Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2017

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

English

First Advisor

Jillian Heydt-Stevenson

Second Advisor

Jane Garrity

Third Advisor

Mary Klages

Fourth Advisor

David Atherton

Abstract

In this thesis I will argue that Mary Shelley’s works form a dialogue with those of her contemporaries and predecessors within the Romantic Movement that criticizes social constructions of gender as well as the narcissistic convictions first, that one can delve into nature and truly access its sublime secrets, and second, that one can then exert the right to harvest what they believe they have found for their own aggrandizement. I will show that the foundations of Six Weeks’ Tour, Frankenstein, and Matilda are predicated on a series of paradigms: first, the aesthetic categories of the sublime and picturesque from works by William Gilpin, Edmund Burke, Kant, Milton, Dante, and Percy Shelley; second I will demonstrate how the critiques of gender and education Mary Wollstonecraft offers undergird Shelley’s texts; third, by looking at select works by Erasmus Darwin, Sir Humphry Davy, and Sigmund Freud I will explore, more briefly, the connection between Frankenstein’s scientific specialization and the ways that this encourages his narcissistic delving into the sublime. I will elucidate the point that while feminist scholars have done much to broaden our understanding of Shelley, claims that Frankenstein is her “self-conscious revision of Percy Shelley’s Alastor” and, more generally, a reiteration of “his theories of love” diminish the extent of her originality and grant greater authorship to the nearest man (Fisch et al. 4) to conclude that it is more accurate to say that Shelley’s works reimagine in original and dynamic ways the literature and conventions of her era in order to argue against contemporary social norms, thereby establishing them as arbitrary constructions not found in nature—as she does with “Mont Blanc” in Six Weeks’ Tour—or to use as springboards by which she can rethink binary constructions—as she does in her about-face revisions of gender constructions in Burke. I will thus show that her interactions with these authors demonstrate how thoroughly she inhabits the heart of Romanticism, rather than existing on its periphery as its diminutive Other. And, similarly, that the fact that Shelley argues that the divide between society’s female and male is a matter of interpellation suggests both a feminist and a deconstructionist lens are necessary to illuminate her radical vision.