The Sublime – Frankenstein

How is the sublime presented by Shelley in ‘Frankenstein’? (MINI ESSAY) 

Throughout the novel of Frankenstein, Shelley presents the major gothic theme of ‘the sublime’ – that describes something both greater in size and stature of which natural beauty and power is almost impossible to comprehend for the human mind – as  a concept that inspires and alleviates the soul of both Victor and the reader. Through powerful, sensory imagery, Shelley is able to explicitly illustrate the feeling of numinosity that Frankenstein experiences. Furthermore, the generic context that surrounds the idea of the sublime, helps to place the novel amongst the works of second generation romanticists such as Byron, Percy Shelley and John Keats. This aids the reader to understand why this concept was so important in the late 18th century, because it shows the new way of thinking and appreciation of the raw natural world, after the contrasting period of industrialisation. We also learn that the sublime can be terrifying due to the lack of control that humans have over it, however instead of being argued that the sublime is dangerous, one looks at this point of view that the overwhelming nature of it actually helps both Victor and the reader to put their lives into perspective and alleviates their soul.

One of the means in which Shelley conveys the sublime as a concept that inspires and alleviates the soul is through the use of hyperbolic description. There are a number of examples of this, especially at the beginning of Volume 2 when Victor is roaming through the valleys and glaciers. He describes the mountains as “sublime and magnificent scenes [that] afforded [him] the greatest consolation”, it is implied that the magnitude of the mountains helps to put his ‘misery of reflection’ into perspective and allows him to realise things are not as big a problem as he may have thought at first because in comparison to these huge natural landmarks, him and his life are minute – and this relief brings him comfort and solitude. This idea is reiterated when Victor tells the reader that reaching the summit of Montanvert “filled him with a sublime ecstasy…causing [him] to forget the passing cares of life.” Shelley’s lexical choice of ‘ecstasy’ presents the sublime as something positive which brings happiness and solitude to Victor and therefore the reader. The vocabulary used is often melodramatic and exaggerated, leading the reader to understand the sublime as inspiring. Adjectives such as “glittering”, “soul-inspiriting” and “majestic” describe the mountainous landscape as something that one must be in awe of. The reader can understand, through Shelley’s use of language that Victor’s heart is captured by the mountains and the feeling of the sublime is appreciated. This feeling is described by Wordsworth – a first generation romantic poet – in Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey. He too implies the moment when everything in “this unintelligible world” is made clear and he experiences a lightening in his perception of life. Ultimately, the sublime is presented as a large entity that alleviates the soul of Victor throughout the novel of Frankenstein.




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