Contents Index

Mary Shelley's Notes to Shelley's Poems and Frankenstein

Studies in Romanticism, 6 (1967), 226-54

P. D. Fleck

{226} In his study of Mary Shelley's thinly veiled autobiographical novels, Ernest J. Lovell, Jr. has illustrated the essentially feminine character Mary Shelley has given Shelley and the essentially masculine character she has given Byron. At the end of his paper, Professor Lovell lists some of the affinities Mary shared with Byron: "a highly developed sense of actuality"; "a common opposition to any ideas implying the perfectibility of man and a lack of sympathy for such related ideas as a denial of predestination or of the positive existence of matter and of evil"; and "an almost total absence of any passionate, Shelleyan desire to reform the world."1 There are more, but these and the portrait of Shelley Professor Lovell paints from the novels are enough to make one look more closely at some of Mary's other writings, particularly those which indicate something of her critical attitude towards Shelley. It is my intention to examine the two works for which Mary Shelley is best known -- her notes to Shelley's poems and her first novel, Frankenstein -- to ascertain whether they, like the novels Professor Lovell examines, reveal a certain hostility towards Shelley's Romanticism.


Despite Muriel Spark's chapter, "Mary as Critic," in her critical biography,2 the full import of Mary's notes to Shelley's poems has not been noticed. Miss Spark's principal contention is that Mary is not responsible for the "'beautiful and ineffectual angel' myth of Shelley,"3 and she bases her argument on those passages of the notes in which Mary is critical of Shelley. Mary's criticism, however, emphasizes how Ariel-like a creature she thought him and serves to strengthen rather than to dispel the myth to which Miss Spark refers, in spite of Mary's desire to present both Shelley and his works in a favorable light. "Methinks my calling is high," she wrote in a passage pub- {227} lished in Hogg's Life of Shelley, "I am to justify his ways; I am to make him beloved to all posterity."4 It is this tone of reverence that characterizes her introduction and her notes to the 1839 edition of his poems. She speaks in her introduction of the "ardour with which he was attached to the cause of human happiness and improvement" and she speaks of "the fervent eloquence" with which he gave that ardor expression. In his poetry the reader will find reflections of his best qualities: "the struggle for human weal; the resolution firm to martyrdom; the impetuous pursuit; the glad triumph in good; the determination not to despair."5 Phrases like these appear everywhere and give the impression that Mary brought herself up to the full height of her calling with all the rhetoric at her command. The reader who focuses his attention on what Mary says of Shelley's poems rather than on what she says of his character finds, however, that justifying the ways of Shelley to posterity was no easy task for his widow.

She took on the task as Shelley's literary executor with determination: she pored over notebooks written in a scarcely legible hand and she persuaded almost everyone who possessed one of Shelley's manuscripts into letting her have it. As a result, she was able to publish a collection of his poetical works in 1824 and again in 1839, and a collection of his essays and prose writings in 1840. In her preface to Posthumous Poems (1824), she suggested that her selection of Shelley's poems had not been governed by a critical standard which would allow Shelley's fame to stand on his best works: ". . . I frankly own that I have been more actuated by the fear lest any monument of his genius should escape me than the wish of presenting nothing but what was complete to the fastidious reader" (p. xv). Posthumous Poems is by no means a comprehensive edition of Shelley's works and it can be demonstrated that Mary's editorship was less than careful and less than consistent with the statement quoted above; there is, however, no conclusive evidence to show that she manipulated Shel- {228} ley's texts in the light of a personal critical judgment of his thought.6 That she had moments of doubt about publishing particular works is unquestionably true. While preparing the edition of his prose works, she sent Leigh Hunt (October 6, 1839) a copy of the essay "On Devils" and enclosed this comment: "You see I have scratched out a few lines which might be too shocking -- and yet I hate to mutilate. Consider the fate of the book only -- if this Essay is to preclude a number of readers who else would snatch at it -- for so many of the religious particularly like Shelley -- had I better defer publication, till all he has left is published."7 The work was put into proofs,8 but it was not included in the 1840 edition of Essays. Clearly, Mary was torn between her desire that nothing should interfere with a complete edition of Shelley's works and her desire that they should be received favorably.

In the case of "On Devils," Mary's desire to see the book well received may have prompted her action more than the application of a critical standard; but earlier when she had to make a similar decision about Queen Mab, her own view of the work was clearly involved. The publisher asked her to omit the sixth book of the poem on the grounds that it was too atheistical. Commenting on his request, Mary wrote to Leigh Hunt (December 12, 1838): "I don't like Atheism -- Yet I hate mutilation" (II, 139). Two days later, the same subject was still preying on her mind: "I have no scruple of con- {229} science in leaving out the expressions which Shelley would never have printed in after life," but "I do not like the idea of a mutilated edition" (II, 139). Nonetheless, the first edition of 1839 was mutilated; certain passages of Queen Mab were not printed. In the second edition of that year, however, Mary proudly added a note to her introduction announcing that the poem was here published in its entirety (p. xii). That there was much criticism of the mutilation of Queen Mab in the first edition of 18399 had, doubtless, much to do with Mary's decision to publish it without mutilation in the second, but it is also clear from the letters I have quoted that she did not want her critical faculty (or anyone else's) to interfere with her determination to publish everything he wrote.

As the author of the introduction and the notes, however, she could not keep that faculty from making itself felt. In her introduction to the 1839 edition, Mary divides Shelley's poems into two groups: the purely imaginative poems and those poems which spring from the emotions of the heart.10 Among the first group she includes The Witch of Atlas, Adonais, and The Triumph of Life. In The Witch, she writes, Shelley "gave the reins to his fancy, and luxuriated in every idea as it rose"; in all the purely imaginative poems, "there is that sense of mystery which formed an essential portion of his perception of life -- a clinging to the subtler inner spirit, rather than to the outward form -- a curious and metaphysical anatomy of human passion and perception" (p. x). That last phrase is a rich and comprehensive one, and the whole passage suggests that Mary saw in these poems Shelley's preoccupation with the operations of the human mind and with the nature of perception in particular and that she understood that Shelley was investigating the possibility that the human mind is the center of the universe and "the outward form," its periphery. Like Wordsworth in Book XII of The Prelude, Shelley asks in these poems "to what point, and how, / The mind is lord and master -- outward sense / The obedient servant of her will" (XII, 221-23), 11 and Mary knows it. What is more, she appreciates the subtlety {230} of both the question and Shelley's answers, but in discussing the second group of poems, she goes on to suggest that however much she appreciates purely imaginative poems, she does not approve of them.

