Feminist critic Anne K. Mellor argues that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is an attack on masculine Romanticism Essay
I agree that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein does indeed attack masculine Romanticism however not totally. Typical Romantic characteristics include heightened interest in nature, emphasis on the individual’s expression of emotion and imagination, and rebellion against society. She attacks this through her use of language, setting, characterization, narrative structure, doubling and literary allusions. Firstly, the characteristics of the masculine Romantic hero as displayed by Victor Frankenstein and Walton and why Shelley would want to attack these characteristics must be established.
Frankenstein displays the traits of a Romantic hero in that he is seeking for something spiritual in nature that is perpetually just out of reach (as does Walton), for example, his desire to conquer death and nature because of his mother’s death. Victor is often at odds with society, and is alienated from it because of this strong desire. Also, he is entirely wrapped up in himself and his own problems and indulges, if not wallows in, his own feelings. It must be noted that the main trait of a masculine Romantic scientist would be his thirst for knowledge and leading to ambition and an appreciation of beauty is also a trait.
Shelley’s motivation for highlighting these traits for attack would be partly due to the fact that her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a famous feminist writer and influenced her deeply. Also, it must be noted that her husband has these traits of a masculine Romantic hero, so she would want to highlight these characteristics to attack her husband as well. However, many of the features of the novel are reflected in her life such as the deaths of her mother and children.
This solidifies the opinion that the novel is an attack on the masculine Romantic hero but also shows how she might have used the novel as therapy to deal with difficult life events as well. Shelley displays the power of nature through her use of imagery, narrative structure, and setting to demonstrate that it is useless to go against nature, which Frankenstein has done and Walton intends to do, both being Romantic heroes. An example of this is when Walton describes “vast and irregular plains of ice, which seemed to have no end”.
Firstly, as well as being a literary allusion to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, this demonstrates the immenseness and power of nature as Walton is on one ship surrounded by miles of ice. It must also be noted that the use of the word “vast” suggests something powerful, huge, omniscient, and omnipotent. This is rather like the power of God. Also the setting the opening of the novel, told by Walton in regions of ice and desolation, introduces the idea of how powerful nature is for one, but also that ambitious males can sometimes be apathetic and harsh towards nature.
Another demonstration of nature’s power is when Frankenstein sees a tree being stuck by lightning. Here, light symbolises destruction and how the thirst for knowledge can destroy. It can be seen as a warning from God and nature to the young Frankenstein not to turn into a Romantic hero and have ambitions of going against nature because nature will strike down on him. Also, the frequent use of the word “penetrate” shows how Frankenstein intends to rape nature (already established as female) and by him giving “birth” to the monster he usurps the role of women.
However, the consequences of this are that the monster turns out to be hideous and this is how Victor is punished for attempting to pay god. Shelley further illustrates this by using the Gothic element of fear when Victor and human society rejects the monster because they fear him. Shelley’s use of narrative structure, setting, literary allusions and symbolism is used here to attack the fact that masculine Romantic heroes go against nature and nature will make them pay. Romantic males usually tend to be very passionate about, and almost obsessed with their goals and with beauty and Shelley attacks this as being a detrimental characteristic.
This is demonstrated by the repetition of the word “one” and use of words like “sole” frequently when Frankenstein tells his account of events. This shows that Frankenstein is passionate but more so obsessed with what he’s doing even going as far as to isolate himself for the task. An example of how she attacks this is when she writes “surely nothing but the unbounded and unremitting and attentions of my friend could have restored me to life” The use of the word “restored” suggests that Frankenstein was already dead.
This implies that human contact is life and human isolation is death and Henry represents the concept of human contact. Also, the fact that he implies that he is dead is evidence of doubling as he feels dead but is alive and the monster is made up of parts from the dead but is alive. Also, even though male Romantics are supposed to be deeply affected and moved by beauty, Shelley attacks this by implying that this may make them shallow. Example of this are when Victor rejects M. Krempe at first, and ultimately the monster, based on their appearances.
This shows that Shelley uses word structure, doubling, and elements from the plot to attack the fact that male Romantics are passionate and obsessed with their goals and impressed by beauty leading them to be isolated and shallow individuals. A feature of masculine Romanticism is the emphasis on emotions and Shelley attacks this by suggesting that this may lead (tragic) male Romantics to be obsessed with how they feel to act on their emotions. This is demonstrated by the use of words such as “dabbled”, “unhallowed”, “unnatural”, “cell” and “filthy” when he describes this doings in the making of the monster.
This shows his guilt as he knows he’s done something wrong and profane and is going against convention. Also, this is further illustrated when Justine is convicted of murder. Frankenstein’s sense of guilt and self-blame can be shown when he says “now all was to be obliterated in an ignominious grave, and I the cause! ” Also, when he says things like “my unhappy victim”, “poor sufferer”, and “But I, the true murderer, felt the never-dying worm alive in my bosom” (a metaphor for his guilt).
These lines show that he blames himself for all that has gone wrong and sympathises with the accused. However he says nothing because he fears ridicule. This shows that although he seems to be focused entirely on what he’s feeling he doesn’t act on those feelings to save an innocent or prevent himself from doing wrong in bringing dead parts back to life and Shelley attacks this using mainly developing Victor’s character, word structure and metaphors here.
To conclude, I think that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein definitely does attack masculine Romanticism in that she attacks traits common to male Romantics such as want of power over nature and going against it, excessive thirst for knowledge and being passionate and obsessive about goals and beauty, and the strong emphasis on emotions as being detrimental. To do this she uses language, setting, characterization, narrative structure, doubling and literary allusions.
However, the strong biographical influences on the novel shows that she also may have used the novel as a way to deal with her intense and difficult feelings about issues in her life. Although it must be noted that Shelley lived in a time where Romantic poets of the age such as Keats, Percy Shelley and Byron practically invented and made popular the idea of Romanticism. Her time was highly influenced by the Industrial Revolution which enabled major technological achievements to be made as well as scientific ones. Hence the idea of creating a life using scientific means such as through the theory of galvanism wasn’t so radical.
However, since she’s surrounded by masculine Romantics, attacking them would definitely be seen as radical and would be frowned upon. Nevertheless, I think that the attack is very much relevant in today’s world as the current age is filled with aspiring young people who do not obey society’s rules and regulations and are determined to make a place in the world, not only men. However, expression of emotion isn’t as flared up as it was in Shelley’s time so that aspect of the attack may be seen as overdramatic by today’s readers.