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Pleasureinto Pain,Paininto Pleasure:

Mary ShelleyandJohnKeats'
RomanticSolutionto a ClassicProblem



Eric Miller

WhenI readat leastsomeof the critiquesof Mary Shelley'sFrankensteinandJohn

his "Ode to a Grecian(Jrn"--, andto the degreethat I taketheir
Keats' odes--especially

critiquesseriously,I feel I mustquestionwhetherit is misleadingto call eitherof them

Romantics.Mary Shelley,wife of PercyShelley,daughter,asshe,accordingto Thomas

JeffersonHogg,told Percyon their first meeting,"of GodwinandMary

[Wollestonecraft]"(37) is surelya Romanticwriter, isn't she? Accordingto many,not

so. MauriceHindle, for example,in an introductionto a PenguinClassicseditionof

Frankensteinwritten with his wide audiencein mind, andwho thus,we might assume,be

hesitantto pre-judgethe work for readersnew to the work, is nevertheless
enoughof its indisputabilityto tell us that ". . . its lFrankenstein moral lessonthat

pride musthaveits fall shouldbe obviousto the mostindifferentreader"(viii). The idea

of the over-reachingherois a Romanticstaple;atalethat exploresthis ideawith the
{ intentionof offering a moral lessoncertainlyis not. Hindle acceptsasobvious("[t]here

;sf I -.-
seemslittle doubtthat . . .) ajudgementby P. D. Fleck,thatFrankensteinis a novel

which "containsin animaginativeform her criticismof [Percy]Shelley''(4). So that's rt:

,i;\flio Mary's last namemisleadme into expectingher to focuson the Romanticexplorationof
/\. the life of a great,but doomedman,whensherightly belongsin my mind's catalogueof
fn \ q o,^.v t \
^-a| -'/ry{" rcmsonandhis work "Vanity
authorsandtheir works with the "Classic,"with, ruy]
\s (u\
$t f
of HumanEesire.s,"that areprimarily interestedinjudgingsucha life asfoolish. John
\Na Keats--nowhe mustbe a Romantic:if he isn't who is? But doesn'tKeats,too, offer us
X" lessonsof a similarnatureto Johnson'sin his 'Vanity of HumanDesires"?Keats'

\, "conclusion"to his "Ode to a GrecianIJrn"-- " "Beautyis truth, truth beauty,"--thatis all
a 4'
oc'\ I Ye know on earth,ffid all ye needto know" (line 50)--maynot be a pairingof ideas

Johnsonwould agreewith, it but still shareswith "Vanity of HumanDesires"a concern
S. Ufr!

to discourageus from our own explorations.Somecritics disputethatthe last two s*f
moralizinglinestruly representKeats'judgement;manyseetheselast two lines asout of $6\-
). rs
syncwith the restof the poem,with somesensing"anothervoice" here(perhapsit's the 1"

\A , /S, but manycriticsdo not. PerhapsI shouldacceptthejudgementof these
vasespeaking?); ,.1;'"(

( Jocs
critics who noteandpraisehis moralizing,andre-catalogue
him aswell? ,l
Butwait. . . from my ownexplorations (1831edition)andof Keats'
of Frankenstein rr'[l

"Ode to a GrecianIJm," I do not disputethatboth authorsmoralize,nor that this

moralizingcanseemsoprominent,so obvious,asto appearthe "moral" of their works;

but becauseI considerthe greatRomantic,andromanticconflict thatbetweenour own

right to exist andbe happy--whatwe owe ourselves--versus
"the disapprovalor

of significantothers,suchasparents"(Branden
condemnation 63)--whatthey think we

owe them,andthat the guilt andfearthis disapprovalor condemnation
inflicts, because

of its source,is immense,it is reallyno surprisethattheparents'(elders')moralizing

voice seemsthe "victor," seemsto dominatetheseworks--andit is certainlyshouldnot

disqualiff eitherof thernasRomantic.So long asthereis a sensethat the moralizing

voice is present,at leastin part,for the purposeof bringingto mind its full weight and

for thewriter arealsense"that this is theproblem,"--thisiswhyl
imprint so asrepresent

write--alongwith a sensethatthis very samevoice,now echoingloudly in their minds,is

ajudgementof it, the work is, in my mind, a
beingexploredaspart of an assessmerrt,

Romanticone. Keats"freezes"a momentin time in his "Ode to a GrecianUrn"--when

pleasureturnsto pain--andhis conclusionto the poemis merelyan indication,which is

in the sortsof imageson theurn, of his motive for writing a poemwhich

freezesthe momentin the first place. His real conclusionsfrom contemplatingthis

momentrepresentthe next odehe writes,"Ode to Melancholy." Mary Shelleyreplaysa

momentin time over andoverin herbook, alsowhereselfish,but real,pleasuresfirst

turnedinto somethingpainful, andimaginesfor herself,throughFrankenstein,

Justine(andthroughthe monster)the consequences
of acceptingherselfas"bad," as

"selfish" (asa "hideousdaemon")--and
seemsto be exploringthe possibilitythat it might

haveits virtues. I'm not surewhat a poemor novelthat did not involve attentionto

personallimitationswould be like. A Romanticwork is surelyonewherethereis energy

sJ thereinthat threatensboundaries,that suggests

s.' )e amidst the pains (or evenby'lrsing" them) of material existence. I hope to show that
*\rv theseworksmostcertainlyaccomplishthat; andthusbelongright whereI hadthem:

('s$' under"R," for Romantic,for Resourceful,andfor Remarkable.
It is remarkablethat,from thevery beginningof Frankenstein,thereareclearsigns
"u"* \ Er
v>7 that Shelleyis not simply aboutto offer us a moral tale,but is "trying on" a moralizing
"* voice,asif lookingto resolvefeelingsof uncertaintytowardsthis voice,its message,
while at the sametime askingherselfif it is in fact her own. If we arenot too hastyto

assumethatbecauseShelleyis female(andthuscognizant,evenat this earlyage,of the

thelessonwe think shewantsto impartis of
over-ambitionof themalesex),andbecause

the dangersof scientificPromethean of our own favourites--wemight

remindourselvesthat this is what we might expectof a nineteenyearold, who, through

her elopement,her travelsanddistancefrom her father,her attemptto starther own

family, but most accuratelyfor the sheerfact of growingup, is constantlyencountering

within herselfa disapprovingvoice assheinsecurely,anduncertainly,attemptsto


There is something of this existential ambition in our early description of

Frankenstein.Waltontellsus first of a brokenFrankenstein:
"Ihavey'found a manwho,
before his spirit had beenbroken by misery, I shouldhave beenhappy to have possessed

as the brother of my heart" (26). Shortly thereafterwe learn that being broken does not

prevent Frankensteinfrom being a man of which can be said that "no one can feel more

deeply than he doesthe beautiesof nature" (28). Walton asks--andI will later considerif

it is in fact his very brokenness--"what quality it is which he possesses,
that elevateshim

so immeasurably above any other person" (28). Then we are offered a sign (if we

haven't already been offered a couple of them in knowing him to be so feeling, and so

elevated)not only that he still has some spirit, but that he seemingly has not learned,not

internalized, the lessonshe seeksto impart to Walton himselfl Frankensteintells Walton


fp]repare to hear of occurrenceswhich are usually deemedmarvellous. Were we
among the tamer scenesof nature, I might fear to encounteryour unbelief perhaps
your ridicule; but many things will appearpossible in thesewild and mysterious
regions, which would provoke the laughter of those unacquaintedwith the ever-varied
powers of nature; --nor can I doubt but that my tale conveys in its seriesinternal
evidenceof the truth of the eventsof which it is composed. (28)

This paragaph is interesting becausein the very effort of making his tale credible to

Walton, Frankensteinoffers us reasonsfor disputing the wisdom he seeksto impart.

Note that Frankensteintells us that the experienceof the "ever-varied powers of nature"
o\L is empowering: he knows what is and what is not possible "in thesewild and mysterious

regions" (29). More importantly, note that Frankenstein,knowing the magnitude of the

tale he has to impart, shows signs of struggling with self-doubt, self-castigation--hisfears

of being ridiculed. Most importantly, we must note the similarity of this passagewith

one where he articulatesthe hubris of thought, and demonstratesthe sort of self-belief,

which he tells us got him into such dire straightsin the first place.

When Frankensteindiscovershow to createlife he says:

I was surprised,that among so many men of genius who had directed their enquiries
towards the samescience,that I alone should be reservedto discover so astonishing a
secret Remember,I am not recording the vision of a madman. The sun does not
more certainly shine in the heavens,than that which I now affirm is true. Some
miracle might have produced it, yet the stagesof the discovery were distinct and
probable. (51)

In both caseshe is offering a storyor a vision which he knows,in orderto be true,

elevateshim abovehis peers,or mankindin general,andyet insistsnevertheless
on its

tnrth,tellingus, in both cases,that he canprove itl

There is anotherway in which Frankensteinby the very meanswhich he introduces

his tale to Walton offers us reasonsfor doubting, not his sincerity, but the degreeto

which Shelley, through Frankenstein,is offering us her own settledvalue-system. Notice

the modesty, and respect for critical judgement Frankensteinshows Walton when initially

surmisingthat Walton seeks"for knowledge and wisdom, as . . . [he] once did" (28): "I

do not know that the relation of my disasterswill be useful to you; yet, when I reflect that

you are pursuing the samecourse,exposing yourself to the samedangerswhich have

renderedme what I am, I imagine that you may deducean apt moral from my tale" (29).

Notice his concern that Walton deducehis own moral from the evidence of the tale. It

seemsclear that Shelley is attempting to make Frankensteinseemcredible by his very

respectfor the reasoningpowers of man. Yet note the changein Frankensteinwhen he

see[s]by . . . [Walton's] eagernessand the wonder and hope which your eyesexpress,
my friend, that you expect to be informed of the secretwith which I am acquainted;
that cannot be: listen patiently until the end of my story, and you will easily perceive
why I am reservedupon that subj ect. I will not lead you on, vnguardedand ardent as I
then was, to your destruction and infallible misery. Learn from me, if not by my
precepts,at least by my example, how dangerousis the acquirement of lwtowledgeand
how much happier that man is who believeshis native town to be the world, than he
who aspires to becomegreater than his nature will allow. (52; my emphasis)

Frankensteinis now morulizingto Walton-aelling him thelessonhe musttakefrom the
sr3 s t

tale. I will laterdiscusswhy I think the very thoughtin Shelleyof youngWalton's "\ o-"
of wonderandhope"(52) wouldbring forth this crushingdeclarationby
"eagerness rb'J o
Frankenstein(purportedlyfor Walton'sown good),but for now I will highlight signsof \0.-1
uncertaintyin Frankensteinat the very momentof the "offering" of the moral lessonthat )"(lu
many criticstaketo be the obviousmoral of thebook.