The second group comprises poems which spring from the emotions of the heart, and includes Rosalind and Helen, Lines Written Among The Euganean Hills, Ode to the Skylark, and The Cloud. The poems of this group appeal to Mary because they appeal to "emotions common to us all" -- "love," "grief," "despondency," and "sentiments inspired by natural objects," that is, inspired by what Mary earlier calls "the outward form" as opposed to "the subtler inner spirit." But Shelley "was usually averse to expressing these feelings, except when highly idealized," and as a result "many of his more beautiful effusions," as Mary calls them, were thrown aside and taken up again, if at all, only upon her insistence. "In the opinion of many critics," Mary comments pointedly, some of the poems of the second group "bear a purer poetical stamp than any other of his productions" (p. x). Mary suggests, then, that she knows what the purely imaginative poems are about and appreciates something of their subtlety, but that she gives her stamp of approval to the poems dealing with the emotions of the soul because they are less idealized and therefore more human. She does not go on to explain in her introduction, as she does in some of her notes, that these are better poems for two reasons: first, they are written in a more understandable style than the purely imaginative poems; and, second, they accept the mingling together in human life of pain and pleasure, and of good and evil. But the effect of what she says in her introduction is similar, for she spends the last paragraphs apologizing for the purely imaginative or the idealistic in Shelley's works. They often exhibit a "luxury of imagination," a "mystic subtlety," and a "metaphysical strain" which, Mary implies, appeal only to the few. She further implies that "the gentler or more forcible emotions of the human soul" are subjects more valid for the poet than the "huntings after the obscure" (pp. x-xi), thus confirming her earlier suggestion that the poems of "the purest poetical stamp" are those which deal with the emotions of the heart. It is not going too far to state that what Mary seems to be saying here is that Shelley could write good poetry when he wanted to, but that he didn't want to most of the time. Mary's defensive tone is to be found again in her asking the reader to decline {231} judging Shelley's poetry too harshly because, after all, he was very young and he suffered a great deal (p. xi). Her defensiveness is only partly to be accounted for by the criticism levelled at Shelley during his lifetime; Mary's own view of his work, though not very clearly put in her introduction, prevents her from applauding all of the poems as loudly as she applauds the character of the poet.

The place to begin is Mary's note on Prometheus Unbound. Here she shows an understanding of his method and, at the same time, her disapproval of it and her disapproval of what she takes to be his theme. Her description of Shelley's technique in the poem securely places it among the purely imaginative poems, which cling "to the subtler inner spirit, rather than to the outward form," and which evidence "a curious and metaphysical anatomy of human passion and perception." Shelley's fascination with the line from Oedipus Tyrannus -- "Coming to many ways in the wanderings of careful thought" -- shows, Mary argues, "the critical subtlety" of his mind; and her comments upon that subtlety (pp. 272-273) indicate that she knew that the function of Shelley's method in Prometheus is to create a drama of the mind.

In another paragraph of her note, relating both to Shelley's method and to his theme, Mary is less enthusiastic. "Shelley develops," she says, "more particularly in the lyrics of this drama, his abstruse and imaginative theories with regard to the Creation. It requires a mind as subtle and penetrating as his own to understand the mystic meanings scattered throughout the poem. They elude the ordinary reader by their abstraction and delicacy of distinction, but they are far from vague" (p. 272). Again Mary acknowledges the subtle and penetrating quality of Shelley's thought, but she adds that this quality makes his work obscure, though not vague -- and the context of the remark (Shelley intended, Mary points out, to write "prose metaphysical essays" to explain his meaning) suggests that Shelley knew what he was talking about even if we do not. In a letter to Maria Gisborne, Mary had earlier applied the word "mystic" to the lyrics of the Fourth Act: "I am glad that you are pleased with the Prometheus -- the last act though very beautiful is certainly the most mystic of the four" (I, 91). "Though" makes it clear that "mystic" is not a term of approbation. On the basis of what Mary says of the poem in her note, "mystic" here probably means misty; whatever it means, it refers to a characteristic of the poetry that, for Mary, gets in the way of its {232} beauty. In making the real mystic, or in idealizing the real Shelley's great master, according to Mary, was Sophocles, but he was also influenced by Aeschylus:

The Greek tragedians were now his most familiar companions in his wanderings, and the sublime majesty of Aeschylus filled him with wonder and delight. The father of Greek tragedy does not possess the pathos of Sophocles, nor the variety and tenderness of Euripides; the interest on which he founds his dramas is often elevated above human vicissitudes into the mighty passions and throes of gods and demi-gods: such fascinated the abstract imagination of Shelley. (p. 271)
"The variety and tenderness of Euripides" and "the pathos of Sophocles" are to be placed high above the more abstract preoccupations of Aeschylus, just as, to recall for a moment some telling phrases from Mary's introduction, "the gentler or more forcible emotions of the soul" are to be placed above "huntings after the obscure."

Shelley's abstract imagination is perhaps best displayed, in Mary's view, in his "theory" that "evil is not inherent in the system of creation, but an accident that might be expelled." That man could one day expel evil "was the cardinal point of his system." "It is not my part in these Notes," Mary interjects, "to notice the arguments that have been urged against this opinion, but to mention the fact that he entertained it, and was indeed attached to it with fervent enthusiasm." Without wanting unduly to discredit Shelley for his naiveté, Mary gently makes the point that she cannot agree with his idealistic view of the human condition. What praise Mary does give Prometheus is guarded. Comparing it to The Revolt of Islam, she says: "the tone of the composition is calmer and more majestic, the poetry more perfect as a whole, and the imagination displayed at once more pleasingly beautiful and more varied and daring." She also says that it is a more "idealized" version of The Revolt (p. 271), and that word "idealized" is not, in Mary's vocabulary, one of praise.

So utterly removed from the common emotions of the heart and soul is The Witch of Atlas in Mary's view that she devotes almost the whole of her note on that poem to a temperate but firm rejection of it. She begins by saying that it is "peculiarly characteristic"; it is "wildly fanciful" and "full of brilliant imagery," and it discards "human interest and passion, to revel in the fantastic ideas that his imagination suggested" (p. 388). Mary urged Shelley to write works of more popular appeal -- not to degrade himself by pandering to {233} popular taste, but to reach those whose sympathy would stir him to greater things and to reach them by composing works of human interest, works in which both the good and evil in humanity are recognized, works in which the abstract, the ethereal, and the idealized play no major part (pp. 388-389). Shelley's answer to Mary's exhortations is to be found in the first stanza of the introduction to The Witch of Atlas:

How, my dear Mary, -- are you critic-bitten
   (For vipers kill, though dead) by some review,
That you condemn these verses I have written,
   Because they tell no story, false or true?
What, though no mice are caught by a young kitten,
   May it not leap and play as grown cats do,
Till its claws come? Prithee, for this one time,
Content thee with a visionary rhyme. (ll. 1-8)
Shelley seems to have thought that Mary was interested merely in his popularity, in his reaching a larger public at whatever cost. Mary certainly took the view that a writer needs approbation and that Shelley was no exception. But her criticism ran deeper than that. What was of the greatest value in literature to her was an essentially tragic vision, a vision which comprehended the limitations of human power in terms which were recognizably human. This was not, in her opinion, the characteristic vision of Shelley: "Shelley shrunk instinctively from portraying human passion, with its mixture of good and evil, of disappointment and disquiet. Such opened again the wounds of his own heart; and he loved to shelter himself rather in the airiest flights of fancy, forgetting love and hate, and regret and lost hope . . ." (p. 389). Poetry was for Shelley an escape from the unpleasant facts of life: it was a kind of anodyne. Hence Mary's continual reference to his difficult life by way of explaining the unreal quality of his work.

I have examined Mary's notes on two of Shelley's purely imaginative poems and illustrated her disapproval of them. In her introduction she included in this group Adonais and The Triumph of Life; of these she has little to say in her notes, except that the former was prophetic of Shelley's own fate12 and the latter, "one of the most {234} mystical of his poems."13 The echo of "mystic" may be left to relay its own message without comment.

I turn now to some of Mary's notes on poems from the second group, those arising from the emotions of the heart. I must point out that Mary does not use the division into two groups to describe the poems in her notes, but what she says of the poems places them in one or the other. Her admiration of Alastor for "the mingling of the exulting joy which the various aspects of the visible universe inspires with the sad and struggling pangs which human passion imparts" places the poem firmly in the second group. Alastor, she argues, is didactic rather than narrative; it is the outpouring of Shelley's own emotions, and his emotions at this time were those of one whose hopes and "cherished speculations" had been checked (p. 30). There is, then, no escape from reality here; Shelley flies not from but into the center of his own emotions. Alastor teaches, though Mary's comment does not point this out explicitly, that the danger of becoming involved with shadows of the mind is that human love and sympathy are spurned. It teaches, too, that in the fabric of human life there are strands of pleasure and pain, and that man has, alas (for such is the mood of the poem), to put up with less than the best in all things.

