Tag Archive: percy shelley

Convenient Parallels in Portrayal

We all know that Percy Shelley was Mary Shelley’s alleged drive to finish the Frankenstein novel.  While we are not completely sure of all of his involvement, we can assume that he at least encouraged Mary to complete the novel, and pushed her along.  However, it seems like he has a great deal of influence in the novel, especially the passages regarding Mont Blanc, which he wrote a poem of the same name about as well. Mary repeats some of the ideas that her husband-to-be uses in his poem, as well as some imagery, to perhaps enrich the scene with a more poetic feeling.

On page 74, Mary describes Frankenstein and his surroundings in his journey to Geneva, to “investigate” his brother’s murder.  In Frankenstein’s words, she tells us of the great beauty of the space and mountains, saying “the calm and heavenly scene restored [Frankenstein]” (74), and continues to mention how beautiful it was, as influenced as he was by it being a happier time in his life.  What particularly sticks out when rereading the passage is that in extolling this beautiful landscape, Frankenstein calls out, “Dear mountains! my own beautiful lake! how do you welcome your wanderer?” (74).  While this is not necessarily important on its own, something particular to note of Percy Shelley’s Mont Blanc is that the second section is written in the second person, addressing the “Ravine of Arve.”  In using a similar manner to describe the same nature (while not the exact same body of water), she is clearly invoking some of her husband’s work to help develop this image.

Beyond this, she also does something that not many people likely would think of.  In describing the lake that Frankenstein had just addressed partially, and dark mountains around it, she mentions thunder striking over his head,and “vivid flashes of lightning dazzled my eyes, illuminating the lake, making it appear like a vast sheet of fire” (75).  In describing water as looking similar to flame, she is effectively creating a contrasting image, which builds the character of the scene and is an interesting thing to imagine.  I would commend her greatly for this, but in fact, Percy did a very similar thing in Mont Blanc, as well.  In the same second section, he describes the motion of the river Arve: “Bursting through these dark mountains like the flame / Of lightning through the tempest” (18-19).  She is effectively calling the same image, with lightning and all, as Percy did to describe the river Arve in his own poetry.

While it is unsurprising how you could see parallels between a couple’s work, it seems like Mary asked Percy for some assistance in describing the beauty of the mountain landscape that they together experienced in Geneva.

Change in a Person

Without a doubt, Percy Shelley’s poetry influenced Mary Shelley’s writing of Frankenstein. Once you read Percy’s poetry, it seems to be everywhere in Frankenstein. It is not unsurprising to me, though, that such a literary couple had influence over one another’s works; they must have often shared ideas or passages for critique, and with Mary’s wish for Percy’s approval of her writing, it follows easily that she might use his work to her advantage. This is particularly evident in a reading of Percy’s “Mutability” in conjunction with Victor’s description of his return to Geneva in the first paragraph on page 74 of Frankenstein. Mary Shelley uses “Mutability” to focus the passage on Victor, rather than on the place and situation he describes.

In the passage, Mary Shelley has taken “Mutability,” assigned it a character (Victor), and converted it to prose. The poem has a very polar tone: one minute excited, the next morose. Quick changing feelings abound in the use of adjectives: forgotten, dissonant, frail, wandering, fond, free. Mary takes these feelings and transplants them onto Victor in the entire novel, but specifically this passage. As he returns to Geneva, “at first [he] wished to hurry on” but soon “slackened [his] progress” because he “could hardly sustain the multitude of feelings” (74). The subject of the paragraph becomes the idea that everything in a place that should be familiar could be drastically changed in the time Victor has been away. One of the more striking lines in the passage is “How altered every thing might be during that time” (74), “that time” being the six years Victor was gone. Reading “Mutability” in this passage, though, begs the reader to ask the question, is it the place that Victor is worried has changed, or is it himself? The poem is all about the changes and contradictions that exist inside people, not places. The last lines of the poem are “Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;/ Nought may endure but Mutability.” “Man’s yesterday” the poem reads, not the place he was yesterday, or where he will be tomorrow. His experience of it is different because, in the end, he is different. As I read the poem again, this time as if Mary had written it, I feel myself sneaking in a few words: “Nought may endure [in man] but Mutability.” Mary takes Percy’s extremely accessible poem and converts it to prose; she allows the ideas of changeability and the difference between a changed place and a changed person to sit with the reader, and ultimately, to lead to new questions about Victor’s experience.

Mary and Percy Shelley were a couple so in love that they ran away together, valuing each other over their families and lives in London. They actively encouraged each other’s writing and it was in fact, Percy Shelley who urged Mary to develop Frankenstein beyond the short story it was initially intended to be. Just taking this into account, it isn’t too far a stretch to think that they must have had significant influences on each other’s writing, but on top of this, they each edited and gave input on each other’s works. So it isn’t surprising that Mary Shelley drew on her husband’s poetry in her Frankenstein, to the extent that she basically rewrote bits of the poems in places.