This lesson,incidentally,andimportantly,is not whatmanycriticsthink it is: despite

it is asmuch a questionasit is a didacticstatement.Frankensteindoes
its appearance,

not referto the dangersof man'spride;instead,he refersto the dangersfor thosewho

seekto rise abovewhat their own particularnatureallows. This necessarilybegsthe

question:"What is my particularnafure:how do I rank?". What do we think, Shelley,

daughter"of Godwin andMary'' thinksabouthow shecompareswith others?Perhaps
A t^^
who he placesbeyond
we seesomesigr of this in Walton'sdescriptionof Frankenstein,
all othermen. CertainlyFrankensteingeneralizesabouta humanconditionwhenhe

"our weakandfaulty natures,"(28)but this pronouncement,
discusses again,is basedon

what he haslearnedthroughwhat hasbeen,by his own admission,his own particularand

andthis pronouncement,
extraordinaryexperiences; aswith all of his, by his insistence

andprove,offersevidenceof an effectualwill
that this is somethinghe candemonstrate

which clasheswith the very pronouncementsof his ineffectual nature he makes. It is

difficult for me to believe that Shelley could offer us the image of such an extraordinary

figure and really be satisfied that Frankensteinwas one of those who was by nature

limited. I certainly believe that Shelley, through Frankenstein,is offering us a real sense

that this is a sourceof tremendousinner conflict for her. Frankensteinwill at times

devalue his own singularity; but as I have shown, there are also times where in bringing

this very possibility to the fore, he struggles,ffid, temporarily, triumphs, insisting upon

his own singular worth.

Again, in the very introduction of the tale, Shelley shows signs that she is exploring

r $r(
a consequenceof "failure."
the idea of moralizing as a consequenceof self-surrender--as

Note that Frankensteintells Walton that his own tale "may direct you if you succeedin

your undertaking, and console you in caseof failure" (291'my emphasis). Reading this,

surely we should ask ourselveswhether at some level Shelley is aware that the very

h" 4

\/ Dorrn' \
of thing onemight do to consoleoneselfif onesensedthat somehowonewasfailing

oneself. I expectthis is why Shelleyoffersus an introductionto Frankenstein
that \",

eventhoughit callsits moralinto question.Shelleyis fighting;
his greatness,
emphasizes I
asa failure sheknowswould follow from offering an
resistingthe self-assessment UJ
entirelypersuasivemoral tale. It is why she,at times,resistsgeneralizingaboutman's

nature,havingFrankensteinsay,oYetwhy do I saythis? I havemyselfbeenblastedin
thesehopes,yet anothermay succeed"(210). At nineteen,andwith a childhoodand

of the natureI will explorelater,shemight be askingherselfif shemight be

sheseemsuncertainof life's outcomeand
this "another,"this exception.Nevertheless,

thus consolesherself throughout the book with what amountsto a kind of Puritanical

pride: the idea that "the man who imagines his native town to be the world" (52) is

greater than those of a similar nature who are not so enlightened.

Shelley, through Frankenstein,seemsto be exploring the self-satisfaction, self-pride,

that follows from being a member of a singularly remarkable family--what he has in

mind, I think, when he refers to belonglng to a native town. Chapter one begins with a

statementby Frankensteinof an account of the remarkablenature of his own parents. He

tells us that:

[m]y mother's tender caressesand my father's smile of benevolentpleasurewhile
regarding ffie, are my first recollections. I was their plaything and their idol, and
something better--their child, the innocent and helpless creaturebestowed on them by
Heaven, whom to bring up to good, and whose future lot it was in their hands to direct
to happinessor misery, according as they fulfilled their duties towards me. With this
deep consciousnessof what they owed towards the being to which they had given life,
addedto the active spirit of tendernessthat animatedboth, it may be imagined that
while during every hour of my infant life I received a lessonof patience, of charity,
and of self-control, I was so guided by a silken cord that all seemedbut one train of
enjoymentto me. (33)

Frankensteinis likewise consciousof 'how peculiarly fortunate. . .[his] lot was" (37)

and notes that this gratitude, arising from a comparisonwith those less fortunate,

'oassistedthe developmentof filial love" (37;my emphasis).Frankensteinoffers us an

example of this "downward comparison" when he describesfor us Clerval's parents:
"His father was a narrow-minded trader, and saw idleness and ruin in the aspiration and

ambition of his son. Henry [Clerval] deeply felt the misfortune of being debarred from a

liberal education. He said little; but when he spoke, I read in his kindling eye and in his

animated glance a restrainedbut firm resolve, not to be chained to the miserable details

of commerce."(441,my emphasis).

We areofferedanotherexampleof downwardcomparisonat the trial of Justinewhere


of Frankenstein's
family asapartfrom, superiorto, the restof the "native

town." Frankenstein's
own assessment
of his fellow townsmenis evidentwhenhe tells

us that: "My passionate
andindignantappealswerelost uponthem. And whenI

receivedtheir cold answersandheardtheharsh,unfeelingrcasoningof thesemen,my

pu{posedavowaldied awayon my lips" (86; my emphasis).It is importantthat we are

alertto Frankensteinsignallingthatwhat is especiallyrepuglantaboutthesemenis their

andtheir lack of feeling. Becausehere,too, is evidencethat Shelley,through

may be confrontingfeelingsof anger,feelingsof betrayal,sheat some

level feelstowardsher own kin.

Justineis not betrayedby her kin at the trial, but sheexperiences
a kind of self-

to a crimeshedid not commit. Sheexplainsthat shewas

besiegedby a confessorwho "threatenedandmenaced,until I almostbeganto think that I

wasthe monsterthathe saidI was" (84). But aftershehasconfessed,

overwhelmingfeelingsof shametelling us "[i]n an evil hour I subscribedto a lie; and

now only am I truly miserable"(84). Elizabethtriesto consoleher,to give her strength,

sayrngshe'kill prove . . . [her] innocence"(84),but Justineshakes'her head

mournfully' (84),andexplains:

'I do not fearto die,' . . . thatpangis past. Godraisesmy weakness andgivesme
courageto endurethe worst. I leavea sadandbitter world; andif you rememberme
andthink of me asof oneunjustlycondemned, I am resignedto the fate awaitingme.
Learnfrom me,dearlady,to submitin patienceto thewill of heaven!'(84)

reply to WaltonwhenWalton felt
This surelyremindsthe alertreaderof Frankenstein's

"the greatesteagerness . to amelioratehis [Frankenstein's]
fate" (29):

'I thankyou,' he replied,'for your sympathy,but it is useless;my fateis nearly
fulfilled. I wait but for oneevent,ffid thenI shallreposein peace.I understandyour
feeling,' continuedhe, perceivingthat I wishedto intemrpthim: 'but you are
v mistaken,ffiy friend,if thusyou will allow me to nameyou; nothingcanaltermy
destiny;listento my history,andyou will perceivehow irrevocablyit is determined.

Justine,like Frankenstein,
is singledout, andshefacescondemnation
not only from "the

public," but from thosefriendsshemostvalues.Justineasksher friends: "And do you

alsobelievethat I am so very,very wicked? Do you alsojoin with my enemiesto crush

too,fearshis new friend'sjudgement--
me,to condemnme" (83). Frankenstein,

speculatingthat Clerval might ridicule his own tale, if they were in "the tamer scenesof

nature" (29). But in Justine's case,she is innocent--sheis no monster, she is only made

to feel as if she is; but if this is a conviction that distinguishesher from the truly gurlty,

the truly fallen, monstrous, Frankenstein,that Shelley felt with a firm conviction then

why offer us such strong parallels between thesetwo scenesthat they seem a replay of

one another: one with a false confession,the other with a true one? Is it to emphasize

Frankenstein's guilt, or is it, possibly, a way for Shelley to explore her own? Is she

offering herself a variety of versions of a similar confrontation with the judgements of
the guilt shefeels,whetherit bestto
to helpher decidewhethershedeserves
1J*'c$' acceptor rejectthis guilt, andthroughwhich optionlies the greatestfreedom?

andin a varietyof
My own opinionis that Shelley,ttrough a varietyof characters,

scenesthroughoutthe book,is meditatingon the difficultiesof maintainingher own self-

convictionsin the teethof intimidationby elders(herfather),on the kind of dangersthat

to intensepressureandself-convict,and
lie on eithersideof one'sdecisionto acquiesce

the decisionnot to do so. Acquiescence
to the desiresof othersbringsaboutthe

of self-inducedfailure. We notethat Justine'sfamily is surprisedand

disappointedthat she,unlike courageous
Elizabethwho bravesthe horde,kow-towsto

the voice of public authority. But Shelleysurelywould not do so--onesensesthrough
\o: - r . o' I

Qn,nw Frankenstein areal pride in her family that we might expect to tower over the

\- intimidation of merepublic will. But FrankensteinandJusting andthus surely Shelley,
a ,r_
d'l are vulnerableto the opinion of her closestfriendsandfamily, andit is when she
.4 _",2-
\ r rq encountersa conflict betweenher own desires,her own needs,her own beliefs, andthat
. \s\,
€r 0
V 1 ofher family, that Shelleyencountersa kind ofblasting intimidating force, tlat brings to
. t.^"1
[. ^r-.- her mind for her considerationthe kind of self-surenderwherethroughFrankenstei4and
'-tc ^
\Sf 6 throughlustine, sheexploreswhat it migbt be like to live by the standardsof others,and

to accepttheir voice, their judgements, as that of her own.

Justine experiencesa moment when she "subscribed to a lie" that brought her instant

misery, instant self-condemnation. Justine,we will note, who was twelve years old when

Frankenstein's family took her in, is entering adolescence,is growing up, when her

transformation from one with promise to one now doomed occurs. This is of central

importance, becauseit is further evidencethat the moment that dooms and haunts

Frankensteinhimself is not the moment where he createsthe monster, but one much

earlier, occuring at the time when he, too, was entering that stagewhere he began to see

before him "the moment when . . . [he] should put them [benevolentintentions] in

practice and make . . . [himself] useful to . . . [his] fellow beings" (87). He reflects on

this moment, when, ffid it is important again to pay attention to the wording,

all [became]blasted: insteadof that serenityof consciencewhich allowed me to look

backuponthe pastwith self-satisfaction,
andfrom thenceto gatherpromiseof new
hopes,I was seizedby remorseandthe senseof guilt, which hurriedme awayto a hell
of intensetortures,suchasno languagecandescribe.(S7)

Frankenstein's a similarpainful transformationafterworking his

way to his climacticmeetingwith his "friends,"in particularthe fatherlyDe Lacey.

"Finding . . . [himself] unsympathised
with, [he] wishedto tearup the trees,spreadhavoc

anddestructionaround[him]" (132). And it seemsclearthatthis is the exactmoment

andwhich hauntsShelleyherself--akey momentwhenher
which hauntsFrankenstein,

hopesweredashedby the lack of sympathy,the disregard,by the fathersthey


tells us that,whenhe wasthirteenyearsold, afterreadingthrougha

volumeof books,"[rr] new light seemedto dawnupon . . . [his] mind, ffid, boundingwith

joy,...[he] communicated...

notesthat"[his] fatherlookedcarelessly book
at thetitlepageof . . . [his] [Frankenstein's]

andsaid,'Ah! CorneliusAgrippa! My dearVictor, do not wasteyourtime uponthis; it is

tellsus thatthis momentwascrucialonlybecause,
sadtrash"'(38). Frankenstein

his father'scarelessness, continuesto explorethe studiesthat will

here. This is a representation
eventuallydoomhim. We shouldnot believeFrankenstein

life andit is a
of the crucialmomentof Frankenstein's
for Shelley'sconsideration

with her
momentwhich is a certainsimulacrumfor an experienceShelleyencountered

fatherat the sirmeage(twelveto thirteen). Thereareseveralreasonswhy I believethis to

be the case. The evidenceof the book,standingapartfrom anybiographicalknowledge

of Shelley'slife, for me at least,certainlypointsin this direction. Therearescholarswho

haveexploredShelley'slife, haveexaminedShelley'slettersandher father'slettersto

her, and believe that there was a dramatic changein how Shelley's father treatedher

around this age. When one focuseson Shelley's life one must note that there are ample

matchesbetween Shelley's upbringrng and Frankenstein's(and Frankenstein'smonster

as well). And, finally, though an intuitive feel for what is really going on is something

Shelley includes in her book in the form of praise for Elizabeth and Clerval, my own

knowledge of some of the psychological studiesof adolescenceand the routine

experienceof rejection from their parentschildren often experience,alerts me to truths

that I rarely seereco gnizedby those who rely solely on their own intuitive "largeness"

for making judgements--for example,that children almost always blame themselvesfor

the rejection. Hoping I do not tax my patient readertoo much, I will explore each of

these in turn, in hope of offering as powerful, as convincing, a casepossible that

Shelley's moralizingtrial of Frankensteinis a trial of herself, for daring to resist and

resent her father's judgements of her.

