those poets whose effusions entranced my soul and lifted it to heaven.

Category: Writing & Reading | Type: Discussion | Title: Frankenstein (in Context) | Author: Mary Shelley | Ch: Letter 1

The novel's three principals, Walton, Frankenstein, and the monster, write and speak in distinct and at times highly rhetorical ways, more literary than oral, the monster's language being the most eloquent. All three are to varying degrees self-educated, their education dependent on their reading. Hence their speech seems often too formal and unconversational. While Walton is in fact writing, his speech, when he quotes it, remains stilted, and his writing is festooned with rhetorical devices and banal metaphors. 

Examples here are "perused...effusions entranced my soul and lifted it to heaven." He was, he says, a poet for a year, and a poet in the mold certainly of Percy Shelley though not in the caliber of his writing.  Shelley's prose by contrast is direct and straightforward. Walton doesn't give a reason for "my failure" to "obtain a niche in the temple" of Homer and Shakespeare (his aspirations are anything but modest), though perhaps being a poet was always second to being an explorer, now made possible by a timely inheritance. 

A difficulty facing Mary Shelley that she turns to an advantage is the need through Walton's letters to explain the background plot. Making Walton a naive, indulgent narcissist allows her to get in necessary information under cover of a narrator who enjoys nothing so much as talking about his aspirations.  

Walton is immature, preposterous in his language, vainglorious in his ambitions. He is a sort of foil to Frankenstein, who is the real thing. If you've read Wuthering Heights (1848), you'll recall that the callow, self-regarding Lockwood, whose made some amorous conquest in Bath of which he's proud, occupies a similar position in respect to Heathcliff, the real thing. 

 

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