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Imagination is nothing to the common eye. It’s only what one perceives it to be. Throughout centuries, many authors have used imagination as an affluent part of their writing as well as believing in the creative power behind the imagination. “…The mightiest lever/ Known to the moral world/ Imagination” (William Wordsworth). This quote represents what imagination means to true “artists”. Without it the world would be dull and meaningless. That point is proven in both Mary Shelley’s, “Frankenstein” and Charles Dicken’s, “Hard Times”.
However, Shelley critiques the imagination while Dickens gives more of an unreserved celebration of the imagination. In the end, both come across this middle ground on how imagination truly should be carried out.
Mary Shelley is one of the most renowned authors during the romantic period. Most romantic authors believe imagination is an emotional, moral, philosophical and political expression when it comes to poetry or art. What stands out most is the fact that romantics believed in morality when it comes to the imagination, but in Shelley’s “Frankenstein” the imagination represented shows a lack of morality.
She shows her views on both creative imagination and sympathetic imagination, and with those she transgresses against them. In the novel, although Victor imagines the idea of creating a being through means that are artificial, by creating the monster in the way he does, Victor infringes against the idea of the imagination on a moral stand-point. “Learn from me… how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.
” In this quote Victor implores Walton to not follow his example and to learn from his mistakes almost as if he’s telling him that ignorance is bliss.
Also, Victor creates the monster without any sense of eternal or natural laws, clarity of vision, or morality, and once he sees what he has created he is repulsed by it. He states, “…the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.” This quote truly exemplifies the selfishness Victor possesses, in how he decided to play “god”. He does not carry out his work with any sense of humility or respect for the powers of nature, which romantic writers centralize their concerns on when it comes to imagination. This repulsiveness towards his creation shows how he goes against natural and moral laws rather than in favor of. Victor Frankenstein, therefore, goes against the ideals of creative imagination. Another fact is that Victor meticulously plans out every part of his experiment. There is nothing instinctive about his work.
My attention was fixed upon every object the most insupportable to the delicacy of the human feelings. I saw how the fine form of man was degraded and wasted; I beheld the corruption of death succeed to the blooming cheek of life; I saw how the worm inherited the wonders of the eye and brain…… I was surprised that among so many men of genius who had directed their inquiries towards the same science, that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a secret. (Victor Frankenstein, 49)
This is the moment Victor begins his journey of creating his creation and thus, starts his planning process. With the making of his creation being deliberate, that left no room for the workings of the unconscious mind. Once the creature is animated, as mentioned before Victor displays only disgust and fear, however he also feels no responsibility for the creation and shows no type of concern or remorse for its future well-being, or the effect his creation may have on society. Later in the novel, Victor begins to experience intense guilt and believes that he is ultimately the one responsible for the crimes his creation committed, but due to his self-absorption he is too concerned with what might happen to himself if he were to confess that he is the one truly responsible for his creation’s crimes. ‘You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been.’ In comparing his knowledge to a serpent, Victor seems to sound as if he is feeling a bit of guilt. So, in essence the serpent has become a symbol almost like karma. His narcissistic tendencies are what prevent Victor from feeling real sympathy or empathy and his failure to take ownership for his wrongdoings allows his creation to commit further outrages. With those tendencies he shows his transgression against sympathetic imagination. Again, Mary Shelley was a true believer in the imagination and valued imagination as the supreme faculty of the mind. She then shows the positives of that in “Frankenstein” while critiquing the limitations of the imagination and how morality is not a line to be crossed when one is accessing their imagination.
Charles Dickens took delight in the euphoria of everyday, run-of-the-mill people, and he often defended their right to take time for themselves and enjoy life. “Hard Times” central subject is the imagination and it is believed that the imagination is focused more in this novel, than any other work Dickens has ever put out. He celebrates it and one does not realize how much until the end of the novel. This all begins with two completely different worlds, you have hard-headed rationalists meeting open-minded circus people. Two opposites, only to collide and give a new rendition of the world they live in.
“Indeed, as he eagerly sparkled at them from the cellarage before mentioned, he seemed a kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts, and prepared to blow them clean out of the regions of childhood at one discharge. He seemed a galvanizing apparatus, too, charged with a grim mechanical substitute for the tender young imaginations that were to be stormed away.” (Charles Dickens, Hard Times)
Mr. Gradgrind utilizes his power to suppress young children’s imaginations and this quote shows that. Instead of just having these rationalistic close-minded people, Dickens includes the circus people. Those circus people representing what his sense of imagination is like. Sissy Jupe seems to be the silver lining in “Hard Times”, she represents the fanciful; the imagination Dickens needed to counteract Mr. Gradgrind’s rationalistic ideals. Sissy’s father ends up abandoning her, which led to Grangrind taking her in. She was to look after Louisa and Grangrind’s youngest. “O my dear father, my good kind father, where are you gone? You are gone to try to do me some good, I know! You are gone away for my sake, I am sure! And how miserable and helpless you will be without me, poor, poor father, until you come back!” Sissy and her father were close, she would read him all sorts of fairy tales about ogres and such when her father would get done work. Little things like that are just tiny bits of the imagination Dickens tries to unveil and how small details like that can really set a tone. When Gradgrind takes in sissy that is when the tides start to change, and worlds begin to mold together. Factful meets fanciful. Sissy has nothing but positive influences especially over Louisa. Sissy is the complete opposite of Louisa: while Sissy is imaginative and very endearing, Louisa is rational and for the most part, numb. Sissy embodies the Victorian femininity that counteracts rationalistic industry. Through Sissy’s influence, Louisa is able to explore her more sensitive side. Imagination runs deep throughout “Hard Times”. Dickens shows that without any insight of imagination the world would be meaningless, and every person could be compared to machines like the factory workers of Cookstown.
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