Book evidence first: We should note that moments of pleasureare often raised and

then crushedby Shelley in the book. It is Walton's (child-like) look of "wonder" and

'hope" and his eagerness"to be informed of the secretwith which . . .
[Frankenstein] . . .

is acquainted" (51) that has Frankensteinnot only refuse to comply, but to begin

moralizing to him. No surprisehere, when we consider that Frankensteinwill describe

how a crucial moment of hopeful expectationof his own was crushedby his father. This

was the crucial moment for Frankenstein--themoment where he told himself "I am a

blastedtree; the bolt has enteredmy soul" (155)--andproof lies in a match of the key

word "blasted" in two parts of the text, and in its absencein the passagesrecalling the

creation of the monster--what most critics believe to be the moment that turned all

pleasureto pain for Frankenstein.

The momentwhereFrankenstein
tells us his pleasureturnedto pain he describesasa

momentwhere"all wasblasted"(87). Criticswho believethatthe momentFrankenstein

is obsessingaboutis the momentof his creationof life oftennotethat the creatureis

broughtto life by the sparkof electricity;theybelievethis sceneto be the one

earlierin the imageof an oak treebeing'ttterly destroyed"by a bolt of

lightning. But a lightningbolt that leavesbehindnothingbut a"blasted stump"(40)

matchesratherpoorly with theratherquietimageof the creatureawakeningby the mere

"spark" of electricity. But it l,sa perfectmatchfor the passage relates

the momentwherehe "shouldput . . . [benevolentintentions]into practice"(87)

becomesthe momentwhere'oallis blasted"(87). The momentof the lightningbolt

_.+[blastingthe oakwasnot writtento foreshadowFrankenstein'sfatefuldecisionto create
.1 at ,,"j<
.\*" .n* \
life; it was,instead,a descriptionof what if felt like at the very momentof bringinghis

i:\ own arnbitions,his own way to makea distinctive,andusefulcontributionto the world,

,";:.\ ) to his fatherin the form of a book, andhavinghim dismissit with a cursoryglance.
\)* \t-

)so- Thoughtwo yearspass,textually,the blastingof the oakimmediatelyfollows this

passage(with the father'scursoryglance)in Frankenstein.And herewe encountera

i.s*'.;x J
\ po' "man of greatresearchin naturalphilosophy'(40) who is linked to a complete
\'1 ,a- \
G t ' o n l - 1 "overthrowfing]. . . of [thelordsof his imaginationwhich] . . .disinclined. . . [him--

r lud'' studies.It seemedto [him] asif nothing
Frankenstein]to pursue. . . [his] accustomed
would or couldeverbe known. All thathadso long engaged. . . [his] attentionsuddenly

grew despicable"(40). He tells us he dismissesall the sciencesanddeterminesthat only

"asbeing[the only branchof study]built
mathematicsis worthy of his consideration

upon securefoundations"(41). To tell us thathe hadan encounterwhich hadhim

abandonall his studies,andall the "lords of the imagination"of his childhood,only a few

aftertelling us thatthe reasonhe relatesto us themomentof his father'scursory

glanceis becauseit encouraged
him to keepreadingis extremelyodd. He explainsthat it

wasthe effort of a last ditch attemptof a spirit of preservationto savehim, but

consideringthe voicethroughoutthebook thatkeepsappealingto Frankenstein's

. . . [to] brood. . . [on] thoughtsof vengeance
nature,tellinghim, for example,'onot

butwith feelingsof peaceandgentleness,
thatwillheal . . . thewoundsof ourminds"

(70), attemptsto dissipatethe "gloom which appearsto havetakenso stronga hold of . . .

[Frankenstein's]mind" (142),andwhich warnshim of the effectsof his current

behaviouror inclinations--itfesterscurrentwounds(70),it "preventsimprovementor

did not
enjoyment,"(88)--this,too,is surelythevoiceof his father.No: Frankenstein

continuepursuinghis studiesbecausehis fatherfailed to makean impacton him; the

impactof his cursoryglancecouldnot havehada larger,moreimmediateeffecton young

persistsnot in spiteof his father,but ratherto spitehis father

for his "harsh,unfeeling' (86) reaction.

I believethatthe reasona fatherlyscientistimmediatelyappearslinked to a

is that Shelley,imagining
devastatingblow to his own explorations,andself-confidence,

how devastatinga blow it
a similar momentwith her father,but unableto acknowledge

wasto her, delaysthe reactionslightly,but mustsoonexpressthe feelingthat arisesfrom

this nearrecall of her own experience.I arguethis throughan appealto commonsense;

but Shelleydoesarticulatethepain involvedin repressingfeelingsin the book: "Even in

weighedon me with a
my own heartI couldglve no expressionto my sensations--they

mountain'sweight,andtheir excessdestroyedmy agonybeneaththem" (144).

is enragedbyhis father'sinattention,anditbrings to mineoneof the few

instancesof Frankensteincontemplatingthe possibilitythathis fatheris not perfect,is not

"right"--andit is followedby the introductionto his taleof M. Krempeand,especially,

M. Waldman,who offer Frankenstein
all thathis fathercouldor did not offer him.

M. KrempeandM. Waldmanarenot to be imaginedasdevilsin the guiseof angels

who temptFrankenstein
into sin. It is importantthat Shelleyestablishes
that they both

sharewith Frankenstein'sfathera preferencefor otherthinkersthanFrankenstein's

previous"lords of his imagination."What Frankenstein
hadhopedfor from his dad,

supposedly,wasmerelyfor him to "takethe painsto explainto . . . [him] thatthe

principlesof Agrippahadbeenentirelyexploded"(38). M. Krempeagreeswith

Frankenstein'sfatherthat his studieshavebeena waste,but szbstantiatesFrankenstein's

feelingthat his fatherwasin error--infact,he makesof it a crime:

'Every minute,' continuedM. Krempewith warmth,oeveryinstantthat you have
wastedon thosebooksis utterly andentirelylost. You haveburdenedyour memory
( withexplodedsystemsanduselessnurmes.GoodGod! In what desertland haveyou
\\ lived, whereno on waskind enoughto inform you thatthesefancieswhich you have
\J. so greedilyimbibedarea thousandyearsold andasmustyasthey areancient?I little
expected,in this enlightenedandscientificage,to find a discipleof AlberfusMagnus
andParacelsus. My dearsir, you mustbeginyour studiesentirelyanew.' (45)

We hearhere,not only an accusationthathis fathermusthavebeenneglectful,but that

the "native land" wherehe camefrom musthavebeena 'odesert
island." Note,too, that

M. Krempeoffersthis in awarm voice.

M. WaldmandoesM. Krempeonebetterin that "[h]e heardwith attentionthe little

naration concerningmy studies,andsmiledat the namesof CorneliusAgrippa and

but without the contemptthat M. Krempehadexhibited"(47). M. Waldman

the feelingFrankenstein
oncehadasa child thattheseold philosophershad

somethingsubstantialto offer: "He saidthat 'theseweremento whoseindefatigablezeal

modernphilosopherswereindebtedfor mostof the foundationsof their knowledge"(47).

M. Waldmancomesacrossasan ideal fatherfigure,who givesa lie to Frankenstein's

declarationto us that all he wantedfrom his fatherwasto showthat "the powersof the . .

. [theseearlyphilosophers]
werechimerical"(38). Surelynot. Thethirteenyearold

who cameto his fatherwith "[a] new light . . . dawn[ing]on his mind. . .

boundingwith joy . . . [andwho] communicated
. . . [his] discoveryto . . . [his] father"

washopingfor what everychild wants:validationandapprovalfrom his or her parents.

M. Waldmanappearsin the text becauseat somelevel Shelleyis awarethat shewas

mistreated,wasawarethat shedeservedbetter,andit is no coincidencethat in M.

Waldman,who is "[h]appy . . . to havegaineda disciple"(48) Frankenstein
has"found a

true friend," (49) orrather anideal fatherfigure, andthisfathershowsup his own.

It is no accidentthat Waldmanis describedassmiling at Frankenstein:Frankenstein's

own fatherwith a "smile of benevolentpleasurewhile regarding. . . [him] was

Frankenstein's Shelleystoppedreceivingthose
first recollection.But aroundadolescence

in needof them,createsfor herselfM. Waldman. And in

descriptionof M. Waldmanwe areoffereda descriptionof a

own fathersuffersfrom a downward
man comparedwith whom Frankenstein's


His gentleness wasnevertingedby dogmatism,andhis instructionsweregivenwith
an air of franknessandgoodnature,thatbanishedeveryideaof pedantry.In a
thousandwayshe smoothedfor me the pathof knowledge,andmadethe most

abstruseenquiries clear and facile to my apprehension.(49)

Buoyed by the love of this good man, Frankensteinwill begin to engagein the laboratory

experimentsthat will have him discover the purportedly chimerical ability to createlife.

Some critics focus on M. Waldman's declaration that science"penetrate[s] into the

recessesof nature, ffid show how she works in her hiding-places" (49) as evidencethat

Shelleyherself disapprovesof M. Waldman. But if such a man as M. Waldman is in for

a hard time from critics I am fearfrrl to know what kind of man they praise. M. Waldman

is an ideal father figure; but he is one who, though we can imagine him, most of us have

trouble convincing ourselveswe deserve.

Shelley in imagining this perfect father figure surely felt considerableguilt

(sacrilege!),and it surely is why shehas Frankensteinaccusehimself for neglectinghis

family. He says:

I knew my silence disquieted them; and I well rememberedthe words of my father:
'I know that while you are pleasedwith yourself you will think of us with affection,
and we shall hear regularly from you. You must pardon me if I regard any
intemrption in your correspondenceas a proof that your other duties are equally

If we are alert, we will note that discord here between what his father says here and how

Frankensteindescribedhis father at the cofilmencementof the tale. His father had been

describedas someonewho was "deeply conscious. . . of what . .. [he] owed towards . . .

the being to which they had given life" (33) and who "fulfiIled . . .[his] duties towards . . .

him" (33). We have already seensigns of neglect from the father in his failure to attend

to his son, and in this passagewe encountera father who seemsprimarily concernedwith

what his son owes him. Frankensteindoesnot accusehis father of inconstancy; but it is

oneof thingshis characters
noteasa fault in others.For example,the monstersaysto

"How inconstantareyour feelings! but a momentagoyou weremovedby

andwhy do you againhardenyourselfto my complaints?"(142).
my representations

Elizabethwritesof Justine'smotherthat "[t]he poor womanwasvery vacillatingin her

repentance.ShesometimesbeggedJustineto forgiveher unkindnessbut muchoftener

accusedher of havingcausedthe deathsof herbrothersandsister"(64).

