Frankenstein: a monstrous romanticism

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The purpose of this thesis is to examine the relationship between Mary Shelley's first novel Frankenstein and her own understanding of Romanticism. The overarching theme is to illustrate how Mary Shelley navigates her criticism of Romanticism through the medium of Victor Frankenstein as a character. With the inspection of Victor Frankenstein some autobiographical similarities are drawn between the protagonist and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Another aim and extension of this autobiographical project is to examine how Percy Shelley's editing of the original manuscript of Frankenstein added or detracted from the plot. Finally, the genre implications of Frankenstein are examined in this thesis. In the first chapter, Romanticism is examined in relation to how the Romantics themselves envisioned their ideology so as to ascertain which aspects Mary Shelley draws particular attention to. The Romantic theorists used in this section specifically, Abercrombie and Schueller, are used to highlight the fact that Romanticism can be defined as a unified system of belief. Certain tenets of this ideology are then shown to be the main points that Mary Shelley criticises. In the second chapter, the autobiographical element of Mary Shelley's relationship with Percy Shelley is examined. The parallels between Victor Frankenstein and Percy Shelley are made apparent through the use of biographers Hoobler and Seymour. From that, the precise changes that Percy Shelley made to the original manuscript of Frankenstein are scrutinised with Mellor's insightful explication of the original that exists in the Bodleian Library. The conclusion of this chapter solidifies the argument of the first chapter, and as close attention is paid throughout both chapters to the novel as a primary source of confirmation, the complex navigations and articulations of Romanticism throughout Frankenstein are made apparent. In the third chapter, attention is given specifically to the genre implications of Frankenstein, and the relationship and consistent oscillation between Romanticism and the Gothic is traced. The theorists used in this part of the thesis vary widely and include Botting, Golinski and Alwes. It is argued that in her destabilisation of Romanticism, Mary Shelley invariably incorporates the Gothic into her text. It is this complex weaving of genres which is particularly interesting in relation to how Mary Shelley's disillusionment with Romanticism produces a text that has such a vast array of genre possibilities. Finally, this thesis looks at the negative interpretation of Romanticism specifically in relation to Mary Shelley's critical expressions of its ideology in Frankenstein. As a cautionary tale, the consequences of Romantic principles unchecked by a societal conscience, Mary Shelley seems to have used Frankenstein as a way of expressing her disillusionment. The repercussions of what ultimately is an original story of a scientist who unleashes his creation without concern for its welfare are still present in the common consciousness of modern society.

Includes bibliographical references.