Rosalind and Helen bears a similar lesson. Its hero, Lionel, wastes away in much the same fashion and for much the same reason as the poet of Alastor. Mary's note bears directly upon the distinction between the two kinds of Shelley's poems: "Rosalind and Helen was begun at Marlow, and thrown aside -- till I found it; and, at my request, it was completed. Shelley had no care for any of his poems that did not emanate from the depths of his mind and develop some high or abstruse truth. When he does touch on human life and the human heart, no pictures can be more faithful, more delicate, more subtle, or more pathetic" (p. 188). "When he does" suggests that it is not often, and the concluding phrases of the passage suggest that once again Mary approves of a subject which takes cognizance of the mingling of pain and pleasure in human life and does so by dealing with a situation of intrinsic human interest.14

But Mary's favorite work and the one to which she devotes her most detailed discussion is The Cenci. Here, more than anywhere else, she reveals her view of Shelley's work as a whole. He had for years, she argues, mistakenly neglected drama, a genre which would have permitted him to take the real for his subject in an interesting and human way instead of mystifying and idealizing it. Shelley was convinced that he could not tell a story or form a plot, and "framing the interest of a story" means avoiding the ideal, which, in Mary's view of Shelley, means avoiding the optimistic and excessive celebration of man's powers. Shelley felt that he could not avoid the ideal. "I shared this opinion with himself," Mary says, and in so saying claims that until he wrote The Cenci, Shelley had not written his best work. Alastor and Rosalind and Helen are a few lines among thousands. The Cenci is not a characteristic work. It stands apart from the corpus of Shelley's work and, for Mary, far above it. It is "the best tragedy of modern times"; "the Fifth Act is a masterpiece" and "the finest thing he ever wrote." Though Shelley had, in Mary's view, come to see his true powers in 1819, he soon lost sight of them. After the success of The Cenci, he was entreated to continue writing in a popular style, "but the bent of his mind went the other way," away from "delineations of human passion" in the direction of "fantastic creations of his fancy" (p. 337). There were to be no more dramas, no more realistic human situations. Shelley worked on Charles the First intermittently for two years, but he could not finish it. Whether, Mary argues tentatively (in her notes to poems written in 1822), "the subject proved more difficult than he anticipated, or whether in fact he could not bend his mind away from the broodings and wanderings of thought, divested from human interest, which he best loved, I cannot tell; but he proceeded slowly, and threw it aside for one of the most mystical of his poems, the Triumph of Life, on which he was employed at the last" (p. 676). In that sentence is the epitome of the attitude towards Shelley's work that runs through Mary's notes. Sometimes it is all but smothered under the intensity of Mary's devotion to Shelley, the high calling she outlines in the introduction to Hogg's Life; sometimes it rises above the tones of reverence in almost perfect clarity. There are few occasions when it does not make itself felt.

It is nowhere else to be found in Mary's writings in the explicit form it is given in her note on The Cenci. Most of the references to {236} his works in her letters are by way of announcing their inception or completion, or by way of ordering copies. There is, in the later letters, a certain amount of praise for the Defence of Poetry and other of Shelley's prose works,15 and there is, of course, unbounded praise for Shelley the man -- but one could not draw a clear picture of what Mary thought of Shelley as a poet from the Letters as a whole, nor could one from Mary's journal. Indeed, Frederick L. Jones, the editor of Mary Shelley's Journal, has summarized Mary's references to Shelley's works in a two-page appendix and has used not many fewer words than Mary herself.16 That Mary should be uncritical and generally silent on the subject of her opinion of Shelley's work seems at first strange in view of her notes to the poems; but, apart from the fact that eighteen years separate the notes from her more personal writings, it is entirely consistent with her practice as a diarist and a letter writer. She did not discuss with her correspondents, nor in the relative privacy of her journal, her own writing problems (which were not inconsiderable) nor did she discuss Shelley's. She was not in the habit of recording all the crises in her life (until the death of Shelley); nor did she, as did Shelley, express passionate feelings in her letters or her journal, except on rare occasions.

There are, however, two such occasions worth noting, because they indicate an attitude which is, in part, the basis of the critical tone of her notes to Shelley's poems. Here is a credo written for her journal (Monday, February 25, 1822: "let me, in my fellow creature, love that which is, -- and not fix my attention on a fair form endued in imaginary attributes; where goodness, kindness and talent are, let me love and admire them at their just rate, neither adorning, or diminishing, and, above all, let me Fearlessly [sic] descend into the remotest caverns of my own mind, carry the torch of self-knowledge into its dimmest recesses; but too happy if I dislodge any evil spirit or enshrine a new diety in some hitherto uninhabited nook" (pp. 169-170). No "fair forms endued in imaginary attributes" for Mary; and no insistence that man can "be so perfectionized as to be able to expel evil from his own, nature, and from the greater part of the creation." Shelley, in Mary's view, fixed his attention on the fair forms she here rejects; he was by no means content to crave no more than what is {237} given. The second illuminating journal entry is dated sixteen years later (October 21, 1838): "I believe we are sent here to educate ourselves, and that self-denial, and disappointment, and self-control, are a part of our education; that it is not by taking away all restraining law that our improvement is to be achieved; and, though many things need great amendment, I can by no means go so far as my friends would have me. When I feel that I can say what will benefit my fellow-creatures, I will speak: not before" (p. 204). As for those who do speak, and loudly, of "their passion for reforming the world" -- a phrase Shelley applies to himself in his preface to Prometheus Unbound (p. 207) and a phrase Mary uses in this journal entry -- as for those who do speak, Mary has this to say: "I am not for violent extremes, which only bring on an injurious reaction" (p. 204). Shelley was, in Mary's view, for violent extremes. The dominant tone of her notes to his poems insists that his view of the human mind, when it is comprehensible, is unrealistic.

In sustaining this critical tone, Mary has made her contribution to what Miss Spark calls the Shelley myth. Mary shared the view of him taken by a good many of his critics. "Mr. Shelley's style," William Hazlitt remarks in 1824, "is to poetry what astrology is to natural science -- a passionate dream, a straining after impossibilities, a record of fond conjectures, a confused embodying of vague abstractions, -- a fever of the soul, thirsting and craving after what it cannot have, indulging its love of power and novelty at the expense of truth and nature, associating ideas by contraries, and wasting great powers by their application to unattainable objects."17 The tone is not so temperate as Mary's, but the characterization of Shelley is hers; "the straining after impossibilities" and "the wasting of great powers by their application to unattainable objects" are phrases Mary might well have written. Hazlitt goes on to say that "Mr. Shelley was a remarkable man," but his talents were dissipated in the wrong kind of poetry. The appeal to the virtues of the man as an antidote to the vices of his art is Mary's technique, and the technique persisted in some of Shelley's later critics. Arnold, in whose criticism the mystifying and idealizing Shelley makes his best-known nineteenth-century appearance, even Arnold speaks of Shelley's rare intellectual gifts before going on to recreate the waif-like creature of Mary's notes, who luxuriates in his imagination, and loses himself in his fancy. {238} After reading Dowden's Life, Arnold is a good deal less enamored of Shelley the man than Mary, but the attraction is still there. "The Shelley of actual life," he concludes in his review of Dowden's book, "is a vision of beauty and radiance, indeed, but availing nothing, effecting nothing. And in poetry, no less than in life, he is 'a beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating in the void his luminous wings in vain.'"18 Shelley is a magnificent creature to behold, but good for nothing in the struggle of Culture with Anarchy. The tone of Arnold is clearly not Mary's, but the ineffectual angel may be seen flitting in and out of her notes. In our own time, F. R. Leavis' insistence that Shelley had "a weak grasp upon the actual"19 has its analogy in Mary's continual emphasis upon Shelley's love of abstraction.

