Exploring the Sublime: Burke and Frankenstein's Monster

Nate Ragolia

Professor Jones

English 4564

7 December 2003

Exploring the Sublime: Burke and Frankenstein's Monster

Wholly defining the sublime seems to lead to a near endless compilation of puzzle pieces, all of which fill in only a small portion of the final picture. Edmund Burke attempts to assemble an authoritative definition of the sublime-and the human experience that accompanies it-in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Burke's definition proclaims that "whatever is in any sort terrible" (Burke 499) invokes the sublime, which he considers "the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling" (Burke 499). In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein the monster exemplifies the Burkian sublime. Shelley's descriptions of the monster and his actions cohere with Burke's definitions and his categories of Obscurity, Power, Terror, Difficulty and Vastness, each of which facilitate sublime experiences. Also, the monster elicits feelings of extreme fear, astonishment and terror (each necessary for Burke) in Victor, Walton, and the De Lacey family, but in no case harms or kills any of them. By not enacting direct physical harm on the above characters, the...

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