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PR5442.F53 Z56 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Chapter One The Juvenile Romances In his early years, Shelley wrote as much fiction as poetry, possibly more. Frederick L. Jones comments in connection with a letter that Shelley sent to Longman & Company offering a romance, "This could be Zastrozzi , published in Mar. 1810; but Shelley wrote, in part at least, several novels which never got into print, and this may be one them." He had collaborated with his cousin, Thomas Medwin, on a tale about a frightful witch, The Nightmare . Medwin says in his biography of Shelley that they composed alternate chapters, but the romance does not survive.     The two novels that Shelley published were Zastrozzi: A Romance and St. Irvyne; or, The Rosicrucian , brief, melodramatic tales that scholars frequently describe as "worthless". They are, indeed, immature works, but Shelley's poetry of the same period is equally immature. Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne contain a good deal of wild rhetoric, but some controlled writing as well. No one would claim that they are good novels. It may be worthwhile, however, to look at Shelley's techniques, for these techniques were developed later on with great effect.     Zastrozzi opens with a single, powerful sentence,     TORN from the society of all he held dear on earth, the victim of secret enemies, and exiled from happiness, was the wretched Verezzi!     We are not told who Verezzi is, where he comes from, who is persecuting him, or why, but we are given emotion. "Torn", "victim", "exiled from happiness", and "wretched" convey his feelings.     The second paragraph is also a single sentence,     All was quiet; a pitchy darkness involved the face of things, when, urged by fiercest revenge, Zastrozzi placed himself at the door of the inn where, undisturbed, Verezzi slept.     Again, we are told nothing about Zastrozzi except that he seeks revenge. The scene is indicated; it is quiet and dark. The hero is asleep and his enemy stands at the door of the inn. The lack of explanation creates a nightmare mood.     Dialogue is quickly introduced,     Loudly he called the landlord. The landlord, to whom the bare name of Zastrozzi was terrible, trembling obeyed the summons.     "Thou knowest Verezzi the Italian? he lodges here." "He does," answered the landlord. The emotion of the landlord is also given, alliteration emphasizing his fear ("Loudly ... landlord"," terrible, trembling").     In four rapid paragraphs, Shelley depicts strong feeling, visualizes the scene, sets his characters in motion, and starts them speaking. Perhaps his method is too compressed. We would like to know more about the characters, who seem to float in space, but excitement and mystery have been stirred.     Shelley's romances were influenced by the novels of Ann Radcliffe, William Godwin, Charles Brockden Brown, and Matthew Gregory Lewis, among others, but they are distinctive. Most of the works he read were massive. Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho unfolds in four volumes, Godwin's St. Leon also fills four volumes, The Monk by Lewis is a substantial three-volume work. By contrast, Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne are swift and intense, each filling a slim volume.     Storms are symbols of violent emotion that occur frequently in Gothic fiction. Shelley was aware of the dramatic possibilities of storm scenes from the start. A hailstorm in St. Leon probably inspired a scene in Zastrozzi in which Verezzi, chained in a cavern, is battered by hail,     Whilst his thoughts were thus employed, a more violent crash shook the cavern. A scintillating flame darted from the ceiling to the floor. Almost at the same instant the roof fell in.     A large fragment of the rock was laid athwart the cavern; one end being grooved into the solid wall, the other having almost forced open the massy iron door.     Verezzi was chained to a piece of rock which remained immovable. The violence of the storm was past, but the hail descended rapidly, each stone of which wounded his naked limbs. Every flash of lightning, although now distant, dazzled his eyes, unaccustomed as they had been to the least ray of light. Godwin describes the devastation of the hero's farm and the ruin of his hopes in several pages, but Shelley speedily presents a "scintillating flame" of lightning that dazzles the eyes, a violent crash of thunder, and hail that wounds the limbs. Physical sensation is vivid and we see what is happening clearly.     Another storm in Zastrozzi expresses the turmoil of the anti- heroine's feelings,     The moon-beam darting her oblique rays from under volumes of lowering vapour, threatened an approaching storm. The lurid sky was tinged with a yellowish lustre -- the forest-tops rustled in the rising tempest -- big drops fell -- a flash of lightning, and, instantly after, a peal of bursting thunder, struck with sudden terror the bosom of Matilda. We see, hear, and very nearly feel the storm as it bursts. Shelley employs color (he may have learned this from Ann Radcliffe, whose use of color is adroit) and sound. He notices that the drops of rain are "big". Movement enters vitally into the scene; the rays are darting, the vapor lowering, the storm approaching, the trees rustling, the tempest rising, the drops falling, lightning flashes, and thunder bursts.     