Romanticism emerged as a literary movement across Europe and the Americas in the
18th and 19th century as a gesture against neoclassicism. Whereas the neoclassicists were concerned with tradition and classical antiquity, the romantics rebelled against these notions wholeheartedly. Romanticism brought about a new desire for intellect, creativity, science, nature, emotion, and rebellion: all of the elements that make humanity grow, learn and evolve.
One might say that literature really “came to life” during this period.
Mary Shelley, the author of
, a modern day Prometheus, was a romantic in the truest sense of the word. Her focus on scientific discovery and emotional realization make the novel the epitome of romanticism, and these specific elements are beautifully woven into the overall theme of human existence. The question of what makes someone or some thing truly human permeates the novel. Since human nature is the general psychological characteristics, feelings, and behavioral traits of humankind that are regarded as shared by all humans, the question arises: Who or what in the novel is actually human? Viewing the novel through the romantic perspective, one focuses on the emotional intensity that arises from the three main characters, creating a human mirror from which the reader cannot look away.
Scientific discovery is present throughout not just the novel which is indicative of the time period. Some may think that Romanticism is purely a genre of writing that touches upon the ideas of freeing one’s mind, but the Romantics had a very clear reason for writing the way they did. Profound scientific discoveries occurring during the 1800’s like those in the realms of evolution, astronomy, and chemistry were highly publicised and discussed amongst the intellectual set of the period. These events, in turn, affected the manner in which Mary Shelley
and her other romantic contemporaries designed their literary works. Thus it is not surprise that
Frankenstein chronicles a man who is not only dedicated to science, but also makes a life changing and earthaltering discovery.
Shelley reveals the spirit of the times through the actions or her characters. For example, the protagonist, Victor Frankenstein expresses to Walton, "I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections inflicted upon me; I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased with knowledge" (Shelly 123). Though this novel portrays the advancement of scientific discovery, it also states that with knowledge comes pain, pain in realizing that previous ideas were in fact false. The advancement of knowledge and scientific discoveries that disproved certain religious ideas at the time, created pain and sorrow for most of the world population at that time. The romantics were exploring these reactions and writing about them in response to what they were seeing around them and feeling within themselves. In this light,
is a metaphor for those who sought knowledge through discovery without the precognition that these discoveries would prove their beliefs false.
The romantics acknowledged that scientific discovery was becoming more relevant facets in their modern world. This notion punctuates the novel, especially through the makeup of the three major characters. The story begins with Walton, a seafaring man whose desire to reach the
North Pole is nearly as intense as Frankenstein's will to create life. When Walton finds
Frankenstein, a friendship starts to grow between them and commonalities in their curiosity bond them together. Similar to Walton’s plight, Frankenstein's desire to create a monster is one of personal reasons, not to help the betterment of society. Frankenstein’s curious nature, though, is one that ends up degrading society. Frankenstein creates the monster through personal greed the
desire to be greater than others, yet the