The extraordinary scientist Frankenstein alongside his creative writing incited readers with the threat of the unknown and the supernatural power of the forces of nature (Babers, 2008). An in-depth examination of the traits of Victor Frankenstein, the role played by scientific tests and the complex setting around which this novel evolves, indeed qualifies Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein as worthy example of romantic as well as gothic symbol in the 19th century literature of the English society (Abbey, 1987).
When the author of Frankenstein was born in 1798, her spouse’s famous predecessors Wordsworth and Coleridge had issued Lyrical Ballads as well as other poetic works which represent examples of romanticism.
According to Wordsworth’s preface, “The poet considers man and nature as essentially adapted to each other, and the mind of man as naturally a mirror of the fairest and most interesting properties of nature” (Anderson, 1989, p.
606). However, Wordsworth and Coleridge shared these romantic ideas with other writers. William Godwin, the father to Shelley, is regarded as an example of famous political philosophers during the early generation of Romanticism (Anderson, 1989, p. 741). It is indeed without doubt that Shelley had a lot of respect for Wordsworth and Coleridge, particularly with regards to the rhyme of the ancient marine (Drabble, 1975, p. 372), as it is evident by her inclusion of an extract from this text in compiling Frankenstein.
These famous writers namely, Wordsworth and Coleridge among other poets contributed to the shaping of the ideas and concept of romanticism. “Romantics saw and felt things brilliantly afresh. They virtually invented certain landscapes . . . had a new intuition for the primal power of the wild landscape, the spiritual correspondence between Man and Nature . . .” (Drabble, 1975, p. 853). With regards to emotional feelings, romanticism demonstrated a pervasive assertion of one the self alongside the worth of individual experience (Drabble, 1975, p. 853). The romantics in addition required an assurance when faced with changes through deliberating on the existing relations between human thought and the true picture (Anderson, 1989, p. 606). The concept of romanticism emerged as a result of the belief in this transformation in faith.
Further, the concept and ideas of romanticism also emerged from the knowledge of the natural forces of nature. As indicated by Robert Anderson, “…they prized experiences of the beauty and majesty of nature. . . but they had a strong sense of its mysterious forces, partly because these forces hinted at the cause of change” (1989, p. 606). According to Anderson if an individual does something to nature, irrespective of its gravity, the enforced outcome of such actions may be destructive (Anderson, 1989, p. 605). These supernatural forces have been recognized by Frankenstein particularly when he declared:
It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things, or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquires were directed to the metaphysical, or, in its highest sense, the physical secrets of the world. (Shelley, 1993, p. 28).
On the other outermost of romanticism, Frankenstein can adequately be regarded as a gothic narration, “tales of macabre, fantastic…usually set in graveyards, ruins, and wild picturesque landscapes” (Drabble, 1975, p. 411). According to Ousby, gothic stories are normally based in overseas countries; and usually occur in mountainous geographical locations (Ousby, 1992, p. 405). Furthermore, in gothic stories, the plots are based on suspense and obscurity, inclusive of the fantastic and the supreme forces (Ousby, 1992, p. 405). With such features of horror, Shelley ignites the thoughts of terror in her readers (Bloom, 1987, p. 280) and fascinates the reader with the idea of the mystery.
At the start of the novel, the writer introduces a character known as Robert Walton who argues that there is something special within his soul that he is incapable of comprehending. He considers it “a belief in the marvelous, intertwined in all my projects, which hurries me out of the common pathways of men, even to the wild sea and unvisited regions I am about to explore” (Shelley, 1993, p. 10). On the other hand, Frankenstein makes his purposeful declaration by saying, “more, far more will I achieve: treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation” (Shelley, 1993, p. 40). Deriving conclusion from these phrases, Walton can be effectively regarded as a romantic hero. According to Ousby, a romantic hero is an isolated dreamer, or an egocentric prevailed upon by guiltiness and remorsefulness, but, in each of these circumstances, considered as a figure turning away the earth from beneath (Ousby, 1992, p. 851). In the case of Frankenstein, the passion with the scientific nature draws him across the borders separating the forces of humans and the supernatural forces of nature when he decides to develop his creation. Plagued by the ambition of accomplishing great things beyond those of his predecessors, Frankenstein swings with the forces that eventually takes everything away from him.
In addition to this ambition, Frankenstein also develops his creation in order to achieve changes within the society. “ The monster is a ubiquitous symbol of menace, in whom different commentators have seen the hubris of science, the forces of the unconscious, and the emergent industrial working class” (Magill, 1983, p. 575). This demonstrates that the romantics viewed things lower hierarchies without putting more emphasis on the higher hierarchies. Therefore, the romantic viewed into himself and at other simpler individuals surrounding him and thereby revealing a model for individual and societal actions (Gardner, 1978, p. 37).
Moreover, the romantics dissented against English society as a result of its perceived resistance to change both politically and socially. Therefore, “the Romantics turned from the formal, public verse of the eighteenth-century Augustans to a more private, spontaneous, lyric poetry . . . that expressed the Romantics’ belief that imagination, rather than mere reason, was the best response to the forces of change” (Anderson, 1989, p. 603). This concept is portrayed in Frankenstein by the exploitation of imagination. When Frankenstein develops life out of lifelessness which, the readers are compelled to employ this imagination to establish life themselves to the creation.
Even though the romantics during Shelley’s time used new and imaginative mechanisms to handle situations of change, they maintained true to the literal understanding of Romantic. “The term suggests a look backward and forward in time” (Anderson, 1989, p. 3). Renowned romantic poetic writers such as Shelley and Keats as well as their predecessors considered Shakespeare as one of the greatest poets (Anderson, 1989, p.604). The period before, during, and after the development of the creation alongside a number of romantic natural scenes is detailed by Shelley and therefore forming the setting of the novel. As described by Walter Scott, the “descriptions of landscapes have in them the choice requisites of truth, freshness, precision and beauty” (1987, p. 250). Once more the concept of romanticism is mirrored by Shelley by associating man and nature.
The combination of Frankenstein feature of Romantic hero, the role played by scientific tests and the massive natural power, Frankenstein qualifies itself as an ideal romantic and gothic symbol of the 19th century literature. One outstanding characteristic of this novel that has attracted heated debate is whether Frankenstein should be considered as the first ever scientific fiction of all times. Perhaps, in the foreseeable future, Frankenstein will be accorded this description and the title. However, presently Shelley deserves to be graciously accorded the recognition that is commensurate to her efforts.
Abbey, C.D. (1987). Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism NCLC 14. Michigan: Gale
Anderson, R. (1989). Elements of Literature. Texas: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.
Babers, L. (2008). Frankenstein and the English Romantic Period. Retrieved May 13, 2009
Bloom, H. (1987). Frankenstein; or The New Prometheus. Rpt. in Abbey, NCLC 14 280-83.
Drabble, M. (1995). The Oxford Companion to English Literature. New York: Oxford
Gardner, J. (1978). On Moral Fiction. New York: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers.
Magill, F.N. (1983). Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature. New Jersey: Salem Press, Inc.
Ousby, I. (1992). The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English. New York: Cambridge
Scott, S. W. (1987). Remarks on ‘Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus: A Novel. Rpt.
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Shelley, M. (1993). Frankenstein. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc.
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