Shelley's landscapes echo those of Ann Radcliffe. Here is one from Zastrozzi ,     They silently advanced into the forest. The azure sky was spangled with stars -- not a wind agitated the unruffled air -- not a cloud obscured the brilliant concavity of heaven. They ascended an eminence, clothed with towering wood; the trees around formed an amphitheatre. Beneath, by a gentle ascent, an opening showed an immense extent of forest, dimly seen by the moon, which overhung the opposite mountain. The craggy heights beyond might distinctly be seen, edged by the beams of the silver moon. And here is a landscape from The Mysteries of Udolpho ,     At length, the travellers began to ascend among the Apennines. The immense pine-forests, which, at that period, overhung these mountains, and between which the road wound, excluded all view but of the cliffs aspiring above, except, that, now and then, an opening through the dark woods allowed the eye a momentary glimpse of the country below. The gloom of these shades, their solitary silence, except when the breeze swept over their summits, the tremendous precipices of the mountains, that came partially to the eye, each assisted to raise the solemnity of Emily's feelings into awe ... Shelley's vocabulary resembles Ann Radcliffe's; he uses "ascended", "immense", "overhung". His opening shows an immense extent of forest and the opening through the woods in The Mysteries of Udolpho allows the eye a glimpse of the country below.     The alliterative pairing "solitary silence", which appears in various forms in the Radcliffe novel ("the silence and grandeur of solitude", "the hours passed in solitude, in silence", "Darkness ... made silence and solitude terrible to her") seems to have pleased Shelley. He says in St. Irvyne that the hero, Wolfstein, was left to "solitude and silence" and Mont Blanc concludes with the lines, And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea, If to the human mind's imaginings Silence and solitude were vacancy? Murmuring sounds are another feature of the Radcliffe style that Shelley adopted. St. Irvyne begins with a violent storm, but the thunder gradually dies away "in indistinct murmurs." Music contributes to the atmosphere of The Mysteries of Udolpho ("music, which long vibrated in his fancy in tones of melting sweetness"). In time Shelley was to write, "Music, when soft voices die, / Vibrates in the memory.--"     He took a professional attitude towards novel-writing, asking his friend, Edward Fergus Graham, to " Pouch the reviewers ... as it is of consequence in fiction to establish your na{{me}} as high as you can in the literary lists --." Perhaps by pouching, he obtained a favorable review of Zastrozzi in the Gentleman's Magazine ,     A short, but well-told tale of horror, and, if we do not mistake, not from an ordinary pen. The story is so artfully conducted that the reader cannot easily anticipate the denoument [sic], which is conducted on the principles of moral justice; and, by placing the scene on the Continent, the Author has availed himself of characters and vices, which, however useful in narratives of this description, thank God, are not to be found in this country. (The reference to "moral justice" suggests that Shelley may have written the review himself. If so, he shows an agreeable sense of humor.)     St. Irvyne was a more ambitious novel than Zastrozzi with a complex plot and a variety of characters, but it seems to have been hastily finished. The secondary story about Wolfstein's sister receives little space.     The novel has some frenzied dialogue, "Oh! if you wish to see me expire in horrible torments at your feet, inhuman Wolfstein, call for Megalena! and then will your purpose be accomplished." -- "Dearest Lady Olympia, compose yourself, I beseech you," said Wolfstein; "what, what agitates you?" -- "Oh! pardon, pardon me," she exclaimed, with maniac wildness: "pardon a wretched female who knows not what she does! Oh! resistlessly am I impelled to this avowal: resistlessly am I impelled to declare to you, that I love you! adore you to distraction! -- Will you return my affection? But ah! I rave! Megalena, the beloved Megalena, claims you as her own; and the wretched Olympia must moan the blighted prospects which were about to open fair before her eyes. Although the reader may find this kind of melodramatic excess embarrassing, it reflects an effort by Shelley early and late to give full expression to passionate emotion. Sometimes the effort works, as in speeches of The Cenci . Elsewhere it seems strained and ludicrous, but Shelley is not afraid to dare what other writers cautiously avoid. When he succeeds, he reaches deep passion.     St. Irvyne contains a more intellectual kind of writing also; the long speech in which Ginotti relates his history to Wolfstein is powerful,     "From my earliest youth, before it was quenched by complete satiation, curiosity , and a desire of unveiling the latent mysteries of nature, was the passion by which all the other emotions of my mind were intellectually organized. This desire first led me to cultivate, and with success, the various branches of learning which led to the gates of wisdom. I then applied myself to the cultivation of philosophy, and the éclât with which I pursued it, exceeded my most sanguine expectations. Love I cared not for; and wondered why men perversely sought to ally themselves with weakness. Natural philosophy at last became the peculiar science to which I directed my eager inquiries; thence I was led into a train of labyrinthic meditations. I thought of death -- I shuddered when I reflected, and shrank in horror from the idea, selfish and self-interested as I was, of entering a new existence to which I was a stranger. I