"[W]hen you arepleasedwith yourself,you will think of us" (33) is not oneof the

morepleasantideasI've encountered
in literature(I will laterexplorewhy I think this is

case),andit surelysmacksof exactlythe kind of moralizinghisfathersupposedly

disapprovedof. I think that Shelleyis awareof this, is awarethather own father"did not

practicewhat he preachad,"andI think, buoyedby her creationof an ideal fatherwho

doubthis father'sadvice: "I thenthoughtthat
validatesher own needs,hasFrankenstein

my fatherwould be unjustif he ascribedmy neglectto vice, or faultiness. . ." (54). But

he followsthis tellingus he no longerthinksso:

but I am now convincedthathe wasjustified in conceivingthat I shouldnot be
altogether free from blame. A humanbeingin perfectionoughtalwaysto preservea
calm andpeacefulmind, andneverto allow passionor a transitorydesireto disturbhis
tranquility.I do not think that the pursuitof knowledgeis an exceptionto this rule. If
the studyto which you applyyourselfhasa tendencyto weakenyour affections,and
to destroyyour tastefor thosesimplepleasuresin which no alloy canpossiblymix,
thenthat studyis certainlyunlawful,that is to say,not befittingthe humanmind. If
this rule werealwaysobserved;if no manallowedanypursuitwhatsoeverto interfere
with the tranquilityof his domesticaffections,Greecehadnot beenenslaved;Caesar
would havesparedhis country;Americawould havebeendiscoveredmore gradually;
andthe empiresof Mexico andPeruhadnot beendestroyed.(54; my emphasis)

He intemrptshimselfto excusewhathe callshis moralizing,but which, owing to its

of the profoundripple effect,
remarkablelength,is betterunderstoodasa demonstration

the profoundresultingaffectof his fathers'words. He is surelyattemptingto rationalize

the moralizing,commandingtoneof hisfather which profoundlydisturbshim. This is

natural,becauseit is dawningon Frankenstein
thathis fatherdoesnot want him to be
free:he belongsto his family, to his father. This is why we encounterheretalk in praise
\N'CI \ /1
-' of simple(compromised)
the pressureto acquiesce,
andto makeacquiescence
seem"a goodthing" is immense.But how muchrespectis owedto sucha father,andif
. o-u
oneobeyshim, doesthis amountto a kind of self-surrender,
ffid makeall thoughtthat
this is all for the bestobviousrationalizing?This very train of thoughtencourages
a re-
t doublingof effort to wipe out anydoubtsconcerninghis father. Thus: "My fathermade

5*,A no reproachin his letters,andonly took noticeof my silenceby enquiringinto my
.- ocrupationsmore particularlythanbefore" (54).
\L . When Clerval entersthe tale againwe hearFra:rkensteinmaintainthat freedomlies in
1 endinghis [Frankenstein's]own explorations: "I hope,I sincerelyhope,that all these
" "tt" onploymentsarenow at an end,andthat I am at length free" (59). But what does
\ ^'.
\ . 1'* freedomoffer Frankenstein?WhenFrankensteinretumshome,Shelleyhas Elizabeth
"expressa sorrowful deliglrt to seeme" (75). He had retumedlate: "Ah! I wish you had
Q*t t
t comethreemonthsago,andthen you would havefound us all joyous anddelighted"
. -il t
rSt ^,^'(rr). Forthehubrisofigroringhisfamily,fornotthinkingofhisfamilywhenhe
P\ -!"
t\ experiencedpleasure, for disobeyinghisfather, Shelleyimaginesfor him a situation

which could only zubstantiateself-blame,andguilt. But the senseof guilt offers him no
- ' ' ..o
* ^..\
- \-,,
"i respite,for his fatherchastiseshis sonfor his brooding(thouglrFrankensteindescribesit
f asan attempt"to inspire... [him] with fortitude,andawakenin... thiml thecourageto

n L- dispelthe dark cloud which broodedover . . . thiml" (87)):
. )('\
(^ Cr*\( \
tv \)t* dclt,*r;
.)vr ''
C crf- Orc

'Do you think, Victor,' said he, 'that I do not suffer also? No one could love a child
more than I loved your brother'--tears cirmeinto his eyes as he spoke--'but is it not a
duty to the sunrivors that we should refrain from augmentingtheir unhappinessby an
appearanceof immoderate grief? It is also a duty owed to yourself; for excessive
sorrow prevents improvement or enjoyment, or even the dischargeof daily usefulness,
without which no man is fit for society.' (88)

Yet saintly, 'heroic[,] and suffering," (88) Elizabeth,was "sad and desponding;sheno

longer took delight in her ordinary occupations;all pleasureseemedto her sacrilege

toward the dead" (89). One gets a feeling that Frankensteinreally is not offered any way

out: if he is happy he is disrespectfulto the dead; if he grieves he is showing

immoderation. He is put in a kind of "double-bind" situation where there is no solution

that somepsychologistsbelieve is relatedto the developmentof schizophrenicsymptoms.

I suspectthis is why Shelley introduces into the tale the thought that "[t]here was always

scope for fear, so long as anything I loved remainedbehind" (89): Shelley is imagining

for herself a way out at any cost.

I mentioned that there are severalreasonswhy I suspectthat Shelley had experienced
^, \t ' a terrifying moment of parental abandonmentthat profoundly affected her. I have
Tt-^ discussedevidencein th; that Frankenstein,though having difficulty admitting it to
J "
\-'* himself, was crushedby a suddenchangein his father's reaction around the age of
\- 1,oA
\ u.' thirteen, when he most sought his approval, which brought about a fierce attempt to self-
k individuate, to imagine somethingbetter for himself, a better father, a better environs,

\ bo.3and successin creating life, an alchemical chimera most closely related to the works his
\s i1 4
father dismissed;but collapsedinto self-hatred,and a re-mergencewith his family that
..{t made him miserable, and brought about desperateideas for his considerationof what it
\ JS might take to become free. But before exploring thesedesperateimaginings which

follow from an exploration of a "serene" moment protected from a "disastrous" future,

which compareswell with Keats' own explorations in "Ode to a Grecian IJrn," I would

like to offer biographical proof that Frankenstein is itself such afrozenmoment for

Shelley as she attemptsto sort out, in effect, "what the hell happened!" after having

experienceda reasonablypleasantchildhood.

The reason Shelley has Frankenstein,and Justine (and the monster) experiencea

moment where pleasurefurned to pain is because,according Hill-Miller, though

Mary Godwin passedthrough childhood, she satisfied her passionateattachmentto
William Godwin by living up to his literary expectations,by identifyrng herself with
his hopes for her, and by modeling herself after him . . . [,] as . . . [she] entered
adolescence,William Godwin's aloof derneanorseemedto turn to outright rejection.
In fact, the beginning of Mary's adolescencemarked a long period of alienation from
her father, an alienation that only endedwhen she married Percy Bysshe Shelley at
age nineteen. This parental rejection is central to Mary Shelley and her career:it
haunted her all of her life and becameemblematic of the many other tlpes of rejection
she encountered. It shapedher responseto her burgeoning fernininity and gave birth
to her vision of the precariousnature of daughter-hood;it provided part of the creative
impulse for her first two novels--Frankenstein andMathilda--both of which tell the
story of the daughter'spainful induction into adult womanhood. (Hill-Miller 31)

Hill-Miller believesthat "[a]s Mary Godwin grew older and enteredadolescence,her

need for emotional support from her father increased"(Hill-Miller 31). He refers to the

work of Nancy Chodorow, and "the psychic currents of the oedipal nuclear family'' (Hill-

Miller 31) to explain Shelley'srejection by her father. Hill-Miller tells us that "[f]rom a

father's point of view . . . the daughter's passagethrough adolescenceoften createsan

anxious--and even threatening--moment. As the daughterpassesout of the sexual latency

of childhood and begins to develop into a mature woman, the father often rejects her. As

Lynda Boose explains, the daughter's new physical maturity invites incestuousdesire"

(Hill-Miller 3l-32).

I admit I trust other psychologists for "an explanation," but I find what Hill-Miller has

to say about the rejection--it "meant the end of a childhood fuIl of wide horizons and

possibility' (Hill-Miller 32)--alongwith her documentationof the kind of distancefrom

her father Shelley experiencedduring her adolescenceimportant to note:

In the spring of 1811, when she [Shelley] was thirteen and a half yearsold, shewas
sent away. . . in the hope that the seaair would cure her . . .. Though Godwin had
good medical reasonto sendMary away, and though the separationwas intended to
calm Mary's feelings as well as preservethe peaceof the whole household, Mary
could not help but read the separationfrom her father as an abandonment--andan
abandonmentdirectly connectedto the fact that she was becoming a woman.. . .
Godwin wrote to his daughteronly four times, and failed to visit her for her fourteenth
birthday, though he was vacationingin the area.(Hill-Miller 34)

Shelley experiencesdistancefrom her father as a rejection of her. She is sent away

becauseshe is 'bad,"--becausesheis growing up. Little wonder, perhaps,that

Frankensteinis up to no good when sent to university. And little wonder, perhaps,that

when Frankensteinleaves for university it is describedas if it is something beyond his

own control: "it [earlier desiresto take his place amongstmen] would have been folly to

repent" (44), though he sayshe was 'lrnwilling to quit the sight of those that remained to

me" (43).

When Shelley returns home "family conflict resumedwith a vengeance"(34) and she

is sent awaya secondtime--to Scotland. Hill-Miller's discussionof the implications of

this event for Shelley's life needalso be considered:

Mary Godwin's stay in Scotlandbecamethe event that marked and engulfed her
adolescence.When she wore a new introduction for the 1831 edition of Frankenstein,
Mary Shelley reflected that she had "lived principally in the country as a girl, and
passeda considerabletime in Scotlandr" lFrankenstein,223). This descriptionof her

Shelley has Frankensteinmake the monster's "mate" in Scotland,just as Sheltey used her time in
Scotland to engagein her own studies,her own pursuits.

early years must have come as a surpriseto her father, becauseMary principally lived
in Godwin's home during her childhood, and she spenttime in the country and
Scotland only when Godwin sent her there to restoreher health and the family peace.
The point is that Mary's absencesfrom Godwin's house--absences sheread as acts of
banishment and paternal rejection---becamethe eventsthat defined her adolescence,
overshadowingall else. (Hill-Miller 35)

Shelley never forgot her childhood, but her obsessionto make right, to make senseof her

own adolescenceso dominated her attention, the constantsorting and re-sorting of her

adolescentmemories looking for "answers," made them the memories most available for


When the sixteen year old Shelley eloped with Percy Shelley to the Continent, Godwin

was horrified-- "[h]e felt robbed of his favorite daughter,cheatedof his literary heir, and

deprived of the material link to his cherishedpast with Mary Wollstonecraft" (Hill-Miller


There followed a long period of even more intense estrangementbetween Godwin and
his daughter,an estrangementthat formed the specific background against which
Mary Shelley conceived and began Frankenstein. As Godwin commentedin August
1814, before Mary, Percy, and Janereturned from the Continent, "Jane has been guilty
of indiscretion only . . . Mary has beenguilty of a crime." . .. Godwin cut himself off
from his daughter completely. He refused to communicatewith Mary at all and
forbade Fanny Imlay to seeor talk to her half-sister. Godwin did not write or speakto
Mary when she lost her first child in February 1815,or when shebore a son, named
William in honor of Godwin himself on 24 January1816."(Hill-Miller 39; my


Godwin"abandoned"Shelleyat the momentof the birth of her own son,the same

inflicts on his own creation.This is revengefor
astonishinglycruelact that Frankenstein

Shelley's"crimes" of self-individuationon the Continentandfor creatinga family which

will stealattentiondueproperlyto her father. I will mimic Frankenstein
andinsist to my

readerthat I am not telling falsehoods:In a letterwrittento ShelleyafterFrankenstein,

andafterthe deathof anotherchild, GodwinbelittlesShelley'smourning,andtells her, in

a truly terrifying passagevery reminiscentof the passagein Frankensteinwherehis

to moderatehis gneq to "[r]emember,too, that thoughat

i first your nearestconnectionsmay pity you in this state,yot that,whenthey seeyou fixed
in selfishnessandill-humour,andregardlessof the happinessof everyoneelse,they will

finally ceaseto love you, andscarcelylearnto endureyou" (Hill-Miller 48) Hill-Miller

judgesthe wholeof this letterto amountto "aremarkablerevelationof Godwin's

aswell ashis jealouscravingfor his daughter'ssupportand

consolation"(Hill-Miller 48).

