To get ready for the upcoming Symposium on Frankenstein, or, Everybody Loves the Creature, I’ve been re-reading (yes, re-reading thank you) Shelley’s The Last Man. Sometimes it is billed as science fiction, because in 2056 the world is ravished by plague and we get down to, yes, the last man. But besides being spared any inkling of what 2011 would be like, lucky creature, let alone 2056, Shelly writes pretty much of her own time. Yes, England is a Republic, but there is still a royal faction in the wings, plotting a come-back. There is quite a bit of roman à clef about it. Lionel, our narrator and LM, is Shelley herself; Adrian, the just about perfect idealist, is Percy Shelley; Raymond, a charismatic military hero motivated by pride and ambition, is Byron.
But what is amazingly pleasing this time is the extremely formal and elevated language, measured and without a hint of haste (or levity). I love it, though I’m told my taste is eccentric. What do you think?
It begins so — "I am the native of a sea-surrounded nook, a cloud-enshadowed land, which, when the surface of the globe, with its shoreless ocean and trackless continents, presents itself to my mind, appears only as an inconsiderable speck in the immense whole; and yet, when balanced in the scale of mental power, far outweighed countries of larger extent and more numerous population. So true it is, that man’s mind alone was the creator of all that was good or great to man, and that Nature herself was only his first minister. England, seated far north in the turbid sea, now visits my dreams in the semblance of a vast and well-manned ship, which mastered the winds and rode proudly over the waves. In my boyish days she was the universe to me. When I stood on my native hills, and saw plain and mountain stretch out to the utmost limits of my vision, speckled by the dwellings of my countrymen, and subdued to fertility by their labours, the earth’s very centre was fixed for me in that spot, and the rest of her orb was as a fable, to have forgotten which would have cost neither my imagination nor understanding an effort."
Frankenstein is also, as you may very well know, a moving and extremely well-written book.
Here is the next to last paragraph. The Creature says goodbye.
"But soon," he cried with sad and solemn enthusiasm, "I shall die, and what I now feel be no longer felt. Soon these burning miseries will be extinct. I shall ascend my funeral pile triumphantly and exult in the agony of the torturing flames. The light of that conflagration will fade away; my ashes will be swept into the sea by the winds. My spirit will sleep in peace, or if it thinks, it will not surely think thus. Farewell."
Hope to see you on Thursday. Mention this blog for an extremely inconsequential gift.
Jay Barksdale, Librarian and Study Rooms Liaison