In the Romantic period of literature, nature was often associated with isolation in a positive way. Throughout the novel, Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley, there is a strong symbolic relationship between loneliness and nature. However, Shelley uses the relationship to show the negativity of being alone. The relationship of nature and loneliness is displayed through three characters in the story: Victor Frankenstein, his creature, and Robert Walton.
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At the times when the characters are alone and in need of companionship, they feel depressed, confused, and angry; they do not think clearly, and, consequently, they make wrong decisions. They seek refuge in nature, and try to use its beauty to find answers and to fill their void of friendship. Yet, none of the characters ever overcomes their bouts with loneliness because they never find true comfort in nature. Victor Frankenstein claims, “No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself” (Shelley, 19).
His early life was filled with love and nurturing from his parents, his beautiful and adored companion Elizabeth, and his best friend Henry Clerval. However, after he leaves his home to continue his education at Ingolstadt, he remarks, “I, who had ever been surrounded by amiable companions, continually engaged in endeavoring to bestow mutual pleasure, I was now alone” (Shelley, 25). Frankenstein no longer feels all the happiness he once felt when he was united with his family and friends. He alienates himself from others because he thinks he is “totally unfitted for the company of strangers” (Shelley, 25).
When Frankenstein is at Ingolstadt, he “has a void of the soul” so profound that he subverts Nature to fill it (qtd. in Renfroe, 2). He conceives, “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me” (Shelley, 32). Frankenstein decides to make a creature, to defy the powers of Nature and God — a poor decision that ruins the rest of his life. When Victor finally succeeds in his quest to possess Nature, “horror and disgust” fill his heart upon viewing his new creation (qtd. in Renfroe, 2).
He sought companionship by capturing Nature and creating someone to honor him for giving them life; but it backfired and he sealed his fate to the wrath of his creature. When Victor Frankenstein is again separated from his beloved family and friends, this time by their deaths, he feels the pains of isolation. He again retreats to nature. He regards nature the same way William Wordsworth does in his poem “Tintern Abbey”: “well pleased to recognise / In nature and the language of the sense / The anchor of the purest thoughts, the nurse, / The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul / Of all my moral being” (107-111).
When Frankenstein ventures into the mountains of his homeland, “A tingling long-lost sense of pleasure often came across me” (Shelley, 65). He searches for himself and consolation for the loss of his family. However, as Wordsworth points out in his poem, “I bounded o’er the mountains, by the sides / Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams / Wherever nature led: more like a man / Flying from something that he dreads, than one / Who sought the thing he loved” (67-71). Frankenstein’s want for comfort is never truly answered, but he can not clearly see that because he is blinded by nature’s beauty.
Again, he does not defeat his solitude through nature. Frankenstein’s creature also endures loneliness. He is alienated by society because of his physical appearance as a monster and daemon. In addition, his “father”, Frankenstein does not nurture him, so he is alone with no direction or knowledge. However, he too searches nature for solace and answers. “In these early days, Nature provides for the basic needs of the monster, and the monster enters a cooperative interaction with Nature” (Renfroe, 3).
Since no one else is there for him, and Nature provides him with food, drink, shelter, and light, the creature seems to find consolation in nature. Yet, even that turns sour, when the creature desires more than just the basic needs, but friendship as well. After the creature’s continual efforts to find companionship with the cottagers, villagers, and children he meets in the woods are shot down, his feelings “were those of rage and revenge” (Shelley, 97). Following the violent encounter with Felix, the creature flees into the woods.
However, instead of receiving sympathy from nature, he says: “Oh! What a miserable night I passed! the cold stars shone in mockery, and the bare trees waved their branches above me: now and then the sweet voice of a bird burst forth amidst the universal stillness. All, save I, were at rest, or in enjoyment: I, like the arch-fiend, bore a hell within me; and, finding myself unsympathised with, wished to tear up the trees, spread havoc and destruction around me, and then to have sat down and enjoyed the ruin. ” (Shelley, 97)
Nature no longer provides the creature with the comfort it once did, but instead infuriates the creature still more, and is threatened with destruction. Therefore, the creature does not overcome his loneliness through nature. Robert Walton is a minor character in Frankenstein; yet, he still shares the same lonesome feelings that Frankenstein and his creature suffer. Walton is a man with a romantic quest, with no friend to share in his ups and downs. In a letter to his sister, he says, “But I have one want which I have never yet been able to satisfy; and the absence of which I now feel as a most severe evil. I have no friend” (Shelley, 4).
Since Walton cannot find anyone to fill his void for a friend, he instead quenches his strong thirst for knowledge, and journeys through nature to find a passage in the Arctic north. This is seen when Walton says, “But besides this, there is a love for the marvelous, a belief in the marvelous, intertwined in all my projects, which hurries me out of the common pathways of men, even to the wild sea and unvisited regions I am about to explore” (Shelley, 6). He tries to find comfort through nature, yet it is never enough. Once Walton meets Frankenstein and finds a true friend in him, he begins to “love him as a brother” (Shelley, 11).
He fills Walton with happiness, courage, and determination to achieve his quest. However, when Frankenstein starts to reach the end of his life, Walton begins to despair and feel upset with the loss of the one he values and admires so. When he must face his sailors’ mutiny against the trip through the north, Frankenstein stands by him. Yet, when Frankenstein’s life slowly slips away, Walton has no choice than to give into his crew’s demands to return to England. This shows that with the absence of Walton’s companion, nature is no longer sufficient to comfort him.
Frankenstein is the strength behind Walton. Humans are very dependent on anyone or anything that brings them comfort. Although people sometimes think that nonliving things, such as nature, can make up for the void they have in their lives, they could never be truly satisfied with just that. They need to feel companionship and love from a friend to keep them strong, happy, and on the right path. Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley, directly shows how respect and love of nature is important, yet the presence of companionship overpowers all.