Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is, in modern times, heralded as a classic, great work of art. However, when it was first published in 1818, few people regarded it as a worthy work of literary art. As seen in the two passages taken from the critics’ reviews of the novel, Frankenstein inspired extreme sentiments and reactions—readers either loved and enjoyed it or abhorred it and were disgusted by it. The two reviews presented convey the two contrasting emotions, as if in response to each other.
The first, an anonymous piece from The Quarterly Review, criticizes Mary Shelley’s work, using vernacular and plain (yet grotesque) language and popular culture allusions and standards to illustrate author’s condemnation of Frankenstein. Conversely, Sir Walter Scott’s review from Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine is itself written in a worthy literary manner, using heightened terms, literary terms, and quotations from other works to demonstrate his positive point of view.
In the 1800s, there were many magazines available for the literate to purchase and indulge in, some were professional journals intended for those who worked in a particular industry (like science or literature), while others were broader publications for the general public. The difference between the two kinds was always (and still is) readily apparent in the type of language used by the authors of the magazine’s articles. It can be surmised that Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine was intended for those immersed in literature, or at least those who were highly educated.
Scott’s writing is romantic, mentioning “daemons,” “the lovely and helpless” and “creature” and “persecutor. ” All these words and phrases are characteristic of a gothic or a romantic novel, in which the reader is presented with a tortured hero who is persecuted in some form and is faced with something lovely (usually a female). Phrases such as “resentment toward the human race,” “expedients for exciting terror,” and “uncommon powers of poetic imagination” are meant for a reader with heightened vocabulary; one capable of understanding Scott’s references and intentions.
However, juxtaposed with Sir Walter Scott’s review, the anonymous review from The Quarterly Review (a seemingly plain publication) is straightforward and simple. Instead of embellishing or elaborating, the author uses language like “strong and striking language,” tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity,” and “fatigues the feelings” to criticize the novel. Overall, the article has a condescending tone; in summarizing the conclusion of the novel, the author adds in his own commentary, sarcastically remarking on the implausibility of the entire situation.
All his opinions are presented in a clear, plain manner, which serves to make very clear his utter loathing of Mary Shelley’s work. Both Scott and the anonymous author make use of popular conventions, standards, and allusions of their time period. However, their references again establish a distinct difference between the two articles, Scott, in his piece, quotes Macbeth, by William Shakespeare to illustrate his point that Frankenstein, while shocking, cannot shock an already jaded audience.
Furthermore, he speaks of the terror being “employed by the romantic writers of the age” mentioning literary conventions. Another convention is brought up when he states that Shelley does not utilize “hyperbolic Germanisms” with which tales of wonder are usually told. The anonymous author, on the other hand, never quotes another literary work to support his ideas. He alludes to Bedlam, “Mad Bess” and “Mad Tom” as popular cultural figures.
Continuing with his appeal to the masses, the anonymous author points out that Frankenstein “inculcates no lessons of conduct, manners or morality. ” Unlikely popular literature of the time, Shelley’s novel disregards the conventions of morals and lessons learned. Though the two reviews were written in highly different forms of language, both convey their point of view clearly. Scott’s review was a positive one, meant for an elite readership. The anonymous author, however, wrote a disgusted condemnation for the pious masses.