It is nonsense to suppose that the Shelley myth has its source in Mary's notes, as, indeed, it is nonsense to suppose that critics like Arnold and Leavis took their cue from them. Miss Spark points out that Shelley's friends and his daughter-in-law contributed much to it and that Shelley himself may have done so. Nonetheless, Mary played her part, and her part is all the more apparent against the backdrop of her novels. Mary had adopted a critical attitude towards Romantic idealism early in life. Frankenstein, written some twenty years earlier than the notes I have been examining, contains in an imaginative form her criticism of Shelley.


That there is something of Shelley in Frankenstein has been noticed many times. Of the many studies of the novel20 none examines in any detail the extent to which Shelley's ideas and images and, more important, Mary's view of them, contribute to its theme. Muriel Spark argues that the Frankenstein of the first five chapters "reflects the person of Shelley, a role which he discards when the Monster is created, and which is then adopted by Frankenstein's friend, Cler- {239} val."21 Though she speculates as to how Shelley might have written the novel, Miss Spark stops short of examining his influence upon it. Her contribution to studies of Frankenstein is to be found in her perceptive discussion of its Promethean theme. The real subject of the novel, she points out, is revealed in its subtitle --"the Modern Prometheus." In an article in The Listener which predates her book, Miss Spark makes this observation:
in the humanist image of Prometheus, she saw Frankenstein perpetrating the ultra-humanistic act of creation of life, and she used every device of horror that her imagination could conceive to express the ghastliness of Frankenstein's action and its consequence. Its consequence is the real subject and the real subject is the disintegration of the individual personality, as Frankenstein was disintegrated, following the practice of rational humanism in its last and dehumanizing degree. Her story culminates in the romantic motif of man in search of himself and in conflict with himself.22
Frankenstein has a distinctly Romantic motif which (and this is only implicit in Miss Spark's discussion) runs counter to the Romantic motifs of most of Shelley's works as Mary saw them. It is this insight that I wish here to expand.

Most studies of Frankenstein begin by examining Mary's introduction to the 1831 edition and, in particular, her account of that night during the summer of 1816 when the Shelley-Byron ménage sat around the fire reading ghost stories. And it is no wonder they do, for the introduction is the one piece of Mary's writing that deals directly with the genesis of the novel. She spent more time writing Frankenstein than Shelley did on any of his works, and the revisions of certain parts of her manuscript speak loudly of the difficulties she faced.23 When she read over the first edition, she set about filling the margins with emendations and comments that reveal her dissatisfaction.24 Nowhere in her journal or in her letters is there any reveal- {240} ing remark about such difficulties or such dissatisfaction. Indeed, she was reticent in the extreme about admitting that she was the author and she had Shelley send letters to friends asking that no one divulge her identity.25 The 1831 introduction is, therefore, a remarkable departure from the anonymity preserved in so many ways and over so many years.

Her description of the genesis of the novel suggests that her principal indebtedness to Byron and Shelley lay in the discussions ("to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener")26 between them about the possibility of creating life.27 I propose later to illustrate that whether Mary knew it or not in 1831 the indebtedness was much greater, but for the moment I want to point out how limited an account of that summer Mary gives. The reticence she attaches to her own part in the conversations is characteristic of her, but the reticence of her description of the conversations is only to be felt when her remarks are read in the context of remarks made by others of the Shelley-Byron circle. Polidori, Byron's physician-companion, reports (June 15, 1816) that he too "had a conversation" with Shelley "about principles, -- whether man was to be thought merely an instrument," and his journal entry seems to indicate that more than a {241} discussion of the possibility of creating life was involved.28 On another occasion (June 8), he reports that the whole company "talked, till the ladies' brains whizzed with giddiness, about idealism."29 Byron sums up the whole tenor of the summer in a letter (January 28, 18l7) to Thomas Moore: "I was half mad . . . between metaphysics, mountains, lakes, love unextinguishable, thoughts unutterable, and the nightmare of my own delinquencies. I should, many a good day, have blown my brains out, but for the recollection that it would have given pleasure to my mother-in-law; and, even then, if I could have been certain to haunt her."30 Clearly, among other things, the summer was one of intense intellectual excitement. Shelley's testament to its intensity is recorded in his "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty," his first dedication to the spirit of Intellectual Beauty, a spirit he celebrates as the source both of earthly beauty and freedom from slavery. Mary attended a good many of these discussions about idealism, metaphysics, love unextinguishable, and so forth, but she did not participate in them. Recording what the sound of Byron's voice meant to her after Shelley's death, she writes in her journal (October 19, 1822,): "I have been accustomed when hearing it, to listen and to speak little; another voice, not mine, ever replied -- a voice whose strings are broken . . . since incapacity and timidity always prevented my mingling in the nightly conversations of Diodati, they were, as it were, entirely têté-à-têté [sic] between my Shelley and Albè" (p. 184). The timidity, if not the incapacity, may have prevented her from expressing her views at the time in her conversations, in her journal, or in her letters, but for the next year she set about incorporating into her novel her view of the idealism that whizzed giddily about her head.

Mary speaks, in her introduction, of the horror that must be attendant upon Frankenstein's act: "Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world" (p. ix). However, her treatment of Frankenstein's reaction to the act may seem equivocal. At times, he is depicted as one who knows full well the horror of his act, but is compelled to carry on. His labora- {242} tory is called "a workshop of filthy creation" [1.3.6] as though he thought it so at the time. "My eyeballs," he says, "were starting from their sockets in attending to the details of my employment. The dissecting room and the slaughterhouse furnished many of my materials; and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation, whilst, still urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased, I brought my work near to a conclusion" (p. 48). The Monster confirms that Frankenstein thought his act horrible as he was committing it when he reminds his creator of the journal entries made during the months preceding the monster's animation. "Everything is related in them which bears reference to my accursed origin; the whole detail of that series of disgusting circumstances which produced it is set in view; the minutest description of my odious and loathsome persons [sic] is given, in language which painted your own horrors and rendered mine indelible" (my italics, p. 136). The italicized phrase suggests that Frankenstein knew that he was committing an act of horror. Other passages speak of the act as horrendous, but are clearly products of Frankenstein's hindsight and do not necessarily record his feelings of that moment. He speaks, for example, of the passion which ruled his destiny as one that "arose, like a mountain river, from ignoble and forgotten sources" (p. 29), but he comes to this conclusion after much reflection; it does not represent his view of that passion at the time.

