Application of Theory Percy Bysshe Shelley Theory
Applied to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Percy Bysshe Shelley is
probably one of the most eligible critics for Mary Shelley's work, as it
can be assumed that as a married
couple living and writing in the same era and location, they would have likely
adopted similar literary perspectives. A Percy Bysshe Shelley reading of
Shelley's Frankenstein, suggests that Mary Shelley's scientist 'Victor' is
likened to Percy Shelley's "poet" in his Defense of Poetry. In The Critical
Tradition, David H. Richter suggests that in Percy Shelley's Defense of Poetry
"the words poetry and poet shift their ground away from pure aesthetics"
(Richter 338). Richter proposes, "a poet is anyone who can synthesize a
vision of the world and express that apprehended synthesis in language" (338).
While Richter intended to prove only that philosophers are also poets in Shelley's
Defense, Mary Shelley's scientist could also be a poet by such
Percy Shelley writes that "poetry, in a general sense, may be defined to
be the expression of the Imagination: and poetry is connate with the origin
of man" (Richter 340). If poetry and imagination are connected
to the origin of man, then Mary Shelley's scientist Victor must be a poet in
that the product
of his imagination is a 're-origination' of man. In fact, Victor must return
to the very foundation of the origin of man to create his new creature. It
only after he had "succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and
life" that he was "capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter" (Shelley
Percy Shelley's poets are not simply facilitators
of the language; they are the "founders" and "inventors" (341). Shelley emphasizes
that the "unequaled" status of a poet is a result of power that is
derived from founding and inventing language and art, as opposed to simply manipulating
elements that already exist. Mary Shelley's poet, inventor and founder, is a
scientist. Victor does not synthesize and create with language, but he does
create a new species with the knowledge of science. Percy Shelley writes that
"sculptors, painters, and musicians" are masters, however, they are
not masters to the same degree as poets because they are not creators. Victor
as a scientist would also be elevated as a poet as he does not desire to simply
study the science of those who preceded him, he desires to pursue further and
create a new creature. Mary Shelley's scientist Victor pontificates, "in
a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder"
(Shelley 35). These are the words of a Shellyian "poet", one who
is synthesizing a vision of the world and expressing such a synthesis in his
If in fact Mary Shelley's
scientist is a Percy Shelley "poet", then
it should prove that the scientist's creature would be a poet's "poem".
Percy Shelley makes it very clear that a poem is not the same as a story.
difference is that "a poem is the very image of life expressed in its
eternal truth" (Richter 342). Shelley argues that a story is merely "detached
facts", while a poem is "the creation of actions according to the
unchangeable forms of humans nature" (342). Truly, Victor's creature
is that creation that has been derived from a study of human nature. As
stands and beholds his creature as it takes life he observes "limbs in
proportion", "beautiful features", skin, muscles and arteries
all coming together and infused into a life. This creation is truly Shelley's
poem and not merely a "story" of detached scientific specimens.
The likelihood of Percy Shelley reading Mary
Shelley's scientist as a poet is very likely. In his Defense of Poetry he
deems the value of science in his argument
of poetry. Shelley writes, "Poetry is indeed something divine. It is at
once the centre and circumference of knowledge; it is that which comprehends
all science, and that to which all science must be referred" (Richter
353). If poetry is essential for science to be comprehended, then the success
scientist such as Victor is derived in poetry. Victor is a poet in that scientific
success flows out of the power of poetry. Shelley writes that all science must
be referred to, or be directed to poetry. Mary Shelley's scientist is then
perfect selection of a figure to demonstrate the intensity of the divine power
of the poet because poetry is so essential to science and its pursuits.
Percy Shelley himself makes
a connection between the poet's expression of human nature and that of the
scientist in Frankenstein in his Preface to the novel.
Percy Shelley wrote the original preface, in which he writes that an effort
was made to "preserve the truth of elementary principles of human nature" just
as poets such as Shakespeare and Milton do in their poetry (Richter xxvii).
Shelley may have realized that the creation of human nature and passions
Victor's creature was very similar to the powerful, divine ability of poets
to create such emotions and legislate such
passions in their works of poetry.
Richter, David H. The Critical Tradition. "A Defense of
Poetry". Bedford Books.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Bantam Books. New York, 1991.
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