Michelle Kronwald

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 Mary 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 standards.

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 is only after he had "succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life" that he was "capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter" (Shelley 37).

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 creation.

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. The 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 Victor 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 of a 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 a 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 in 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.
Boston, 1998.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Bantam Books. New York, 1991.

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