Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The term 'romance' and the related adjective, 'romantic', have varied meanings and contexts. These days if we say a story is romantic we generally mean that it’s a love story. Historically, though, the terms have a wider meaning when applied to literature. Romantic literature, with a capital R, refers to...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The term 'romance' and the related adjective, 'romantic', have varied meanings and contexts. These days if we say a story is romantic we generally mean that it’s a love story. Historically, though, the terms have a wider meaning when applied to literature. Romantic literature, with a capital R, refers to writing from towards the end of the eighteenth century into the opening decades of the nineteenth. This is the period of the great English Romantic poets – Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley and Byron. (The author of Frankenstein was, of course, married to one of them.)

As historical literary terms, 'romance' and 'romantic' (both with or without the capital letter) refer to novels and poetry of stirring adventure, high drama, inflated emotions and passions, strange, far away places, and very often the incursion of the supernatural. Romantic writing can include any one or any combination of these elements.

Romantic texts often feature larger-than-life heroes and villains, or characters who are both; characters who do extraordinary things and often go too far and then get punished for their excess. These characters are meant to be nothing less than awe-inspiring, harbouring grand passions and ambitions, cut off from the ordinary run of people. This kind of grand solitary figure often appears in the work of the English Romantic poets. These poets also use suitably sublime backdrops – mountains, for example - for such towering characters.

Frankenstein includes practically all the elements listed above. Its hero is a hugely ambitious man who goes too far in his attempts to push back the boundaries of human knowledge and achievement and brings retribution down upon himself. He tampers with the very forces of nature, suffers agonies of remorse and shame, sees his loved ones cut down, and in the end, dies far out in the wild, uninhabited polar regions. Even in death he does not lose that nobility of bearing which so impresses Walton. Walton is grieved to see him die:

What comment can I make on the untimely extinction of this glorious spirit? (chapter 24)

Frankenstein, then, remains to the last a striking and admirable figure, who it seems has suffered as much as he has sinned – if not more.

With the depiction of the monster and the deaths that he causes, the story can also be labelled more specifically as a gothic romance – the term ‘gothic’ being used from the later eighteenth century onwards to denote stories featuring grim and frightening characters and events. However, it is true that this effect in Frankenstein is dispelled somewhat by portraying the monster as being intelligent, articulate, and (to begin with) wholly innocent. Mary Shelley thus adds another layer to the gothic romance in this novel, lending it a more poignant touch.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Misery, gloom, and despair--these are Romantic conventionalities, feelings indulged in rather than as impetus to action. The characters, Victor Frankenstein and the creature both exemplify these Romantic conventionalities. In addition, in his essay, "Frankenstein: In the Context of the Romantic Era," critic George V. Griffith considers Mary Shelley's novel as respresentative of the Romantic era because it typlifies the most important ideas of the era:

...the primacy of feeling, the dangers of the intellect, dismay over the human capacity to corrupt humans natural goodness, the agony of the questing, solitary hero, and the awesome power of the sublime...fascination with the dual nature of human nature.

Here are some illustrations of the Romantic ideas put forth by Griffith:

THE PRIMACY OF FEELING OVER INTELLECT

Victor's abandoning of the creature is actually a greater sin than his creation. Childlike and innocent in the beginning, the creature desires only love; however, when he does not receive this love, he takes revenge in his bitterness of feeling. In the end, however, the creature emerges as more human than his creator, Frankenstein.

THE HUMAN CAPACITY TO CORRUPT HUMAN GOODNESS

The creature is naturally good; it is only his mistreatment at the hands of others that causes him to become bitterly spiteful. At first sight of his creator, he loves Victor; in fact, he cries after Victor dies and declares his love in the end. After having hidden himself from the DeLaceys, the creature finally reveals himself only to be beaten and cursed and driven from them.

In contrast to Victor Frankenstein, Henry Clerval balances his emotional and intellectual pursuits. But, he is destroyed by the creature who demonstrates the effects human corruption in his revenge for the destruction of the half-mate by Victor.

THE AGONY OF THE QUESTING, SOLITARY HERO

Both Walton and Victor Frankenstein emplify this concept. Their ecstacy over the prospect of frienships with other males reflects the Romantic notion of the superiority of friendship over other relationships.

THE POWER OF THE SUBLIME

The fact that Frankenstein reads Milton's Paradise Lost, Sorrows of Werter, and Plutarch's Lives indicates Shelley's awe for the sublime. Her descriptions of Mont Blanc and the sublime beauty of the white nature are compelling and in sharp contrast to the electrical storm that generates life into the creature.

THE DUALITY OF HUMAN NATURE

Walton and Victor Frankenstein share personal traits; Henry Clerval is a foil character to Victor. These characters demonstrate the conflicts that exist within humans. For instance, while man would strive to challenge the limits placed upon their lives, they all suffer great loss in the striving to go beyond these limits. For Frankenstein, to whom "life and death...appeared ideal bounds" to be exceeded, his success at his pursuits cost him family and friends. The frame story of Walton displays another man of the same ilk, consumed by an intellectual ambition and heedless of feeling, he lives an isolated life and nearly dies.

Another facet of the concept of human nature's duality is its ability to corrupt. A Rousseauean hero, the creature is born innocent, but is corrupted by the society with which he comes into conflict. Furthermore, Griffith suggests that the DeLaceys, rejected from society, suggest them as the happy primitives that the Romantics idealized.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This question capitalizes the R in Romantic, which means that you are aware that a difference exists between romanticism and Romanticism. Romanticism with a capital R has little to do with love and passion between two individuals, which typically characterizes romantic stories described with a lower case r; rather, Romantic literature is that written by a writer of the Romantic movement, and in the case of Frankenstein, that writer is Mary Shelley.

Romanticism was a European intellectual movement that started towards the end of the 18th century, and it became an official presence in England when William Wordsworth published his Lyrical Ballads in 1798. Mary Shelley, the writer of Frankenstein, was a member of the Romantic movement in England, as were her husband Percy Shelley and their friend Lord Byron. The three of them were together, along with John Polidori, Byron's physician, in Geneva, Switzerland, during the summer of 1816. Terrible weather during the summer confined the young Romantics in their house on the lake, and the story of Frankenstein emerged out of Shelley's imagination while she passed the time that summer. Percy, in particular, encouraged Mary while writing the novel, and the original Frankenstein manuscripts reveal edits and notes in Shelley's hand alongside the margins, reflecting his interest and commitment to his wife's literary efforts.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on