The Mortal Immortal

by Mary Shelley

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What Romantic and Gothic motifs and devices does Shelley use in "The Mortal Immortal"?

Quick answer:

Romantic elements in "The Mortal Immortal" include a focus on the individual, high emotion, solitude, and the supernatural, and gothic elements include the supernatural, a damsel in distress, overwrought emotion, and a mysterious atmosphere.

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Romantic and gothic literary characteristics often overlap, as they do in Mary Shelley's tale "The Mortal Immortal." Let's look at some of the features of each genre that appear in the story.

Romantic literature is focused on the individual. We can certainly see this in Shelley's story. Winzy is at the forefront of the tale. He tells it in his own voice, and he relates not just his own experiences, but the depths of his emotional responses to them. Herein lies another Romantic characteristic: an emphasis on emotion.

Winzy often exclaims out of the intensity of his passions. "O, for the peace of the grave!" he cries at one point, and such exclamations punctuate his narrative. Further, Winzy's immortality has plunged him into solitude. He feels cut off from the rest of humanity, even from his beloved wife, for his state always drives a wedge between them. Such solitude is also a Romantic element.

The Romantic and the gothic cross over in the story's supernatural elements. Along with his master, Cornelius Agrippa, Winzy dabbles in alchemy, or at least assists Agrippa's alchemical efforts. The substance Winzy drinks is one of Agrippa's concoctions, and Winzy consumes it thinking it will make him fall out of love with Bertha. Actually, it intensifies his love, but it also extends his life, seemingly infinitely. The supernatural turns out to have unexpected consequences.

Other gothic elements in this tale include the damsel in distress, the highly wrought emotions discussed above, and a mysterious atmosphere. Bertha is the damsel in distress, for she is under the thumb of a supposed "patroness" who actually abuses her and tries to control her and force her into marriage. Winzy eventually has to help her escape. The patroness's castle contributes to the spooky atmosphere of the story, as does Agrippa's alchemy lab. The emotions involved in the tale ramp up to the highest levels of agony at times in both Winzy and Bertha.

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