Solitude, Alienation, and Exile: Mary Shelley in Context
PH. D. Dissertation by
Lamar Adam Mekler

The Graduate School
Drew University
September 1998 


        This study focuses on Mary Shelley's use in her writing of the concept of solitude. While many male Romantic writers celebrate in their works what Wordsworth considers "the bliss of solitude" ("I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud" 22), women writers more often describe themselves as subjected to an isolated existence by figures exercising greater power. Confronted with what Frankenstein's creature describes as a "forced solitude" (Frankenstein 100), they offer a different perspective on solitude, one that incorporates the unpleasant concepts of alienation and exile.

        In analyzing Mary Shelley within this context, I utilize a combination of two different, though related critical perspectives, the new historical and the psychoanalytical. These perspectives allow me to investigate the ways in which Shelley's many experiences of death and abandonment influenced her treatment of the subjects of solitude and alienation in her writings.

        I examine Shelley's work as a set of three cycles. The first group, involving her first three novels, Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus (1818); Valperga, or, the Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca (1823); and The Last Man (1826), receives the most attention. In these novels, she establishes a framework of ideas and themes that she revisits in her later writings. The second group includes her novella, Mathilda, and the short stories she wrote between the deaths of Percy Shelley in 1822 and of his father, Sir Timothy, in 1844. Both the novels and the short stories culminate in the same image: the experience of isolation inherent in being the sole survivor of an extinct group.

        As she enters the third period of her career, during which she wrote her last three novels, The Fortunes of Perkins Warbeck (1830), Lodore (1835), and Falkner (1837), Shelley adopts a mode of writing more characteristic of the Victorian period in its focus on the feminine virtue and propriety. Thus, with her later novels she moves beyond the context of the Romantic movement and towards a different context, within which Romantic ideas could be incorporated, primarily in the form of textual allusions. In the end, Romanticism itself occupies the margins of Shelley's writing, just as she had occupied the margins of Romanticism during its zenith.

Home Page