On the contrary, at the time, the passion seemed a noble one and Frankenstein's motives were of the highest order. It is true that he is depicted from the outset as one whose desire for knowledge was immoderate. He speaks of having wanted from the earliest age to probe into the causes of things, to "penetrate the secrets of nature" (p. 30). "It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things, or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or, in its highest sense, the physical secrets of the world" (p. 28). "I had gazed upon the fortifications and impediments that seemed to keep human beings from entering the citadel of nature, and rashly and ignorantly I had repined" (p. 31). Frankenstein responds to Professor Waldman's lyric hymn of joy at the prospects of science by saying to himself, "So much has been done . . . more, far more, will I achieve: treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore un- {243} known powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation" (p. 40). It is true that Frankenstein's desire for knowledge becomes an enthusiastic madness, but his motives in wanting knowledge are far from evil. "I had begun life," he says, "with benevolent intentions, and thirsted for the moment when I should put them into practice, and make myself useful to my fellow-beings" (p. 90). My motives, Frankenstein is arguing, were from the outset admirable; indeed, at another point in the story, he remarks that he was not at all aware of the horror of his act while committing it, thus bringing into question those journal entries covering the months during which Frankenstein was working on his creation, entries in which, the monster claims, Frankenstein had used language which painted his horror: or, if not bringing them into question, suggesting that his horror was a reaction to cutting up corpses and spending nightly vigils in tombs rather than to the end he had in view. In preparing to create a mate for the monster, Frankenstein compares his present feelings to those of an earlier time: "During my first experiment, a kind of enthusiastic frenzy had blinded me to the horror of my employment; my mind was intently fixed on the consummation of my labour, and my eyes were shut to the horror of my proceedings. But now I went to it in cold blood, and my heart often sickened at the work of my hands" (p. 175). "Enthusiastic frenzy" is no more a phrase of approbation in Mary's vocabulary than "idealized" and mystic, "but despite his "frenzy" and his madness, Frankenstein's motives were not any more inhumane than they were purely selfish. "No one can conceive," he says,

the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success. Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs. Pursuing these reflections, I thought, that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption. (pp. 47-48)
Wealth had always been an inferior objective in Frankenstein's view, "but what glory," he says, would attend the discovery (he speaks here particularly of the elixir of life), if I could banish disease from the human frame, and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death" (p. 31).

{244} Frankenstein is an idealist whose dreams of improving the lot of mankind are transformed into a nightmare. In creating the monster, he selected the most beautiful materials, but the combination of them produced an incredible ugliness. Mingled with his own sense of horror, he comments, "I felt the bitterness of disappointment; dreams that had been my food and pleasant rest for so long a space were now become a hell to me; and the change was so rapid, the overthrow so complete!" [1.4.3]. "With an ardour that far exceeded moderation," Frankenstein continues, he wanted to create a being; "but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart" (pp. 51-52). "Moderation" is the signal word. It was the immoderate way in which Frankenstein sought to give shape to his dream that caused his destruction and the destruction of the dream. He is, as Mary's subtitle makes clear, the modern Prometheus who would dare to seize power from the gods and give it to man, who would dare to step beyond the limitations imposed upon him by forces outside himself. Mary read Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound with Shelley in 1816,31 and, judging from Frankenstein, we see that she wholeheartedly approved of the assumption that man is made to submit to powers greater than himself.

This is by no means an original view. Apart from its suitability to Mary's temperament, she would have found confirmation of such a view in a great many of the books she and Shelley had read by the summer of 1816. Vathek, a novel the Shelleys read in 1815,32 is about, among other things, "an insolent desire to penetrate the secrets of heaven."33 Vathek's fate is a just one: "Such was and such should be the punishment of unbridled passions and atrocious deeds; such will be the guerdon of blind curiosity which desires to penetrate beyond the bounds which the Creator has placed to human knowledge; of ambition which, wishing to acquire sciences reserved for purer intelligences, gains only an insensate pride, and does not perceive that the lot of man is to be humble and ignorant."34 Throughout Werther, {245} which the Shelleys also read in 18l5, there is to be found the hero's lamentation for his inordinate desire, not merely for Lotte but for a better humanity, because such desire can never be realized. Those who do not experience such desire, Werther remarks, are lucky: ". . . when my senses are strained to the limit, all the tumult within me is soothed by the sight of . . . a creature, who moves within the narrow round of her existence in happy tranquillity, gets along somehow from one day to the next, and, seeing the leaves fall, is not moved to think anything but that winter is coming."36 And in the novels of her father, Mary read of men whose sin was not unlike Frankenstein's. "My offense," says Caleb Williams, had merely been a mistaken thirst of knowledge."37 Love and other such pure motives are transformed into hatred and forces of destruction in the character of Falkland. St. Leon's excessive desire for power, held out to him in the form of the philosopher's stone, destroys him.38 It must be pointed out that in these works the hero's motives are not always so admirable as are Frankenstein's, but the emphasis in all their lives upon the disastrous results of inordinate desire is characteristic of Mary's treatment of her hero.

These and many other sources or analogues of Mary's theme have been treated extensively by students of Frankenstein.39 The most interesting analogues, however, are to be found closer at hand in the works of Byron and Shelley. Mary was profoundly affected by her reading with Shelley during the summer of 1816 of the third canto of Childe Harold.40 Space does not here permit a close examination of the echoes of Childe Harold that one hears so clearly throughout Frankenstein. This is a subject deserving a paper in its own right. The theme of dream transformed into nightmare which is common to both and the similarity of the reflections of Frankenstein and Harold upon the "enthusiastic madness" in which each finds himself caught are perhaps enough to illustrate for purposes of this paper how close {246} the affinity between Byron and Mary Shelley was and how clearly that affinity reflects Mary's attitude towards romantic idealism in general and Shelley's idealism in particular. Though Byron-Harold hates the world, preferring to prolong his solitary wanderings (st. 113, 114),41 and Frankenstein longs, as we shall shortly see, to be a part of comfortable domestic society, they are both caught in a mad desire to be more than the limitations of human power will allow, and they both find, if only temporarily, comfort in power which resides altogether separate and remote from them.

And so it is in part with the hero of Shelley's Alastor, which is the second work from Mary's own literary circle clearly analogous to Frankenstein. The echoes of Alastor reverberating through the novel indicate that Shelley's poem played a more direct part in the writing of Frankenstein than did Childe Harold. In her notes to Shelley's poem, Mary records her enthusiasm for Alastor, praising it for its mingling together of the "exulting joy" and "the struggling pangs which human passion imparts," and remarking that "the ardour of Shelley's hopes," "the cherished speculations of his youth," had been checked by the time he wrote the poem (p. 31). The theme of the poem is strikingly similar to Frankenstein, though Shelley, like Byron, gives it an erotic cast.

Shelley characterizes the narrator of the tale as one whose desire for knowledge is unsatisfied and as one who wants to know the principle of life. Addressing himself to Nature, he says:

