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Romantic And Enlightenment Ideas In Frankenstein

1273 words - 5 pages

The Enlightenment age encouraged everyone to use reason and science in order to rid the world of barbarism and superstition. In fact, Kant argued that the "public use of one's reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men" (Kant 3). Enlightenment thinking not only influenced philosophy and the sciences, but also literature (especially in Pope's Essay on Man). In reaction to Enlightenment's strict empiricism, Romanticism was born. In Frankenstein, Shelley argues (1) that Victor Frankenstein's role as an Enlightenment hero, not only pulled him out of nature, but made him a slave to his creation; (2) that Frankenstein's role as a revolting romantic failed, because he didn't take responsibility for his creation; and (3) mankind must find a balance between the Enlightenment and Romantic ideologies.

In his youth Victor spent his time secluded from nature, studying books. Victor spent every hour trying to learning how to "banish disease from the human frame and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death" (Shelley, 26). He was the perfect enlightenment hero, as he pursued education over everything else. He declared to Captain Walton that the:

world was to me a secret which I desired to divine. Curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to me, are among the earliest sensations I can remember (22).

His pursuit of knowledge became even more important when he entered the university of Ingolstadt. He "read with ardour" (35) and soon become "so ardent and eager that the stars often disappeared in the light of the morning whilst I was yet engaged in my laboratory" (35). He was a proud product of the Enlightenment, spending every waking minute studying the sciences in order to understand life. Frankenstein's friend Clerval, tried desperately to bring Victor to understand the importance of nature but he couldn't understand. Victor commented on Clerval's view of nature:

He was alive to every new scene, joyful when he saw the beauties of the setting sun, and more happy when he beheld it rise and recommence the new day. He pointed out . . . this is what it is to live (139).

Once Victor had created his monster, he became a slave to his own creation.

As a Romantic, Victor studied metaphysics and alchemy (through his study of Agrippa, Magnus and Parcelsus) in order to find "the elixer of life" (26). Mr. Krempe, professor of natural philosophy, complains: "I little expected, in this enlightened and scientific age, to find a disciple of Albertus Magus and Paracelsus" (31). So though he studied the sciences, his "inquiries were directed to the metaphysical" (23), which would please most Romantics. His studies of alchemy and metaphysics led him to the romantic act of creation. But instead of loving his creation, his "heart sickened and . . . [his] feelings were altered to those of horror and hatred" (132). He cried that he...

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