley (a.k.a. herself) make the monster. This female monster questions her appearance and worth, as did her once potential husband. Also like the nineteenth century text, the monster has a separate voice in Jackson's work. However, unlike Shelley, Jackson does not delineate between when the monster speaks and when she or the narrator speaks. In the text they "perform a certain surgery...Mary writes, I write, we write, but who is really writing? Ghost writers are the only kind there are..." The lines of stitching are blurred. In addition to using Mary Shelley's style of narration in her fictional story, Jackson also borrows the style of Shelley's Journal for her own Journal, yet another arm of the hypertext body.

Frankenstein by Berni Wrightson

Shelley's Frankenstein also offers Jackson a plethora of characters: Percy (Shelley's husband), Elizabeth, Agatha, Justine who was hanged for supposedly using a living leg for a murder weapon [a theme that reappears and will be discussed later], and the monster, who is "mixed, mestizo, a mongrel"--or an individual of mixed racial ancestry.

Justine Hanged by Verni Wrightson

Another notable work Jackson refers to as an important influence on her text is Frank L. Baum's 1913 The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Jackson includes Baum's characters Scraps (a.k.a. Patchwork Girl), Margolette, Ojo, the Glass Cat, and the Magician (Dr. Pipt), as well as numerous references to a "crazy quilt" and "patches of quilt." At one point Mary/Shelley & Herself asks: "Did you call me Scraps? Is that my name?" These are questions asked by the Patchwork Girl to the Glass Cat in Chapter 5 of Baum's text, "A Terrible Accident." Baum's Patchwork Girl continues: "I like 'Scraps' best...It fits me better, for my patchwork is all scraps, and nothing else." 3 Thus, Jackson names several of her lexias "scraps," a name most fitting with the nature of her text and characters.

Scraps and the Glass Cat

At this point one may ask why Jackson used Frankenstein, a well-known story that has been retold and translated into several different versions and mediums, and Baum's Patchwork Girl of Oz which remains mostly unread and unfamiliar in today's culture. Despite the popularity or lack thereof in these works, each provides a major theme to Jackson's work. The first is the idea of a monster, a creature, a cyborg, a chimera, that is made from pieces of inert material. Patchwork Girl is also a monster, "Frankenstein's kid sister," according to Jackson,4 who is also stitched together, patched up with pieces of dead bodies, scraps of material. Likewise, Jackson's media stitches together different portions of material from all types of sources that are patched together in this storyspace and seemingly randomly displayed in the hypertext realm.

To continue investigating other literary influences, Jackson, like most writers, cannot escape from the good book, the Bible. However, references are vague and those of the apocalypse could come from a number of sources, including Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. The statement "I shall build a palace, a city, a planet of meat" may allude to lines from the Bible, the Merlin prophecies, or Jules Verne's The Underworld City.

A less vague reference is to another classic source text, Shakespeare's Sonnets. "My mistresses' eyes are nothing like the sun" is taken from Love Sonnet #130. As the reader progresses through the hypertext, yet another major theme of Jackson's work emerges--the idea of beauty. Shakespeare parodied the traditional Petrarch sonnet praising the appearance of his mistress. Jackson continues with this satirical look at stereotypical beauty, stating "maybe beauty is a marble stuck in the craw of Eros"--or beauty is a hard, round stone rolling about in the stomach of the Greek god of erotic love.

As stated previously, Greek mythology plays a large part in Shelley's work, as well as in Jackson's. In one instance, Mary/Shelley takes skin from her calf (a place where Percy would not easily notice) to graft onto the monster. According the Greek myth, Zeus carried his unborn son Dionysus in his calf until his birth. Adding another dimension to this particular myth, Mary Shelley and Jackson both seem to have a fascination with birth, monstrous or human. Jackson makes several references to "Foetus" or a fetus; it is known Shelley suffered a miscarriage.

Jackson also includes Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty and sexual rapture, in her hypertext. In fact, most all of Jackson's characters are female, in relationships with other females, and dealing with female issues. For instance, Tituba appears in the text, a historical Caribbean slave who first admitted to being a witch during the Salem witch trials. Contemporary feminism is a very important square in Jackson's quilt. The author relies on the writing and research of several feminists: Carolyn Walker Bynum, Helene Cixous, Donna J. Haraway, Evelyn Shaw, Joan Darling, Elaine Showalter, Barbara Maria Stafford, Angela Carter, Susan B. Anthony, and Klaus Theweleit. Haraway's discussions of cyborgs as "chimeras," or hybrids of race, culture, gender, and technology factor significantly in Jackson's text. For example, "There is not even such a state as 'being' female or 'being' monster, or 'being' angel..."We find ourselves to be cyborgs, hybrids, mosaics, chimeras...[women are] Mixotricha paradoxa," or parasites fighting for survival and reproduction.