       I have watched
Thy shadow, and the darkness of thy steps,
And my heart ever gazes on the depth
Of thy deep mysteries. (ll. 20-23)
So, as we have seen, Frankenstein begins by gazing on mystery and by seeking to learn the hidden laws of Nature. Shelley's narrator continues:
      I have made my bed
In charnels and on coffins, where black death
Keeps record of the trophies won from thee,
Hoping to still these obstinate questionings
Of thee and thine, by forcing some lone ghost
{247} Thy messenger, to render up the tale
Of what we are. (ll. 23-29)
Frankenstein, too, carries out his researches in the grave:
Darkness had no effect upon my fancy; and a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life, which, from being the seat of beauty and strength, had become food for the worm. Now I was led to examine the cause and progress of this decay, and forced to spend days and nights in vaults and charnel-houses. My attention was fixed upon every object the most insupportable to the delicacy of the human feelings. I saw how the fine form of man was degraded and wasted; I beheld the corruption of death succeed to the blooming cheek of life; I saw how the worm inherited the wonders of the eye and brain. (p. 45) . . . I pursued nature to her hiding-places. Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil, as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave, or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay? My limbs now tremble and my eyes swim with the remembrance; but then a resistless, and almost frantic, impulse urged me forward; I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit. It was indeed but a passing trance, that only made me feel with renewed acuteness so soon as, the unnatural stimulus ceasing to operate, I had returned to my old habits. I collected bones from charnel-houses; and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame. (p. 48)
This kind of description is in the tradition of Gothic horror, as indeed is Shelley's description of the narrator's quest for knowledge. However, the association of Gothic machinery with the desire to benefit mankind through knowledge and the final results of their ghoulish researches make of Shelley's and Mary's heroes more than is to be found in a Gothic villain. The result of Frankenstein's nocturnal experiments is a revelation not allowed the narrator of Shelley's poem -- Nature has never unveiled her "inmost sanctuary" to him -- but for the poet-hero whose tale he tells, whose desire for knowledge is as intense and whose quest for it is the same as the narrator's, for him there is a sudden revelation and it is strikingly like Frankenstein's. Shelley's hero has been roaming in and out of tombs, "poring on memorials / Of the world's youth" (ll. 121-122),
. . . till meaning on his vacant mind
Flashed like strong inspiration, and he saw
The thrilling secrets of the birth of time. (ll. 126-128)
Here is Frankenstein who, as we have seen, has also been visiting tombs: "I paused, examining and analysing all the minutiae of causation, as exemplified in the change from life to death, and death to life, until from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in {248} upon me -- a light so brilliant and wondrous, yet so simple, that while I became dizzy with the immensity of the prospect which it illustrated, I was surprised, that among so many men of genius who had directed their inquiries towards the same science, that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a secret" (p. 45). Both Frankenstein and Shelley's hero are seized with an impulse to give form to their discoveries, to embody their knowledge. Shelley says in his preface that his hero longs to communicate his knowledge to a being like himself, but in the poem this is really to give external form to his knowledge. Being a poet, the hero creates an image which contains everything wise, good, and beautiful that he, has discovered. He creates an image of perfection -- the "veiled maid" -- and in dream he achieves union with the image in a violently orgiastic fashion. No sooner, however, has the image been created, than it begins to fade away and the hero is left "roused from his trance," the cold white light of morning and the blue moon casting a garish light upon surroundings which were but a moment ago magnificently beautiful (ll. 192f.). In that broad sense of the word upon which Shelley insists in his Defence of Poetry, Frankenstein, too, is a poet. Working as he does with matter, Frankenstein creates an image which is a physical model. What happens to him as a result is what happens to Shelley's hero. Indeed, Mary introduces at this point in her novel what one hesitates to call an erotic experience -- so pale does it appear vis-à-vis the violent drowning in an erotic sea experienced by Shelley's hero -- but what is nonetheless significant in a comparison of the two works.

Following his first sight of the monster, Frankenstein flees from the room and tries to forget what he has seen. He tries to sleep, but is disturbed "by the wildest dreams" (p. 52). He dreams that he embraced Elizabeth and that she became a corpse in his arms. He awakes to feel a cold dew on his forehead and to find everything bathed in the garish light of a yellow moon. The color of the moonlight has changed, but other details of Shelley's description are evident. Elizabeth, like the poet-hero's image, is perfection. She is depicted throughout the novel as the very essence of purity and beauty and everything that is good. In Frankenstein's childhood circle, she was a unifying force, reconciling all discordant elements (p. 29). It is as though in selecting the monster's features as beautiful he has been attempting to give form to the essence that is Elizabeth; and when the monster {249} appears as the epitome of ugliness, Elizabeth is doomed. In striving to grasp Elizabeth, Frankenstein destroys her.

What follows in Mary's novel and in Shelley's poem is the gradual destruction of the creators at the hands of their creations. Both waste away. My torment "preyed upon my health," says Frankenstein (p. 90), while the limbs of Shelley's hero become progressively leaner, his hair is scattered, and "his listless hand" hangs "like dead bone within its withered skin" (ll. 248-281). Both are haunted by a vision of glaring eyes. "I saw around me," says Frankenstein, "nothing but a dense and frightful darkness, penetrated by no light but the glimmer of two eyes that glared upon me. Sometimes they were the expressive eyes of Henry languishing in death, the dark orbs nearly covered by the lids and the long black lashes that fringed them; sometimes it was the watery, clouded eyes of the monster as I first saw them in my chamber at Ingolstadt" (p. 196). The creation of Shelley's hero becomes a fiend (l. 225), albeit a fairer one than the monster. Like Frankenstein, the hero is driven to death by the shadow of his dream. He is described as an eagle caught in a serpent's grasp (ll. 227-228); he is haunted by "two eyes,

Two starry eyes, hung in the gloom of thought,
[That] seemed with their serene and azure smiles
To beckon him. (ll. 489-492)
They become, towards the end, "two lessening points of light alone / [which] gleamed through the darkness" (ll. 654-655).

Leaving aside the obvious differences in plot, the images reflecting the themes of the two works are remarkably similar. Both heroes are men whose intemperate desire destroys them, whose dreams become nightmares, and whose creations become monsters or fiends. But the conclusions which Mary and Shelley draw from their accounts of such men, though remarkably similar, are different in emphasis.

Shelley deplores "the self-centred seclusion" of his hero and suggests that the fate his hero suffers is the punishment meted out by "The spirit of sweet human love" to one "who spurned / Her choicest gifts" (ll. 203-205). Mary points out, in Frankenstein's unremitting self-criticism, that the consequence of his aspiration is solitude: "The summer months passed while I was thus engaged, heart and soul, in one pursuit. It was a most beautiful season; never did the fields bestow a more plentiful harvest, or the vines yield a more luxuriant vintage: but my eyes were insensible to the charms of {250} nature. And the same feelings which made me neglect the scenes around me caused me also to forget those friends who were so many miles absent, and whom I had not seen for so long a time" (p. 49). The penalty of his pursuit is that those he loves are destroyed; and the experience leads him to the following conclusion:

A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind, and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquillity. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to this rule. If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections, and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind. If this rule were always observed; if no man allowed any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the tranquillity of his domestic affections, Greece had not been enslaved; Caesar would have spared his country; America would have been discovered more gradually; and the empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed. (pp. 49-50)
"Learn from me," Frankenstein says to Walton, "if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow" (p. 46).

Shelley, too, is critical of his hero, but his criticism leads him in another direction. In his preface to Alastor, Shelley characterizes his hero as one of "the pure and tender-hearted" "who attempt to exist without human sympathy" (l. 15). There are those of a pure and tender heart who are "friends" or "lovers" or "fathers" or "citizens of the world" or "benefactors of their country," but of these Shelley has nothing direct to say. He is concerned in his preface with the noble tragedy which attends his sensitive hero as seen in the context of the inglorious fate of insensitive, multitudes who, like his hero, spurn human sympathy, but, unlike his hero, have no virtues which transform their fate into tragedy. In the poem, Shelley sympathizes with his hero and only intermittently attaches blame to him. Do not, Shelley is saying, make the mistake of being too critical of the hero of this work. He was wrong, but he was gloriously wrong. The great majority are guilty of his sin without possessing the intense desire which to some extent excuses it. His error is a generous one; his superstition or his faith, an illustrious one. The luminaries of the world are struck down because their desires are too intense and their perception too keen; the desires and perception of other men are blunted and they are struck down more slowly and ignominiously. {251} Shelley is not saying "learn how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge" so that you can "take your native town to be the world." He is not saying "do not aspire to become greater than [your] nature will allow." He is saying: you cannot aspire without being struck down, more's the woe. The emphasis is quite different.

