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smooth and placid as a southern sea

Victor's only experience of a southern sea would appear to have come at the beginning of this last trip in pursuit of the Creature, embarked on from a French Mediterranean port (3.7.3). On its surface his sardonic comment roundly indicts the crew for moral and spiritual laxity. Yet, on second thought, an even stronger counterforce ironically deflates the surface terms. This ironic inversion begins as we recognize the considerable negative connotations from earlier in the novel already adhering to this celebration of the "glorious" (Letter 1.4 and note, Letter 2.3 and note, and Walton 2 and note). On top of those resonances, the reference to "a southern sea" should remind the knowledgeable reader of the last voyage undertaken by Ulysses and his crew in search of glory, a voyage that took them far into the unknown southern sea where their ship foundered. This is the subject of Canto 26 of Dante's Inferno, which is likewise the source upon which Tennyson depended for his dramatic monologue, "Ulysses," written in 1833. In Dante's rendition of this story, for all his heroic posturing, Ulysses has led his men to their death for nothing beyond a meaningless personal glory. For this act of essential treachery he is lodged near the bottom of hell for eternity.

It is worth remarking that, in her draft of this passage, Mary Shelley originally wrote "summer lake," and the phrase "southern sea" was inserted above it in P. B. Shelley's hand. This interpolation, of course, would have had to have been agreed to by Mary Shelley, presumably after some discussion of the appropriateness of the intertextual context the phrase evokes.