Hill-Miller givesus goodreasonto suspectthat Frankenstein
doesnot really represent

PercyShelley,ascritics like Hindle insistsis the case;but, rather,represents

Shelley. Hill-Miller remindsus that Mary wasraisedby her fatherto be his son,andhis

literary heir:

In the yearsleadingup to her adolescence, Mary Godwinemergedasher father's
potentialintellectualheir, the child mostsuitedto carryon his work asa writer and
thinker . . . He entertainedgreathopesfor her. He proudlydescribedher to a
coffespondent as"singularlybold, somewhatimperious,andactiveof mind . . . As
Mary Shelleyherselfput it manyyearslater,speakingof her father'sexpectationsfor
her, "I wasnursedandfed with a love of glory. To be somethinggreatandgoodwas

the precept given me by my father.". . . Young Mary Godwin took her father's hopes
entirely to heart; she learnedto measureherself againsther parents and to envision
herself inheriting their intellecfual legacy. As she wrote a correspondentin 1827, "her
greatnessof soul lMary Wollstonecraft's] & my father['s] high talentshave
perpetually reminded me that I ought to degenerateas little as I could from those from
whom I derived my being . . . my chief merit must always be derived, first from the
glory thesewonderful beings have shed [around] me, & then for the enthusiasmI have
for excellence". . .. (Hill-Miller 25)

Shelley had an "education and a childhood that in today's vocabulary might be described

as 'lrngendered"--that is, an educationthat made the least possible differentiation

between males and females,that encourageddaughtersto develop professional

aspirations,and that allowed daughtersto envision themselvesin many roles, including

thosereservedfor sons" (Hill-Miller 30). Shewas singledout as one who was singularly

greatand evidently still had in mind to realize this, to dernonstratethis to the literary

world, well past her writing of Frankenstein. Mary aimed to be "Victorious."

Frankenstein'spride is surely that of her own.

And of the result of Frankenstein'spride--his "monster": is there any evidencein

Mary's life to shed light on why the monster appearsin the novel? Hill-Miller continues:

[But] [t]o say that William Godwin gave his oldest natural daughterthe aspiration and
training necessaryto make her a writer--that is, all the expectationsof literary
inheritance and sonship--isnot to say that their relationship was always warm and
affectionate. Quite the contrary: Godwin was emotionally withdrawn and often cold;
he knew, ffid his children saw, that effirsive displays of tender feeling were generally
beyond his emotional gasp. . . . Mary Shelley eventually attributed her father's
emotional distanceto his shynessand to inability to grasphis children's feelings
quickly. (Hill-Miller 25)

We may seehere the best evidencefor an ffgument that Shelley createsFrankenstein's

monster for the very purpose of exploring her own childhood, perhapsto seeif her

difficulties in her adolescencewere due to somethingthat went wrong earlier--perhaps

somethingshedid, or was,that madeher worthy of being disownedat adolescence?We

recall the monsteraskinghimself, "Was I, then,a monster,a blot uponthe earth,from

which all menfled andwhomall mendisowned?"(117).

We mustn't be over-hasty,thougb,to assumethat the monsteris meaningfirlly
. \ .- I
\ | understoodasa single ertity, a singlebeing, at all, becausetlere is evideircethat the
\n I
'' monsterswitchesidentitiesat varioustimesin the novel, sometimesrepresentingMary
,1 |
L r.o'
Shelleyand sometimesrqnesentingher own father. Note the passagewherethe monster
\ chastisesFrankensteintelling him to "[b]e calm I intueatyou to hearme" (96) and asks
,s \ /
J^ .l
/ ) , \') -
L oo [h]ave I not sufferedenougb,that you seekto increasemy miserf Life, althoughit
^ "a gz- may only be an accumulationof anguish, is dearto me, andI will defendit. . . . I was
rJ' ^- +.1.\ benevolentandgood;miserymademe a find. Make me happy,and I shall againbe
\' t (96-97).

Therearesimilaritiesbetweenthis passage,
I think, anda passagefrom a letterwritten

from Frankenstein'sfatherto his son:

ComedearestVictor; you alonecanconsoleElizabeth. Sheweepscontinuallyand
accusesherselfunjustlyasthe causeof his death;her wordspiercemy heart. We are
all unhappy,but will not thatbe an additionalmotive for you,my son,to returnandbe
our comforter?(70)

to satisff themwith
Both the fatherandthe monsteraremakingappealsto Frankenstein

a deedthat only he canprovide. Both explainthatthey aresuffering,andoffer us a sense

is feeling--hisown "selfish"
that their sufferingsurelydwarfswhateverFrankenstein

thusthe fatherlyappealto family duties,to commondecency,andthe

fatherlyaddressof "ComeVictor" and"be calmI entreatyou to hearme" we hearfrom

father and monster. This sttmekind of addressis often usedin Shelley's own father's

letters to her.

There is psychological evidencethat the children who have "lords of the imagination"

who protect them in childhood have them turn to castigatingmonsterswhen the children

enter adolescence.Lloyd deMausetells us that:

[C]hildren usually feel guilty about being traumatized. "I must have been too noisy,
becausemommy left me" was my sincerebelief when my mother left my father. I
also believed I deservedmy father's strappingsbecauseI wasn't obedientenough.
This is why children set up a separate,internal self as a "protector" to try to stop
themselvesfrom ever being noisy, pushy, sexual, demanding,in fact, to stop them
from growing and thus re-experiencingtrauma. At first, theseinternal "protectors"
are friendly; sometimesthey are representedas imaginary playmates or even as
protective alters . . . Later, particularly when adolescencebrings on opportunities for
greater exploration and especially dating [important to note in regardsto Keats' "Ode
'have had
to a Grecian U*"], theseprotective selvesbecomepersecutoryselvesthat
it" with the host self and actually try to harm it. Their persecutoryself says,"It's not
happeningto me, it's happeningto her, and shedeservesit! (DeMause6)

While Frankenstein's "lords of the imagination" 'oencourage"acts of hubris, the monster

reads and contemplatesin books powerful voices which try to caution him against over-

ambition. These include Volney's Ruins of Empires, with its moral lessonsskimmed

from the de-generationof once greatempires; and Plutarch's Lives, which led him "to

admire peaceablelawgivers, Numa, Solon, and Lycurgus, in preferenceto Romulus and

Theseus" (125); and Milton's Paradise Lost, which has him reflect that he had "allowed .

. . [his] thoughts, uncheckedby reason,to rarrble in the fields of Paradise,and dared to

fancy amiable and lovely creaturessympathisingwith my feelings and cheering my

gloom" (127). Many readersend up sympathizingwith the monster, and seemalmost to

hate Frankenstein,and what he supposedlyrepresents,perhapsthis is partially because

the monster heedsvoices which tell of his fallibility, his imperfectability, while Shelley

heedvoiceswhich amountto spursto humanaspirationandclaimsof


DeMause comments on the consequencesof parental abandonmentestablishingthat

this kind of injury is more painful than physical injuries, and have the sort of potentially

for childrenthatHill-Miller believesit hadfor Shelley:

Traumas are defined as injuries to the private self, rather than just painful experiences,
since non-painful injuries to the self . . . are more traumatic to the self than, soy, more
painful accidents. Without a well-developed, enduring private self people feel
threatenedby all progress,all freedom, all new challenges,and then experience
annihilation anxiety, fears that the fragile self is disintegrating, since situations that
call for self-assertiontrigger memories of . . . abandonment. Masterson calls this by
the umbrella term "abandonmentdepressions,"beneathwhich he says,"ride the Six
Horsemenof the PsychicApocalypse: Depression,Panic,Rage,Guilt, Helplessness
(hopelessness), and Emptiness(void) [that] wreak havoc acrossthe psychic landscape
leaving pain and terror in their wake." Whether the early traumas or rejections were
becausethe . . . [parents] were openly abandoning,over-controlling and abusive,
clinging, or just threatenedby the child's emerging individuation, the results are much
the same--thechild learns to fear parts of his or her potential self that threatensthe
disapprovalor loss of the . . . parent. (DeMause7)

I think we seehere why Frankensteinrejects (he doesthis at least a couple of times) the

old philosophers that his father disapprovesof, and why he eventually leavesuniversity,

after constantly being chided for his distanceby his father, to return home.

But returning home, re-merging with the parent has horrible consequencestoo.

DeMausetells us that accordingto Socarides:

. . . fears of growth, individuation, and self assertionthat ca:ry threatening feelings of
disintegration lead to desiresto merge with the omnipotent mother literally to crawl
back into the womb desireswhich immediately turn into fears of maternal engulfinent,
sincethe merging would involve total loss of the self. When Socarides'patientsmake
moves to individuate--like moving into their own apartmentor getting a new job--they
have dreamsof being swallowedby whirlpools of devouredby monsters. The only
salvation from thesematernal engulfment wishes/fearsis a "flight to external reality
from internal reality . . . (DeMause 7)

The need to fly away to an external reality, to flee the "maternal" home, away from

internal reality, may be what Frankensteinis doing when he leaveshis family to wander

through the valleys, and why this sublime landscape,though it "did not remove . . . [his]

gnef, . . . titl subduedand tranquillisedit" (93). He tells us as much himself:

"Sometimes I could cope with the sullen despairthat over-whelmed me; but sometimes

the whirlwind passionsof my soul drove me to seek,by bodily exerciseand by changeof

place, somerelief from my intolerablesensations"(91).

