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The symbol of frankenstein in mary shelleys novel the modern prometheus

Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel, ed. George Levine and U. Knoepflmacher Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: In The Psychoanalysis of Fire Gaston Bachelard even suggests that thought itself arose in reveries before the fire, taking as its first object fire itself, "the first phenomenon.

To the prescientific and poetic mind that Bachelard analyzes, fire is life and change, "the ultra-living element," and as such has been confidently located in the sky, deep in the earth, in everything that moves, grows, alters its shape, reproduces itself. Fire is thus "one of the principles of universal explanation," both good and bad.

By Mary Shelley

It burns in Hell. For all the intimate sensations we experience directly and daily -- intestinal, libidinal, but most of all emotional -- there seems to exist no language but metaphor and no metaphor so apt as this of vital fire or fiery life, glowing or smoldering, flaring the symbol of frankenstein in mary shelleys novel the modern prometheus or blazing out, as we love and hate.

Ice has yet to find its phenomenologist. The Eskimo language may have more than forty words for ice, but to most of us ice seems, in contrast to fire, essentially fixed and dead.

It is precisely in contrast to fire, however -- in its essential fixity and uniformity -- that ice finds its imaginative meaning. Ice opposes and suppresses life and change; it is repression and death. In the inner world of the emotions, it blights and kills what was warm and blooming, seals up and freezes over even the most volcanic passions.

Its killing numbness may, of course, be welcome, bringing relief from all feelings except in Keats 's phrase about the solaces of December "the feel of not to feel it. When Jane Eyre opens by placing its small heroine between warm red and cold white realms, we understand at once that her problem will be to avoid both the blaze of strong feeling and the frozen stillness of no feeling at all.

She will seek instead a moderate and human warmth, a controlled burning, symbolized throughout the novel and the period by that most Victorian of symbols, the domestic hearth. To the Romantic imaginationhowever, there is little comfort and less interest in hard edges and hard choices -- and little to be said for the hearth.

In the Romantic universe extremes meet, contraries are reconciled and even fused. Frankenstein begins with Walton's dream of a tropical paradise at the North Pole, and his Romantic vision in turn introduces Frankenstein's dream of the vital fire or "spark" interpenetrating and animating matter otherwise cold and dead. Both visions recall Coleridge 's enthusiasm for the reconciliation of elements opposed or different in kind, whether in nature or in art: But it does expose the disregard for simple human needs that seems inseparably a part of all Romantic exploration.

Frankenstein's Prometheanism is more and more clearly revealed as obsessive and inhuman, the cause of much suffering and many deaths. More profoundly, Frankenstein betrays the conviction that a knowledge of the principles of life gives us no cause to rejoice: Frankenstein's creation is a monster, after all, sublime only in his Dantean ugliness.

The Monster's narrative reveals a conservative distrust of Romantic extremes, a Victorian longing for security, society, and self-command, symbolized as in Jane Eyre by the domestic hearth. Only when he loses all hope of companionship does he run, as it were, to extremes: On this cruel and significant irony the novel closes.

The Monster's last act realizes Walton's visionary goal, but in such a way as to parody and protest against the contradictions in existence.

With mixed feelings, Walton sails for home, away from the world of Romantic poetry, toward the native regions of the Victorian novel, a temperate zone where one can tell hot from cold and where, for better or for worse, human relations flourish. I This is not to say that the Victorian universe is necessarily a simpler or a tamer place than the symbol of frankenstein in mary shelleys novel the modern prometheus Romantic, or that it offers less scope for daring and significant action.

Jane Eyre is, in her own way and her own world, as adventurous and as imaginative as Walton or Frankenstein, and as ready as they to commit herself to the unknown. Nor could I pass unnoticed the suggestion of the bleak shores of Lapland, Siberia, Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, Iceland, Greenlandwith "the vast sweep of the Arctic Zoneand those forlorn regions of dreary space, -- that reservoir of frost and snow, where firm fields of ice, the accumulation of centuries of winters, glazed in Alpine heights above heights, surround the pole, and concentre the multiplied rigors of extreme cold.