Like Showalter, Jackson uses the tradition of "piecing, patchwork, and quilting" to make her work of art that questions notions of sustained gender roles, just as Susan B. Anthony questioned in 1873:

"It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens...who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people--women as well as men. For any state to make sex a qualification that must ever result in the disfranchisement of one entire half of the therefore a violation of the supreme law of the land. By it the blessings of liberty are forever withheld from women and their female posterity....To them this government is not a democracy....It is an odious aristocracy; a hateful oligarchy of sex...which makes father, brothers, husband, sons, the oligarchs over the mother and sisters, the wife and daughters...which ordains all men sovereigns, all women subjects...." 5
Jackson enlists Mary Shelley as her literary idol, but makes reference to other strong historical women--both writers and outspoken statures of hope for the women of the future like Anthony, who like Justine in Frankenstein faced a trial and was convicted of a crime, in this instance voting.

In dealing with discussions of gender, sexuality naturally follows. "Suck succubus, I was going to say, because possession is as sexual as it sounds," writes Mary/Shelley. A succubus is a demon assuming female form to have sexual intercourse with men in their sleep--a myth that demeans while demonizing women. Again Mary/Shelley writes "Some believed me to be a homosexual--half-man, half-woman." It is not only the monster questioning its role and identity in life, but Mary/Shelley. It is no surprise then that Jackson is familiar with Shaw and Darling's scientific study of female animals in nature as compared to human women, and Bynum's research on medieval mysticism of women, and Stafford's look at monstrous bodies as the alternative to Enlightenment art, and Theweilt's argument that cyborg fantasy relates to the male desire to control chaos, or femininity. These threads of feminism, the female body and image, can be found in Jackson's work, held together by linking lexias.

Returning to mythology, another myth lies behind the only art work that appears in Patchwork Girl that is not the original work of Jackson. The Chimera of Arezzo is an ancient mythological bronze statue that was discovered in Italy in 1553. The myth of the Chimera, according to Homer and Hesiod, is that the fire breathing monster terrorized the land of Lycia. The local tyrant, Iobates, employed Bellerophon to kill it. Bellerophon flew over the Chimera on his flying horse Pegasus and thrust his spear into the creature's throat, suffocating it. Like in the story of Frankenstein , this is another instance of death to the monster, the idolized art, put out of existence because of its differences.

Chimera of Arezzo

There are other literary works mentioned or alluded to in the text that carry the same theme of monsters, including Pinocchio, a character who is manufactured and has qualities unlike humans, and a children's picture book called Dr. Goat, again a creature assuming human characteristics. Jackson makes reference to "insect architectures" and "larva." While these may be remnants of Haraway's theories, these images also conjure up Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis. In yet another story that questions form, life purpose, and monster bodies, this 1915 text describes Gregor Samsa who wakes up to discover that he has been transformed into a "monstrous vermin." Gregor's family is horrified and keeps him locked in his bedroom. When Gregor breaks out one day, his father throws apples at him and one becomes embedded in his back. Eventually the apple becomes rotten and infected and when Gregor dies the cleaning woman throws his remains into the garbage. Gregor's predicament is much like the monster in Frankenstein . He is a monster to the outside world, and inside he begins to transform as well. He is searching for his identity, just as the Patchwork Girl (and Mary/Shelley and the reader) searches for herself in all the patches of other people/texts.

Jackson also writes "I was the ship's weird nocturnal albatross...Captain...a wooden stump had healed." Although the stump may refer to Justine's murder weapon or the Victorian ditty ["of a woman who lost her leg and received another...and of her greedy husband who murdered her 'not only for, but with' the leg 'And they brought it in as a Felo de Se (a felon of himself; a self-murderer)/'Because her own Leg had killed her!'] that is retold in the text, Jackson could also be referring to Herman Melville's Moby Dick. The classic tale is yet another example of a disfigured character becoming a monster, obsessed with himself and his desire to kill the creature that made him look like a monster to others.


Yet another major influence on Patchwork Girl is philosophy, most importantly Jacques Derrida and Cicero. In Disseminations, the French philosopher Derrida discusses the relationship between writing, bodies, and metaphors. Jackson interprets: "I am a mixed metaphor myself," or an extended comparison of myself. She continues, "All bodies are written bodies...fallen angels are mixed metaphors, hybrids, monsters....Identities seems contradictory, partial, and strategic....the metaphorical principle is my true skeleton."

Jumping from literary philosophy, Jackson includes political/social philosophy in her quilt. Marcus Tullius Cicero was born in 106 BC and was murdered in 43 BC. His life coincided with the decline and fall of the Roman Republic. He was an orator, lawyer, politician, and philosopher. He focused on the the defense and improvement of the Roman Republic. The politicians of his time, he believed, were corrupt and no longer possessed the virtuous character that had been the main attribute of Romans in the earlier days of Roman history. Likewise, Jackson defines America as "progress, proud fat men of America, monstrous, anonymous, lawyers."

