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Nature In The Romantic Paper: An Analysis Of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

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The Eighteenth Century and Romantic period of Great Britain were times of great change, for both the nation in general and for its population. The sense of expanding possibilities conveyed new perceptions to the populace regarding the relation of nature to humanity. Revolution, discoveries and new ideologies brought literature upon the world that to this day still resonates and speaks truth. This period of English literature and artistic development captured life and human nature very distinctively. The focus of this dissertation regards the transformation in the use of nature from one era to the next. In particular, nature's distinctive representation and function, which is clearly established through the work of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. This novel clearly exemplifies the establishment of varying meanings and depictions of the sublime nature and how in the Romantic period, unlike the era preceding it, writers used the symbolization of nature to "emphasize creative power of human imagination and place increasing value on private experience and the natural world"(World Book Encyclopedia).

The Enlightenment

The Eighteenth century was an age of ideas. Reasoning prevailed over religion when people searched to understand political and moral issues. People grew tired of the outdated Christian doctrine and questioned traditional beliefs as they searched for a more established form of reasoning and critical thought. This led to the establishment of the Enlightenment movement in which the pursuit of knowledge was expressed by scientific method. Throughout this era, theories were focused on belief and piety, combined with "the objective study of nature and the physical universe"(World Book Encyclopedia). The momentum for philosophical examination was provided by "belief" and the idea that "laws" governed human nature. With the guidance of English philosopher John Locke, the notion of an "orderly universe" became prevalent. He thus writes about nature: "The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone: and reason which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it..." (Uzgalis) He believed that there were limits to human understanding and sought to understand the states of nature that were within this limit. Based on toleration, liberty and natural rights, Locke's philosophy depicted an orderly view of nature, which in turn became an important characteristic of the Enlightenment. According to this movement, "its appreciation of Nature was, of course, derived wholly from Isaac Newton. [He conceived the idea that] science is the basis of the laws that govern universal truths, such as natural rights and that the physical world was orderly, explicable, regular, and logical." (Kreis). Here, nature is studied in order to discover aspects from society and ultimately, truths about human nature. The views upon which the Enlightenment was built glorified human reason as a common possession, free to all. This idea, among many others, was a building block towards the French Revolution.

The French Revolution

The Enlightenment movement, which "provided a framework for the French Revolution," adopted views on democracy and human rights. Writers and poets of this time, such as Samuel Johnson and his circle, were anticipating an "age of universal peace and blessedness that would be the equivalent of a restored paradise" (Abrams, V.1C). Although their expectations for a "radical reformation of humankind"(Abrams, V.1C) were unfulfilled, they were content with a change in the "moral and imaginative nature of the human race"(Abrams, V.1C). In reaction to the new constitution that led to a free society dominated by the middle class and the landowners, people began to value emotion, adventure, imagination and individuality, which brought on the Romantic Movement.

The Romantic Movement

Throughout the French Revolution, Romantic writers responded with a "mixture of sympathy" to the uprising and channeled their emotions into their art. Expression to them was of utmost importance. This caused them to reject the Enlightenment approach of literature because it "blocked free play of emotions and creativity leisure" (Kreis). The Romantics desired to retrieve human freedom and according to French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau: "Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains" (Rousseau, Book I). This therefore demonstrates that for both Romantics and philosophers, nature was to be acknowledged as a general standard. As they embraced relativism and the power and diversity of nature, they rejected the notion of "rational analysis, [as it] fails to apprehend the variety and fullness of reality [and] destroys the naпve experience of the stream of sensations and in this violation, leads men into error" (Kreis). Romantic writers sought to promote a trust in faith. They thus refuted the notion of utilitarianism conceived by English philosophers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. The utilitarian pioneers "wanted to replace a strict attachment to rules with a flexible code that allowed people to perform whatever act would have the best results" (World Book Encyclopedia).

Apparent to the Romantic theory, the thought of resting faith on science and rationality as well as to be confined to society's laws is oppressive and thus unnatural. This idea is expressed in Percy Shelley's Prometheus Unbound:

The joy, the triumph, the delight, the madness!

The boundless, overflowing, bursting gladness,

The vaporous exultation not to be confined!

Ha! Ha! The animation of delight

Which wraps me, like an atmosphere of light,

And bears me as a cloud is borne by its own wind. (Act II)

Percy Shelley uses the symbol of "a cloud [that] is borne by its own wind" to represent freedom and the "atmosphere of light" to demonstrate his optimism and enthusiasm. Along with many other Romantic writers, he uses the symbol of nature both implicitly and explicitly to represent human behavior, thought and expression.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Mary Shelley wrote a Gothic novel, Frankenstein, inspired by events in the 18th century. The Enlightenment and French Revolution are the focus of the novel with its aftermath leading many writers and philosophers to inquire on the subject that "science penetrates the secrets of nature"

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