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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was written at the time of the Romantic Movement; characterized by innovation (rather than traditionalism), spontaneity (Shelley was brought up in Geneva where freedom of expression was important), an idealisation of nature and the belief of living in an age of new beginnings and high possibilities. All of these characteristics are found early on in the novel – in Walton’s letters, the discovery of the North Pole being the innovation and new beginning. In this novel, the Romanticism significantly complements the Gothic genre.
Robert Walton is a Romantic, with a thirst to express his intense imaginings and daydreams to companion. His dreams of exploration were first inspired by poems and stories and childish fantasies at a young age. As Walton prepares for his journey to the North Pole, the beauty of nature in St. Petersburg seem to him a hint of how the ‘new world’ will look when he gets there. His excitement is heightened by the brisk and picturesque world around him. However, his beautiful surroundings are also very perilous, and end up being the reason he has to return.
Walton describes Frankenstein as completely broken-down by grief, but still able to appreciate the natural beauty of the world around him, which seems remarkable. A man destroyed by sorrow can still look up at the night sky and feel some sense of relief, happiness, or awe at the fabulous beauty that surrounds him: “Even broken in spirit as he is, no one can feel more deeply than he does the beauties of nature. The starry sky, the sea, and every sight afforded by these wonderful regions, seems still to have the power of elevating his soul.
” This appreciation of beauty in a novel so filled with brutality seems an odd contrast, but is elementary for the distinct natural settings that we will come across in the novel, all corresponding to the emotions of the characters involved. The North Pole is a suitably cold, desolate and isolated setting for the meeting of Walton, Victor and the daemon. Mary Shelley also had very liberal religious views. At the time she wrote Frankenstein, Catholicism was very oppressing and she was very against it.
In his letters, Walton wishes to discover things that will benefit mankind. We later find out he shares this ‘godlike’ ambition with Frankenstein. Shelley uses biblical language to emphasise this: “Heaven shower down blessings on you. ” “He will be like a celestial spirit that has a halo around him. ” “… elevates me to heaven. ” Walton seems to be playing God or somebody of high divinity by generously giving out ‘heavenly’ phrases. This is quite foreboding, as the oppressiveness in the historical context also suggests that all is not well.
This is backed up by Walton acting against his father’s dying injunction; not to embark in a seafaring life. This is not a very ‘divine’ thing to do. This is an underlying theme at this early stage in the novel, but as Victor confesses his story of playing God, we realise that this theme mutely prepares us for the tale that is about to unfold. The desire to find out the unknown and to be the first to discover the unseen is a tragic flaw of both Walton and the Victor Frankenstein, and from the very first letter, the theme of glory is heavily established.
Walton states: “I preferred glory. ” Of course there are only a select few who have achieved this timeless goal, yet those who pursue it are encouraged by the immortality and recognition awarded to the victorious. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a literary rumination of the quest for glory, Walton’s discovery of the North Pole being the backdrop for the tale of the title character’s pursuit of the knowledge of life.