Mary Shelley

Literary Criticism

During the term thus far, we've gradually learned, in a very general sense, about certain schools or groups of literary critics: new criticism (close reading), new historicism (context), feminist criticism (post marxist theory), postcolonialism (post marxist theory), reader response, etc.

I've introduced these terms because even as 200-level literature students, you are "coming to terms" with the literature we are reading, and each school or group of critics offers a different set of terms with which to approach literature. Some you will find more useful than others.


Before twentieth century lit crit (literary criticism), there was nineteenth century lit crit (duh, of course there was). There was neoclassicial Augustan literature and there was Romantic literature, a response to the Augustan literature. While Augustan literature -- Wollstonecraft mentioned a lot of the names -- Alexander Pope, Milton is a problematic writer to place in a school -- a bit Augustan, a bit of his own wacky self (one of England's best writers) -- is very clear, it is also very cold. It appeals to reason, and its emotions are not on the surface, but require close reading to discern and understand.

Romanticism is the opposite: its emotions are on the surface, and its structure and reason (or logic) require close reading to discern and understand.

A Definition

Romanticism: a movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that marked the reaction in literature, philosophy, art, religion, and politics from the neoclassicism and formal orthodoxy of the preceding period.

Walter Pater thought the addition of "strangement" to beauty (the neoclassicists having insisted on order in beauty) constituted the romantic temper.

An interesting schematic explanation calls romanticism the predominance of imagination over reason and formal rules (classicism) and over the sense of fact or the actual (realism).

More detail available at:


Perhaps more useful to the student than definitions will be a list of romantic characteristics, though romanticism was not a clearly conceived system. Among the aspects of the romantic movement in England may be listed:

love of nature;
sympathetic interest in the past, especially the medieval;
romanticism criticism;
and a reaction against whatever characterized neoclassicism.

Among the specific characteristics embraced by these general attitudes are:

the abandonment of the heroic couplet in favor of blank verse, the sonnet, the Spenserian stanza, and many experimental verse forms;

the dropping of the conventional poetic diction in favor of fresher language and bolder figures;

the idealization of rural life (Goldsmith); enthusiasm for the wild, irregular, or grotesque in nature and art;
unrestrained imagination; enthusiasm for the uncivilized or "natural"; interest in human rights (Burns, Byron);
sympathy with animal life (Cowper);
sentimental melancholy (Gray);
emotional psychology in fiction (Richardson); collection and imitation of popular ballads (Percy, Scott);
interest in ancient Celtic and Scandinavian mythology and literature;
renewed interest in Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton.

Typical literary forms include the lyric [remember the Sappho units???], especially the *love lyric*, the reflective lyric, the nature lyric, and the lyric of morbid melancholy...; the sentimental novel; the metrical romance; the sentimental comedy; the ballad; the problem novel; the historical novel; the Gothic romance; the sonnet; and the critical essay....

Mary Shelley was married to Percy Bysshe Shelly, a key figure of Romantic poetry, and after his death made money to survive by editing and publishing his works. Their friends included George Gordon, Lord Byron, another major Romantic poet.

More information about Romantic Circles:

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is one of the most popular science fiction stories.

What is science fiction?

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a work of Gothic literature.

What is "gothic"?

Science Fiction is a Genre of literature. Romance fiction (not to be confused with literature written during the romantic period) and detective fiction are examples of other genres.

Can you give an example of another genre of literature?

A "genre" is a classification for literature and film.

Is genre fiction literature?


The Gothic novel dominated English literature from its conception in 1764 with the publication of The Castle of Ortanto by Horace Walpole. It has been continually criticized by numerous critics for its sensationalism, melodramatic qualities, and its play on the supernatural.

The Gothic draws many of its intense images from the "graveyard poet" Thomas Gray ("Elegy in an English Churchyard":

Elegy written in a Country Churchyard

THE Curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight, 5
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow'r
The moping owl does to the moon complain 10
Of such as, wand'ring near her secret bow'r,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mould'ring heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid, 15
The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn,
The swallow twitt'ring from the straw-built shed,
The cock's shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed. 20

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire's return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share.

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield, 25
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke:
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bow'd the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure; 30
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the poor.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour: 35
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Nor you, ye Proud, impute to These the fault,
If Memory o'er their Tomb no Trophies raise,
Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise. 40

Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flatt'ry soothe the dull cold ear of death?

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid 45
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll; 50
Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, 55
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village Hampden that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood,
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood. 60

Th' applause of list'ning senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation's eyes,

Their lot forbade: nor circumscribed alone 65
Their glowing virtues, but their crimes confined;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame, 70
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
With incense kindled at the Muse's flame.

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life 75
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

Yet ev'n these bones from insult to protect
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck'd,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh. 80

Their name, their years, spelt by th' unletter'd muse,
The place of fame and elegy supply:
And many a holy text around she strews,
That teach the rustic moralist to die.

For who, to dumb Forgetfulness a prey, 85
This pleasing anxious being e'er resign'd,
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
Nor cast one longing ling'ring look behind?

On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
Some pious drops the closing eye requires; 90
Ev'n from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,
Ev'n in our Ashes live their wonted Fires.

For thee, who, mindful of th' unhonour'd dead,
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
If chance, by lonely contemplation led, 95
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate,

Haply some hoary-headed Swain may say,
'Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn. 100

'There at the foot of yonder nodding beech
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high,
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
And pore upon the brook that babbles by.

'Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn, 105
Mutt'ring his wayward fancies he would rove,
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
Or crazed with care, or cross'd in hopeless love.

'One morn I miss'd him on the custom'd hill,
Along the heath and near his fav'rite tree; 110
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;

'The next with dirges due in sad array
Slow through the church-way path we saw him borne.
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay 115
Graved on the stone beneath yon aged thorn:'


Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A Youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.
Fair Science frown'd not on his humble birth,
And Melancholy mark'd him for her own. 120

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heav'n did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Mis'ry all he had, a tear,
He gain'd from Heav'n ('twas all he wish'd) a friend.

No farther seek his merits to disclose, 125
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
(There they alike in trembling hope repose,)
The bosom of his Father and his God.

"Gothic" intermingles a landscape of vast dark forest with vegetation that bordered on excessive -- a sense of nature as mysterious, even menaciong with natures ability to conquer artifacts of human civilization, like buildings, religions, and science.

Many gothic novelists were women: Ann Radcliffe is another one.

Radcliffe's Published Books

The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne - 1789
A Sicilian Romance: A Highland Story - 1790
The Romance of the Forest - 1792
The Mysteries of Udolpho: A Romance - 1794
The Italian: or, The Confessional of the Black Penitents - 1797
Gaston de Blondeville: or, The Court of Henry III Keeping Festival in Ardennes - 1826

The Gothic Literature Page:


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