Frankenstein: A Romantic Autobiography
The importance of emotions and feelings were paramount during the era of Romanticism. In addition, autobiographical material was extremely popular. All of these qualities were present in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein including a third and vital underpinning of Romanticism, the innocence and exaltation of the common man. Frankenstein may not have fit the mold for a regular literacy work of Romanticism; however, when we examine the symbolism, the metaphors, and the central theme imparted by Shelley we will see that it is actually one of the finest examples in the literary world today of Romanticism.
The literary world embraced English Romanticism when it began to emerge and was so taken by its elements that it is still a beloved experience for the reader. Romanticism has crossed all social boundaries, and it was during the seventeenth and eighteenth century that it found its way into almost every niche in the literary world. From the beginning of its actuality, “romanticism has forged its way through many eras including the civil war” (Hall 44). There are very few works that have a more accurate portrayal and proof of the importance of Romanticism than Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. While later versions of the stories depicted a central theme of a helpless monster caught in the fears of society, the actual depiction of the original work was based more closely on the Romantic ideas that were so popular at the time.
An important element of Romanticism is the use of flowing feelings. During this time period, men as well as women were full of raw emotions in literary works. They would freely vent their most anguished thoughts and worries. This was evident in several of the chapters in Shelley’s portrayal of the life of the monster and the people he encountered. One of the finest examples of Romanticism is when the monster, who is only learning emotions for the first time, runs from the cottage after startling the occupants. “Cursed, cursed creator! Why did I live? Why, in that instant, did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed? I know not; despair had not yet taken possession of me; my feelings were those of rage and revenge” (Shelley 97). This passage demonstrates feelings that were a common theme during the Romanticist era, the monster was in pain and cursing the day he was created.
Another important element of romanticism is the connection of the author to the story. The autobiographical nature of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is at first not openly obvious as it is in many other literary works. One could ask how a book about a monster could have anything to do with the real life of the author, but if we peel the top layer away and look closely at the undercurrent that is throughout the monster’s story, it becomes clear that Victor Frankenstein’s creation is symbolic of Mary Shelley’s life.
Shelley’s mother left her at an early age by dying. She had been Shelley’s creator in much the same manner that Dr. Frankenstein had been the monster’s creator. When the creator of the monster turned his back on him and deserted him, he was forced out into the world, similar to a small child in that he had limited exposure to anything outside the former security of his home. Shelley, too, was thrust into the world when her mother died; the difference is that she was an actual child while the monster was a mental and emotional child. This idea uses two of the needed ingredients for romanticism, autobiographical ideas and imagery.
The book may also be a representation of a fear of childbirth felt by the author. This possibility would not be surprising given that her own mother died giving birth to Shelley. It would explain the monster’s creation and in fact the very reason he is a monster. Shelley may have viewed herself as a monster who was so hideous that she killed her own mother being born. This notion would fit right in with the autobiographical themes that were so prevalent during the Romanticism era of that period. In addition, one of the side themes of the book may have been about creation and the