A key theme that runs through Mary Shelley's novel is her understanding of aesthetics, especially as they relate to nature. Like many of her contemporaries, her work was a response to the aesthetic theories of Edmund Burke, specifically his Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757, 2nd ed., 1759). In it, he attempted to distinguish a framework for understanding the aesthetic categories of the sublime and the beautiful. Focusing on sensibility, he suggested that things that were sublime evoked fear and dread, while things that were beautiful evoked pleasure in individuals. These sensations were what led the mind to its understanding of aesthetics. He reasoned that many objects in the world could include a combination of beautiful and sublime elements but that these aesthetic categories were discrete and emerged from distinct sensations. Burke's position was a complex response to a number of contemporary psychological and philosophical ideas, but he summed his argument up as follows. 

 "On closing this general view of beauty, it naturally occurs that we should compare it with the sublime; and in this comparison there appears a remarkable contrast. For sublime objects are vast in their dimensions, beautiful ones comparatively small; beauty should be smooth and polished; the great, rugged and negligent: beauty should shun the right line, yet deviate from it insensibly; the great in many cases loves the right line; and when it deviates, it often makes a strong deviation: beauty should not be obscure; the great ought to be dark and gloomy: beauty should be light and delicate; the great ought to be solid, and even massive. They are indeed ideas of a very different nature, one being founded on pain, the other on pleasure; and, however they may vary afterwards from the direct nature of their causes, yet these causes keep up an eternal distinction between them, a distinction never to be forgotten by any whose business it is to affect the passions. In the infinite variety of natural combinations, we must expect to find the qualities of things the most remote imaginable from each other united in the same object. We must expect also to find combinations of the same kind in the works of art. But when we consider the power of an object upon our passions, we must know that when anything is intended to affect the mind by the force of some predominant property, the affection produced is like to be the more uniform and perfect, if all the other properties or qualities of the object be of the same nature, and tending to the same design as the principal.
"If black and white blend, soften, and unite
A thousand ways, are there no black and white?"

[Alexander Pope. Essay on Man. Epistle II]

If the qualities of the sublime and beautiful are sometimes found united, does this prove that they are the same; does it prove that they are any way allied; does it prove even that they are not opposite and contradictory? Black and white may soften, may blend; but they are not therefore the same. Nor, when they are so softened and blended with each other, or with different colors, is the power of black as black, or of white as white, so strong as when each stands uniform and distinguished."

Numerous philosophers and art theorists responded to his arguments in the following decades, fleshing them out, modifying them, or arguing against them. For example, Immanual Kant published Beobachtungen über das Gefühl des Schönen und Erhabenen (Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime) in 1764, providing a more evocative distinction between the beautiful and sublime than Burke:

"The finer feeling that we will now consider is preeminently of two kinds: the feeling of the sublime and the beautiful. Being touched by either is agreeable, but in different ways. The sight of a mountain whose snow-covered peaks arise above the clouds, the description of a raging storm, or the depiction of the kingdom of hell by Milton arouses satisfaction, but with dread; by contrast, the prospect of meadows strewn with flowers, or valleys with winding brooks, covered with grazing herds, the description of Elysium, or Homer's depiction of the girdle of Venus also occasion an agreeable sentiment, but one that is joyful and smiling. For the former to make its impression on us in its proper strength, we must have a feeling of the sublime, and in order properly to enjoy the latter we must have a feeling for the beautiful." (Kant, 14-16)

He also suggested that there were three categories of the sublime: the terrifying, the noble, and the magnificent (Kant, 14). According to Kant, the terrifying sublime is accompanied by dread or melancholy, the noble by quiet admiration, and the magnificent by "beauty spread over a sublime prospect" (Kant, 14). 