A passage from the concluding portions of each of the works strikingly illustrates the difference. Frankenstein is bidding farewell to Walton: "Seek happiness in tranquillity and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries. Yet why do I say this? I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed" (p. 236). And Walton expresses his reaction to Margaret: "What can I say that will enable you to understand the depth of my sorrow? All that I should express would be inadequate and feeble. My tears flow; my mind is overshadowed by a cloud of disappointment. But I journey towards England, and I may there find consolation" (pp. 236-237). Walton is not to continue in his pursuit of knowledge. The moral is, as Frankenstein earlier suggests, that a human being in perfection moderates his desire, takes his native village as the world, welcomes what is given and craves no more. Mary leaves the hard but, as far as she is concerned, unquestionable moral. There is a sense of tragedy, but there is also the hope of consolation and it lies in human society. It lies in learning the lesson. The narrator of Shelley's tale, however, feels no such consolation:

It is a woe too "deep for tears," when all
Is reft at once, when some surpassing Spirit,
Whose light adorned the world around it, leaves
Those who remain behind, not sobs or groans,
The passionate tumult of a clinging hope;
But pale despair and cold tranquillity,
Nature's vast frame, the web of human things,
Birth and the grave, that are not as they were. (ll. 713-720)
Mary says, in effect, that one must seek tranquillity and moderation; Shelley's response to such tranquillity and moderation is that it is pale and cold, like the embers of the fire in Wordsworth's "Intimations Ode," whose conclusions Shelley here rejects. There is no consolation.

Mary's moral is hers and not merely Frankenstein's. In the preface to the first edition, there is a remark to the effect that the author's personal view of the events treated is nowhere to be found in the {252} novel: "The opinions which naturally spring from the character and situation of the hero are by no means to be conceived as existing always in my own conviction; nor is any inference justly to be drawn from the following pages as prejudicing any philosophical doctrine of whatever kind" (p. 2). The author, in short, does not take the implications of Frankenstein's conclusions too seriously and neither should the reader. But the preface was written not by Mary but by Shelley. While the book was in proofs, Mary wrote to Shelley (September 24, 1817): "I am very tired and not very clear headed so I give you carte blanche to make what alterations you please" (I, 34). She was referring to "some abruptnesses" which he might correct, but it may well have been with the freedom given him that he wrote the preface. In her own preface, written for the 1831 edition, there is nothing that does not suggest the author's wholehearted concurrence with Frankenstein's and Walton's conclusions; and from her notes to Shelley's poems and the two journal entries quoted earlier, there is every reason to suppose that Frankenstein does represent Mary's view of the danger of the Romantic idealism her hero and Shelley's fall prey to.

The analogy between Mary's portrait of Shelley in her notes and her portrait of Frankenstein is unmistakable. Frankenstein's mad pursuit of the monster over the Arctic waste is a pursuit of a part of himself over which he no longer has control. The relationship between Prometheus and Jupiter in Shelley's Prometheus Unbound (written two years after Frankenstein) is similar; indeed, Prometheus is what the poet-hero Alastor might have been, had he become "a citizen of the world" and "a benefactor of his country." Shelley allows Prometheus a victory over his adversary not allowed Mary's hero. Even so, Shelley's drama is woven through with caveats -- the concluding lines of Act III and Demogorgon's final speech are two examples -- which insist that man's powers though great are not limitless. Whether Mary saw these and thought them lost in the overwhelming symphonic hymn of joy which is the last act of Shelley's lyrical drama, or whether she really thought that the cardinal point of Shelley's belief was that all man had to do was will that evil cease to exist and it would disappear from the face of the earth, one cannot finally know. Nor can one know whether Mary intended Frankenstein to be a criticism of the kind of idealism Shelley seemed to her to be espousing. There is no direct evidence to support this contention, though {253} there is more than enough in the way of analogy with Shelley's works, and in Mary's notes, to make the contention a tempting one.

What is clear is that Mary gleaned, consciously or otherwise, much more from her literary circle than her preface suggests. The philosophical doctrines which she says were discussed (and on the nature of which, incidentally, she says very little) played as vital a role in the composition of her novel as the discussions about the possibility of creating life. The latter provided her with a structure to which she could attach her views of the former. The stand the novel takes is that man's place in the universe is a fixed one; whatever creative powers he has, whatever divinity there is within him, is destructive when man, like Prometheus, seeks to be a god. Man cannot develop the power of love or the perception of beauty beyond a certain point; there is no one, to use an image from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, who can bless the water-snakes, nor is there any moonlight from above to play upon their backs and make them beautiful. Love fails in Frankenstein: the hero's love of mankind, for so it is described, is not great enough to save him from his Promethean presumption; Felix' act of love in his treatment of Safie and her father is returned by her father with deception; the monster's love is returned with hatred; neither Elizabeth's nor his family's nor Clerval's love for Frankenstein saves him from disaster. Nor is there divine love to make up the balance. The stature Frankenstein achieves is because he suffers, not because he loves or because he has created. Idealism, which is faith in man's divine or creative power, destroys him as it must destroy all who embrace it.

Frankenstein is Mary's belated contribution to the discussions of idealism which took place in the summer of 1816. It is not a great novel. Mary had much difficulty in deciding to what extent she would follow the conventions of the popular novel and include extraneous travelogue materials -- a good deal of which remains, but a good deal of which she pruned away in revising the novel for its third edition in 1831.42 She was dissatisfied with the first part of the book and when she read the first edition, wrote in the margin of the last page of the second chapter: "If there were ever to be another edition of this book, I should re-write these first two chapters. The {254} incidents are tame and ill-arranged -- the language sometimes childish -- they are unworthy of the rest of the narration."43 She altered and altered again passages dealing with Elizabeth's and Clerval's histories.44 She changed the character of Walton from one who is looking for a friend "who is wiser and more experienced, to confirm and support" him to one whose soul burns with an ardor like Frankenstein's, who would gladly sacrifice everything to the furtherance of his enterprise.45 But she did not fundamentally alter the central portions of the book dealing with the story of the creation of the monster and with Frankenstein's and the monster's histories. Nor does her manuscript suggest that she had difficulty in writing these portions. She seems with single-minded purpose to have written them without hesitation, and it is in these passages that she excels and that she treats the themes which were of so great an interest to Shelley and which were a part of the nightly conversations in Switzerland.


1. Ernest J. Lovell, Jr., "Byron and Mary Shelley," Keats-Shelley Journal, II (Jan. 1953), [n.] 49.

2. Muriel Spark, Child of Light: a Reassessment of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Hadleigh, Essex, 1951), pp. 177-185.

3. Spark, pp. 177-178.

4. Thomas Jefferson Hogg, "The Life of Shelley" in The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley as Comprised in The Life of Shelley by Thomas Jefferson Hogg, The Recollections of Shelley and Byron by Edward John Trelawney, Memoirs of Shelley by Thomas Love Peacock (London, 1933), p. 5.

5. Mary Shelley, "Preface by Mrs. Shelley to First Collected Edition 1839" in The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Thomas Hutchinson (London, 1956), p. ix. All quotations from Mary Shelley's notes and Shelley's poems are taken from this edition.

