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Romanticism in Mary Shelly's Frankenstein

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Romanticism in Mary Shelly's Frankenstein

Mary Shelly's Frankenstein contains many of the traits commonly associated with Romantic literature. I have chosen a passage from the novel that offers good examples of several important Romantic ideas. Included in the passage are descriptions of strong personal emotions and feelings, the importance of nature, and the isolation and solitude of the romantic character.

The scene in the following passage takes place a couple of months after the murder of Victor's brother, William, and the execution of the innocent Justine. Victor Frankenstein is an emotional wreck because he alone knows that he created the monster that murdered his own brother. He also knows that Justine was innocent but he couldn't save her. He is in extreme emotional distress. The guilt and self-loathing are tearing him apart. He decides to journey to the Alps, a place he visited often in prior years. He hoped that the change of scenery, the exercise, and the sheer magnificence of nature would help him lessen his extreme emotional pain.

Thus not the tenderness of friendship, nor the beauty of earth, nor of heaven, could redeem my soul from woe: the very accents of love were ineffectual. I was encompassed by a cloud which no beneficial influence could penetrate. The wounded deer dragging its fainting limbs to some untrodden brake, there to gaze upon the arrow which had pierced it, and to die - was but a type of me.

Sometimes I could cope with the sullen despair that overwhelmed me: but sometimes the whirlwind passions of my soul drove me to seek, by bodily exercise and by change of place, some relief from my intolerable sensations. It was during an access of this kind that I suddenly left my home, and bending my steps towards the near Alpine valleys, sought in the magnificence, the eternity of such scenes, to forget myself and my ephemeral, because human, sorrows. My wanderings were directed towards the valley of Chamounix. I had visited it frequently during my boyhood. Six years had passed since then: I was a wreck - but nought had changed in those savage and enduring scenes.

I performed the first part of my journey on horseback. I afterwards hired a mule, as the more sure-footed and least liable to receive injury on these rugged roads. The weather was fine: it was about the middle of the month of August, nearly two months after the death of Justine; that miserable epoch from which I dated all my woe. The immense mountains and precipices that overhung me on every side - the sound of the river raging among the rocks, and the dashing of the waterfalls around, spoke of a power mighty as Omnipotence - and I ceased to fear, or to bend before any being less almighty than that which had created and ruled the elements, here displayed in their most terrific guise. Still, as I ascended higher, the valley assumed a more magnificent and astonishing character. Ruined castles hanging on the precipices of piny mountains; the impetuous Arve, and cottages every here and there peeping forth from among the trees, formed a scene of singular beauty. But it was augmented and rendered sublime by the mighty Alps, whose white and shining pyramids and domes towered above all, as belonging to another earth, the habitations of another race of beings. (Frankenstein, pg 96-97).

Powerful feelings and emotions are key ideas of Romantic literature. In this particular passage we are confronted with the overwhelming grief that is consuming Victor Frankenstein. The intensity of his emotions is best captured by the opening sentence: "Thus not the tenderness of friendship, nor the beauty of earth, nor of heaven, could redeem my soul from woe: the very accents of love were ineffectual. I was encompassed by a cloud which no beneficial influence could penetrate." Victor Frankenstein is suffering powerful grief and anguish over the death of William and Justine. He is in so much pain that he feels that nothing on heaven or earth could lessen his pain. His grief is so powerful that he feels like a dying deer staring at the very arrow that has pierced him. The reader is presented with a very detailed description of the deep emotional turmoil that is tearing him apart.

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