Over the course of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-centuries, the aesthetic categories of the sublime and the beautiful became increasingly important to the artistic lexicon, particularly for those artists whom we associate with Romanticism. They linked an increasing range of ideas to the concepts to the sublime and the beautiful. For example, those who emphasized the importance of engaging with nature as a way to connect with the divine envisioned the sublime as deeply spiritual experience. Freiderike Brun, née Münther (1765-1835), was one of them. A Danish salonièrre and writer, she published the poem, "Chamonix beym Sonnenaufgange" ("Chamonix at Sunrise") in 1791. Seeing Mont Blanc from a fir grove, she wrote that the peak both made her tremble and inspired her spirit to soar away into the infinite. The poem ends with nature--from the mountain's streams to its avalanches--proclaiming the name of her creator. 

Chamonix at Sunrise (1791)
Freiderike Brun

From the deep shadow of the silent fir-grove
I lift my eyes, and trembling look on thee,
Brow of eternity, thou dazzling peak,
From whose calm height my dreaming spirit mounts
And soars away into the infinite!
Who sank the pillar in the lap of earth,
Down deep, the pillar of eternal rock,
On which thy mass stands firm, and firm had stood,
While centuries on centuries rolled along?
Who reared, up-towering through he vaulted blue,
Mighty and bold, thy radiant countenance?
Who poured you from on high with thunder-sound,
Down from old winter’s everlasting realm,
O jagged streams, over rock and through ravine?
And whose almighty voice commanded loud,
“Here shall the stiffening billows rest awhile!”
Whose finger points yon morning star his course?
Who fringed with blossom-wreaths the eternal frost?
Whose name, O wild Arveiron, does thy din
Of waves sound out in dreadful harmonies?
“Jehovah!” crashes in the bursting ice;
Down through the gorge the rolling avalanche
Carries the word in thunder to the vales.
“Jehovah!” murmurs in the morning breeze,
Along the trembling tree-tops; down below
It whispers in the purling, silvery brooks.

A decade later, the British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge echoed (some would say plagiarized) Freiderike Brun's poem in "Hymn before Sun-rise, in the Vale of Chamouni." An extended version of Brun's ideas--though, without the firsthand knowledge of having visited Chamonix--it showed the extent to which the language of the sublime had permeated the international intellectual discourse.  

Hymn before Sun-rise, in the Vale of Chamouni (1802)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

HAST thou a charm to stay the morning-star    
In his deep course? So long he seems to pause    
On thy bald awful head, O sovran Blanc!    
The Arve and Arveiron at thy base    
Rave ceaselessly; but thou, most awful Form!            
Risest from forth thy silent sea of pines,    
How silently! Around thee and above    
Deep is the air and dark, substantial, black,    
An ebon mass: methinks thou piercest it,    
As with a wedge! But when I look again,            
It is thine own calm home, thy crystal shrine,    
Thy habitation from eternity!    
O dread and silent Mount! I gazed upon thee,    
Till thou, still present to the bodily sense,    
Didst vanish from my thought: entranced in prayer            
I worshipped the Invisible alone.    
  Yet, like some sweet beguiling melody,    
So sweet, we know not we are listening to it,    
Thou, the meanwhile, wast blending with my Thought,    
Yea, with my Life and Life’s own secret joy:            
Till the dilating Soul, enrapt, transfused,    
Into the mighty vision passing—there    
As in her natural form, swelled vast to Heaven.    
  Awake, my soul! not only passive praise    
Thou owest! not alone these swelling tears,            
Mute thanks and secret ecstasy! Awake,    
Voice of sweet song! Awake, my heart, awake!    
Green vales and icy cliffs, all join my Hymn.    


