Mary Shelley Letters

Letter 18, May 17, 1816 

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This letter, Letter 18, May 17th, 1816, addressed to an unknown person, is a detailed and rather vivid account of Mary Shelley’s journey from Paris to Geneva. The most descriptive account discusses the ascension of a mountain road and the descent to Geneva. In multiple parts of the letter, Shelley describes the scenery as “sublime” or “picturesque,” and at one point says, “…no river nor rock-encircled lawn relieved the eye, by adding the picturesque to sublime” (Shelley-Letter 18). The letter shares some of the same themes, mostly those of nature and sublime, with Chapter 9, Volume 2 and Chapter 1, Volume 3 of Shelley’s Frankenstein.

The main connection between Chapter 9 and the letter is the presence of Mount Blanc, which seems to dominate both texts, in a physical and sublime sense. Victor is speaking with the creature on Mount Blanc, but he also descends the mountain similar to Shelley’s descent into Geneva. In the letter, when Shelley describes the lake, she says, "Gentleman’s seats are scattered over these banks, behind which rise the various ridges of black mountains, and towering far above, in the midst of its snowy Alps, the majestic Mount Blanc, highest and queen of all" (Shelley-Letter 19). While Victor does not describe Mount Blanc in Chapter 9, he must descend along the winding pathway, in which “The labour of winding among little paths of the mountains, and fixing my [his] feet firmly as I [Victor] advanced, perplexed me…” (Shelley-Frankestein 114). In the letter, Shelley’s traveling party opt out of taking the road “…too circuitous and dangerous to be attempted at so late an hour in the day” (Shelley-Letter 18).

The Natural world, and its imposing character, dominates both the letter and Chapter 1, and both texts even explore the tranquil effects of riding in a boat. Like Clerval, “…who observed the scenery with an eye of feeling and delight,” Shelley describes the scenery with aura of fascination, which makes even the gloomy weather seem rather warm (Shelley-Frankenstein 119). Shelley, in a similar fashion to Clerval, describes her feelings as thus, "You know that we have just escaped from the gloom of winter and of London; and coming to this delightful spot during this divine weather, I feel as happy as a new-fledged bird, and hardly care what twig I fly to, so that I may try my new found wings" (Shelley-Letter 19).
Similar to how Victor feels restoration through the boat, Shelley, in her letter, says, “…the tossing of our boat raises my spirits and inspires me with unusual hilarity” (Shelley-Letter 19).