But here is also, still more powerfully, both a concentration and a vast expansion of the idea of the Far North, the idea of ice itself. Bewick's vision of the ice-cap extends and perfects itself in every dimension, including that of time: This is not the language of geography but of romance and fantasy. To Jane, sadly enough, the Arctic Zone is a romance, "as interesting as the tales Bessie sometimes narrated on winter evenings" beside the nursery-hearth, "passages of love and adventure.

I feared nothing but interruption. In the beginning Jane is both pathetic and perverse; her tastes are morbid, her fantasies suicidal. But she is not allowed to linger long in the indulgence of neurotic pleasures. Reaction must follow, a reaction away from ice and toward fire. The interruption Jane has dreaded arrives in the person of Master John Reed, whose petty tyrannies strike an unexpected spark from the passive little girl; she rebels, strikes back, and is imprisoned, "an infantile Guy Fawkes" p.

Soon afterwards she turns her newfound heat of feeling on John Reed's frigid mother, vanquishing her too. Reed in particular brings a "fierce pleasure" but, on its heels, a black desolation. A ridge of lighted heath, alive, glancing, devouring, would have been a meet emblem of my mind when I accused and menaced Mrs. Jane's explosion brings about her release from Gateshead. And before she leaves, she makes some progress toward controlling not repressing her fire, exploring her emotions and turning them to some use.

On the day of her fateful interview with Brocklehurst, she goes to the window and gazes out on the wintry landscape. It is mid-January and the countryside lies "still and petrified under the influence of a hard frost. I fell to breathing on the frost-flowers with which the window was fretted, and thus clearing a space in the glass through which I might look out on the grounds. From this window were visible the porter's lodge and the carriage road, and just as I had dissolved so much of the silver-white foliage veiling the panes, as left room to look out, I saw the gates thrown open and a carriage roll through.

It also seems to bring on, as if by sympathetic magic, a dissolving of more meaningful barriers, as the gates of Gateshead open to admit the carriage bearing Jane's future. Before she goes downstairs to meet Brocklehurst, Jane opens the window on which she had been breathing to share her breakfast with "a hungry little robin" -- aligning herself with all warm-blooded creatures who would come in out of the cold.

The Gateshead chapters show Jane moving unsteadily but with increasing control toward the proper use of fire -- simultaneously, and significantly, abandoning not only her ice-fantasies but also fantasy itself.

She does remain in danger from both extremes throughout her later career, being in her own view a creature of extremes, now frozen in "absolute submission," now "bursting.

Thornfield exposes her to the mingled dangers and attractions of fire: Moor House holds for Jane the cold magnetism of her handsome cousin St.

John Rivers, with his marble profile, gemlike eye, and icy kiss. To Rochester and to Bertha, Jane opposes all the cold that is in her nature, skillfully cooling the ardor of the former and throwing cold water on the bedroom fire set by the latter. John Rivers' ice Jane opposes, of course, her warm feelings, never to be wholly numbed again: John, "no fervour infects me," to which Jane stoutly replies, "Whereas I am hot, and fire dissolves ice" p.

Throughout the novel Jane steers a wavering course between extremes, the domestic hearth her lodestar as well as her goal: Frankenstein begins much as Jane Eyre does, with a drive literal, in this case into the polar regions. Walton's narrative, framing the novel, is entirely Arctic; Victor's and the Monster's stories are set much of the time amid the peaks and glaciers of Frankenstein's native Switzerlandsometimes in the almost equally desolate landscape of northern Scotlandand -- finally -- in the Arctic again, where the lines of all three narratives converge.

For Walton, it is the object of an enthusiastic quest; for Victor, sometimes an end in itself and always, in some form, the background of his "unhallowed" work. Only for the Monster are the mountains and glaciers an unmixed evil, a place of exile.

But for Walton, unlike young Jane Eyre, the pure idea of ice and snow holds no attractions; he dreams instead of an impossible conjunction of hot and cold, a paradise at the heart of the polar snows.