  Thou first and chief, sole sovereign of the Vale!    
O struggling with the darkness all the night,            
And visited all night by troops of stars,    
Or when they climb the sky or when they sink:    
Companion of the morning-star at dawn,    
Thyself Earth’s rosy star, and of the dawn    
Co-herald: wake, O wake, and utter praise!            
Who sank thy sunless pillars deep in Earth?    
Who fill’d thy countenance with rosy light?    
Who made thee parent of perpetual streams?    
  And you, ye five wild torrents fiercely glad!    
Who called you forth from night and utter death,            
From dark and icy caverns called you forth,    
Down those precipitous, black, jagged rocks,    
For ever shattered and the same for ever?    
Who gave you your invulnerable life,    
Your strength, your speed, your fury, and your joy,            
Unceasing thunder and eternal foam?    
And who commanded (and the silence came),    
Here let the billows stiffen, and have rest?    
  Ye Ice-falls! ye that from the mountain’s brow    
Adown enormous ravines slope amain—            
Torrents, methinks, that heard a mighty voice,    
And stopped at once amid their maddest plunge!    
Motionless torrents! silent cataracts!    
Who made you glorious as the gates of Heaven    
Beneath the keen full moon? Who bade the sun            
Clothe you with rainbows? Who, with living flowers    
Of loveliest blue, spread garlands at your feet?—    


God! let the torrents, like a shout of nations,    
Answer! and let the ice-plains echo, God!    
God! sing ye meadow-streams with gladsome voice!            
Ye pine-groves, with your soft and soul-like sounds!    
And they too have a voice, yon piles of snow,    
And in their perilous fall shall thunder, God!    
  Ye living flowers that skirt the eternal frost!    
Ye wild goats sporting round the eagle’s nest!            
Ye eagles, play-mates of the mountain-storm!    
Ye lightnings, the dread arrows of the clouds!    
Ye signs and wonders of the element!    
Utter forth God, and fill the hills with praise!    
  Thou too, hoar Mount! with thy sky-pointing peaks,            
Oft from whose feet the avalanche, unheard,    
Shoots downward, glittering through the pure serene    
Into the depth of clouds, that veil thy breast—    
Thou too again, stupendous Mountain! thou    
That as I raise my head, awhile bowed low            
In adoration, upward from thy base    
Slow travelling with dim eyes suffused with tears,    
Solemnly seemest, like a vapoury cloud,    
To rise before me—Rise, O ever rise,    
Rise like a cloud of incense from the Earth!            
Thou kingly Spirit throned among the hills,    
Thou dread ambassador from Earth to Heaven,    
Great Hierarch! tell thou the silent sky,    
And tell the stars, and tell yon rising sun,    
Earth, with her thousand voices, praises God.


The Shelleys Experience the Arve and Chamonix

Mary Shelley was deeply influenced by the language of the beautiful and the sublime in her own work. In fact, Frankenstein includes several extended meditations on the aesthetics of nature. Like Brun, Coleridge, and many others, for Shelley, the Alps served as potent symbols of the pleasures and terrors inherent to the natural world. And, unlike Coleridge, she visited many of the places that she described. 

In the year between the composition of Frankenstein and its publication, Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley published their History of a Six Weeks Tour through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland. The language in the text prefigures some of the descriptions in Frankenstein, and in some ways, the text might be read as an extended version of Victor Frankenstein's experience of the Alps.  

The following passage summarizes the Shelleys tour along the River Arve to Chamonix and reflects both the empirical precision expected in a travel journal and the aesthetic perspective of its authors. 

J.M.W.Turner after John Robert Cozens. Mont Blanc from the banks of the Arve, near Sallenches in Savoy. c.1792-3. watercolour, over graphite. 231 x 376 mm. British Museum. 1958,0712.387.

J.M.W.Turner after John Robert Cozens. Mont Blanc from the banks of the Arve, near Sallenches in Savoy. c.1792-3. watercolour, over graphite. 231 x 376 mm. British Museum. 1958,0712.387.

