Mariners and Monsters
The frame narrative that opens Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein bears several suggestions of Coleridge’s The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, both through the setting and via some direct allusions to the poem. The references to the Rime are critical in the shaping of many of the book’s ideas.
Themes of the Rime are called up in the first missive of Robert Walton to his sister, when we learn that he intends a sea voyage through the cold places of the earth. The first overt allusion to the Rime comes when Walton is assuring his sister with the following words: “ I am going to unexplored regions, to “the land of mist and snow:” but I shall kill no albatross,”(11). These lines by Walton are both a direct quote from line 134 of the Rime and an indication of his intent of avoiding the same fate as the ancient mariner. By referencing these lines Shelley is bringing to mind a suggestion of the horrible fate of the mariner’s crewmen, even though Walton intends to avoid it. This functions to add a dimension of classically gothic darkness to her story while opening both the frame narrative and the actual story up for further Rime allusions.
This initial reference to the Rime keeps that story warm in the reader’s mind for when Walton meets Frankenstein and he says: “…listen to my tale. I believe that the strange incidents connected with it will afford a view of nature, which may enlarge your faculties and understanding.” (16). Frankenstein’s obligation to share his story is an allusion to line 584 of The Ancient Mariner:” And till my ghastly tale is told, This heart within me burns.”(648). Shelley has brought up the idea of the mariner in her earlier reference to the poem, and now Frankenstein’s word has solidified him in the reader’s mind as a character akin to the mariner both in his agony and his desperation.
The textual allusions to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner continue in the actual narrative of Frankenstein. After Frankenstein creates the monster, he directly quotes the stanza that begins “Like one, that on a lonesome road…”(645) of the Rime (39). This quote is intended to lend the same terror felt by the mariner to Victor’s terror at having created and lost this monster.
The next clear mention of shared fear between Victor and the mariner comes when Victor is preparing for his wedding and says “Could I enter into a festival with this deadly weight hanging round my neck” (117). This calls to mind line 141 of The Rime: “Instead of the cross, the Albatross About my neck was hung.”(638). This lends the same shameful sin of the mariner’s slaying of the albatross about Victor’s neck and lends to add potency to the ideas of guilt and fear that Shelley is conveying in her character.
Coleridge, Taylor. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 4th ed. Damrosch, David, and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2010. 634-649. Print.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 2. 1-117. United States: Pearson Longman, 2007. Print.