Contents Index


Switzerland was the single self-governing democracy in Europe in the later eighteenth century. Although England sported liberal political ideals as a factor distinguishing the nation from the rest of Europe, in practice its long battle against the French and Napoleon had fostered a conservative reaction in which "republican" and "jacobin" were virtually synonymous terms of opprobrium. This was particularly the case in the years after Waterloo when, without an external enemy by which to rally the nation and, experiencing a severe recession as a result of its rapid and radical demobilization, the government was fearful of any expression of political dissent and began to prosecute broadly to suppress it. Although Victor's emphasis on his family distinction seems a gesture toward the familiar hierarchical structures of English society, the fact that the first sentence of the novel as it presents itself ends with so defiant, if understated, an assertion of liberal political values indicates the presence of a submerged political viewpoint that observant readers will be able to detect throughout the novel. That its contemporary readers would have recognized this aspect of the novel is indicated by how strongly politics influenced its reviews, particularly the one that appeared in the conservative Quarterly Review.