"[143] At Cluses the road turns suddenly to the right, following the  Arve along the chasm, which it seems to have hollowed for itself among the [144] perpendicular mountains. The scene assumes here a more savage and colossal character: the valley becomes narrow, affording no more space than is sufficient for the river and the road. The pines descend to the banks, imitating with their irregular spires, the pyramidal crags which lift themselves far above the regions of forest into the deep azure of the sky, and among the white dazzling clouds. The scene, at the distance of half a mile from Cluses, differs from that of Matlock in little else than in the immensity of its proportions, and in its untameable, inaccessible solitude, inhabited only by the goats which we saw browsing on the rocks. 
[147] The following morning we proceeded from St. Martin on mules to Chamouni, accompanied by two guides. We proceeded, as we had done the preceding day, along the valley of the Arve, a valley surrounded on all sides by immense mountains, whose rugged precipices are intermixed on high with dazzling snow. Their bases were still covered with the eternal forests, which perpetually grew darker and more profound as we approached the inner regions of the mountains. 
On arriving at a small village, at the distance of a league from St. Martin, we dismounted from our mules, and were conducted by our guides to view a cascade. We beheld an immense [148] body of water fall two hundred and fifty feet, dashing from rock to rock, and casting a spray which formed a mist around it, in the midst of which hung a multitude of sunbows, which faded or became unspeakably vivid, as the inconstant sun shone through the clouds. When we approached near to it, the rain of the spray reached us, and our clothes were Wetted by the quick-falling but minute particles of water. The cataract fell from above into a deep craggy chasm at our feet, where, changing its character to that of a mountain stream, it pursued its course towards the Arve, roaring over the rocks that impeded its progress. As we proceeded, our route still lay [149] through the valley, or rather, as it had now become, the vast ravine, which is at once the couch and the creation of the terrible Arve. We ascended, winding between mountains whose immensity staggers the imagination. We crossed the path of a torrent, which three days since had descended from the thawing snow, and torn the road away. 
We dined at Servoz, a little village where there are lead and copper mines, and where we saw a cabinet of natural curiosities, like those of Keswick and Bethgelert. We saw in this cabinet some chamois' horns, and the horns of an exceedingly rare animal called the bouquetin, which inhabits the desarts [150] of snow to the south of Mont Blanc: it is an animal of the stag kind ; its horns weigh at least twenty-seven English pounds. It is inconceivable how so small an animal could support so inordinate a weight. The horns are of a very peculiar conformation, being broad, massy, and pointed at the ends, and surrounded with a number of rings, which are supposed to afford an indication of its age : there were seventeen rings on the largest of these horns. 
J.M.W. Turner 1775–1851. Chamonix: Mont Blanc and the Arve Valley from the Path to the Montenvers. 1803. graphite, watercolour and gouache on paper. Support: 318 x 472 mm. Tate. St Gothard and Mont Blanc Sketchbook. D04610. Turner Bequest LXXV 18. Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported).

J.M.W. Turner 1775–1851. Chamonix: Mont Blanc and the Arve Valley from the Path to the Montenvers. 1803. graphite, watercolour and gouache on paper. Support: 318 x 472 mm. Tate. St Gothard and Mont Blanc Sketchbook. D04610. Turner Bequest LXXV 18. Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported).

From Servoz three leagues remain to Chamouni.--Mont Blanc was before us--the Alps, with their innumerable glaciers on high all around, closing in the complicated windings of the [151] single vale--forests inexpressibly beautiful, but majestic in their beauty--intermingled beech and pine, and oak, overshadowed our road, or receded, whilst lawns of such verdure as I have never seen before occupied these openings, and gradually became darker in their recesses. Mont Blanc was before us, but it was covered with cloud; its base, furrowed with dreadful gaps, was seen above. Pinnacles of snow intolerably bright, part of the chain connected with Mont Blanc, shone through the clouds at intervals on high. I never knew--I never imagined what mountains were before. The immensity of these aerial summits excited, when they suddenly burst upon the [152] sight, a sentiment of extatic wonder, not unallied to madness. And remember this was all one scene, it all pressed home to our regard and our imagination. Though it embraced a vast extent of space, the snowy pyramids which shot into the bright blue sky seemed to overhang our path; the ravine, clothed with gigantic pines, and black with its depth below, so deep that the very roaring of the untameable Arve, which rolled through it, could not be heard above--all was as much our own, as if we had been the creators of such impressions in the minds of others as now occupied our own. Nature was the poet, whose harmony held our spirits more breathless than that of the divinest. [153]
As we entered the valley of Chamouni (which in fact may be considered as a continuation of those which we have followed from Bonneville and Cluses) clouds hung upon the mountains at the distance perhaps of 6000 feet from the earth, but so as effectually to conceal not only Mont Blanc, but the other aiguilles, as they call them here, attached and subordinate to it. We were travelling along the valley, when suddenly we heard a sound as of the burst of smothered thunder rolling above; yet there was something earthly in the sound, that told us it could not be thunder. Our guide hastily pointed out to us a part, of the mountain opposite, from whence the sound [154] came. It was an avalanche. We saw the smoke of its path among the rocks, and continued to hear at intervals the bursting of its fall. It fell on the bed of a torrent, which it displaced, and presently we saw its tawny-coloured waters also spread themselves over the ravine, which was their couch." 