It is on this Romantic vision, not on the cold fact of the ice-floes proper, that the novel really opens.

  • When he loves, he too is fiery;
  • The Monster's total destruction, like the memorable shredding of Frankenstein's oak tree, will disclose in one great pulse of blazing light and heat the fire of intense inner being;
  • I fell to breathing on the frost-flowers with which the window was fretted, and thus clearing a space in the glass through which I might look out on the grounds.

There -- for with your leave, sister, I will put some trust in preceeding navigators -- there frost and snow are banished; and, sailing over a calm sea, we may be wafted to a land surpassing in wonders and in beauty every region hitherto discovered on the habitable globe.

He writes self-consciously "for with your leave, my sister" and even somewhat self-critically of his expedition: He is fully conscious of his own ambivalence, sometimes carried forward by boyish enthusiasm, sometimes checked by serious misgivings: It is impossible to communicate to you a conception of the trembling sensation, half pleasurable and half fearful, with which I am preparing to depart.

There is something at work in my soul which I do not understand. She feels the tug of either extreme, in opposite directions; he knows that contraries combine somehow, somewhere, and so he travels north in search of the warm seas and relaxed living of the south.

Like much else in his journeying, this miraculous synthesis is Coleridgean. For Coleridgeboth the poetic imagination and the Divine Hand reveal themselves "in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities.

But the interfusion of elemental contraries is Shelleyan too. For Percy Bysshe Shelleylife is love and both are fire, "the fire for which all thirst": Prometheus' alp resembles Walton's polar paradise, only without the bliss.

His vital fire exists in tormented opposition to the enveloping and invading ice: The crawling glaciers pierce me with the spears Of their moonfreezing crystals, the bright chains Eat with their burning cold into my bones.

He is at least as likely to represent the conjunction of contraries as conflict-free, harmonious -- not melted and transformed by fire but filled with a marvelous light. Even in Prometheus Unbound we find visions of all the elements drawing together in harmony and interpenetrated by an effulgent light. Here, however, it is not Love but, more mysteriously and ominously, "Power" that animates and pervades all things, even the mountain world of ice and death: Power in likeness of the Arve comes down From the ice-gulfs that gird his secret throne, Bursting through these dark mountains like the flame Of lightning through the tempest.

Born in the glaciers, taking the form of rushing water, Shelley's Protean "Power" bursts into our ken as fire and light together: The image is a favorite of Shelley's, doubtless because it brilliantly expresses the dynamic union of opposites which is life itself: But the combination need not be so explosive; "Mont Blanc" ends with the same image tamed and full of unearthly peace. The lightning is no longer a flame, no longer thunderous: Its home The voiceless lightning in these solitudes Keeps innocently, and like vapour broods Over the snow.

Shelley may sometimes have believed that universal peace would follow opposition and conflict, and light supersede fire, as the world turned toward the millennium.


But it seems more likely that his attitude toward the elements of which we are compounded was, like his young wife's, as mixed as the compound itself. When Shelley dwelt on revolutionary change, he thought of fire and high wind. When he dreamt of the millennium his mind turned toward the light: Milton's holy Light, almost a fifth element -- unburning fire and impalpable air, the essence or abstraction of radiant energy.

When Shelley imagined eternity he saw, as we know, simply a "white radiance. Frankenstein is attracted to Mont Blanc by the same "Power" that Percy Shelley intuits there, alive and at work in what would seem to other eyes only "a scene terrifically desolate," a world of ruin and death. Jane Eyre's mighty "idea" of the ice-world is natura naturata; she welcomes the utter solitude and frozen stillness of a world without force or motion.

But Frankenstein's and Shelley's Alps are natura naturans, "this glorious presence-chamber of imperial nature," as Frankenstein puts it, whose every sublime feature declares the immanence of a tremendous energy, "brawling. Where Jane seeks from her imagined Arctic a blessed numbness, Victor, like Shelley and like Waltonfeels a rising excitement, a return of feeling as he draws nearer nature's throne.