Theme of Nature in Frankenstein & “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” (Project 1)

“Even broken in spirit as he is, no one can feel more deeply than he does the beauties of nature. The starry sky, the sea, and every sight afforded by these wonderful regions, seems still to have the power of elevating his soul from the earth” (Shelley, 17). Throughout Frankenstein, there are several instances where Shelley uses nature to show how a character is. She uses it in good ways with Victor, where he is usually trying to escape his life by going out into nature and all of its beauty. For other characters, nature is used as something they must overcome, like the monster waking up and having to find warmth because he felt cold. Nature is also extremely evident in William Wordsworth’s poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” In line 15-16, the narrator says, “A poet could not but be gay, in such a jocund company.” This line states that the narrator couldn’t help but be happy in the company of daffodils. In this poem, Wordsworth shows how the narrator goes from feeling alone at the beginning of the poem, to immediately having his mood lifted after seeing these golden daffodils, similar to Victor in Frankenstein.

At a time when these characters needed an escape, Shelley and Wordsworth have the ability to show us how much of a haven the outdoors can be. In Frankenstein, Shelley opens the novel by first showing us nature in an unforgiving way. Shelley shows us letters between Robert Walton and his sister, Margaret Saville. He is the captain of a ship heading to the North Pole. He knows the mission is dangerous, but still has hope in discovering unknown territory. “I try in vain to be persuaded that the pole is the seat of frost and desolation; it ever presents itself to my imagination as the region of beauty and delight” (Shelley, 7). Walton is able to see the beauty in the unforgiving unknown of nature. Before the reader even knows that the stranger they have met is Victor, Shelley has already shown how much of an impact nature will make in the rest of the novel.

Nature is also used by Shelley to show horror to her readers. In the chapter where the monster first wakes up, it opens with the line, “It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. (…) It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out” (Shelley, 36). Before we are even introduced to the monster and Victor’s fright at the monster’s appearance, these descriptions of nature and weather used by Shelley already are cluing in the readers that something horrifying is about to happen. Also, when evoking sadness to readers, which Victor feels much of later in the novel, Shelley describes this with weather of rain. But, with horror, she might choose to have a thunderstorm, and not just calm rain.

Later in Frankenstein, after we have met and been introduced to Victor Frankenstein and his family history, nature is shown yet again, but in a completely different way than before. Instead of evoking it as scary or dangerous, it is shown as a place of escape from the real world and its responsibilities. On a rainy day, Victor is experiencing thoughts of sadness. He thinks a hike to the summit of Montanvert will relieve his spirits, “These sublime and magnificent scenes afforded me the greatest consolation that I was capable of receiving. They elevated me from all littleness of feeling; and although they did not remove my grief, they subdued and tranquilized it. To some degree, also, they diverted my mind from the thoughts over which it had brooded for the last month” (Shelley, 67). This is the moment in the novel where you can see just how much of an effect nature can have on a person’s mood. “I retuned in the evening, fatigued, but less unhappy, and conversed with my family with more cheerfulness than had been my custom for some time” (Shelley, 67). 

Nature also affects Frankenstein’s monster, as well. As someone who has come back from the dead, and is not technically human anymore, it might be thought that since the monster is dead, he doesn’t feel human feelings/emotions. Things like feeling warmth or cold won’t affect someone who is dead in the first place. However, in Frankenstein, Shelley has the monster actually feel human emotions/feelings. The monster feels warmth and cold. Shelley shows this when the monster is telling Victor his story. He describes what he felt in the first moments of waking up, “It was dark when I awoke; I felt cold also, and half-frightened as it was instinctively, finding myself so desolate. Before I had quitted your apartment, on a sensation of cold, I had covered myself with some clothes; but these were insufficient to secure me from the dews of night” (Shelley, 73). In this passage, the monster is explaining to Victor that he has felt cold immediately after waking up and had put on clothes that were not warm enough, and search for a warm place to live. He again tells Victor, “I felt light, and hunger, and thirst, and darkness” (Shelley, 73).

