The Mortal Immortal

English Romanticism

English Romanticism was a revolutionary artistic and literary movement that emerged in the late 18th century and continued into the early 19th century. It marked a significant shift away from the emphasis on reason and order that characterised the Enlightenment period. Romantic writers and artists placed great value on the power of emotion, imagination, and the unique perspective of the individual.

Nature played a central role in Romantic works. Poets and painters alike found endless inspiration in the beauty, wildness, and transformative power of the natural world.  They were also fascinated by the sublime – those experiences that inspire a sense of awe or even terror through their vastness and power. This could be found in dramatic landscapes, powerful storms, or ancient ruins.

The Romantics celebrated the individual, emphasising the importance of personal feelings and experiences. Their works often delved into themes of love, loss, longing, and a deep connection with the spiritual world. Furthermore, there was a renewed interest in folklore, mythology, and the supernatural, adding a layer of mystery and otherworldliness to Romantic literature and art.

Key figures of English Romanticism include poets such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, and William Blake. The movement's influence also extended to novelists like Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) and, to a certain extent, Jane Austen, whose works began incorporating elements of Romantic sensibility.

"The Mortal Immortal" - Mary Shelley

"The Mortal Immortal" is a short story by Mary Shelley, published in 1833, that explores the consequences of eternal life. The protagonist, Winzy, drinks an elixir given to him by his mentor, the alchemist Cornelius Agrippa. This elixir grants him immortality, an initially appealing prospect. However, the curse of immortality quickly becomes apparent.

Winzy witnesses the passage of centuries, outliving everyone he loves. His beloved Bertha dies, and he endures the relentless march of time, his body gradually deteriorating along with his spirit. As the years turn to centuries, Winzy experiences profound loneliness and despair.  He grows weary of existence itself.

The story delves into the themes of the fleeting nature of human life and the profound sorrow that can come with existing outside the natural order. It questions whether immortality is truly a blessing or a curse, highlighting the deep-seated human need for connection, love, and the shared experience of mortality.

Shelley's work touches on Romantic fascinations with the supernatural and the sublime. It evokes a sense of the uncanny and forces the reader to ponder the psychological toll of defying the very essence of the human condition.

"The Mortal Immortal" (final paragraph)

Source: Project Gutenburg 

Before I go, a miserable vanity has caused me to pen these pages. I would not die, and leave no name behind. Three centuries have passed since I quaffed the fatal beverage; another year shall not elapse before, encountering gigantic dangers--warring with the powers of frost in their home--beset by famine, toil, and tempest--I yield this body, too tenacious a cage for a soul which thirsts for freedom, to the destructive elements of air and water; or, if I survive, my name shall be recorded as one of the most famous among the sons of men; and, my task achieved, I shall adopt more resolute means, and, by scattering and annihilating the atoms that compose my frame, set at liberty the life imprisoned within, and so cruelly prevented from soaring from this dim earth to a sphere more congenial to its immortal essence.

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