The passages on page 74 beginning “The road ran…” and ending “…destined to endure” are extremely reminiscent of the poem ‘On Mutability’. The poem is about how changeable and ephemeral humans are, in terms of their lifespans as well as the volatile character of their emotions, and this idea is demonstrated in the passage. To begin with, the poem gives a sense of constant movement with words like “speed”. “quiver”, “motion” and “wandering”, while the same sense is rendered in the passage by the phrase “as I drew near home” and the fact that he is traveling the entire time. The last two stanzas of the poem deal with the transitory nature of human emotions, and this can be observed in how Victor’s emotions are jumping from “delight” and “pleasure” to “grief and fear” in a moment. A major concept is also how we never react in the same way to something, when it happens for the second time, which is seen in the lines “Give various response to each varying blast” and “No second motion brings/One mood or modulation like the last”. This is encapsulated in how Victor’s response to his surroundings changes, where first he is rejoicing in the “Dear mountains!”with their “clear” and “bright summit[s]”, that he can see outside, and then later he sees the mountains as “dark” and a “vast and dim scene of evil” which inspires gloom. Additionally this scene that he sees replaces the pleasure he was feeling with despondency, much in that same way that Shelley says “One wandering thought pollutes the day”.

The novel in fact uses an almost exact quote from the poem in the line “Night also closed around”, which should be compared to the poem’s “Night closes round”. The phrasing is a little odd because it gives an a image of Night capturing or enveloping its victim, but this is probably because the personified Night seems to also be a metaphor for death. In the poem the line appears to speak of the fleeting life that humans lead and how death finds them so “soon” and then “they are lost forever”. Victor rewrites this when he talks of the future he sees for himself, where he changes and becomes the “most wretched of human beings”, and so is going to die a certain death, or more specifically his present self is going to be “lost forever”. The idea that everyday humans die a death, as they change, by “One sudden and desolating change” or “a thousand little circumstances that might have by degrees worked other alteration”(Frankenstein, 74), and become someone new each time, is the indistinguishable from the concept in ‘On Mutabililty’ and so, to put this in Percy Shelley’s words, “Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow”. This transitory nature of humans, where everyday who they were dies as they become someone new, however small the degree of difference, is probably why the Creature is unable to fathom their actions, and how they can be so kind and gentle sometimes and so harsh and unforgiving others. This is why he gives up on humans, and seeks a companion of his own species, a major driver of the plot.

Husband and Wife: Spousal Influence

All the great couples in media have had some sort of influence on one another. So just like when Beyoncé sings hooks on Jay Z songs, or John Lennon letting Yoko Ono ruin The Beatles, Mary Shelley borrows heavily from, and is greatly influenced by, her husband Percy Shelley. (Hooray for relevant cultural commentary!)

So when we see Victor Frankenstein ‘borrowing’ quite heavily from Percy Shelley’s poems, it’s certainly no surprise. Mary Shelley uses both “Mont Blanc” and “On Mutability” to shape the setting and direction of a few specific passages during Frankensteins’s time in the Alps.

Frankenstein tells of his ascent and experience in the valley Chamounix, beneath Mont Blanc, in almost identical terms to Percy Shelley’s poems. It wouldn’t be a stretch to argue that those few pages are almost a re-writing of Mont Blanc in prose form. Percy Shelley describes the awe-inducing power of nature by offering a grand description of the mountain and its surroundings. Similarly, Frankenstein echoes these sentiments in saying things like, “The sight of the awful and majestic in nature had indeed always the effect on solemnising my mind, and causing me to forget the passing cares of life.” (91) This is quite similar to the last eight lines of the fourth stanza in “Mont Blanc”, where Percy Shelley likens the solemnity of the mountain to the simplicity of human thought, and how in the face of such magnificent nature, the worries of man seem to fade away.

Additionally, similar terms are used in describing the scenery of the valley in both “Mont Blanc” and the passages from 89-92. Words like awful (meaning awe-inspiring), majestic, tranquil, solemn, serene, and other terms that induce feelings of sublimity are found in throughout. Also of note is how both passages make use of describing the sound of the river, and the grand sense of vastness that noise produces.

Finally, at the top of 92, Frankenstein recites the last stanza of Percy Shelley’s “On Mutability”. This is ostensibly done to further emphasize the point both are trying to make about human insignificance in the face of grand nature. Shelley argues, and Frankenstein supports, the view that the only lasting forces that exist are the forces of nature, and we as humans must base our thoughts relative to nature around is. Subsequently, human thought, experience, and emotion are ever changing in reference to our surrounding nature, but nonetheless tied to that experience of nature.