The Relationship between the Natural and Supernatural in Shelley's Frankenstein and Poe's M.S. Found in a Bottle

Essay, 2006

9 Pages, Grade: A3 (excellent)








Perceptions of nature are central to much romantic literature, whereas notions of the supernatural can rather be found in a type of literature that is associated with the Romantic period: the Gothic. Lacking a precise and stable meaning, the term commonly refers to literature that dramatizes the fantastic, supernatural, and macabre and features narrative suspense that creates horror.[1] In this essay, different aspects of the relationship between the natural and the supernatural will be examined in two Gothic texts: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus[2] and Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘M.S. Found in a Bottle’[3].

In Frankenstein, nature is presented in harmony with the actually unnatural, in some respects even supernatural, creature, whereas it appears to oppose as well as soothe the creator who transgressed the boundaries of natural science. On the other hand, in Poe’s ‘M.S. Found in a Bottle’ natural force, embodied in the sea, does not have a counterpart, whether natural or unnatural, but culminates in a supernatural, all-devouring abyss. This culmination, though, links the two texts: Frankenstein’s desire, his ‘almost supernatural enthusiasm’ (Shelley 30), is realized in bringing to life the supernatural creature which ultimately, like natural forces in Poe’s story, proves destructive. Another common ground situated on the border of natural and supernatural is the reoccurring notion of sublimity, which will be considered rather extensively.


In order to examine the relationship between natural and supernatural, the crucial terms need to be defined. My understanding of natural follows that of the OED: it refers to ‘natural things or objects; matters having their basis in the natural world or in the usual course of nature’; also ‘that which is natural or according to the ordinary course of things’ is included, and should be ‘existing in, or formed by, nature; consisting of objects of this kind; not artificially made, formed, or constructed’. In addition, it is ‘taking place in conformity with the ordinary course of nature; not unusual, marvellous, or miraculous’. Accordingly, supernatural exceeds these characteristics by ‘transcending the powers or the ordinary course of nature’ and is ‘more than the natural or ordinary; unnaturally or extraordinarily great; abnormal, extraordinary’.


Several aspects make Frankenstein’s creature unnatural and other attributes render it supernatural. Though consisting of natural parts and intended as a ‘human being’ (Shelley 31), the so called monster is ‘unearthly in his ugliness’ (153). It was created in an unnatural way by an unnatural method, and can therefore only be unnatural. Its physical power exceeds that of human beings and it is not as prone to harsh weather conditions, which renders it superhuman. The supernatural facet can be put down to circumstances surrounding the creation: ‘a spark of being’ (34) is used to bring the creature to life. Among other things, a spark is ‘a bright or glittering emanation, flash, or gleam of light’ (OED “spark”). Accordingly, Frankenstein abused electricity, a natural force, to stimulate ‘the lifeless thing’ (Shelley 34). By artificially and miraculously bringing his inanimate project to life, Frankenstein leaves the ordinary course of nature and produces something abnormal and supernatural.

Strikingly, throughout the novel nature is identified as female. Frankenstein admires how ‘Nature adorns her dwelling places’ (Shelley 109) and pursues ‘nature to her hiding places’ (32). By doing so in a womblike laboratory, he brings to life the creature, which has been interpreted as a ‘predatory violence against nature’ (Woodring 104) or even a ‘rape of nature’ (Mellor 281). Anne K. Mellor points out that by failing to create a female companion for his monster, Victor Frankenstein strives to ‘control and even destroy female sexuality’ (279). Thus encouraging patriarchy, Frankenstein makes his way towards an unnatural society without women. Fatally for Frankenstein, nature is not as non-violent as he believes ‘her’ to be and seeks retaliation.

From his youth on, Frankenstein was prone to alchemy and its supernatural implications. Electricity, the natural force he used to resuscitate his creation, ultimately turns against him, together with other natural elements: he glimpses the monster in a flash of lightning where William was murdered (Shelley 48), ‘rain poured from the dark sky’ when he meets the monster on the glacier (64), ‘high wind’ blows him from Orkney Islands to Ireland (118-9), ‘a heavy storm of rain’ is raging during his wedding night (135) and, finally, ‘a tumultuous sea’ entraps him on a diminishing ice floe. Hence, elements of nature, some of which Frankenstein perceives as sublime, seem to support his creature’s endeavours and thus punish him for his hubris and violation of the natural until finally he perishes in the frigid atmosphere of the Arctic. One could read these occurrences as pathetic fallacies: nature is perceived revengeful and thus anthropomorphized in the sense that human feelings, in this case revenge, are ascribed to it. From a Kantian point of view, therefore, nature itself implies a supernatural notion because humans are higher than nature since they do not only depend on the senses but have reason[4].


[1] See Kenneth Millard’s lecture on Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland, Or, The Transformation, University of Edinburgh, Department of English Literature, 11/10/2006.

[2] Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, ed. J. Paul Hunter (Norton: New York, 1996). This is the 1818 text. This essay does not take into consideration the revised 1831 edition. Further reference will be included in the text.

[3] E.A. Poe, Tales of Mystery and Imagination (London: Dent, 1975), 258-67. Further references will be included in the text.

[4] See Tim Milnes’ lecture on Coleridge and Wandering, University of Edinburgh, Department of English Literature, 13/10/2006. Further references will be included in the text in the form of ‘Milnes’ lecture’.

Excerpt out of 9 pages


The Relationship between the Natural and Supernatural in Shelley's Frankenstein and Poe's M.S. Found in a Bottle
University of Edinburgh  (Department of English Literature)
A3 (excellent)
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ISBN (eBook)
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389 KB
Relationship, Natural, Supernatural, Shelley, Frankenstein, Found, Bottle, Romanticism
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Theresia Knuth (Author), 2006, The Relationship between the Natural and Supernatural in Shelley's Frankenstein and Poe's M.S. Found in a Bottle, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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