Besides feeling warmth and cold, the monster also feels things like guilt and kindness. Late one night, the monster had been taking firewood from them, but soon learned that they suffer from poverty, and that by taking their wood, had been the cause of their suffering, “I had been accustomed during the night, to steal a part of their store for my own consumption; but when I found that in doing this I inflicted pain on the cottagers, I abstained, and satisfied myself with berries, nuts, and roots, which I gathered from a neighboring wood” (Shelley, 80). After finding this out, he returned some to them, “Brought home firing sufficient for the consumption of several days” (Shelley, 80). In this passage, we see the monster experiencing human emotions by feeling guilty that he is the cause of another cottagers suffering. He then feels kindness by giving some of the wood back.

Throughout Frankenstein, Shelley evokes several emotions to her readers and to the characters in the novel by showing how much of an effect nature can have on their mood/feelings. Nature provides an escape from the real world in some instances. It also can evoke horror. By showing a thunderstorm, a reader might be clued into something bad going to happen. In the sense of the monster, nature first provides a sort of antagonist in his story. Later he finds comfort in nature and wishes to stay forever in the jungle away from all humans. The novel even opens by showing us a dangerous expedition to the North Pole. Whichever way it was portrayed, nature is a huge theme of Frankenstein.

Nature is also extremely evident in William Wordsworth’s poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” Similarly, to how Victor goes on walks in nature to get away from his life and its responsibilities, this poem begins that same way, “I wandered lonely as a cloud / that floats on high o’er vales and hills” (Wordsworth, lines 1-2). Like Victor Frankenstein, who went on many walks to think about the problems in his life, such as the monster, the narrator is walking alone, as well. The narrator walks alone, and compares himself to a cloud, by using a simile to show his similarities with the solitary cloud. 

As the narrator walks, he is met with a row of daffodils, “When all at once I saw a crowd / A host of golden daffodils” (Wordsworth, lines 3-4). Using intense imagery and a metaphor, Wordsworth gives the reader a picture they can’t paint in their head just like how Shelley clues into horror using weather like thunderstorms. Wordsworth then uses more imagery in describing the daffodils and their movement, “Beside the lake, beneath the trees / fluttering and dancing in the breeze” (Wordsworth, line 5-6). The narrator sees an endless line of daffodils, “Continuous as the stars that shine / And twinkle on the milky way / They stretched in a never-ending line / along the margin of a bay” (Wordsworth, lines 7-10). Using another metaphor, Wordsworth compares the daffodils to stars, both in golden color, and the endlessness. The narrator thinks there are ten thousand of them, and it looks like they’re dancing in the wind.

The narrator now notices the waves dancing, too, but prefers the daffodils, “The waves beside them danced; but they / Out-did the sparkling waves in glee” (Wordsworth, lines 11-12). For the first time since line 1 being described as alone, Wordsworth shows the narrator’s emotions about the daffodils. He says that a poet couldn’t help but be happy in the presence of daffodils. Long after this experience, the narrator finds himself on the couch in a bad mood, “For oft, when on my couch I lie / In vacant or in a pensive mood” (Wordsworth, lines 19-20). When the narrator feels this way, he thinks about the daffodils and finds his mood immediately lifted, “They flash upon that inward eye / Which is the bliss of solitude / And then my heart with pleasure fills / And dances with the daffodils” (Woodsworth, lines 21-24). This poem shows how much of an impact nature can affect a person’s mood.

Both of these works use various descriptions of nature, both good and bad to portray the effect that nature has on its characters. From using weather to set up an intense scene to the protagonist escaping to the outside whenever he needs some cheering up, nature is such a significant part of Frankenstein. With “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” Wordsworth describes how the narrator goes from feeling so alone at the beginning of the poem to intense joy near the poem’s end.

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