Romanticism in Frankenstein: the Use of Poetry in the Novel’s Narrative Essay
While writing the novel ‘Frankenstein,’ Mary Shelley was influenced profoundly by romantic poets such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Percy Bysshe Shelley, her beloved husband, also influenced her largely. Although the dark and horrific motifs of Frankenstein may appear to contrast with the bright tones and subjects of such poetry, there is a clear connection, as established in the text, between the poetry of such poets and the general narrative of Frankenstein.
This influence is evident in the text whereby Shelley often refers to such poetry or even goes ahead to quote some of the passages directly. Because of this influence, some critics such as Guyer (2006, p.77) claim that Frankenstein is considerably more sophisticated compared to the prose of other romantic writers. This paper aims at evaluating the influence of the poetic texts, as used by Shelley in ‘Frankenstein,’ to inform and enrich the narrative.
Analysis of Poetic Texts in Frankenstein
As argued by Fite and Bloom (1985, p.24), the moment that Shelley represents in ‘Frankenstein’ aims at achieving transcendence, which is similar to the quest of nearly all the other romantic poets. This aspect follows in the sense that it does not come from her personal experiences nor in the narrative voice, which drives her plot.
Poetry, as used in the text, enhances the unfolding of the plot. For instance, the phrase “or if I should come back… as the ‘Ancient Mariner’” (Shelley, 2004, p. 6), and the following lines drawn from Coleridge’s poem titled the Rime of the Ancient Mariner come in as part of the narration made by the character Victor Frankenstein.
“Like one who, on a lonely road, Doth walk in fear and dread, And, having once turned round, walks on, And turns no more his head; Because he knows a frightful fiend Doth close behind him tread” (Shelley, 2004, p. 36). The poem by Coleridge plays an integral part of the narrative in that it informs the plot of the story.
The poem tells the tale of a mariner who faced an unfortunate fate after he killed an albatross. His voyage suffers complete destruction at the end of the tale. The poem was richly themed to highlight the importance and beauty attached to everything on the planet earth. Mary Shelley uses this poem by both quoting it directly and paraphrasing it in Frankenstein.
Using this poem in the story, Shelley makes it known to the reader her admiration of romantic poetry, which informs the flow of her story. The poem blends with the narrative, which gives the reader an outward context of the text as a romantic novel. Shelley uses Coleridge’s poem at different points in the text in an effort to align the misguided monster to the ancient mariner.
It is through this venture that Shelley is capable of tying her novel to one of the most authentic Romantic works. The poem also creates a connection between Victor Frankenstein and Robert Walton, in addition to enriching the text. The extent to which Victor Frankenstein feels alienated only a few moments after the creation of his monster relates to these lines drawn Coleridge’s poem.
Shelley uses poetry in her work as a way of enriching the narrative. This is mainly by making use of the emotional appeal that poetry has in giving a deeper insight into the feelings and the experiences of the characters in the novel Frankenstein. In the poem by Coleridge, Shelley makes her readers identify with the internal turmoil experienced by Victor Frankenstein.
In another similar instance, Shelley incorporates poetry to achieve a similar effect. This is evident in the following lines from the same poem by Coleridge. “We rest; a dream has the power to poison sleep. We rise; one wand’ring thought pollutes the day. We feel, conceive, or reason; laugh or weep, Embrace fond woe or cast our cares away; it is the same: for, be it joy or sorrow. The path of its departure still is free. Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow; Nought may endure but mutability” (Shelley, 2004, p.137).
The poem ‘Tintern Abbey’ by William Wordsworth is another renowned romantic poem that Mary Shelley has used in the novel Frankenstein for a number of purposes. One of them is that Shelley uses passages from the poem to mirror the adventures in the journey undertaken by Victor Frankenstein from youth to maturity in relation to that of the persona in the poem.
In this manner, Shelley uses the poem to enrich and inform the narrative of Frankenstein. According to Guyer (2006, p.78), the reader should also note that the role of Henry Clerval throughout the narrative of Frankenstein is to reveal what the childhood of Victor Frankenstein would have been if only he had not engaged in a youthfulness that is similar to the one depicted in Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey.”
Throughout the poem ‘Tintern Abbey,’ the persona expresses a deep-felt sense of nostalgia as he remembers the years of his youth, as well as the youth curiosity that he experienced as he explored his natural environment. He states, “Like a roe, I bounded o’er the mountains, by the sides of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams, Wherever nature led” (Shelley, 2004, p. 113).