DeMause does not believe that trauma unavoidably leads to certain self-destructive, or

self-denyrng thoughts, ffid behaviours. So long as the memories "are not dissociated,if

they can be rememberedby the consciousmind, they are not split off' (DeMause 7) they

can avoid "blamin . . .[ing] themselvesfor their persecution"(DeMause7). Peoplewho

seetherapists are often "defended" by therapistswho say their patients are not amongst

society's sickest, but amongstits bravest: they, (the patients) evident by the very

decision to seekhelp, are aware "that somethinghas gone wrong." DeMause describes

one of Masterson's patients who should remind us strongly of Frankensteinand his

feelings felt before and after his act of hubris:

I was walking down the streetand suddenly I was engulfed in a feeling of absolute
freedom. I could taste it. I knew I was capableof dong whatever I wanted. When I
looked at other people, I really saw them without being concernedabout how they
were looking at me . . . I was just being myself and thought that I had uncoveredthe
secret of lfe: being in touch with your own feelings and expressingthem openly with
others, not worrylng so much about how others felt about you. Then just as suddenly
as it came, it disappeared. I panicked and startedthinking about the million things I
had to do at the sfudio, of errandsI neededto run after work. I began to feel nauseous
and started sweating. I headedfor my apartment,running most of the way. When I
got in, I felt that I had been pursued. By what? Freedom, I guess.(DeMause 8)

nh.g^\5\S-l =
r\ f
u t't i/6\/

This existentialmomentof self-beliefmatcheswell with Frankenstein's
thinking that lead

him to discover"the secretof life":

Whence,I often askedmyself,did the principleof life proceed?It wasa bold
question,ffid onewhich haseverbeenconsideredasa mystery;yet with how many
thingsarewe uponthe brink of becomingacquainted, if cowardiceor carelessnessdid
not restrainour enquiries.I revolvedthesecircumstances in my mind, anddetermined
thenceforthto applymyself.. . . t.] I becameacquainted with the scienceof anatomy..
. t.l I do not ever rememberto havetrembled. . . or to havefeared. . . t.l I wasled
to examine. . . t;] I saw. . . the fine form ofman . . . t.l I beheldthe comrptionof
death. . . t.] I sawhow the worm inheritedthe wondersof the eyeandbrain. I
paused,examiningandanalysingall theminutiaeof causation,asexemplifiedin the
changefrom life to death,anddeathto life, until from themidst of this darknessa
suddenlight brokein uponme--alight sobrilliant andwondrous,yet so simple,that
while I becamedizzy with the immensityof theprospectwhich it illustrated,I was
surprised,that amongsomanymenof geniuswho haddirectedtheir enquiriestowards
the samescience,that I aloneshouldbe reservedto discoverso astonishinga secret.. .
. The astonishment which I hadat first experienced on this discoverysoongaveplace
to delightandrapture.. . (55-56)

of . . . [his] toils" (56) he experiences
But afterhe beholds"the accomplishment "an

anxietythat almostamountedto agony''(56). And this transformation,from absolute

blissto absolutepanicor miseryis similarto thatexperienced patient:
by Mastersons's

The differentaccidentsarenot so changeable asthe feelingsof humannature. I had
workedhardfor nearlytwo years,for the solepurposeof infusinglife into an
inanimatebody. For this I haddeprivedmyselfof restandhealth. I had desiredit
with an ardourthat far exceededmoderation;but now that I hadfinished,the beautyof
the dreamvanished,andbreathless horror anddisgustfilled my heart. Unableto
endurethe aspectof the beingI hadcreated,I rushedout of the room, andcontinueda
long time traversingmy bedchamber, unableto composemy mind to sleep.(56;my

The pleasureof profoundaccomplishment himself asapartfrom others
that distinguishes

leadsto a "flight to externalreality."

But Shelley,in returningagainandagainto a momentin Frankensteinwherepleasure

turnsto pain is, in my mind, attemptingto bring to consciousness
the reasonthese

phenomenaseemto her necessarilycoupled.I do not think that sheis entirelysuccessful

in this attemptin thebookjust asshewasnot in life. Accordingto Hill-Miller, o'Mary

Godwinplacedall the blamefor family turmoil on her stepmotherandinsistedupon

holdingher belovedfatherasblameless.Whenher fatherrefusedto speakto her . . . after

her elopementwith PercyByssheShelley,shewascertain. . . [the stepmother]wasto

blame"(Hill-Miller 33-34). Acceptingthather fatheris at fault is nearlyimpossibleto

acknowledgebecauseit amountsto sacrilege:puttingthe fault on "saintly'' otherslike her

sheshowssignsthatthe fault at leastmay not be
father. But, in blamingher stepmother,

her [Shelley's]own, andI think therearestrongsignsthat Shelley,throughFrankenstein,

lies in
is to someextentrealizingthat any solutionto, andresolutionof, self-castigation

figuring out a way to ignoreher father'svoice. This solution,I think, is somethingsheis

becausethoughhe is eternallydamned,this offers,

blesseshim with a wondrousnewpoweraswe shallnow see.

is recoveringfrom illness,his doctor,Mr. Kirwin,
Late in the book whenFrankenstein

exclaims"in a ratherseveretone" (174) (thoughnotethat Frankenstein
will remarkabout

his first reflectionsof Mr. Kirwin: o'Isoonlearnedthat Mr. Kirwin had shownme

extremekindness":his first intuition to doubtauthoritycannotbe sustained(172)): I

shouldhavethought,youngman,thatthe presenceof your fatherwould havebeen

welcomeinsteadof inspiringsuchviolent repugnance"(174). Frankensteinwill now tell

his fatherthe real reasonbehindhis "madness"thathe previouslyhadnot beenableto

sharewith anyone.His fatherlistensto him and"with an expressionof unbounded

wonder"(180),says"My dearestVictor, whatinfafuationis this? My dearson,I entreat

youneverto make such an assertionagain" (180). But Frankensteindoesnot acquiesce.

Instead,he "energetically" cries out: 'I am not mad, . . . the sun and the heavens,who

have viewed my operations,can bear witness of my truth. I am the assassinof those most

innocent victims; they died by my machinations"(180). Shelleytells us that "[t]he

conclusionof this speechconvinced. . . [Frankenstein's]fatherthat. . . [his] ideaswere

deranged,and he [the father] instantly changedthe subject of our conversation" (180). I

think this is arcplay of Frankenstein'schildhood encounterwith his father where

Frankenstein's own explorations were belittled as mere nonsense;but this time his father

is not "ight," but overhasty: this time his father is undoubtedly "wrong." And this time

Frankensteindoesnot belittle his own belief as false imaginings as he did as a child

becausehe knows himself to be correct, to be "right." It is an encounterbetween two

minds where the father shows himself to have the smaller imagination.

Moreover, we have a sensethat when the father turns to other subjects,that the son is

no longer listening; a crucial moment has occurreCand Frankensteinis now, in a sense,

free of his father's opinions andjudgements. Frankensteinknows himself to know

himself better than his father does. Perhapsthe significance of this moment is such that

the deathsof his family which follow, which now include both Elizabeth and his father,

amounts to external evidenceof his internal realization of a way to be free from inner

conflict. He neededto figure out a way in which his father could still remain a "good"

man, and where his own independencemakes him a "bad" one, but where this very

of goodnessas
distinction is liberating. He finds one in the "Blakean" assessment

innocence, as inexperience,and badnessas comrption through experience. He no longer

heedshis father's advice or listens to his reprimandsto be happy, abandonhis studies,or

to turn from his pleasuresto thoughtsof his [Frankenstein's]
family, becausehis fatheris

in a sensethe child: he cannotunderstand
the truthsavailableto Frankenstein

own greaterexperienceof the truthsof the world offer him. Frankenstein

thatman's"superior. . .[sensibilities]
to thoseapparentin thebrute. . .

only rendersthemmorenecessary
beings"(94),andthat "[i]f our impulseswereconfined

to hunger,thirst, anddesire,we might be nearlyfree" (94),hasfound a way to claim

freedomwithout denyinghis superiorintellectualcapacities.For Shelley,I think that this

amountsto a refusalto falselyconfessthe wrongnessof her own thinking in favourof

adoptingher father's.

In Frankenstein's
last conversation is
with his father,we seethat Frankenstein

attendingto othervoices. Thereis no explorationof his father'slessons;instead

mimicking,claiming,the authorityof his father,offersus a short,cursory

comment:"Suchwerethe lessonsof my father."(184). Frankenstein's
mind is on his

own creation,his own monster.Becausehe canno longerbe reached,no longerbe

is alonewith his monster.This, to manycritics,is
understoodby "man," Frankenstein

hubris. I believe,instead,that this is
the punishmentof Frankenstein's
the consequence,

a stateShelleyherselfwas strugglingfor--notto be apartfrom man,to but be ableto

thinking. As Brandenremarks,"We
of independent
tolerateandappreciatethe aloneness

aresocialanimals[,]. . . [w]hile it may sometimes we do not normally
be necessary,
enjoylong periodsof beingalienatedfrom the thinking andbeliefsof thosearoundus,

especiallythosewe respectandlove. [Thus] [o]neof the mostimportantformsof

the heroismof thought:the willingnessto
heroismis the heroismof consciousness,

toleratealoneness"(Branden50). Shelley,throughFrankenstein,
finds self-

consciousnessdifficult, becauseher father wants her to turn her thoughts to her family

when she experiencesthe pleasuresof her own activity, her own creations,her own

thoughts, or even the pleasureof directing her affections towards those outside her family

circle.z She is therefore exploiting, through Frankenstein,the logic of her father's

"commands" in imagining herself surroundedby a cloud of melancholy that purportedly

makes experiencing true pleasureimpossible. Might it, though, allow her to be free?

But is Frankensteinno longer happy? We know that even when he claims himself

immune to happiness,and that, for example,praise actually give him pain, he still takes

the time to describethe specific nature of the praise. In the presenceof his good friend

Clerval, Frankensteintells us that though this gave him pain, ffid presumably still does

when he tells of the encounter,he neverthelessoffers a full account of the praise:

why, M. Clerval,I assureyou he hasoutstriptus all. Ay, stareif you please;but it is
true. A youngsterwho but a few yearsago,believedin Cornelius
Agnppa asfirmly asin the Gospel,hasnow sethimselfat the headof the university;

' Percy Shelley changed Mary's original wording of the scenewhen Frankenstein discusseshis
neglect of his family while immersing himself in his own work from "I wished, as it were, to procrastinate
my feelings of affection, until the great object of my affections was completed" to "I wished, as it were, to
procrastinate all that related to my feelings of affections until the great object, which swallowed up every
habit of my nature, should be completed" (Mellor 63). Mary's statementbetter brings to our attention that
what she is struggling with as she grows up is a sensethat all of her attention that she would like to direct to
her husband, or her own circle of friendsois, becauseit is directed to those other than her father amounts to
a kind of crime (it may even be the real source of Mary's father's judgement of her as having committed "a
crime" in her stay on the Continent). Her own phrasing also makes the similarity between Mary's dilemma
and Keats' even more explicit.

and if he is not soon pulled down, we shall all be out of countenance.-- Ay, ay, . . .
Mr. Frankensteinis modest, ffi excellent quality in a young man. Young men should
be diffident of themselves,you know, Mr. Clerval; I was myself when young, but that
wears out in a very short time. (66)

Frankensteinwould have us believe that he experiencesno pleasurein, not only such

high praise, but high praise from one who doesnot believe that greataccomplishments

are necessarilyimmodest ones. If greatnesscan be achievedby modest people, perhaps

happiness,and freedom can be experiencedby the melancholic?

Frankensteincontinues to astonishand amazepeople until his death. We remember

Walton's "astonishment on hearing such a question addressedto . . . [him] from a man on

the brink of destruction" (24). And though some doubt whether Walton is a trustworthy

narator, I believe that his assessmentof Frankensteinis exactly right--at least when he

concludes: "Such a man has a double existence:he may suffer misery and be

overwhelmed by disappointments,yet, when he has retired into himself, he will be like a

celestial spirit, that has a halo around him, within whose circle no grief or folly ventures"

(28). Shelley, through Frankenstein,has offered herself a kind of self-acceptancefor her

own consideration,where, though it amountsto internalizing"badness," it also meansto

no longer be at war with oneself. It doesnot amount to stasis;just the opposite is the

case: it offers him the potential to change,improve, evolve, precisely becauseit offers

resolution to inhibiting inner conflicts. Frankensteinis not consistently at peace,he still

suffers gnef and miseries, but as Walton obsenres,he now has the ability to recover from

them and continue on his journey. Yes, I know, Frankensteinperishesalong the way--but

does this representproof, for Shelley, of the truenessof the moral of the story, or, having

used Frankensteinto achieve for herself a kind of solution. does satisfaction of discovery

replacethe energyof innertoil that drivesthe writing of thebook,the telling of the tale,

makingit simply the appropriatetime to put downthe pen?

