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Dark Romanticism

Byron, Coleridge, Mary Shelley, and the Pursuit of the Supernatural

"Dark Romanticism" is an exhibition featuring the works of English Romantic writers Lord Byron, Samuel Coleridge, Mary Shelley, and John Polidori. The exhibition will be displayed on the first floor of the Morris Library from May 29-Sept. 14, 2001 and be on view to visitors to the campus during the 27th International Byron Conference from August 9-13, 2001. The curator is Linda Stein, Associate Librarian, Reference Department.

Introduction | The Rime of the Ancient Mariner | Frankenstein | The Vampyre | Additional Selections


The Romantic movement in literature arose from a period of political, social, philosophical, and religious turmoil in the late eighteenth century. The movement emphasized the emotional and the personal in reaction to classical values of order and objectivity. English Romantic writers saw themselves as visionaries with the ability to look beyond the ordinary in life and contemplate man's ultimate fate in an uncertain world. William Blake, William Wordsworth, and Percy Bysshe Shelley asserted their belief in the innate goodness of man and his future promise. Other writers of the period were less optimistic. Lord Byron and Mary Shelley, for example, questioned the likelihood of redemption through a spiritual union of the human consciousness with the supernatural. They were uncertain if man's knowledge and creativity would cause his salvation or his downfall.

In works of dark Romanticism, the writers feature outcasts from society like themselves: Byron's Manfred and Cain, Samuel Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, and Mary Shelley's Victor Frankenstein and his creature. Suffering for offenses against God, man and Nature, the hero-villains wander the earth, alone and misunderstood. Their personal torment in a vast universe is emphasized by desolate settings of icebound seas, jagged mountains and bottomless abysses: imagery that would inspire artistic, literary, and musical compositions. Along with contemporary Gothic novelists like John Polidori, author of "The Vampyre," these Romantic writers explored the mysterious, the monstrous, and the supernatural, creating powerful and imaginative works of literature.

Selected Works in the Exhibition

Byron, George Gordon Byron, Baron.
Cain: A Mystery.
London: H. Gray, 1822.

Byron, George Gordon Byron, