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Pleasure into Pain, Pain into Pleasure (Original)

Pleasure into Pain, Pain into Pleasure (Original)

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Published by: Patrick McEvoy-Halston on Nov 05, 2009
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11/04/2009

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Patrick McEvoy-HalstonENG 200BEric Miller 01 December 2001Pleasure into Pain, Pain into Pleasure: Mary Shelley and JohnKeats’ Romantic Solution to a Classic ProblemWhen I read at least some of the critiques of Mary Shelley’s
 Frankenstein
and JohnKeats’ odes--especially his “Ode to a Grecian Urn”--, and to the degree that I take thecritiques seriously, I feel I must question whether it is misleading to call either of themRomantics. Mary Shelley, wife of Percy Shelley, daughter, as she, according to ThomasJefferson Hogg, told Percy on their first meeting, “of Godwin and Mary[Wollestonecraft]” (37) is surely a Romantic writer, isn’t she? According to many, not so.Maurice Hindle, for example, in an introduction to a Penguin Classics edition of 
 Frankenstein
written with his wide audience in mind, and who thus, we might assume, behesitant to pre-judge the work for readers new to the work, is nevertheless confidentenough of its indisputability to tell us that “. . . its [
 Frankenstein’s
] moral lesson that pride must have its fall should be obvious to the most indifferent reader” (viii). The ideaof the over-reaching hero is a Romantic staple; a tale that explores this idea with theintention of offering a moral lesson certainly is not. Hindle accepts as obvious (“[t]hereseems little doubt that . . .) a judgement by P. D. Fleck, that
 Frankenstein
is a novel which“contains in an imaginative form her criticism of [Percy] Shelley” (4). So
that’s
it:Mary’s last name mislead me into expecting her to focus on the Romantic
exploration
of the life of a great, but doomed man, when she rightly belongs in my mind’s catalogue of authors and their works with the “Classic,” with, say, Samuel Johnson and his work 
 
“Vanity of Human Wishes,” that are primarily interested in
 judging 
such a life as foolish.John Keats--now he
must 
be a Romantic: if he isn’t who is? But doesn’t Keats, too, offer us lessons of a similar nature to Johnson’s in his “Vanity of Human Wishes”? Keats’“conclusion” to his “Ode to a Grecian Urn”-- “ “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”--that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know” (line 50)--may not be a pairing of ideasJohnson would agree with, it but still shares with “Vanity of Human Wishes” a concern todiscourage us from our own explorations. Some critics dispute that the last twomoralizing lines truly represent Keats’ judgement; many see these last two lines as out of sync with the rest of the poem, with some sensing “another voice” here (perhaps it’s theurn speaking?); but many critics do not. Perhaps I should accept the judgement of thesecritics who note and praise his moralizing, and re-catalogue him as well?But wait . . . from
my own
explorations of 
 Frankenstein
(1831 edition) and of Keats’“Ode to a Grecian Urn,” I do not dispute that both authors moralize, nor that thismoralizing can seem so prominent, so obvious, as to appear the moral of their works; but because I consider the great Romantic, and romantic conflict that between our own rightto exist and be happy--what we owe ourselves--versus “the disapproval or condemnationof significant others, such as parents”(Branden 63)--what they think we owe them, andthat the guilt and fear this disapproval or condemnation inflicts, because of its source, isimmense, it is really no surprise that the parents’ (elders’) moralizing voice seems the“victor,” seems to dominate these works--and it is certainly should not disqualify either of them as Romantic. So long as there is a sense that the moralizing voice is present, atleast in part, for the purpose of bringing to mind its full weight and imprint so asrepresent for the writer a real sense “that this is the problem,”--this is
why
I write--along
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with a sense that this very same voice, now echoing loudly in their minds, is beingexplored as
 
 part of an assessment, a
 judgement 
of it, the work 
is
, in my mind, a Romanticone. Keats “freezes” a moment in time in his “Ode to a Grecian Urn”--when pleasureturns to pain--and his conclusion to the poem is merely an indication, which is alsorepresented in the sorts of images on the urn, of his motive for writing a poem whichfreezes the moment in the first place. His real conclusions from contemplating thismoment represent the next ode he writes, “Ode to Melancholy.” Mary Shelley replays amoment in time over and over in her book, also where selfish, but real, pleasures firstturned into something painful, and imagines for herself, through Frankenstein, throughJustine (and through the monster) the consequences of accepting herself as “bad,” as“selfish” (as a “hideous daemon”)--and seems to be exploring the possibility that it mighthave its virtues. I’m not sure what a poem or novel that did not involve attention to personal limitations would be like. A Romantic work is surely one where there is energytherein that threatens boundaries, that suggests transcendence, offering hope of happinessamidst the pains (or even by “using” them) of material existence. I hope to show thatthese works most certainly accomplish that; and thus belong right where I had them:under “R,” for Romantic, for Resourceful, and for Remarkable.It is remarkable that,
 from the very beginning 
of 
 Frankenstein
, there are clear signsthat Shelley is not simply about to offer us a moral tale, but is “trying on” a moralizingvoice, as if looking to resolve feelings of uncertainty towards this voice, its message,while at the same time asking herself if it is in fact her own. If we are not too hasty toassume that simply because Shelley is female (and thus cognizant, even at this early age,of the over-ambition of the male sex), and because the lesson we think she wants to
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