What Are Some Examples of Romanticism in “Frankenstein”?

Anita Sarkeesian/CC-BY-2.0

The novel “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley contains several romanticist themes, including the enthusiastic and almost surreal characterization of nature. Additionally, Shelley’s characters are driven by larger-than-life emotions, another staple component of romanticist fiction. Finally, there is the call for humans to press the boundaries of their own existence and understanding.

In “Frankenstein,” the reader finds considerable overlap between many of the themes mentioned above. For example, the protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, states at one point that “no one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me on, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success.” Here, the elements of extreme emotion and natural phenomena are combined in a single narrative sweep.

In another passage, the reader encounters Frankenstein approaching the borders, not only of life and death, but of all human understanding, saying “life and death seemed to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through…” In this excerpt, Shelley exhibits the romanticist impulse to play with the notion of forbidden knowledge, in this case with an attempt to return dead human matter to living form. This is not only a romanticist feature generally, but one that also informs the Gothic dimension of the story.

Also connected to the idea of human knowledge and its limits is the romanticist rebellion against the Enlightenment’s certainty in the merits of science, human reason and accomplishment. Through his lush vanity, Victor Frankenstein is driven to an unreal confidence in his own intellect and abilities, something that the ensuing chaos and disaster wrought by the unleashed monster ultimately dismantle.