In less than six years, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein will be 200 years old. This novel, indicative of the romantic period, is a compelling narrative with numerous themes and vivid imagery to consider. In the context of romanticism, Frankenstein is a worthwhile piece of literature to examine. Literature and art of the romantic period is characterized with an emphasis on intense emotional reactions, specifically emotions such as horror, terror, and awe. These emotions are central to the narrative of Frankenstein. Such emotions act as catalysts in the narrative and they serve to push the story on long after in has begun. This movement is also characterized by a return to the scientific and what is rational. Victor is, among other things, a devoted scientist.
Nicole Smith sees Mary Shelley as an author who retained a deep understanding of romanticism and also sees her as an author who pushed the envelope with her writing within the movement. Smith describes Victor as the "ultimate dreamer, who is preoccupied by otherworldly concerns and unattainable ideals. In this sense, he is highly romantic." (Smith, "Elements of Romanticism in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley") Victor is but a single example of romanticism at work in the novel. Smith considers that nature is an important symbol of the romantic in Frankenstein. Several landscapes are described throughout the novel including that of the Orkneys and of Switzerland. The ways in which these landscapes are described is romantic, besides nature having an inherent romantic quality about it already. Smith furthers points out the romantic in Victor's quest to design and create the perfect human. Victor is pursuing a romantic ideal in his creation of Frankenstein; he purses the romantic, scientific ideal that there is such a thing as a perfect human being and that he can make that person. Smith contends that what makes Shelley's piece an exemplar of romanticism is how nearly every character has and expresses deeply romantic desires that are both possible and impossible in conjunction with the characters concern for and engagement with the fantastical rather than the real. The characters fight against the roles they perceive society has outlined for them. Their romantic struggle is against preconception, the struggle for emotional truth, and to push themselves through what they are to what they wish to be.
Paul H. Fry writes to clearly define and explain the parameters of romanticism as he claims that too often the term is used without clear definition or regard for the true meaning. One of his key points directly responds to the character Frankenstein. He writes that a trait of romantic writers was to incorporate the use of prelinguistic sounds that comes off to the modern ear as rude, is a poetic metaphor. The lack of language, for Fry symbolizes the romantic urge to express what cannot be expressed and/or that what is romantic may be misunderstood or not understood at all by those not struck by the movement. Frankenstein, the creature, notably, has no language. He, like an infant, is unable to articulate his emotions or desires with words and faces challenges when attempting to connect with other creatures including animals and people.
Detailed Notes on the Sources
From Romanticism and Colonialism
"…Romanticism's relationship with colonialism has been relatively little studied, although a wealth of critical writing has been devoted to the connection between both early modern and nineteenth-century literature and the histories of colonialism and imperialism." (Page 1 -- 2)
"The other is always the 'uncanny Other' and othering is a process of alienation and of epistemic violence (often a prelude to material force) whereby an exclusionary distinction is made between the white westerner and the colonized subject [who in this case is Frankenstein]. The essays demonstrate how the many and various peoples subject to Western colonial and imperial processes [symbolized by the townspeople who force Frankenstein away] in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, underwent a process of estrangement, frequently being homogenized and often demonized [Victor and Frankenstein]. Imaginary borderlines were constructed on the bases on imputed savagery, cannibalism, and so on." (Page 6 -- 7)
These quotes help contextualize the themes and symbols from the novel into the greater movement of Romanticism as well as connect Romanticism as a reflection of world events in art.
From British Romanticism and the Science of the Mind
"Things are not much different now, although a half-century of psychoanalytically inspired literary analysis has piqued scholarly interest in Mesmerism and other Romantic-era anticipations of depth psychology. Most work on the Romantic mind continues to be informed by a disembodied version of associationism, by psychoanalysis, or by epistemological issues that link Romantic literary figures to a philosophical tradition running from German idealism to phenomenology and its deconstruction. The Romantic brain, however, has been left almost wholly out of account." (Page 1)
"If the Romantic period can indeed be seen as an age of revolution, its iconoclastic brain science played a major role in the ideological ferment of the time. Student of Romantic literature and culture have much to gain by looking to the era's revolutionary science of the mind, however under-appreciate it has been to date. To begin with, no account of Romantic subjectivity can be complete without noting how contemporary understandings of psychology were either grounded in, deeply marked by, or tacitly (when not explicitly oppose to the brain-based models of mind being developed concurrently in the medical sciences. Moreover, a whole range of topics and concerns typically associated with Romanticism -- the relation of the mind to body, the relation of human beings to the natural world, the new emphases on human difference and individuality, the environmental role in shaping mind and behavior, the status of various materialist ideologies, even such staples as sensibility and the creative imagination -- reveal unsuspected facets and interconnections when placed in the context of contemporary work on the brain and nerves." (Page 2)
About the first quote: though nearly 200 years have passed since Shelley composed the novel, the author contends that not much has changed in the analysis of the figures, themes, and symbols. This speaks to the enduring quality of the work, as well as to the shifts or lack of shifts in thinking in western culture.
About the second quote: this quote is extremely useful in teasing out many aspects of romanticism in the novel. The quote speaks to both Victor and Frankenstein. The quote speaks to the environment in which Frankenstein is created and the relationship between people and their environments.
This is a text that is also useful in contextualizing romanticism in the world as well as between the past and the present. The second quote from this text connects romanticism in literature to movements in thought, culture, and science.
The quote shows how this novel is an accurate reflection of the psychological and emotional orientation of the romantic subject.
Understanding the greater implications of romanticism outside of literature helps the reader and the writer extrapolate romantic symbols, themes, narrative, archetypes, etc.
From The Gothic, Frankenstein, and the Romantics
"…Frankenstein is viewed as a landmark in English literature, signaling the transition from the eighteenth-century Gothic tales, with all their mysteries and ghosts and artificial horrors, to the deeply serious romantic novel of the nineteenth century." (Page 35)
"Frankenstein demonstrates many of these points of convergence. Thus it is a good representative of the Gothic novel in the Romantic Age." (Page 37)
"The fearful elements and the theme of death in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." (Page 40)
"Frankenstein is brilliant, passionate, sensitive, and capable of arousing feelings of profound sympathy in others, yet he is the creator of a monster which causes great suffering and finally destroys his maker. " (Page 41)
"A reading through the Romantic poetry will show identical ideas and images present in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein...One very important possible Romantic way of redemption of all those agonies is to meet death as an escape rather than a redemption or salvation. Mary Shelley's main idea in Frankenstein emerges from the "form of depression" of the age, and it bears a broad Romantic feeling and reaction to this oppression." (Page 42 -- 43)
"It is interesting that there is a close association between dreams -- and their importance for the creative writer -- and drugs at the Romantic period…Also drug-taking is a common social habit at the Romantic period. Following the mode of her time and generation Mary Shelley was a drug-taker. Thus, it is no accident that both [dreams and rugs] and exterior setting in the Romantic poets often produce unmistakable echoes of the Gothic novels they consumed...Dreams have been a source of inspiration for all the Romantic writers. Dreams, opium eating and prophecies and three main necessities for the Romantic thinking. Mary Shelley is not unlike the other Romantics as she employs these Romantic habits in her literary work, and in various of her novels…" (Page 45)
These quotes talk directly to Romanticism as a movement. There is…