Throughout the course of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley uses many elements of the Romantic ideal to create a compelling story. Through foreshadowing, irony, and emotion, and by the use of powerful themes and language, she weaves a tragic, timeless, and Romantic tale.
Foreshadowing is a key part in the early stages of the book. For example, Victor dedicates himself to bring life to a new creature, but feels an odd sense of foreboding: “Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil…?” His horror forebodes what he is about to feel upon his creation. Later on, when walking along the lake pondering William’s murder, he seems to see “a vast and dim scene of evil” and says that he “foresaw obscurely that I was destined to become the most wretched of human beings.” The fact that he is narrating in hindsight makes the foreshadowing all the more effective. Clerval’s murder, for example, is greatly foreshadowed in the preceding chapter, where Victor laments his friend. His beautiful language in the lament brings to mind David’s lament for Jonathon in the Bible.
The second part of Shelley’s Romantic idea is the irony. With a rich variety, she seems to take pleasure in the suffering of her characters. Looking back on the events he set into motion, Victor can only curse his decisions. Going back to Clerval’s death, we can see the irony in Victor’s refusal to create a mate for the monster. More appears in Victor’s dilemma over Justine’s safety: if he confesses, he’ll be branded a madman; but if he doesn’t, the innocent Justine will suffer. His choice only increases his self-loathing, the same loathing he feels for the creature created in his own image. At the very last, he even fails to protect Elizabeth. Believing that his creation will adhere to the laws of combat, he roams the house alone as a challenge to the monster. Rather than attacking him, however, the monster strangles his beloved and escapes. Victor’s anguish over the choices he made makes him all the more human.
The most important part of a Romantic story, of course, is the emotions. Victor’s internal turmoil over his feelings for his family, the monster, and himself is achingly tragic. The monster’s fall from his high aspirations is even more so, especially considering that he started out as an innocent nature-lover and degraded into a mass murderer with a grudge against humankind. The emotions of the other humans in the story, such as Justine’s hopeless despair and Elizabeth’s steadfast love, add to the impression that it is a true story. But not only the characters are infused with emotion by Shelley’s words: the readers, too, are filled with horror at the terrifying actions of the monster and sympathy for both Victor and his creation.
Although many people would have difficulty finding a Romantic theme in such a dark and brooding story, Shelley’s tale could not be defined as anything else. With piercing emotions, chilling foreshadowing, and a deep ironic undertone, Frankenstein is one of the greatest Romantic novels of all time.
Frankenstein as a Romantic Novel
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