Intertextuality: Mutability

Percy Shelley’s poem from 1816, “Mutability,” which shows up in Victor’s narrative. [there is another poem of his, written later, also titled “Mutability“].

We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly! -yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost for ever:

Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
One mood or modulation like the last.

We rest.—A dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise.—One wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:

It is the same!—For, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free:
Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutablilty.

Intertextuality can be defined as the connection or implication of one (or more than one) text within a text. One version of this: an allusion. In the case of Shelley’s poem, the reference is a direct quotation (though the author is not named). Where it gets interesting, of course, is recognizing that the author of the poem is the novelist’s husband. Perhaps the best way to think about intertextuality and the stunning range of implications (texts referring to texts) is to consider almost any bumber sticker you might have seen. Usually, amazingly, some reference is made or assumed to another text, often another bumber sticker. So intertextuality demands or commands interpretation; it also reminds us that we read and interpret much of what we see in our world. A lesson we will consider as we explore the rich intertextuality in Shelley’s novel, and of her novel, is that we need to slow down and read the texts, illuminate and follow up on the implications of texts, in order to make sense of what we have in front of us. That doesn’t necessarily mean get the ‘right’ answer to the text; more that we need to be willing and able to follow the implications, trace the threads of the text (text originally means “woven thing”) in our creative effort to make something of what we are reading.

Consider: there isn’t only one way to read a bumber sticker–good ones, indeed, will open up to several possible readings. But it is possible to misread one.

Another type of intertextuality around the same scene in chapter X: reference to the imagery of sublime landscape. A Romantic painter from the same period in which Shelley is writing is Caspar David Freidrich. Think of this as a visual intertext that Shelley seems to be using in her writing–both as a matter of relevant philosophy (the sublime is a prominent idea in Romanticism) and perhaps as a method of style.

You are welcome to explore and further illuminate these intertexts, or any other you come upon in the novel, for your second writing project.

One final thought, for now. Can even think of intertextuality as inherent in our language–implications in any of the words that Shelley uses–given the history embedded in any word. Certainly a word unfamiliar to you such as “sublime”; but also familiar ones, such as “author” or “creator.” In this case, the intertetuality is part of its etymology. For more on that, consult one of the great tools for writing and critical reading: the OED. You can get to it electronically through the library reference database.

Some ‘machines’ you might find useful in your intertextual reading of Frankenstein:

Electronic Paradise Lost (Milton, 1667).

Electronic Bible (from UVA’s Electronic Text Center)

Electronic Frankenstein.


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