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I'm looking for characteristics of romanticism in Frankenstein.I'm looking for...

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ziyad512 | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 5, 2012 at 11:15 AM via web

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I'm looking for characteristics of romanticism in Frankenstein.

I'm looking for characteristics of romanticism in Frankenstein, and I'm having a hard time finding them, so any help with the characteristics found and specific examples from the novel for those characteristics would be appreciated.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 5, 2012 at 1:49 PM (Answer #1)

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With her belief in the inherent decency of people, the Romanticist Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein as a caution against what Wordsworth calls man's "meddling intellect." Although at times exaggerating them with Gothic elements, Shelley includes these Romantic elements in her novel: 

Feeling and Emotion are considered superior to intellect

The main conflict of the novel develops from the hubris of Victor Frankenstein who believes that he is capable of creating life.  While he does make a creature, his act of intellectual superiority leaves him bereft of family, loved ones, and friends.  Victor, like Walton who rescues him on the sea, lives in a selfish inner world.  Putting this hubris into words, Walton writes to his sister,

"I would sacrifice my fortune, my existence, my every hope, to the furtherance of my enterprise. One man's life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought, for the dominion I should acquire and transmit over the elemental foes of our race."

In contrast to this selfishness and intellectual rationalizations of Walton and Victor, the romanticized character of Elizabeth defends Justine's innocence at the trial for the death of Victor's brother William in spite of the fact that almost no one else will.  In addition, Elizabeth is willing to marry Victor despite dangers; always she loves others more than herself. Likewise, Henry Clerval "formed in the 'very poetry of nature,'" who hopes "to become one among those whose names are recorded in story as the gallant and adventurous benefactors of our species," is a loving friend to Victor, but in his selfishness of intellectual pursuit, Victor causes his death.  These characters of Elizabeth and Henry are portrayed as romantic heroes who value friendship and love over selfish intellectual endeavors.

There is an emphasis on the indvidual's experience

Throughout the narrative of Frankenstein, Shelley emphasizes the experiences of the innocent creature who is transformed by his treatment by Victor and society; for, his innate goodness is thrawted by the cruelty of his creator and other men.  Thus, he becomes the Romantic questing hero who seeks meaning and worth.  In the last chapter, he tells Walton how his love and sympathy have been "wrenched by misery" to vice and hatred, but it is a hatred by torture of his very soul.

There is an emphasis upon "the sublime"

The "sublime" is a thrilling emotional experience that combines such feelings as awe and horror.  For the creature, his life that he has compared to that of Adam in Chapter XIII and that Shelley herself likens to Prometheus, is one in which he has sought happiness, but feels instead "impotent envy and better indignation" that have rendered him thirsty for vengeance. To his horror, the creature tells Walton, "Evil thenceforth became my good."

Nature is revered

Nature is viewed as an oasis of peace and purity where people can be redeemed in the presence of a divine force.  When, for instance, Victor travels with Henry to Switzerland, he transcends for a time his selfish concerns. Of the "majestic mountains" and the Danube he comments,

...there is a charm... that I never before saw equalled....Oh, surely, the spirit that inhabits and guards this place has a soul more in harmony with man...

These are some of the Romantic characteristics of Frankenstein

 

 

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mwalter822 | Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted April 5, 2012 at 1:30 PM (Answer #2)

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Frankenstein most clearly lines up with the romantic tradition in terms of its focus on the imagination. We have a character, Victor Frankenstein, who dreams of creating life. This is considered by any reasonable person to be the domain of the divine, not man. Just the fact that Frankenstein wants to create life and pursues this goal is a romantic notion—it doesn’t have much, if any, basis in reality.

The fact that he is actually successful sets off an emotional firestorm, another staple of romantic literature. Upon seeing his creation come to life, Victor is horrified and feels a deep sense of revulsion. We normally consider our creations to be precious extensions of ourselves, but for Frankenstein, it’s all about regret and the desire to flee from or even destroy what he has created.

Finally, the entire book is one big exercise in symbolism. Shelley wasn’t just thinking about a guy who makes a human being who turns out to be a detestable monster. She was thinking about how we sometimes make such a mess out of our lives and bring our ruin upon ourselves. Symbolism is common in romantic works. The realists and naturalists generally didn’t like their symbols (if they used them at all) to have such an emotional kick to them.

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