Silly thought? Considerhow manypeopleconsiderthe ending of HuckleberryFinn,

where,after a crucialmomentof Huck's confrontationwith Godthat we intuitively felt

asthe main protagonistashe
the book wasleadingtoo, Huck is moreor lessabandoned

meeklyfollows, what amountsto, the furtheradventures
of Tom Sawyer. Both Twain

andShelleywereusingtheir charactersfor their own crucialexplorationsandwhenthey

createa situationfor their protagonists, that offersa terrifying,but
for themselves,

fascinating,andmaybepossibleand"right," "solution,"it is time to distancethemselves

from the creationeitherby endingthe book,or insertingin someotherprotagonistto

caffythe actionthat doesascloselyrepresentthemselves.The insightis hoardedawayto

OS be exploredsomeothertime.

WendySteinerin an introductionto Frankenstein,newly releasedasoneof the

polar adventuredoes
ModernLibrary PaperbackClassics,believesthat Frankenstein's

for Frankenstein.Shearguesthatthe endingamountsto a
not offer transcendence

critiqueby Mary Shelleyof the sublime.Her reasoning
is asfollows:

The sublimetakesindividualsout of their time andplaceandlifts theminto what
v Mary Shelleyportraysasa deathly,inhumantranscendence. Of course,in Kant and
Burke,this liberationfrom the hereandnow is the supremeachievementof the
imagination,but it is clearthat Mary Shelleydisagreed.Frankenstein spendsmostof
his time in the Alps or on the polar ice cap,the archetypallandscapes the sublime;
by contrastthe RhineValley, wherehe travelswith Henry,is a romanticsettingof
gentlerbeauty. "The mountainsof Switzerland,"he says,"are moremajesticand
strange,but thereis a charmin thebanksof this divineriver that I neverbeforesaw
equalled.""Charm" is a termthat Kant slightinglyassociates with "the agreeable"--
meretriciousbeauty,sentiment,the allureof surfaces.If Frankenstein's puretaste
cravesthe self-annihilating sublime,Mary Shelley'sbeliefin "the amiableness of
domesticaffection,andthe excellenceof universalvirtue" finds its analoguein the
aestheticof Charm.(Steinerxix)

tries to makea firm distinctionbetweenthe sublimeandthe picturesque,

maybethis helpedfool Steinerbecause
"the amiableness
of domesticaffection"most

is in the Alps. Travellingthroughthe valley of

makesthe distinctionthat "this valley is morewonderfuland

sublime,but no sobeautifulandpicfuresque,
asthatof Servox"(91),but of the entire

journey of the Alps, includinghavelingthroughthe 'high andsnowymountains,and

beholdingthe "supremeandmagnificentMont Blanc" (92),Frankenstein
tells us:

A tingling log-lost senseof pleasureoften came acrossme during this journey. Some
turn in the road, some new object suddenlyperceived and recognised,reminded
me of days gone by, and were associatedwith the light-hearted gaiety of boyhood.
The very winds whispered in soothing accents,and maternal nature bade me weep no
more. . . . [W]atching the pallid lightnings that played above Mont Blanc, and
listening to the rushing of the Arve . . . the samelulling soundsacted as a lullaby to
my too keen sensations.(92)

Mont Blanc is itself "cuddled" by the'Aast river of ice . . . [which] wound among its

dependentmountains" (95). I do not believe that being reminded of the "light-hearted

gaiety of boyhood" is what Steinermeant in stating that the sublime brings about

thoughts of transcendencefrom the here and now, ffid I doubt that Shelley could imagine

any landscapemore soothing, more "gentle," than shehas Frankensteinimagine the Alps.

It certainly does not seema deathly or inhuman sort of transcendenceeither. And there is

more a senseof cocooningthan self-annihilationin this passage.No: Shelley is not

criticizing the sublime landscapehere, and the key word is not "charm" but, rather,joy:

joy in nature offering, after travels in any region, a moment of serenity, a moment of

fulfillment. And this word surfacescontemplatingnature whether in the Rhine, the Alps

or in the polarregion.

the northernoceanof ice, Frankenstein

The Greekswept for joy whentheybeheldthe Mediterranean from the hills of Asia,
andhailedwith rapturetheboundaryof their toils. I did not weep,but I knelt down,
ffid, with a fuIl heart,thankedmy guldingspirit for conductingme in safetyto the
placewhereI hoped,notwithstanding my adversary'sBrvo,to meetandgrapple
with him. (199)

This thankingof spiritsfor the chanceto grapplehis creatureis not madness--itis the real

is now capableof feelingnow thathe is hasfirmly decidedhe will

to the demandsol his confessor.He
confront,ratherthanbe intimidatedby, or acquiesce

diesbeforehe hasthe chance,but the monstergiveswhat amountsto an accountof

FrankensteinandShelley'sstrange,but true,triumph: "Yet whenshedied!--nay,thenI

wasnot miserable.I had castoff all feeling,subduedall anguish,to riot in the excessof

my despair.Evil thenceforthbecamemy good" (212).
Steinerts right, though,to noticethat "the plot of Frankensteinis a demonicparodyof
Gs g ,-
the epiphanic"spotsof time" in Wordsworth'sPrelude.Everyepisodein the novel is the

\,,, sirmetraumanightmarishlyrepeated:the lossof a lovedone" (Steinerxix). WhereI

differ with Steineris that I believethe purposeof repeatingthis momentendlesslyis not

of hubris,to offer the samemoral lesson,over andover again,
to offer the consequences

but ratherto assisther in a searchfor a solutionto a traumatizingfeelingof abandonment,

whenpleasureturnedto pain,that hauntsShelleyat the time of writing of Frankenstein.

The solutionis not mundane--ittakesa wide knowledgeof the way "peoplework" along

with the ability not to denywhat oneknowsat somelevel to be true,in orderto "see" it

perhaps--butit is a Romanticone(where"Evil thenceforthbecamemy good" (212)) that

rivals (andcloselyresembles)
the oddity,andrqnarkableness,
of Keats'own solutionto

a similar momentin time, in his own life, thathe alsocannothelp but obsessover.

Beforeimaginingfor himselfa solution,Frankenstein
satisfieshimselfwith moments

where"a truce. . .[is] established
betweenthe presenthour andthe irresistible,disastrous

future"(178). I believethis is thehappiness
Keatsexperiences the

urn. I mentionedearlierthat somepsychologists
notethatthe onsetof datingin

bringsaboutactualrejectionby parents.The reasonis becausedating,like

motherhood,amountsto directingattention,directingyour pleasures,
to someoneelse

otherthanparents.We saw, in Frankenstein,the fathertelling Frankensteinto furn his

attentionto his family whenhe feelspleasure,ffid we learnfrom Hill-Miller that

Shelley'sfatherwas greatlydispleased
with her daughter'sdecisionto elopewith Percy

Shelley. In "Ode to a Grecianl-Jfir,"we havea momentof two loversfrozenjust asthey

areaboutto kiss"[t]houghwinningnearthe goal"(line18). This imageis followedby an

investigationof anotherimageon the urn--thatof townsfolkcomingto a sacrifice. These

two imagesarein a senseplacedtogetherasa kind of "beforeandafter." By being

frozenin time, the loversaresavednot simply from experiencingtheir own sure

inconstancyin love, andthe slow effectsof agingon beauty,but from the effectsof their

own humancommunity'sjudgementof themif they wereableto consummate
their love

for oneanother.

The structureof the poempits the idealsandstrivingsof youthagainstthe cold

judgementsof parents.The work beginswith the narrator,excitedby what he seeson the

urn, eagerlyaskingquestions:"What menor godsarethese?What maidensloath? I

What madpursuit? What struggleto escape?Whatpipesandtimbrels? What wild

(lines8-10). He, like WaltoninFrankenstein,
ecstasy?" is "by. . .[his]eagerness
and. . .

wonderandhope. . . expressfing]. . . that [he] expect[s]to be informedof the secretwith

which . . . [theurn is] acquainted"(51). We rememberthat in Frankenstein,Frankenstein

refusesto "lead . . . [Walton] on to . . . [his] destructionandinfallible misery" 6l-52).

aswe remember,instead,respondsto Walton'sdisplayof rapt attentionby

moralizingto him telling him 'how muchhappierthatmanis who believeshis native

town to be the world, thanhe who aspiresto becomegreaterthanhis naturewill allow"

(52). Similarly,the urn, in a sense,attemptsto stopthe narrator'sover-eagerandperilous

investigations,supposedly"out of friendship,"as"a friend to man," (line 48) and

moralizes,"Beautyis truth, truth beauty,"--thatis all I Ye know on earth,ffid all ye need

to know" (lines49-50).

Apparentlytheselast two linesareamongstthe mostfamousin literature. To me the

reasonfor this is obvious. Theselinesrepresentthe voiceof our own parents,andthe

hadin our own lives on the aspirationsof our youth.

Works that manifestthis voice,alongsideanotherwhich callsits wisdominto question,

with artisticskill andpower,I believe,becauseit represents
a kind of psychic

entanglement areprobablycharacteristic
of mostworks

that last throughthe ages. Somecriticsbelievetheselast two linesrepresentKeats'

of truthsfor "man" (Lyon
firmly held conclusions,arisingfrom his own investigations,

45) . SidneyColvin saysthat "amidstthe gropingsof reasonandthe flux of things,

[truth is beauty,beautyis truth] is to thepoetandanisF-atleastto oneof Keats' temper--

an immutablelaw" (Lyon 45). Othershavean adversereactionto the concludingaxiom

believingeitherthat it is poeticallyjolting, self-evidentlyfalse,or a voice of the urn

which is distinctfrom Keats'own.

William Wilkinsonbelievesthatthe "idea of "truth" . . . [is] foistedin with violence"

(Lyon 49), andthat this upsetsboth thebeautyandbelievabilityof the poem. He

proceedsto createa "better"endingwhere"[b]eautyis joy'' (Lyon 49). H. W. Garrod

believesthat "every reader.. . in somedegreefeelsthem,feelsa certainuneasiness

the lasttwo lines]" (Lyon 60). RoyallSnowdamnsthemessage:"[t]hat is nonsense

instinctivelywe feel it. Thepoemis sowell lovedpreciselybecausethat appealrs valid

anduniversal.Thoughwe cravea solutionof the questionstransiencyraisesin our

minds,we scarcelycravethis solutiononceits implicationsbecomeclear"(Lyon 62;his

emphasis).Snowinvestigateswhetherit is possiblethat "Keatsnevereithermeantnor

madesucha statementas"Beautyis truth?"" (Lyon 62). He concludesthat Keatsdid

hasbeentakenout of context. Snow,though,
not--thetroubleis that the message

throughoutthe poem. Like
believesthat thereis a consistentsinglevoiceencountered

F.R. Leavis,he believesthat "[t]he propositionis strictly in keepingwith the attitude

concretelyembodiedin thepoem"(Lyon 78). Othersbelievetheriddleof the lasttwo

linesis solvedby recourseto textualanalysiswherewe learnthat the last two lines

representa message'lrtteredby the urn without anyinterferenceon the part of the poet"

(Lyon1l l).