The same youthful curiosity led the character, Victor Frankenstein, to come up with the experiment that led to the creation of the monster that was to claim his life and that of his family later in the story. Despite being in constant communication with nature, the persona in Wordsworth’s poem came to the realization that he was doing so because of acting “in the hour of thoughtless youth” (Shelley, 2004, p. 114).
As a result, the persona in the poem resolves not to take time pondering on the profound aspects of his natural surroundings but rather to concentrate on the superficial aspects of the natural surroundings that people can observe with ease. The trivial activities reflected in the ‘Tintern Abbey’ expose recklessness.
They also embrace the superficial nature. In comparison to the youth persona in the poem, the young Victor Frankenstein, as described by Shelley, has been in “a fit of enthusiastic madness” in his quest to make a scientific discovery” (Shelley, 2004, p. 110).
Victor Frankenstein has dedicated a good share of his available time and energy meditating about science. However, he seems not to regard the possible repercussions of this to his works. In a manner similar to the person in ‘Tintern Abbey”, Victor Frankenstein is willing to follow the path of science without thinking of its destination.
Shelley uses the character Clerval in the novel to give a representation of what Victor Frankenstein would have achieved in his youth if he had not followed the path that he followed, which is similar to that of the persona in “Tintern Abbey.” As Shelley claims, both Clerval and Victor Frankenstein were “alive to every new scene…joyful when they saw the beauties of the setting sun, and happier when they beheld it rise to recommence a new day at the time of their youth” (Shelley, 2004, p.113).
However, the reader should note that, despite the fact that both these characters displayed an eagerness to the passing of days during their youth, the motivations behind such eagerness were very different. While Clerval uses all his youthful energy in efforts aimed at furthering his knowledge and education, Victor Frankenstein uses his knowledge of science with ill motives. Victor Frankenstein works ceaselessly and tirelessly on his project to the extent that he even laments when it becomes too dark for him to work.
In the latter part of Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” the maturity that the persona achieved after the recklessness coupled with the anxieties of his youth stand out. The persona claims, “His wild ecstasies (are) matured into a sober pleasure” (Shelley, 2004, p.116).
As Guyer points out, “When Frankenstein attains maturity as an adult, he comes to the realization that his actions as a youth were not only incorrect but also harmful in that they limited him to experience the overt natural surroundings” (2006, p. 79).
In a similar manner, this informs the realization that Victor Frankenstein makes after his creation is out of hand. The monster is not only threatening his life, but also that of the other people in society.
The alterations that take place in Victor Frankenstein’s life are clearly exemplified by the comparison that Shelley achieved by using Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey.” In addition to this, under the inspiration that she gets from the same poem, Shelley makes use of both the characters Victor Frankenstein and Henry Clerval to allude to the opposing choices made in the youth stage.
The influence that Mary Shelley’s husband had on the work of her wife is undisputed. In fact, some critics even argue that Percy Shelley wrote Frankenstein under his wife’s name (Guyer, 2006, p. 79). However, it became an indisputable fact that Mary Shelley wrote the novel herself, drawing her inspiration to do so from her contemporaries and her husband. The rich poetic language in the book is attributed to the influence that Mary Shelley experienced while writing the book both from her husband and her other contemporaries.
While many playwrights employ different styles of delivering their messages to their target audience, Mary Shelley comes in with a unique way of communicating with people by incorporating poetic quotes in her play ‘Frankenstein.’ Throughout Frankenstein, the influence that Mary Shelley got from poets such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, among others, is evident (Guyer, 2006, p.77).
Shelley incorporates poetry in the text as a way of achieving certain ends, which include informing the narrative, as well as making her work identifiable with that of her contemporaries. Throughout the novel, Shelley alludes to such poems, even going ahead to quote them directly in the story as part of the narration. One of the ways in which such usage achieves is that it enables the reader to engage with the experiences taking place in the lives of the characters in relation to those of the poems.
Fite, D. & Bloom, H. (1985). The Rhetoric of Romantic Vision. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.
Guyer, S. (2006).Testimony and Trope in Frankenstein. Studies in Romanticism, 45(1), 77-82.
Shelley, M. (2004). Frankenstein. New York: Enriched Classics.
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