The role of the imagination in Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein is a vital when defining the work as Romantic. Though Shelley incorporates aspects that resemble the Enlightenment period, she relies on the imagination. The power of the imagination is exemplified in the novel through both Victor and the Creature as each embarks to accomplish their separate goals of scientific fame and accomplishing human relationships. The origin of the tale also emphasizes the role of the imagination as Shelley describes it in her “Introduction to Frankenstein, Third Edition (1831)”. Imagination in the text is also relatable to other iconic works of the Romantic Period such as S. T. Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria in which he defines Primary and Secondary imagination. The story as a whole is completely Romantic in that it is filled with impossibilities that seem to have come from a fairy tale. The imaginative quality of the plot itself is a far cry from the stiff subject matter of the Enlightenment period. Frankenstein is wholly a work of Romanticism both from the outside of the tale and within the plot. Shelley created the story in a moment of Primary imagination filling it with impossibilities that can only be called fantastical. Imagining notoriety leads Victor to forge the creature; the creature imagines the joy of having human relationships. The driving factor of the tale is the imagination: imagining fame, imagining relationships and imagining the satisfaction of revenge. Shelley’s use of the imagination is a direct contradiction to the themes of logic and reason that ruled the Enlightenment Period.
S. T. Coleridge divides the concept of imagination into two separate parts: Primary imagination and Secondary imagination. Primary imagination is “the living Power and prime agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I Am” (711). Simply speaking Primary imagination occurs when the author or poet has no control over the imagination; the work is creative and natural not labored over. Frankenstein is a product of Primary imagination according to Shelley’s account in the “Introduction to Frankenstein, Third Edition (1831)” in which she describes the birth of Frankenstein stating,
When I placed my head on my pillow, I
did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbid-
den, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that
arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of
reverie. I saw- with shut eyes, but acute vision,- I saw the
pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had
put together. . I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out,..(168)
In this moment of Frankenstein’s conception, Shelley describes the uncontrollability of her imagination as it reaches far beyond the bounds of “reverie” or “the state of being lost in thought or day dreaming” (OED). This instance of being completely controlled by the...