Romantic elements in Frankenstein and
The Fall of the House of Usher
Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, and Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, The Fall of the House of Usher, although published in different periods, on different continents, have in common many of the main ideas that stood behind the literary movement of Romanticism (the sublime, the Romantic hero, imagination, isolation), combined with elements of the Gothic (the mysterious and remote setting dominated by a gloomy atmosphere, death, sin, pain, exotic elements, supernatural).
One of the main elements that is integrated into the Romantic movement is the sublime. In his A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful , Edmund Burke defined the sublime as “Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling.” In Burke’s view, the typical qualities that characterize a sublime landscape are vastness of dimensions (especially in contrast with the limitations of the human body and mind), obscurity (that blurs the definition of boundaries), deep darkness or intense light. Through the impact that magnificent landscapes and violent storms produce, and in the midst of the terrors that nature creates, the characters experience the sublime, are overflown with dread, fear and a sense of astonishment, which eventually allows them to sense the divine.
In Frankenstein, nature is a very powerful entity that can soothe and punish; this duality is especially obvious in the connection between Victor and nature that Shelly cultivates throughout the novel. More often than not, Victor takes sustenance from nature, which provides him with what could be described as personal therapy when he is subjected to stress or torment. When he falls ill, it is not the constant care and attention of his closest friends that ensure his recovery, but the beneficial influence of the fresh air that he breathes:
“We passed a fortnight in these perambulations: my health and spirits had long been restored, and they gained additional strength from the salubrious air I breathed, the natural incidents of our progress . . . I became the same happy creature who, a few years ago, loved and beloved by all, had no sorrow or care. When happy, inanimate nature had the power of bestowing on me the most delightful sensations. A serene sky and verdant fields filled me with ecstasy. “
After his brother William is brutally murdered by the Creature, Victor falls into a deep state of despair, unable to find solace in the company of the rest of his family, or his best friend Henry. Once again, it is nature that heals him and allows him to maintain his sanity:
«I remained two days at Lausanne, in this painful state of mind. I contemplated the lake: the waters were placid; all around was calm, and the snowy mountains, "the palaces of nature," were not changed. By degrees the calm and heavenly scene restored me, and I continued my journey towards Geneva.
The road ran by the side of the lake, which became narrower as I approached my native town. I discovered more distinctly the black sides of Jura, and the bright summit of Mont Blanc. I wept like a child: "Dear mountains! My own beautiful lake! How do you welcome your wanderer? Your summits are clear; the sky and lake are blue and placid. Is this to prognosticate peace or to mock at my unhappiness?” »
Aside from providing Victor with restoration and happiness when needed, nature prove to also be an omnipotent force of foreshadowing. The lightning shredding the tree in front of Victor’s eyes is a warning that his endeavors will ultimately bring destruction. When he is notified about...
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