Mary Shelley was one of the primary creators of the Romantic Era with her Gothic writing
Mary Shelley was one of the primary creators of the Romantic Era with her Gothic writing. For example, with Frankenstein as well as her numerous short stories. Shelley is one of the leading thrusts that drove the Romantic Era and Gothic Literature in general along. The Gothic novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley shows splendidly what the Romantic Era was. Although, Frankenstein was considered a Gothic story it can also fall under the category of a Romantic novel. The characters in the book show the right qualities that characterize that era. With Victor’s numerous character blemishes, for example, needing to investigate the obscure and being arrogant in observing plentiful individual power. It also characterizes within the Romantic Era because in Frankenstein, Victor and the Creature both showed emotions and were mesmerized by the nature settings that they encountered throughout the novel. By examining the choice of setting paired with Victor and the Creature’s character development, it is clear that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein as a Romantic novel to re-examine Romanticism.
Romanticism was a movement that originated in Europe including characteristics such as art, literature and intellectual progress. Romanticism is the opposition against the Enlightenment Era. During the Romantic Era, the medieval romance was preferred rather than the classical. It’s under the category of frequent use of emotion and individualism as well as nature. In Lilian Furst’s “Romanticism in Historical Perspective” she quotes that “…the Romantic manner of perception and expression appeared in various literatures at different times and in different guises” (Furst 135). The movement emphasized intense emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as apprehension, horror and terror, and awe (Romanticism). It especially stressed the categories dealing with the beauty of nature and the appreciation towards it. Romanticism in the English literature began in the 1700’s with writers such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, William Blake and many more. Many believe that the Romantic Era originated with William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge’s “Lyrical Ballads.” They had not identified themselves as Romantics until Vienna lecture made the distinction between Romantic art and Classicism (Britannica). The Romantic Movement began to appear first in Germany with its literary styles. A novel written in the Romantic Era typically had themes such as a love for nature, belief in the power of an individual and a desire to explore the unknown. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in the 1800’s during the Romantic Era using all of the themes mentioned. The Romantic Era also began studying different literary-focused interests one which happened to deal with the supernatural such as in Shelley’s Frankenstein. Romanticism then began to take a less universal approach and more of an individualistic approach which Shelley also includes in Frankenstein.
Throughout the entirety of the novel Frankenstein, it is apparent to see that Victor Frankenstein is a true Romantic. He is flooding with emotions and at last is devoured by them. In Jonathan Crimmins article he mentions “She critiques the utopian spirit in the genres of both the romantic and the sentimental by Gothicizing her two heroes…” (Crimmins 562) Victor shows signs of being a Romantic character when he begins to have thoughts about creating the creature. He says, “No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success” (Shelley 33). He uses a simile to relate the feelings he had to a hurricane which is often thought of as a violent act of nature by a body of water. This comparison added emphasis on Shelley wanting to portray Victor as feeling several feelings at once. This example of Romanticism originates at the point where Victor was experiencing the creation of the creature. Victor is so charmed by the way that he believes to be behind the creation of another species. His feeling of self-privilege is exceptionally clear in this passage. Another form of emotion was portrayed when Victor said, “How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form” (Shelley 35)? Victor experienced these emotions after he had created the creature. Victor was not happy at all with his creation and was feeling very horrible about what he had done. Victor also portrayed emotion in the quote:
His tale, and the feelings he now expressed, proved him to be a creature of fine sensations; and did I not, as his maker, owe him all the portion of happiness that was in my power to bestow? He saw my change of feeling, and continued- (Shelley 102)
Victor said this as the Creature was asking him to create a woman companion for him. Victor was beginning to feel pity for the creature because he thought he owed it to him to at least give him a companion for him to finally be able to leave him at peace. Victor believed that if he gave the Creature a female companion he would leave and never try and interact with him again because that is what the Creature had told Victor. Emotion was also shown in the quote “Every thought that was devoted to it was an extreme anguish, and every word that I spoke in allusion to it caused my lips to quiver, and my heart to palpitate” (Shelley 113). Victor said this when he was beginning to gather materials to create the Creature’s companion. Victor’s emotions during this process were torture; he was not fully sure that creating this companion was a good idea, but he thought it was the least he could do for having made a creature so wretched. Even though Victor was unsure about everything, he managed to get past his feelings and began building the new creation.