Extract from "Letter IV," dated 22 July 22, 1816 to T.P. from the Hôtel de londres, Chamouni. History of a Six Weeks Tour through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland. London. 1817.

Percy Bysshe Shelley put his experience of this locale into poetic form in his "Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni," which he wrote in 1816. Like the travel journals, the poem provides insight into how Mary Shelley and her circle perceived the sublimity and beauty of the Alps. Note how Shelley contemplates the infinite without a specific reference to a creator god. 

The everlasting universe of things
Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves, 
Now dark—now glittering—now reflecting gloom— 
Now lending splendour, where from secret springs
The source of human thought its tribute brings
Of waters—with a sound but half its own, 
Such as a feeble brook will oft assume, 
In the wild woods, among the mountains lone, 
Where waterfalls around it leap for ever, 
Where woods and winds contend, and a vast river
Over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves. 

Thus thou, Ravine of Arve—dark, deep Ravine— 
Thou many-colour'd, many-voiced vale, 
Over whose pines, and crags, and caverns sail
Fast cloud-shadows and sunbeams: awful scene, 
Where Power in likeness of the Arve comes down
From the ice-gulfs that gird his secret throne, 
Bursting through these dark mountains like the flame
Of lightning through the tempest;—thou dost lie, 
Thy giant brood of pines around thee clinging, 
Children of elder time, in whose devotion
The chainless winds still come and ever came
To drink their odours, and their mighty swinging
To hear—an old and solemn harmony; 
Thine earthly rainbows stretch'd across the sweep
Of the aethereal waterfall, whose veil
Robes some unsculptur'd image; the strange sleep
Which when the voices of the desert fail
Wraps all in its own deep eternity; 
Thy caverns echoing to the Arve's commotion, 
A loud, lone sound no other sound can tame; 
Thou art pervaded with that ceaseless motion, 
Thou art the path of that unresting sound— 
Dizzy Ravine! and when I gaze on thee
I seem as in a trance sublime and strange
To muse on my own separate fantasy, 
My own, my human mind, which passively
Now renders and receives fast influencings, 
Holding an unremitting interchange
With the clear universe of things around; 
One legion of wild thoughts, whose wandering wings
Now float above thy darkness, and now rest
Where that or thou art no unbidden guest, 
In the still cave of the witch Poesy, 
Seeking among the shadows that pass by
Ghosts of all things that are, some shade of thee, 
Some phantom, some faint image; till the breast
From which they fled recalls them, thou art there! 

