heart-rending eloquence

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NOTES

heart-rending eloquence

Both Elizabeth and Victor, endeavoring to alter the verdict through a rhetoric that would move the judges' hearts, completely fail in their attempt. Once again, eloquence is placed at the center of the discourse and in a highly problematic light. Why it is so problematic might best be gauged by comparing this work to the major poem that Percy Bysshe Shelley was writing simultaneously with it, The Revolt of Islam. There the heroine Cythna so moves the hearts of her auditors through her eloquent appeals to their common humanity as to foment a radical revolution that overthrows the tyranny that has oppressed them. Although it is a conspicuous feature of Cythna's presence, Canto 8 of that poem is exemplary since it is entirely devoted to this process.

In the Shelleys' household, then, eloquence holds a privileged place as a tool of non-violent political reform. Where it fails so grievously as here, the consequences may be very great. That Mary Shelley is herself aware of this dimension may be inferred from her letter of June 1 1816 where she calmly notes of the French "liberation" of Switzerland in 1798 that all "the magistrates . . . were shot by the populace during that revolution." It may give the reader pause to realize that one of those actual magistrates, were he still himself among the living, would have been Alphonse Frankenstein.