Victor displayed many emotions throughout the novel, but the Creature also had some feelings of his own. The Creature can also be seen as a Romantic character like Victor because he displayed emotions as soon as he was “born.” When the Creature took off on his own, he was in the forest and said, “One day, when I was oppressed by cold, I found a fire which had been left by some wandering beggars, and was overcome with delight at the warmth I experienced from it” (Shelley 71). This section shows the symbolism that Shelley uses to clarify how the Creature felt when he initially was introduced to fire. The fire speaks to pleasant feelings the Creature felt all throughout the novel when coming into contact with flames. Then as the Creature begins observing and learning from the DeLacey family, he states:
… I feel so many overwhelming terrors. I tenderly love these friends; I have, unknown to them, been for my months in the habits of daily kindness towards them; but they believe that I wish to injure them, and it is that prejudice which I wish to overcome. (Shelley 94)
The Creature watched the family and took in their dialect and emotional language. It started to associate these discoveries and translate what being human is about, our capacity to feel. The Creature had no idea what it was like to feel loved by anybody or feel anything until he began observing the family. These were the first humans who had taught the Creature what it was like to feel something for others. The DeLacey family was unaware that the Creature had been observing them the entire time until the Creature is accidently revealed to them. The Creature quotes “Who can describe their horror and consternation on beholding me? Agatha fainted; and Safie, unable to attend to her friend, rushed out of the cottage” (Shelley 94). Romanticism features the significance of uniqueness and feeling. Nonetheless, as the Creature was untouched by elegance and encompassed by the dangerous handle of unacceptable quality and repulsiveness, the sentiments of ponder and wonderment for humanity were immediately taken over by abhor, sicken, and a want to obliterate and destroy. The Creature was devasted when he saw the reaction of the DeLacey’s. He was crushed to see that a family he had grown to love and care so much about had shown him so much hate and disgust when they encountered him. He felt alone once again.
Throughout Frankenstein, Shelley uses various nature scenes which Victor encounters. When Victor recalls his childhood, he thought of it as a happy one until his creation is made. He states “… I felt it arise, like a mountain river, from ignoble and almost forgotten sources; but, swelling as it proceeded, it became the torrent which, in its course, has swept away all my hopes and joys” (Shelley 21). This quote embodies the conventional components often seen in Romantic Era Literature as in the swell of the mountain river symbolizes the disarray and loss of joy in Victor’s life. Shelley uses a simile to compare Victor’s feelings to a mountain river. As Victor is telling Walton his story, he tells Walton “Learn from me… how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow” (Shelley 32). As stated in Paul Sherwin’s article “Frankenstein: Creation as Catastrophe”, he mentions “… Frankenstein is the chief victim of the text’s irony… particularly whenever he thinks he is addressing the supernatural powers that oversee his destiny…” (Sherwin 883) Sherwin’s quote supports what Victor says because Victor did try and go against his nature by creating a supernatural being. As Herbert Schueller also mentions in his article “Romanticism Reconsidered” he states, “At their core they give evidence that Romanticism is the tendency to break the confines, the rules, the limits, to go beyond that which has been crystallized” (Schueller 360). During the Romantic Era, it was believed that one could not go and interfere with “life or death” which is exactly what Victor did. Victor also mentions “We passed a fortnight in these perambulations: my health and spirits had long been restored, and they gained additional strength from the salubrious air I breathed…” (Shelley 45) This passage showed how just the simplicity of the air from nature allowed Victor to feel better and return him to joyous spirits.
Just like Victor explored many places while on his various trips and runs in with nature, the Creature also got to engage with nature in his way. At the point when the Creature, forlorn and relinquished, goes off into the forest trying to find Victor, he finds consolidation in the magnificence of the first of spring, saying that he “…felt emotions of gentleness and pleasure, that had long appeared dead, revive within me” (Shelley 98). The Creature had just experienced the abandonment from Victor so as he witnessed “spring” he found comfort in it. Another time when the Creature found comfort in nature was when he said “My spirits were elevated by the enchanting appearance of nature; the past was blotted from my memory, the present was tranquil, and the future gilded by bright rays of hope and anticipations of joy” (Shelley 80). Nature enabled the Creature to be able to feel peaceful. It made him set aside what had previously happened and made him focus in on the beauty of nature. Nature was always a place of comfort for the Creature. Nature makes the man move toward encountering physical beauty as well as the magnificence of presence. Romanticism tends to utilize code words to veil the offensiveness of reality of a cruel world. Shelley uses a clear depiction of nature to counter the offensiveness felt by the Creature and Frankenstein’s absolute sicken with him and the awfulness he made.
