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Romanticism In Frankenstein

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Having lived between 18th and 19th century, author Mary Shelley was greatly influenced by the intellectual movement of Romanticism. Since she was closely associated with many of the great minds of the Romantic Movement such as her husband Percy B. Shelley and Lord Byron, it is natural that her works would reflect the Romantic trends. Many label ShelleyЎЇs most famous novel Frankenstein as the first Science Fiction novel in history because its plot contains the process of a scientist named Victor Frankenstein creating a living human being from dead body parts, but that is only a part of the entire novel. At its core, Frankenstein is a product of Romanticism featuring the traits of a Romantic hero on a Romantic quest, the embracement of natureЎЇs sublimity, intense emotions felt by fully experiencing life, imagination breaking away from social conventions, and anti-enlightenment.

One of the key features found in Romantic literature is the Romantic hero, also called the Byronic hero after Lord Byron, pursuing a Romantic quest. Victor FrankensteinЎЇs life story, which is at the heart of Frankenstein, is a Romantic quest toward self-destruction, and Frankenstein represents the Byronic hero almost exactly. The Byronic hero is not as virtuous as conventional heroes but, instead, has many dark qualities. He is an extremist considering his pride, intellectual ability, passions, hypersensitivity, and self-destructiveness. Frankenstein is such a person with genius, arrogance, and passion for the study of natural philosophy and knowledge of the world. These are the reasons that drive him to the obsession with discovery of the secret of life. As the novel progresses, Frankenstein becomes increasingly self-centered, moody, irresponsible for his creation of the monster, and self-destructive, ultimately leading to his complete isolation which is yet another characteristic of the Byronic hero.

Another feature of Romanticism found in Frankenstein is the attitude of anti-Enlightenment. Whereas the Enlightenment emphasized rationality as the means to establish ethics, aesthetics, and knowledge using reason and science to explain life and forces of nature, Romanticism called for obtaining knowledge of life through intuition and experiencing life instead of studying it. Frankenstein at first may seem to be promoting the ideas of Enlightenment with Walton exploring the North Pole and Frankenstein studying natural philosophy and trying to find the secret of life through the deductive reasoning of science. However, with Walton failing to explore the North Pole and FrankensteinЎЇs scientific creation spinning out of his control, Frankenstein emphasizes the theme of the danger of discovering knowledge with reason and science. Frankenstein devotes almost his entire life to the study of natural philosophy and the creation of the monster in eagerness to understand the secret of life, yet this act of creation eventually results in the destruction of everyone close to him and his ultimate isolation. Likewise, Walton attempts to surpass previous human explorations by navigating to reach the North Pole but eventually finds himself trapped between sheets of ice unable to reach his goal. Mary Shelley is conveying a message as a Romantic, with the characters of Walton and Frankenstein, that the thirst for knowledge and the attempt to explain life through science, both of which are valued during the Enlightenment movement, can be destructive.

NatureЎЇs sublimity and intense emotions realized through connection with nature, a major emphasis of Romanticism, is another theme presented in Frankenstein, namely in the characters of Frankenstein and the monster. Sublime nature is continually seen throughout the novel with Frankenstein and the monsterЎЇs


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