Some say that gleams of a remoter world
Visit the soul in sleep, that death is slumber, 
And that its shapes the busy thoughts outnumber
Of those who wake and live.—I look on high; 
Has some unknown omnipotence unfurl'd
The veil of life and death? or do I lie
In dream, and does the mightier world of sleep
Spread far around and inaccessibly
Its circles? For the very spirit fails, 
Driven like a homeless cloud from steep to steep
That vanishes among the viewless gales! 
Far, far above, piercing the infinite sky, 
Mont Blanc appears—still, snowy, and serene; 
Its subject mountains their unearthly forms
Pile around it, ice and rock; broad vales between
Of frozen floods, unfathomable deeps, 
Blue as the overhanging heaven, that spread
And wind among the accumulated steeps; 
A desert peopled by the storms alone, 
Save when the eagle brings some hunter's bone, 
And the wolf tracks her there—how hideously
Its shapes are heap'd around! rude, bare, and high, 
Ghastly, and scarr'd, and riven.—Is this the scene
Where the old Earthquake-daemon taught her young
Ruin? Were these their toys? or did a sea
Of fire envelop once this silent snow? 
None can reply—all seems eternal now. 
The wilderness has a mysterious tongue
Which teaches awful doubt, or faith so mild, 
So solemn, so serene, that man may be, 
But for such faith, with Nature reconcil'd; 
Thou hast a voice, great Mountain, to repeal
Large codes of fraud and woe; not understood
By all, but which the wise, and great, and good
Interpret, or make felt, or deeply feel. 

The fields, the lakes, the forests, and the streams, 
Ocean, and all the living things that dwell
Within the daedal earth; lightning, and rain, 
Earthquake, and fiery flood, and hurricane, 
The torpor of the year when feeble dreams
Visit the hidden buds, or dreamless sleep
Holds every future leaf and flower; the bound
With which from that detested trance they leap; 
The works and ways of man, their death and birth, 
And that of him and all that his may be; 
All things that move and breathe with toil and sound
Are born and die; revolve, subside, and swell. 
Power dwells apart in its tranquillity, 
Remote, serene, and inaccessible: 
And this, the naked countenance of earth, 
On which I gaze, even these primeval mountains
Teach the adverting mind. The glaciers creep
Like snakes that watch their prey, from their far fountains, 
Slow rolling on; there, many a precipice
Frost and the Sun in scorn of mortal power
Have pil'd: dome, pyramid, and pinnacle, 
A city of death, distinct with many a tower
And wall impregnable of beaming ice. 
Yet not a city, but a flood of ruin
Is there, that from the boundaries of the sky
Rolls its perpetual stream; vast pines are strewing
Its destin'd path, or in the mangled soil
Branchless and shatter'd stand; the rocks, drawn down
From yon remotest waste, have overthrown
The limits of the dead and living world, 
Never to be reclaim'd. The dwelling-place
Of insects, beasts, and birds, becomes its spoil; 
Their food and their retreat for ever gone, 
So much of life and joy is lost. The race
Of man flies far in dread; his work and dwelling
Vanish, like smoke before the tempest's stream, 
And their place is not known. Below, vast caves
Shine in the rushing torrents' restless gleam, 
Which from those secret chasms in tumult welling
Meet in the vale, and one majestic River, 
The breath and blood of distant lands, for ever
Rolls its loud waters to the ocean-waves, 
Breathes its swift vapours to the circling air. 

Mont Blanc yet gleams on high:—the power is there, 
The still and solemn power of many sights, 
And many sounds, and much of life and death. 
In the calm darkness of the moonless nights, 
In the lone glare of day, the snows descend
Upon that Mountain; none beholds them there, 
Nor when the flakes burn in the sinking sun, 
Or the star-beams dart through them. Winds contend
Silently there, and heap the snow with breath
Rapid and strong, but silently! Its home
The voiceless lightning in these solitudes
Keeps innocently, and like vapour broods
Over the snow. The secret Strength of things
Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome
Of Heaven is as a law, inhabits thee! 
And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea, 
If to the human mind's imaginings
Silence and solitude were vacancy? 


