Mary Shelley's Novels of the 1820s: History and Prophecy

Pamela Clemit

in The Godwinian Novel

Published in print March 1993 | ISBN: 9780198112204
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191670701 | DOI:

Series: Oxford English Monographs

Mary Shelley's Novels of the 1820s: History and Prophecy

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Abandoning the structural complexity of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley enacts her loss of faith in individual improvement at the level of narrative form. Given the overwhelming grief and powerlessness of her first-person narrator, the reader is also forced into the role of passive witness to man's defeat by forces beyond his rational control. However, this single point of view may be seen as entirely proper to the novel's apocalyptic theme, and in this sense Shelley's disenchanted creation myth moves towards the separate genre of science fiction. Despite or because of her profound intellectual uncertainty, Shelley achieved an unparalleled extension of the imaginative scope of the Godwinian novel. Through the unforgettable images at the heart of Frankenstein and The Last Man, the symbolic concerns of William Godwin's tradition are both revitalized and deflected, and thus made available to mainstream nineteenth-century fiction writers.

Keywords: Frankenstein; Mary Shelley; grief; creation myth; science fiction; novel; powerlessness; William Godwin; The Last Man; Godwinian novel

Chapter.  14705 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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