Anne Williams, a professor at the University of Georgia, published a piece of literary criticism on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein called "'Mummy, possest': Sadisn and Sensibility in Shelley's Frankenstein." In it, her overall thesis is the connection between the mummy/zombie genre of horror (to which she attests that Frankenstein falls) and concepts of motherhood, birth and creation. In essence, her theory is a piece of feminist criticism that connects womanhood in its purest form with the Frankenstein monster and its creation. Williams theorizes that Frankenstein creates the creature as a means to reconnect with his mother, who is dead, while also repressing the reality of her death. Frankenstein's creature is a combination of idealization and demonization, as Frankenstein both looks up to and fears the creature. The result is a "peculiar combination of sadism and sensibility—and thereby discloses that there is a profound kinship between them" (Williams, p.5). Through this theory, Williams seeks to connect Frankenstein with the Marquis de Sade. Williams' criticism is insightful, though sometimes scattershot, presenting close analysis of the book and connections between the sadist and Shelley to show the essence of what makes Frankenstein so compelling and frightening at the same time.
Williams, in the first part of the essay, compares Sade's life and reputation to that of Shelley's, noting that they were contemporaries but did not travel in the same circles. Furthermore, while Sade uses the Female Gothic technique of offering "the horrors faces by the heroine are those of the real world, not the intervention of supernatural forces," Shelley's is a "Male Gothic" that uses unique narrative structures to figure out just how such a supernatural event (creating life from death) affects the world around it (Williams, p. 7). Williams compares the two to create a fully-realized picture of the Gothic literature scene in the early 1800s, with both authors mastering either end of the literary spectrum where that genre is concerned.
While they filled similar spaces in the pantheon of Gothic literature, Williams only intersects and links Shelley with Sade in one respect: the cruelty of the execution of Justine Moritz in the novel. Much like in Sade's books, Justine is needlessly and forcefully punished and executed for essentially no reason, Shelley creating a hapless victim in the same mold as many of the Marquis de Sade's own creations, in fact naming her after a 1792 novel by Sade - Justine, ou les malheurs de la vertu (p. 12). These connections are seen as much more than coincidence by Williams - they are potential links and responses by Shelley to the sadism of Sade's works.
Williams goes on to discuss motherhood and dreams in both Sade's and Shelley's works; Frankenstein's dreams link his love for his 'cousin' Elizabeth to the fantasy of love in the form of familial relations, much like Sade's vision of his mother as a paragon of beauty. These things also link sadism to sensibility, having stateliness and destruction become two sides of the same coin. Many characters in the book (Henry, Elizabeth) are sentimental towards each other - kind, sensitive and benevolent. However, these characters contrast with Frankenstein's monster, who lacks appropriate feeling. According to Williams: "Frankenstein's greatest failure springs from inappropriate feeling. He does behave according to the ethos of the novel of sensibility in which outward appearance—physiognomy—is invariably an index of the inner self" (p. 22). He only has his inner self, argues Williams, because of the bandages around him and his horrific countenance, which she then equates to the word 'mummy.'
These types of connections are part and parcel of Williams' criticism - she is somewhat less concerned with exploring the depths of the novel as she is about its historical context and connection with other authors. Her support, inasmuch as they are close analyses of other works in the same time period/genre, is very strong, and connections are not tenuously made. Taking examples from specific scenes and lines of the book (Walton's story about how his ship master was kind to his young Russian lady, the sentiment that Henry Clerval expresses towards William's death), Williams takes a very close reading of the book to find examples of sadism and sensibility colliding with each other, not using other scholarly sources and instead relying on her own analysis of the work. The connection to Sade early in the essay is meant to provide historical context and note the importance of the sadistic and the sensible in Shelley's work, done almost as a response to his own.
In conclusion, Williams' criticism of Frankenstein is a unique, though somewhat unfocused, look at the novel's connection to feelings, whether sadistic or sentimental. By making the creature a mummy whose mask is difficult to see through, he is able to easily separate the sympathetic from the unsympathetic. Shelley, Williams argues, wrote this book as a response to Sade's sadism, creating a Male Gothic work that explores consequences of the kind of sadism that Sade would extol in his own works. Williams uses close analysis of the Shelley work and surrounding works (Sade, other contemporaries) to link this obsession with the macabre to an overall sentiment found in the literature of the time.
Williams, Anne. "'Mummy, possest': Sadism and Sensibility in Shelley's Frankenstein."
Romantic Circles Praxis Series/Frankenstein's Dream, Feb. 2003.