must either dive into the recesses of futurity, or I must not, I cannot die. -- `Will not this nature -- will not the matter of which it is composed -- exist to all eternity? Ah! I know it will; and, by the exertions of the energies with which nature has gifted me, well I know it shall.' This was my opinion at that time: I then believed that there existed no God. Ah! at what an exorbitant price have I bought the conviction that there is one!!! Believing that priestcraft and superstition were all the religion which man ever practised, it could not be supposed that I thought there existed supernatural beings of any kind. I believed nature to be self-sufficient and excelling; I supposed not, therefore, that there could be anything beyond nature." Ginotti's scientific interests look forward to Victor Frankenstein's. (The name Wolfstein in St. Irvyne may also look forward to Frankenstein.) Ginotti is villainous; " Love I cared not for" and " selfish and self-interested as I was" reveal his moral failure, for Shelley considered love the essential principle of the universe. All the same, Ginotti's speculations about death and the eternity of matter are those of the author. The reference to atheism is ambiguous. Most of the allusions to God in St. Irvyne sound conventional. Ginotti places his atheism in the past, but he says that he bought the conviction that there is a God "`at an exorbitant price'". This may be taken to mean that he has suffered and learned the truth -- or that the price of faith is too high, requiring him to renounce reason. The comments about priestcraft and superstition and the view that nature is self-sufficient and excelling were opinions Shelley was soon to hold. Perhaps he did so already, but St. Irvyne is not openly atheist.     To learn about death, Ginotti tested the effects of poison on a youth he disliked and the latter died in agony. Recognizing that he could not expect a longer life than other mortals, Ginotti contemplated suicide, but a convent bell "`struck a chord in unison with my soul; it vibrated on the secret springs of rapture.'" Exhausted and overcome with tears, he sank into slumber and --     "I dreamed that I stood on the brink of a most terrific precipice, far, far above the clouds, amid whose dark forms which lowered beneath, was seen the dashing of a stupendous cataract: its roarings were borne to mine ear by the blast of night. Above me rose, fearfully embattled and rugged, fragments of enormous rocks, tinged by the dimly gleaming moon; their loftiness, the grandeur of their misshapen proportions, and their bulk, staggering the imagination; and scarcely could the mind itself scale the vast loftiness of their aërial summits. I saw the dark clouds pass by, borne by the impetuosity of the blast, yet felt no wind myself. Methought darkly gleaming forms rode on their almost palpable prominences.     "Whilst thus I stood, gazing on the expansive gulf which yawned before me, methought a silver sound stole on the quietude of night. The moon became as bright as polished silver, and each star sparkled with scintillations of inexpressible whiteness. Pleasing images stole imperceptibly upon my senses, when a ravishingly sweet strain of dulcet melody seemed to float around. Now it was wafted nearer, and now it died away in tones to melancholy dear. Whilst I thus stood enraptured, louder swelled the strain of seraphic harmony; it vibrated on my inmost soul, and a mysterious softness lulled each impetuous passion to repose. I gazed in eager anticipation of curiosity on the scene before me; for a mist of silver radiance rendered every object but myself imperceptible; yet was it brilliant as the noon-day sun. Suddenly, whilst yet the full strain swelled along the empyrean sky, the mist in one place seemed to dispart, and through it, to roll clouds of deepest crimson. Above them, and seemingly reclining on the viewless air, was a form of most exact and superior symmetry. Rays of brilliancy, surpassing expression, fell from his burning eye, and the emanations from his countenance tinted the transparent clouds below with silver light. The phantasm advanced towards me; it seemed then, to my imagination, that his figure was borne on the sweet strain of music which filled the circumambient air. In a voice which was fascination itself, the being addressed me, saying, `Wilt thou come with me? wilt thou be mine?' I felt a decided wish never to be his. `No, no,' I unhesitatingly cried, with a feeling which no language can either explain or describe. No sooner had I uttered these words, than methought a sensation of deadly horror chilled my sickening frame; an earthquake rocked the precipice beneath my feet; the beautiful being vanished; clouds, as of chaos, rolled around, and from their dark masses flashed incessant meteors. I heard a deafening noise on every side; it appeared like the dissolution of nature; the blood-red moon, whirled from her sphere, sank beneath the horizon. My neck was grasped firmly, and, turning round in an agony of horror, I beheld a form more hideous than the imagination of man is capable of portraying, whose proportions, gigantic and deformed, were seemingly blackened by the inerasible traces of the thunderbolts of God; yet in its hideous and detestable countenance, though seemingly far different, I thought I could recognize that of the lovely vision: `Wretch!', it exclaimed, in a voice of exulting thunder; `saidst thou that thou wouldst not be mine? Ah! thou art mine beyond redemption; and I triumph in the conviction, that no power can ever make thee otherwise. Say, art thou willing to be mine?' Saying this, he dragged me to the brink of the precipice: the contemplation of approaching death frenzied my brain to the highest pitch of horror. `Yes, yes I am thine,' I exclaimed. No sooner had I pronounced these words than the visionary scene vanished, and I awoke."     