Romantic emotion concentrated on the profound quality and energy of feelings. A commonly used literary device during the Romantic Era was to utilize nature to mirror a character’s state of mind. This act demonstrates the ideal of feeling since everything around the character was influenced by his disposition. Mary Shelley utilized nature to help represent the power of individual feelings/emotions. When Victor first sees the creation he has made he becomes horrified by his appearance, runs outside and is “… wetted by the rain, which poured from a black and comfortless sky” (Shelley 37). This passage is utilizing nature and feeling to mirror Victor’s feelings. He is alarmed, appalled, and loaded with lament after observing his creation, and the storm is a physical portrayal of his disposition. As Victor was on his way to Geneva he says “Yet, as I drew nearer home, grief and fear again overcame me. Night also closed around; and when I could hardly see the dark mountains, I felt still more gloomy. The picture appeared a vast and dim scene of evil…” (Shelley 49) The sheer dimness of the night as one of the present occasions made Victor sense malevolence and threat in progress. The dull, threatening and malicious appearance of sunset prompted the whole inverse feeling of delight and quietness into Victor, which lovely climate and nature in blossom did for him. The Creature also developed feelings which were created by nature. The Creature says, “My senses were gratified and refreshed by a thousand scents of delight, and a thousand sights of beauty” (Shelley 80). This was the Creature’s first interaction with nature. It made him instantly become “refreshed” by the beauty of spring. He was surprised at how the seasons changed so quickly and beautifully. Another moment when the Creature shows feelings with nature is when he states, “The pleasant sunshine, and the pure air of day, restored me to some degree of tranquility…” (Shelley 95) The Creature said this after encountering the DeLacey family and seeing their hatred towards him. He found himself being able to calm down with nature’s beauty and merely the pure air. Nature was able to make the Creature find peace after having experienced something terrible.
Mary Shelley related the relationship between nature and human feeling to show how she liked to utilize metaphors of a natural setting or scene instead of different depictions. Rather than relating Victor and the Creature’s emotions and involvement in objective talk, scholarly depiction or by exchange with different characters, she picks the more “romantic” picture of a nature setting. The immoral beauty of the mountains and lakes diverged from the vaporous idea of human presence and misery. Nature overpowers humanity with its enormous closeness. The acknowledgement of one’s smallness before nature’s tremendous stature and enormous power applies a genuinely lowering impact. The descriptions of natural settings turn into various and excess as Frankenstein develops. While Victor is destroyed by the Creature killing his loved ones he turns to nature for emotional support. Shelley makes full utilization of nature as the wellspring of strength for Victor and the Creature in a world that Victor has himself undone. Mary Shelley utilizes scene and landscape to parallel the feelings and mental conditions of Victor and the Creature and uses setting to depict human emotions.
Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is a Romantic exemplary. It is based around the Romantic rules that science just demeans, however nature alleviates. She is cautioning us that if we disregard nature, similar to how Victor did, we will wind up influencing a beast out of ourselves and one day glance back at how absurd we were in ignoring nature. Mary Shelley’s novel was considered not only a Gothic novel but also a Romantic novel. This is displayed through the use of emotions and the settings of nature. Victor and the Creature both displayed a variety of emotions which ultimately resulted in feeling relieved of them by the power of nature. Also, nature was used as a metaphor for the feelings Victor and the Creature were representing. Nature was a soothing device for both characters which was commonly showed in Romantic Era Literature. Mary Shelley encompassed all the elements of the Romantic Era in her novel Frankenstein proving it can be considered a Romantic story.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Romanticism.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 6 Dec. 2017, www.britannica.com/art/Romanticism.
CRIMMINS, JONATHAN. “Mediation’s Sleight of Hand: The Two Vectors of the Gothic in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein.'” Studies in Romanticism, vol. 52, no. 4, 2013, pp. 561–583. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24247264.
Furst, Lilian R. “Romanticism in Historical Perspective.” Comparative Literature Studies, vol. 5, no. 2, 1968, pp. 115–143. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40467744.
“Romanticism.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanticism.
Schueller, Herbert M. “Romanticism Reconsidered.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 20, no. 4, 1962, pp. 359–368. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/427898.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein: A Norton Critical Edition. ed. J. Paul Hunter. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996
Sherwin, Paul. “Frankenstein: Creation as Catastrophe.” PMLA, vol. 96, no. 5, 1981, pp. 883–903. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/462130.