Jackson also writes: "Sometimes it bothers me to put my words on paper. Set in ranks, they argue I possess a 'life,'" referring to Lives of the Artists, a catalogue of artists compiled by Giorgio Vasari in Rome in 1546. In this instance, Jackson puns that her words become alive once put on paper, but also that in writing them down, they became catalogued and put in some order, however invisible within the machine that order may be, revealed only by links to lexias and a computer map of her storyspace. She is philosophizing about her words, not only in their form as written in her notebooks, but as she makes them come to "life" in this patchwork storyspace.

Science and Technology

Jackson devotes another section of her quilt to science. There are numerous repetitions of "body and soul...human bodies of knowledge...scar tissue is new growth...flow of blood." A nameless text "leafed through in a bookstore" revealed to Jackson "facts concerning modern biology's understanding of the multiple nature of the living organism." Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy is also cited as a major source. [Jackson has now written a book The Melancholy of Anatomy that will be published by Anchor in January, 2002.] Burton's 1621 text was the first major text in the history of Western cognitive science. Accused of "quasi-plagiarisms," Burton assimilated the works of previous thinkers to produce a model of human consciousness which, while anatomically and logically flawed, canonized conceptual divisions of the human psyche and body. He devotes most of his text to cataloging the many manifestations and causes of the mental "disease" melancholy.

Another patch touches upon Newtonian mechanics, or "delta y over delta x." Jackson also repeatedly mentions "dreams of mannequins" and "eye lid twitching." Unsure of the significance of mannequins beyond the metaphor of bodies, or plastic forms of human bodies, Jackson's eye twitching may be related to Tourette's Syndrome, a disease characterized by motor tics, such as eye blinking, that again identifies a person or creature as being different, abnormal, monstrous.

Institutions and People

Jackson states that George P. Landow of Brown University "introduced me to hypertext." 6 Brown University has a long history of hypertext, beginning in 1965 with Ted Nelson and Andries van Dam. From HES to FRESS to CHUG to IRIS to DynaText to the Storyspace Cluster, Brown has played an extremely important role in the advancement of hypertext systems and texts. Landow supervises, edits, and writes hypermedia to support Brown University English courses. He has published the Dickens and In Memoriam Webs in Storyspace, Writing at the Edge, and a collection of Brown student Storyspace webs. He created and maintains three interlinked websites and the Cyberspace, Hypertext, and Critical Theory Web, composed of student projects. Landow also teaches courses on literature and literary theory, most likely courses that Jackson attended as a graduate student.

Another major influence on Jackson from Brown University is Robert Coover, author of fourteen books and the one who "drew" Jackson to Brown and gave her the "general sense that innovative work was encouraged there." 7 Coover has held teaching positions at Bard College, the University of Iowa, Princeton University, and Brown University, where since 1980 he has been teaching creative writing. In 1982 he began teaching hypertext fiction workshops both at the undergraduate and graduate level. The first courses began with the Intermedia hypertext software but is currently taught using Eastgate System's Storyspace, giving "an opportunity for narrative artists to experiment with the nonlinear, multidimensional, interactive space of the computer." 8

There are most likely several other major influences on Jackson's work from Brown University, including Peter Heywood, who taught courses on cell biology from 1987-1990, but these possible links would require further investigation. There are additional influences outside the institute of Brown. Daniel Russell, for example, who currently works for the Advanced Technology Group at Apple Computer. Prior to Apple, Russell was a Member of the Research Staff at the Xerox PARC in the User Interface Research and he led the "Instructional Design Environment" project to develop a practical computer-aided design and analysis system for supporting ill-structured design tasks. He also is an associate member of the Institute for Research on Learning in Palo Alto, an adjunct lecturer on the Engineering and Computer Science faculty of the University of Santa Clara and a lecturer in Computer Science at Stanford University, where Jackson received her B.A.

Jackson also writes that Paul West, Rosemary Waldrop, Gale Nelson, and fellow students Tim Taylor and Euridice Kamviselli "all inspired my writing in one way or another." 9 Those particular ways would again require further extensive research.

Pop Culture

Gathering material from all types of sources, Jackson includes in her pastiche an Elle Magazine, "author and issue unknown," reference to a "front-page Enquirer story," the popular children's song (or perhaps from Mahasatipatthana Sutta The Great Frames of Reference translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu) "shin bone connected to the thigh bone, thigh bone connected to the hip bone," the cliches "one step forward two steps back" and "bass-ackwards," the children games/dances hopscoth (also referred to in Baum's text) hokey-pokey, double dutch, and the nursery rhyme "Ride-a-cock-horse":

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross

To see a fine lady upon a white horse.

Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,

She shall have music wherever she goes.

Jackson (or the monster) must also be extremely thirsty (or the reader at this point after jumping through so many lexias), for there are several references to favorite popular beverages: "I preferred Ovaltine to chocolate milk" and the ultimate, of course, "Kool-Aid."

Monsters/Parts Before Patchwork Girl

Jackson makes one reference in her text to a film that inspired her writing: Body Parts. This 1991 film relates to other major themes in Patchwork Girl: dismembered parts used as murder weapons and the continuing expansion of the idea of the monster. In Body Parts a survivor of car crash receives a donor's arm, and then strangles his wife with it. Although not cited in the text, other films before the publication of Jackson's work also deal with these themes. For example, in Riddley Scott's Blade Runner, a 1982 cyberpunk vision of the future, a police man hunts down and terminates artificially created humans. Anthony Hickox's 1992 film Waxwork II: Lost in Time is the story of a couple that is followed by a dismembered hand, which kills the girl's father, for which she must stand trial, just like Justine. However, unlike in the original Frankenstein plot, this girl is able to use a time machine to hopscotch back in time to prove her innocence. Aside from film, there is yet another futuristic murder/monster/cyborg related plot: Larry Niven's The Patchwork Girl published by Futura in 1980. In this case, the heroine is again suspected of murder in a future where criminals are dismembered and their parts repair other people as needed. From this small list, it is apparent that Jackson had plenty of examples of retellings and futuristic ideas of the concept of Frankenstein, and expansions on the character and fate of Justine.

It Lives!!! Beyond Patchwork Girl

Probably even before Shelley's Frankenstein stories of body parts being stitched together to form monsters were being told. Shelley's work established the plot and monster as major literary ideals. In literature, film, and music, the tradition remains. Shelley Jackson offers just another interpretation/re-telling of a story, coupled with a less known story of Patchwork Girl and other intertextual material thrown in, as part of her investigations as a student, or as some of her favorite articles/ideas from pop culture, philosophy, and science. Nonetheless, the monster lives on! Both Frankenstein and Frankenstein's kid sister (or bride or Scraps's sister) have a future. Other writers have continued the tradition. A fantasy poem entitled "Patchwork Girl." lives at Cerese. 10 There is also another web-based story entitled "The Patchwork Girl." 11 Picador Multimedia Film is taking the tradition a step further, a possible boost for Frank Baum's career, by publishing an animated feature film of Patchwork Girl with lyrics by Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. 12 Speaking of music, there is also a Patchwork Girl CD released in 1997 by the musical group Johnny Too Bad/The Strikeouts; however, this album is rapidly fading away and like Baum, could probably use some help from the Grateful Dead. 13

Final Glimpse at Patchwork Girl: Dependent on Technology

In this discussion of the intertextuality of Jackson's hypertext pastiche Patchwork Girl lines of stitching are crossed between numerous literary influences, philosophical and scientific influences, institutions and people, feminism and pop culture. Before returning Patchwork Girl to its CD-ROM case from which it can hopefully somehow rise again a hundred years from now, a final look should be taken at the technology of the text. Indeed, Patchwork Girl would not exist without the advancement and explosion of hypertext into academic and non-academic worlds. In her text, Jackson cites Bolter, Joyce, Smith and Bernstein for their Getting Started with Storyspace. Indeed, Jackson would have nowhere to start without such software and technology. Jackson was able to use print sources such as Frankenstein and Patchwork Girl of Oz that she could hold in her hands. Although her text can only be seen on screen, Jackson's work in this new media carries on the tradition of modern monsters questioning the stitches that hold them together. Yet unlike Scraps who is "nothing else," Jackson's work holds plenty else.


1 Hayles, Katherine. "Flickering Connectivities in Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl: The Importance of Media-Specific Analysis." Postmodern Culture 10:2 (January 2000).

2 Baum, Frank L. The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Ballantine, (f.p.) 1913. (124).

3 Baum, Frank L. The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Ballantine, (f.p.) 1913. (61).

4 Jackson, Shelley. "Ineradicable Stain."

5 Anthony, Susan B. Speech After Being Convicted of Voting. 1873.

6 Jackson, Shelley. "Biographical Statement."

7 Jackson, Shelley. "Biographical Statement."

8 Creative Writing at Brown University: Hypertext

9 Jackson, Shelley. "Biographical Statement."

10 Cerese. Fantasy Poem. 4/27/00.,618.

11McFarland, Kim. "The Patchwork Girl." West Sector Story #6.

12 The Patchwork Girl. Animated feature film based on L. Frank Baum's novel.

13 Johnny Too Bad/The Strikeouts (CD). Patchwork Girl. Moon Ska Records, 1997.