Essays in Romanticism

The Shelleys’ Secret Convictions

Essays in Romanticism (2017), 24, (2), 145–161.

Abstract

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Percy Shelley’s The Cenci, two women stand trial on murder charges whose outcome seems settled against them from the outset. But the criminal conviction of Justine Moritz and Beatrice Cenci proves secondary to a far less settled sense of personal conviction that persists in the face of circumstance. Despite the judgment of the courts, Victor Frankenstein maintains his belief in Justine’s innocence, while Beatrice Cenci holds onto her belief in her own moral innocence over and above the fact of her legal guilt. In their refusal to justify these convictions to others, moreover, Victor and Beatrice hold out for an idea of justice that cannot yet be communicated to others or fully represented to oneself. Conviction, as the Shelleys imagine it in these texts, holds open space for intuitions that might still prove morally consequential but whose final, redeemed form has not yet arrived.

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Author details

Cowell, Isaac