Frankenstein: A Model of English Romanticism The literary world embraced English romanticism when it began to emerge and was so taken by its elements that it is still a beloved experience for the reader of today. Romanticism has crossed all social boundaries, and it was during the seventeenth and eighteenth century, it found its way into almost every niche in the literary world (Lowy 76). From the beginning of its actuality, romanticism has forged its way through many eras including the civil war (Hall 44).
Literature such as the famous Gone With The Wind was a good example of romanticism in that era because it had many of the required qualities but there were others that were even more clear as English Romanticism pieces (Hall 44). There are very few works that have a more accurate portrayal and proof of the importance of English romanticism than Mary Shelleys Frankenstein. While later versions of the stories depicted a central theme of a helpless monster caught in the fears of society the actual depiction of the original work was based more closely on the English romantic that was so popular at the time.
The importance of emotions and feelings were paramount during the era of English romanticism. In addition autobiographical material was extremely popular. All of these qualities were present in Mary Shelleys Frankenstein including a third and vital underpinning of romanticism, the innocence and exaltation of the common man. An important element of romanticism is the use of flowing feelings. During this time period, men as well as women were full of raw emotions in literary works. They would freely vent their most anguished thoughts and worries. This was evident in several of the chapters in Shelleys portrayal of the life of the monster and the people he encountered. One of the finest examples of romanticism is when the monster who we must remember is only learning emotions for the first time runs from the cottage after startling the occupants. Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed? I know not; despair had not yet taken possession of me; my feelings were those of rage and revenge. (Shelley 746) This passage demonstrates feelings that were a common theme during the Romanticist era, the monster was in pain and cursing the day he was created. Another important element of romanticism is the connection of the author to the story. The autobiographical nature of Mary Shelleys Frankenstein is at first not openly obvious as it is in many other literary works. One could ask, how a book about a monster could have anything to do with the real life of the author, but if we peel the top layer away and look closely at the undercurrent that is throughout the monsters story it becomes clear that Victor Frankensteins creation is symbolic of Mary Shelleys life (Caprio). Shelleys mother left her at an early age by dying. She had been Shelleys creator in much the same manner that Dr. Frankenstein had been the monsters creator. When the creator of the monster turned his back on him and deserted him he was forced out into the world, much as a small child in that he had limited exposure to anything outside the former security of his home. Shelley too, was thrust into the world, when her mother died; the difference is that she was an actual child while the monster was a mental and emotional child (Hamberg). This uses two of the needed ingredients for romanticism, autobiographical ideas and imagery. The book may also be a representation of a fear of childbirth felt by the author. This would not be surprising given that her own mother died giving birth to Shelley. It would explain the monsters creation and in fact the very reason he is a monster at all. Shelley may have viewed herself as a monster who was so hideous that she killed her own mother being born. This would fit right in with the autobiographical themes that were so prevalent during the English Romanticism era of that period (Caprio). In addition one of the side themes of the book may have been about creation and the painful things creation can cause. Just as Frankenstein did not ask to be created yet lived with the pain that his creation cause, Shelley never asked to be born, yet had to live with the pain that her birth caused, not only herself but her family that was robbed of a loved one. The book examines the many issues that come with being rejected by parents and being abused by the societal expectations. It was also representative of the way society held women in the time. Women were weak in literary works and prone to fainting. The women who encountered the monster in the cottage indeed played true to form ad fainted while Felix attacked physically, which was also true to form when it came to the gender roles of the era (Zschrirnt 48). The exaltation and admiration was a common and central theme during that era. The story of the monster is a shining example of the admiration we held for simple men during that time period. The monster begins as a simple and somewhat mindless creature who, by being tossed into the world with little knowledge of the workings, is lost. As he finds his way by hiding and observing the cottage people he begins to understand the ways of humans. He learns to speak by observance and hard work and in addition teaches himself to read. The entire system that the monster must use to survive touched the hearts of many readers and still does, in that he was a common creature, not unlike the common man. His ability to pull himself up by the bootstraps, and to overcome the problems such as lack of language skills underscored the common mans life and still does to some extent (Brigham 195). In addition the theme that he worked hard at becoming acceptable then was dashed once again when the world at large refused to see past his physical attributes (or metaphorically his commonness) further underscored the dilemma of the neoclassical society that the English Romanticist author tried to combat(Brigham 195). Frankenstein may not have fit the mold for a regular literacy work of English Romanticism however when we examine the symbolism, the metaphors, and the central theme imparted by Shelley we will see that it is actually one of the finest examples in the literary world today of English Romanticism (Pipkin). The myths of the era of Greek Mythological stories enjoyed resurgence during the time that Frankenstein was penned. Frankensteins creation could of course never be real; he was a myth that mirrored societys fears and the authors self-examination (Cantor 411). This was common to many of Platos writings and was popular again during the English Romanticism era” (Cantor 411). Many feelings in the story of Frankenstein were painted with verbal pictures. Picture that told a story of society refusing to accept anyone who was different regardless of how they attempted to get along and fit in with their norms. Authors of English Romanticism often used their own life stories to play out supposedly fictions adventures. It was most likely a therapeutic attempt to unload the inner feelings of abandonment or other feelings and emotions that plagued people. It was especially interesting that the genre had the men in the stories also being open about the torturous feelings they were subjected to. This perhaps was pinpointing the need to express feelings that were not characteristically allowed by men at that time and in fact are still depressed by society (Heffernan 133). Frankenstein is a strong example of English Romanticism. It had the autobiographical qualities in by telling the story of author Mary Shelleys life. It also used the symbolism that was so often used in the novels of the period. This was illustrated by having a monster as the protagonist of the story. The monster was representative of the rejection and the abuse Shelley herself suffered. Frankenstein is a classic example of English Romanticism that has become a classic literary work. Bibliography Works Cited Brigham, Linda. Legacies of omission and unacknowledged bequests: Recent Romantic Criticism. College Literature 24 (1997): 195. Cantor, Paul. The Reception of Myth in English Romanticism. Modern Philology 95 (1998): 411. Caprio, Terri. Overview of Feminist Criticism. Online. Internet. Available URL: http://loki.stockton.edu/~stk13818/fem.htm. Hamberg, Cynthia. Biography: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Online. Internet. 1999.Available URL: http:/home- 1.worldline.nl~hamberg/text/MaryShelley/biographytext. html. Hall, Jacquline. “The Prong of Love. Southern Cultures 5 (1999): 44. Heffernan, James A.W. Looking at the Monster: Frankenstein and Film. Critical Inquiry 24 (1997): 133 Lowy, Michael. Marxism and romanticism. Latin American Perspectives 25 (1998): 76. Pipkin, John. The material sublime of women romantic poets. Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 38 (1998): 597. Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Literature of the Western World, 4th ed. vol.2. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1996: 668-803. Zschirnt, Christiane. Fainting and Latency in the Eighteenth Century’s Romantic Novel of Courtship. The Germanic Review 74 (1999): 48
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