The scene owes much to The Monk . The beautiful vision comes from this passage in the Lewis novel,     Ambrosio started, and expected the demon with terror. What was his surprise when, the thunder ceasing to roll, a full strain of melodious music sounded in the air! At the same time the cloud disappeared, and he beheld a figure more beautiful than fancy's pencil ever drew. It was a youth seemingly scarcely eighteen, the perfection of whose form and face was unrivalled. He was perfectly naked: a bright star sparkled upon his forehead, two crimson wings extended themselves from his shoulders, and his silken locks were confined by a band of many-coloured fires, which played round his head, formed themselves into a variety of figures, and shone with a brilliancy far surpassing that of precious stones. Circlets of diamonds were fastened round his arms and ankles, and in his right hand he bore a silver branch imitating myrtle. His form shone with dazzling glory: he was surrounded by clouds of rose-coloured light, and at the moment that he appeared a refreshing air breathed perfumes through the cavern. Enchanted at a vision so contrary to his expectations, Ambrosio gazed upon the spirit with delight and wonder: yet, however beautiful the figure, he could not but remark a wildness in the demon's eyes, and a mysterious melancholy impressed upon his features, betraying the fallen angel, and inspiring the spectators with secret awe.     The horrible picture of the demon is drawn from the climax of The Monk , A loud burst of thunder was heard, the prison shook to its very foundations, a blaze of lightning flashed through the cell, and in the next moment, borne upon sulphurous whirlwinds, Lucifer stood before him a second time. But he came not as when at Matilda's summons he borrowed the seraph's form to deceive Ambrosio. He appeared in all that ugliness which since his fall from heaven had been his portion. His blasted limbs still bore marks of the Almighty's thunder. A swarthy darkness spread itself over his gigantic form: his hands and feet were armed with long talons. Fury glared in his eyes, which might have struck the bravest heart with terror. Over his huge shoulders waved two enormous sable wings: and his hair was supplied by living snakes, which twined themselves round his brows with frightful hissings. In one hand he held a roll of parchment, and in the other an iron pen. Still the lightning flashed around him, and the thunder with repeated bursts seemed to announce the dissolution of Nature. The shift from a beautiful to a frightful image recalls the Lewis novel. Shelley's imagery echoes The Monk ; the "`sweet strain of dulcet melody'" is like the "full strain of melodious music", "`silver light'" recalls "rose-coloured light", "`crimson clouds'" are reminiscent of "crimson wings", and "many-coloured fires" may have suggested "`burning eye'". "`A form more hideous than the imagination of man is capable of portraying'", of course, reverses "more beautiful than fancy's pencil ever drew." The demons in both novels are gigantic, "`blackened'" recalls "swarthy darkness", "`inerasible traces of the thunderbolts of God'" resembles "marks of the Almighty's thunder." Finally, the phrase "dissolution of Nature" was used by Shelley not only in Ginotti's speech but also in the opening storm scene of the novel.     Both writers appeal powerfully to the senses -- sights, sounds, and in the case of Lewis, perfume. Shelley emphasizes the natural world more than Lewis does, the dashing cataract, fragments of rock, scintillating stars, the moon. Although Ambrosio is carried to a precipice by Satan and hurled to his death, his first encounter with the demon occurs in an underground cavern and the second begins in a dungeon. Shelley, however, intensifies Ginotti's emotion by having meteors flash and the "`blood-red'" moon whirl from her sphere when he is seized by the fiend. Human beings are seen as part of nature and nature participates in human feelings.     He sent copies of his romances to William Godwin, whom he admired as a novelist as well as a political philosopher. A statement that he rose from the perusal of Godwin's Political Justice "a wiser and a better man. -- I was no longer the votary of Romance ... " should not be taken to mean that he was renouncing fiction, for he said in the same letter that he was working on "`an inquiry into the causes of the failure of the French revolution to benefit mankind'", the novel Hubert Cauvin . The slighting remark about "Romance" was similar to a comment made to the publisher, J. J. Stockdale, I have in preparation a Novel; it is principally constructed to convey metaphysical & political opinions by way of conversation; it shall be sent to you as soon as completed, but it shall receive more correction than I trouble myself to give to wild Romance & Poetry. -- He distinguishes between fiction dealing with serious ideas and "wild Romance", incidentally belittling "Poetry", but Shelley undoubtedly troubled himself to revise his poems and he gave considerable attention to his fiction also.     St. Irvyne was the last novel that he acknowledged as his, but the skills he began to display in the early romances were not forgotten in later years. Copyright (c) 1998 Phyllis Hirshleifer. All rights reserved.