The sheerfact that there area varietyof opinionshereis refreshingcomparedwith the

nearabsenceof mentalwrestlingoverwhetherFrankenstein's

Walton is in fact an expressionof Shelley'sown "philosophy." Thebestwe get in

that Shelley'swarning"howeverreasoned
commentsof Frankensteinis the suggestion

anderudite.. . hassoundedtimid next to the heroeschallengeof Frankensteinian

and posterity has preferred horror over healing" (Steiner xx). In short, most critics do not

explore, as they do with Keats' "Ode to a Grecian IJm," whether the moralizingvoice is

not,in a sense,the voice of the writer. Neither work is simply the'playing out" of a

philosophical conclusion either writer has arrived at after their own investigations and

explorations. Instead,both are articulations, a '\vorking out," of a life experiencethat

haunts them enough to affernptto find a solution in the very writing of the worla.

In both works there is the staging together of the warring elementsof youthful

ambition versusparental intimidation. Keats usesthe image of the young lovers in the

sameway Shelley usesthe severalexplorations of childhood readings and ambitions--or

even, as we have seen,mountain scenesthat remind her of the same--tobring to his mind

a pleasurehe knows to be real,knows to be possible,so that he comesclose to mimicking

the mood of the lovers. ClarenceThorpe concurs:

[T]he symbols executedhere, themselvesa product of mind and soul, still contain
within themselvesa dynamic somethingthat has power to kindle the imagination of a
sympathetic observer,who . . . is able to re-createthe particular bits of life[.] [T]he
image [of the young lovers] comesto the mind of Keats in apleasurablewave of
recognition. It is pleasurablebecausehe detects,starting out at him from the fair
chiselled form, waves of intuitive whisperings that seizehis imagination and set it
aflame[.] (Lyon 58-59)

I differ only in suggestingthat what "kind|fiingl the imagination" (Lyon 59) of a
sympathetic observer amountsto is merging with the image as a kind of participant in the

scene,and that the "pleasurablewave of recognition" is not the secondhand recognition

of a sernblanceto one's own experiences,but the result of the more direct re-

experiencing through an image of one's very own past.

The critic I am in most sympathy with agreesthat the poem represents,though

disguised, a moment from Keats' own past. Albert Mordell believes that "emotions

connectedwith Fanny Brawne [a woman Keats had a love affair with] inspired his two

most famous odes . . . [including] to the Grecian Urn. According to Mordell, "Keats saw

a resemblancebetween himself and that youth. He, too, was winning and near the goal,

and he no more had her love than did the youth on the urn. . . . He had to accepthis lot

and pretend to seesome advantagein it as he did in that of the youth on the urn" (Lyon

53). What Mordell does not articulate for us though is why Keats might find himself in a

situation where he could not, or was unableto, accomplishhis goal.

The reasonis the sameas for Frankensteinwho, even when he "appearedalmost

within gasp of . . . [his] foe, . . . [his] hopeswere suddenly extinguished" (201).

Consummation of any moment of what would make one truly happy is often one where

pleasureturns to pain. Branden remarks, after "[he] had the opportunity to work with

many thousandsof people in a variety of professionalcontextsand settings[,] . . . [he] is

absolutely persuadedthat happinessanxiety is one of our most widespread and least

understoodproblems" (Branden9l). He continues:

Many people feel they do not deservehappiness,are not entitled to happiness,have no
right to the fulfillment of their emotional needsand wants. Often they feel that if they
are happy, either their happinesswill be taken away from them, or something terrible
will happento counterbalanceit, someunspeakablepunishment or tragedy. (Branden

ThroughdeMause,I'vs alreadyexplainedthat "happinessanxiety''is so widespread

becauseit somethingmost of us experiencesimplyby growingup. But Brandenalso

notesthatto stopandreflecton one'stroubles,in searchof resolvinganxieties,is

unusual. Oneof the reasonsfor this is becausepeoplefearthat "if they everstopand

look inside, they may discover "there's nothing there" (Branden 93). Rather than reflect

and attempt to resolve re-occurring anxious experiences,most often, when feeling

anxiety, "[i]n order to make it more bearable,it is commonly converted into specific,

tangible fears, which might seemto have some semblanceof plausibility of the

circumstancesof one's life . . .[but which amount to] a smokescreenand defence against

an anxiety whose roots lie in the core experienceof self' (BrandenT9).If we acceptthis

as true, if this sceneof two lovers representsa situation from Keats' own life, then by this

very fact, Morrell is wrong to imagine Keats as a kind of coward.

I would say it is true, though, that Keats, as with and along with Shelley, is imagining

what it might feel like if he pretendedit true that "Heard melodies are sweet,but those

unheard I Are sweeter"(lines ll-12). He is "trying this rationaLizationon" just as

Shelley was "trying on" the idea that it is best to live modestly--quietly--ilmongst friends

and family in her native town. Both, though, have too high a "self-esteem" to be satisfied

with this solution for:

one of the characteristicsof high self-esteemis an eagernessforthe new and the
challenging, for that which will allow an individual to use his or her capacitiesto the
fullest extent--just as a fondnessfor the familiar, the routine, and the unexacting
coupled with a fear of the new and the difficult is a virtually unmistakable indication
of low self-esteem.(Branden90)

We have discussedShelley's eventualsolution and we will now discussKeats'; but first I

will offer a brief explanation of why I believe we should imagine that the image of the

village sacrifice is intertwined with the image of the young lovers, rather than being

separate,ffid distinct from the image of the lovers.

The poem, of course,begins with talk of pursuits, strugglesto escape,along with

maidensandwild ecstasy.The line, "Who arethesecomingto the sacrifice?"(line31)

follows only threelines after"Al1 breathinghumanpassionfar above,"(line 28) so they

are,moreor less,two imageswhich flow textuallyfrom oneto the other. From the line
o'Lead'stthouthatheiferlowin at the skies,"(line 33) we know thatit is a heifer,a young

cow, which is to be sacrificed.The sacrificeof animalsin antiquitywas actuallyan

evolutionin the barbaricritual of sacrifice: previouslysacrificeswerehuman--young

thatthe heiferis a metaphorfor Keatsof
men andwomen. All we requireto understand

younglovers,andthat the two imagesarelinked togetherpreciselyfor the purposeof

the troublingmomentwhenpleasureturnedto pain,
representingfor Keats' consideration

that datingoftenleadsto parentalrejection--children
is an awareness areoften
o'sacrificed"astheybeginto focuson the outerworld in additionto their family, where

beforethey worshippedtheir parentsandimaginedtheir family aspracticallyall the


Keats'own Romanticsolutionto the
Keats' "Ode to Melancholy,"I think, represents

terrifying pain of parentalrejection. Ratherthansimply acquiesceto parentsby
internalizingtheir codeashis own, Keatsoffersa Vry'scnption for continuing

explorationsin the very teethof pain. It is ironic that a poemthatbeginswith "death

moths,"(line 6) and"mournful Psyche"(line 7) ratherthanthe "flowery tale" (line 4) and

"wild ecstasy''(line 10) of "Ode to a Grecianl-fnl," is actuallythe moreuplifting of the

two poems. Ratherthana dispiritingcall to abandonexploration,we encounterin "Ode

to Melancholy''a formulato continueon. If all momentsof brrepleasurewill become

momentsof absolutepain,if "Joy. . . Turn. . . [s] to Poisonwhile thebee-mouthsips,"

(line 24) thereis anotheroptionratherthanabandoningdeeppleasuresin preferencefor

'lrnheardmelodies":that is to continuingsipping.

To prescribefeeding"deep,deepupon . . . [the] peerlesseyes"(line 20) of melancholy

amountsin my mind to an admissionthat'heard"melodiesare sweeterthan'hnheard"

ones--theyarejusthavea morepainful after-effect.Same,too, with unconsummated

love. Keatsconcludesthat it is betterto experiencethe painbecauseotherwise"For

shadeto shadewill cometoo drowsily'' (line 9): that is that our experiences
in life will be

mutedones--ashadow,a faint image,of their potential. As Morris Dicksteintells us, the

"permanencethatthe... Keatsnolonger

seekspassivedissolution,freedomfrom the flux andtensionof actuality;he dismisses

that wish, demandspassionate with all its contrary
assaulton the world of experience,

with all its intimationsof mortality'(Dickstein23l).

This is the declarationof a Romantic;in a senseit is not so dissimilarto the kind of

declarationFrankenstein'sfamily hadhopedJustinecapableof. Theybelievedit better

to resist"confessors,"to resistpassivecompliance,for, evenif this leadsto torture,to

"letfting] her [confessors]rave,"(line 19)it alsooffersa senseof self that immunizesone

one'sown integrityto others
to its worst effects!--itoffersan opportunityto demonstrate

andto oneself. Keatsis choosingnot to follow the pathof leastresistance,
to "drown"

his anxietieswith drugsin an attemptto turn themoff. He, instead,declaresthathe will

confront,ild endurethem,sothathe canenjoythe vividnesslife most certainlyhasto


JohnKeatsdied at an earlyage. In light of this we areusedto hearingthat "[n]o one

canreadKeats'poemsandletterswithout anundersense
of immensewasteof so

extraordinaryan intellectandgeniuscut off so early''(Abrams504). Onerarely

this sentimentof regretfrom readersof Frankensteinfor Frankenstein:for his

hubrisof intellectandenergyhe deservedno better. But in comingto this conclusion,a

conclusionI believethatMary Shelleyherselfdid not entirelysubscrib
e tod,andwas
struggling her whole life to resist, are we rewarding ourselveswith the pleasureof a sense

of superiority forbeing "good boys and girls" at the expenseof the experienceof self-

realization to be had by being "bad"? Is it true that happinesslies with moderating our

ambitions and through service to our family? Or is this a lie we tell ourselves,that we

must tell ourselveslest we succumbto regrets,self-condemnation,self-doubt: did we fail

where others might have succeeded?

We praise Shelley for her condemnationof Prometheanover-reach,we shapeher

messageso that it amountsto simply a condemnationof commerce,and science,and are

determined to remain unaware that Frankenstein was surely about young Mary's

explorations of whether she had a right to devote herself to her own husband,her own

creations--toher own needs. We've been there, ws've experiencedher trial, and we

we felt "threatenedand menaced" (8a)--to declaring
know that we succurnbed--because

our own ambitions monstrous. Mary Shelley lived over twice as long as Keats did. She

lived long enough to write after her father's death: "Since I lost Shelley--I have been

alone--& worse--I had my father's fate for many a year a burthenpressing me to the

eartlf'(Hill-Miller 57; my emphasis). After encounteringher early struggles for self-

'\rithout an undersenseof immense waste of so
realization, .I cannot read this

extraordinary an intellect and genius cut off so early'' (Abrams 504). Mary Shelley had

hoped for transcendence,and I wish that shehad been able to achievethis for herself.

Let us learn from her example.

But I ammoralizing. . .

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Branden, Nathani el. Honoring the Self: The Psychology of Confidenceand Respect,
BantamBooks, 1985.

Damrosch, David (general editor) Longman Anthologlt of British Literature Vol.2, New
York: Addison-WesleyLongman, 1999.

DeMause,Lloyd. Childhood and History (Chapter4), Online:

Dickstein, Morris. Keats and His Poetry: A Study in Development,Chicago: University
of Chicago Press,197l.

Hill-Miller, Katherine. "My Hideous Progeny": Mary Shelley, William Godwin, and the
F ather-D aughter Relationsftrp, Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1995.

Lyon, Haruey. Keats' Well-ReadUrn: An Introduction to Literary Method, New York:
Henry Holt and Compffiy, 1958.

Mellor, Anne. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters, New York:

Shelley, Mary. (introduction by Maurice Hindl e) Frankenstein or The Modern

Shelley, Mary. (introduction by Wendy Steiner)Frankenstein or the Modern
(Modern Library PaperbackEdition), Random House, I 999.

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