A Map of the Sublime and the Beautiful in Frankenstein

Mary Shelley was fascinated by the Alps, and the text of Frankenstein often echoes the History of a Six Weeks Tour through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland:

"I performed the first part of my journey on horseback. I afterwards hired a mule, as the more sure-footed and least liable to receive injury on these rugged roads. The weather was fine; it was about the middle of the month of August, nearly two months after the death of Justine, that miserable epoch from which I dated all my woe. The weight upon my spirit was sensibly lightened as I plunged yet deeper in the ravine of Arve. The immense mountains and precipices that overhung me on every side, the sound of the river raging among the rocks, and the dashing of the waterfalls around spoke of a power mighty as Omnipotence—and I ceased to fear or to bend before any being less almighty than that which had created and ruled the elements, here displayed in their most terrific guise. Still, as I ascended higher, the valley assumed a more magnificent and astonishing character. Ruined castles hanging on the precipices of piny mountains, the impetuous Arve, and cottages every here and there peeping forth from among the trees formed a scene of singular beauty. But it was augmented and rendered sublime by the mighty Alps, whose white and shining pyramids and domes towered above all, as belonging to another earth, the habitations of another race of beings.
I passed the bridge of Pelissier, where the ravine, which the river forms, opened before me, and I began to ascend the mountain that overhangs it. Soon after, I entered the valley of Chamounix. This valley is more wonderful and sublime, but not so beautiful and picturesque as that of Servox, through which I had just passed. The high and snowy mountains were its immediate boundaries, but I saw no more ruined castles and fertile fields. Immense glaciers approached the road; I heard the rumbling thunder of the falling avalanche and marked the smoke of its passage. Mont Blanc, the supreme and magnificent Mont Blanc, raised itself from the surrounding aiguilles, and its tremendous dome overlooked the valley.
A tingling long-lost sense of pleasure often came across me during this journey. Some turn in the road, some new object suddenly perceived and recognized, reminded me of days gone by, and were associated with the lighthearted gaiety of boyhood. The very winds whispered in soothing accents, and maternal Nature bade me weep no more."

In this scene, Victor is enraptured by the scale and grandeur of the mountains--its capacity to overwhelm, to reveal a connection to Nature. Nevertheless, as with Burke, Shelley saw "In the infinite variety of natural combinations . . . the qualities of things the most remote imaginable from each other united in the same object." In this case, the beauty of the trees and cottages of the Arve were "augmented and rendered sublime by the mighty Alps."

In the process of coding locations in Frankenstein, our research team, when possible, designated locations according to Shelley's invocation of the sublime or beautiful. The majority of locations in the text fall outside of these categories, but the author designates a substantial number of locations--either directly or through context--as sublime or beautiful. Like so many of her contemporaries, she recognizes multiple modes for the sublime--the terrifying, the rapturous, the spiritual, etc. 

In the maps below, we have used our data set to create heatmaps of the sublime and the beautiful. They reveal an aesthetic geography for Frankenstein. Regions that Shelley associates with the beautiful are most often linked to 1) population centers, such as those in the southeast of England or Ediburgh or 2) tourist regions, such as those surrounding lake Geneva. She also associates the beautiful with the classical world, making reference to the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome on several occasions. 

On the other hand, the heatmap for the sublime, focuses on periphery regions--the Orkneys, the polar seas, the steppes of Russia, or the "wilds" of South America. Her use of the sublime is most concentrated in her descriptions of the Alps. But, unlike her description of Alpine valleys or the view of mountains from the Alpine valleys, which she often describes as "beautiful," Shelley's use of the sublime was typically focused on the snowy heights, far from safety.  

Heatmap of Mary Shelley's geography of the "Beautiful." 

Heatmap of Mary Shelley's geography of the "Beautiful." 

Heatmap of Mary Shelley's geography of the "Sublime." 

Heatmap of Mary Shelley's geography of the "Sublime." 

To examine the ways that Shelley used the sublime and beautiful in the imaginative geography of Frankenstein, download the data set and experiment with mapping these aesthetic categories against other variables. You can download the data set here



Ashfield, Andrew, and Peter De Bolla, eds. The Sublime: A Reader in British Eighteenth-Century Aesthetic Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Dublin, 1757. 

Clara Tuite. “Frankenstein’s Monster and Malthus’ ‘Jaundiced Eye’: Population, Body Politics, and the Monstrous Sublime,” no. 1 (1998): 141.

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