6. I do not in this paper consider Mary's treatment of the texts of Shelley's works since it is not possible to draw any conclusions about her attitudes towards his idealism from such a consideration. Irving Massey ("'Music, When Soft Voices Die': Text and Meaning," JEGP, LIX [July 1960], 430-438) and Joseph Raben ("Shelley's 'Invocation to Misery': An Expanded Text," JEGP, LXV [Jan. 1966], 65-74) illustrate that Mary was not faithful to Shelley's texts. Professor Raben argues that Mary "manipulated" the raw materials of "Invocation to Misery" and offers a variety of reasons for her manipulation (p. 67), but he comes to no conclusion as to which of these reasons is the likeliest. Professor Massey states (p. 436) that he is "baffled by Mary's motives in reversing the order of the stanzas [of "Music, When Soft Voices Die"] (if it was indeed she who reversed them)." Charles H. Taylor, Jr. ("The Errata Leaf to Shelley's Posthumous Poems and Some Surprising Relationships Between the Earliest Collected Editions," PMLA, LXX [June 1955], 408-416) illustrates that Mary's editing of the poems was less than careful and concludes that many of the erroneous readings in her 1839 editions of the poems are there "simply because she failed to notice them" (p. 416).

7. Mary Shelley, The Letters of Mary W. Shelley, ed. Frederick L. Jones, 2 vols. (Norman, Okla., 1944), II, 139. All quotations from Mary Shelley's letters are taken from this edition.

8. Letters, II, 139, ed. n.

9. For a summary of the criticism, see Sylva Norman, Flight of the Skylark: The Development of Shelley's Reputation (London, 1954), p. 144.

10. There are at the outset three groups: (i) "those sustained by a lofty subject and useful aim"; (ii) "the purely imaginative"; (iii) "and those which sprang from the emotions of his heart" (p. x). But the second and third comprehend the first in Mary's treatment of the poems.

11. The Poetical Works of Wordsworth, ed. Ernest de Selincourt (London, 1956), p. 577. All quotations from Wordsworth's poetry are from this edition.

12. "Note on Poems of 1821," p. 663. See also the letter to Maria Gisborne of Aug. 27, 1822 (I, 145): "Is not Adonais his own Elegy."

13. "Note on Poems of 1822," p. 676. Mary refers to the poem in her preface to Posthumous Poems (pp. xiv, xv), but without indicating her attitude towards its theme.

14. The poem also had a particular, personal interest for Mary: see Newman Ivey White, Shelley, 2 vols. (London, 1947), I, 585.

15. See, e.g., the letter to [? Gideon Algernon Mantell], Sept. 5, 1839 (II, 138), and the letter to Edward Moxon, Dec. 19, 1839 (II, 143).

16. (Norman, Okla., 1947), Appendix III, pp. 216-217.

17. "Shelley's Posthumous Poems," Edinburgh Review, XL (July 1824), 494f.

18. "Shelley" in The Poetry and Criticism of Matthew Arnold, ed. A. Dwight Culler (Boston, 1961), p. 380.

19. "Shelley" in Revaluation: Tradition and Development in English Poetry (New York, 1963), p. 206.

20. Among more recent studies are: Elizabeth Nitchie, Mary Shelley, Author of Frankenstein (New Brunswick, NJ., 1953); M. A. Goldberg, "Moral and Myth in Mrs. Shelley's Frankenstein," Keats-Shelley Journal, VIII (Winter 1959), 27-38; Mary Graham Lund, "Mary Godwin Shelley and the Monster," University of Kansas City Review, XXXVIII (June 1962), 253-258.

21. Spark, p. 145.

22. Spark, "Mary Shelley: a Prophetic Novelist," The Listener (Feb. 22, 1951), pp. 305-306.

23. Much of the material dealing with Frankenstein's early love of science and his family is written and rewritten in the MS and appears in yet another form in the 1831 edition of the novel. Compare, for example, p. 41 of the MS (Bodleian MSS Films, 63 [Abinger Collection]) and p. 27 of the Everyman edition.

24. See Mary Shelley's own copy of the first edition with her marginalia in the Morgan Library. Mary has marked I, 49 "bad"; she has noted at the end of the second chapter (p. 77): "If there were ever to be another edition of this book, I should re-write these first two chapters"; on p. 124 she has written -- "this letter ought to be re-written" (cf. Everyman edition, p. 63). In addition to these remarks, her revisions throughout indicate her dissatisfaction. I wish here to express my thanks to the authorities of the J. Pierpont Morgan Library for permission to consult and to quote from this interesting copy of the first edition.

25. Shelley sent the MS of Frankenstein to Ollier with a covering letter dated Aug. 3, 1817 (The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Roger Ingpen and Walter E. Peck, 10 vols. [London, 1927], IX, 234-235). On the same day, he wrote to Hunt: "Bye-the-bye I have sent an MS to Ollier concerning the true author of which I entreat you to be silent, if you should be asked any questions" (IX, 237). On Apr. 30, 1818, he sent a copy of the novel to Byron, asking him not to reveal that Mary was its author (IX, 305). Most of the Shelley circle seemed to know that Mary wrote the book and agreed to keep her authorship a secret among themselves: writing to John Frank Newton on Feb. 25, 1818 (New Shelley Letters, ed. W. S. Scott [London, 1948], p. 108), Hogg announced the name of Frankenstein's author and asked Newton not to breathe a word.

26. Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, Everyman edition (London, 1961), p. viii. All quotations from Frankenstein, unless otherwise noted, are taken from this edition.

27. Recently James Rieger in his "Dr. Polidori and the Genesis of Frankenstein," Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, III (Winter 1963), 461-472, has cast doubt upon the accuracy of Mary's account of the genesis of her novel. Professor Rieger argues that it was to Polidori and not to Byron and/or Shelley that Mary owed the germinal idea.

28. J. W. Polidori, The Diary of John William Polidori, ed. William Michael Rossetti (London, 1911), p. 123.

29. Polidori, p. 121.

30. Letters of Lord Byron, ed. R. G. Howarth (London, 1933), pp. 182-183.

31. Journal, p. 73.

32. Journal, p. 48.

33. William Beckford, Vathek, tr. with introduction. Herbert B. Grimsditch (London, 1948). Mahomet says to his genii: "Help him [Vathek] to build this tower, which, in imitation of Nimrod, he has begun to set up not, like that great warrior, in order to preserve himself from a new deluge, but through an insolent desire to penetrate the secrets of heaven. All in vain, for never will he divine the fate which awaits him" (p. 17).

34. Vathek, p. 124.

35. Journal, p. 47.

36. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sufferings of Young Werther, tr. B. Q. Morgan (London, 1957), p. 25.

37. William Godwin, The Adventures of Caleb Williams or Things as They Are (New York, 1960), p. 4.

38. The reviewer for Blackwood's Magazine -- II, No. 12 (March 1818), pp. 613-620 -- remarked (p. 614) that Frankenstein "is a novel upon the same plan with St. Leon."

39. See in particular Muriel Spark's chapter on Frankenstein in Child of Light, pp. 128-149.

40. Journal, p. 80.

41. The Poetical Works of Lord Byron (London, 1964), p. 225. Like Byron himself in the poem, I make no sharp distinction between the feelings of the narrator and those of his hero.

42. For example, a long passage in the MS (pp. 106-107), describing the travel arrangements during Frankenstein's and Clerval's journey (Ch. 18) does not appear in the 1831 edition; a long description of Oxford and Eton (pp. 110-113) is also absent.

43. See n. 22.

44. The whole of the present Chapter Two was extensively revised for the 1831 edition. The first edition accounts for Elizabeth's origin (pp. 44-45) in a substantially different way than the 1831 edition, and the character of Clerval is altered in an addendum written by the author into her own copy of the first edition (pp. 66-67), an addendum which does not appear in subsequent editions.

45. 1818 edition, pp. 32-33; Everyman edition, pp. 16-17.