The following is a critical essay of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre using Romanticism as a basis. First I must have a definition of Romanticism. I figured that the best place to look would be A Dictionary of Literary Terms published by J. A. Cuddon. According to this book,” the word romanticism has come to mean so many things that by itself, it means nothing at all It is a word at once indispensable and useless. The variety of its actual and possible meanings and connotations reflect the complexity and multiplicity of European romanticism.”(p.586) In English, the definition was way too long for them to write down because romanticism involves so many aspects. The definition grew to colossal amounts where, during that time period, virtually every literary article could be considered romanticism. In frustration, I read on. “At the same time, in fairness, it should be said that the baffling and, very often, irritating part about anything to do with the romantic and romanticism is that it is very vague and formless.”(p.587) I find that my frustrations are justified. With the risk of writing an endless paper carefully combing Jane Eyre and Frankenstein to find every aspect of romanticism, I decided that I would pick those aspects of romanticism that I found most prevalent and interesting in the texts. After reading these stories, I realized that there were many ideas relating to Romanticism in the texts, some of them being variations of its definition; yet, they relate nonetheless. Nature is a common theme in Romanticism. There is often an increasing interest or fascination with nature. This is shown in Jane Eyre, when Jane is fascinated with the moon. Nature can also be used to reflect the moods of the characters. It is used most frequently in the following two ways: as a powerful entity to convey some idea to one of the main characters, and as the counter force opposing the corrupting force of society. For example, the moon may convey ideas of comfort, a soothing force against the anger established by society. Lightening, on the other hand, may serve as a warning, keeping the character on his proper path to enlightenment. In these two texts, nature shows its power many times to the main characters of Jane Eyre, Rochester, Victor Frankenstein, and the Monster. These characters both use nature as their one reference point, the one thing that will not change and will not turn against them. However, society can often be much stronger as we see in Frankenstein, where the monster lets is feelings of rejection overwhelm him. In these texts, Nature is constantly refereed to by feminine terms. This further supports the romanticism theory; in that, men are portrayed as the rough side of society, while women are portrayed as polished and refined side. The masculine society corrupts, while the feminine nature perfects.
In Frankenstein, Victor’s main reason for creating the Monster was the death of Caroline Beaufort, his mother. Before his mother’s death, Shelley refers to nature as female for the first time when Victor comments on Isaac Newton’s studies by saying that he “partially unveiled the face of nature, but her immortal lineaments were still a wonder and a mystery”(n.p.), referring to nature as “her”. This not only shows the power of nature not being able to be understood in its vastness, but it is also showing the feminine side of Nature. After this statement, Shelley reveals nature’s power again to Victor during a thunderstorm when he sees “a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak”(n.p.) and then goes on to say “so soon as the dazzling light vanished, the oak had disappeared, and nothing but a blasted stump remains”(n.p.). Soon after this, his mother dies, Victor is left without a mother figure. The idea that Nature is trying to show is its power to control all of the inhabitants of the Earth at its whim.
Now Victor looks toward the maternal nature when he realizes that there is something missing, a “void of the soul”, which he looks toward nature to replace. Victor then plans to bring life to something “where death has devoted the body to corruption”, which shows his longing for his mother and his want to bring her back to life. Victor then begins his attempt to recreate life from death. At this point, Nature is again described as being female when Victor says, “the moon gazed on my midnight labors, while, with unrelaxed and breathless eagerness, I pursued nature to her hiding places.”(n.p.) Victor then proceeds to focus his whole life on creating life from death. Victor succeeds, however, his creation frightens him and he uses sleep as an escape from it. He then dreams of his cousin Elizabeth, whom he approaches on the street and gives her a hug. At this point in his dream, the powers of nature prevail again when Elizabeth turns into his dead mother’s corpse and grave worms envelop her body. This reminds Victor that he cannot control nature’s powers. Once again the grave worms are symbolizing the ultimate power of nature.
Victor then wakes up and Shelley reveals nature’s “Natural goodness” to Victor once again as the moonlight shines through the window, “by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch, the miserable monster whom I created”(n.p.), reminding him of his obligations. Nature is once again conveying another idea to a main character, only this time it is personal responsibility. Victor then realizes that nature will not allow him to gain relief in denial; he then runs outside to the courtyard to watch the sunrise. Shelley, once again, reveals the power of nature to Victor, as the rain pours on him; scolding him for his abandonment of his creation. Once again Nature is shown as the good force; while Victor, as society, has become the corrupting force.
After Victor leaves, the Monster wakes up alone and miserable. In the state that he is in, the only thing that the Monster can see is the light of the moon, which gives him comfort. Nature has, once again, become the good force, calming the untamed beast. Therefore in the Monster’s first hours, nature is the only nurturing thing around him, also showing the feminine qualities of a mother. From…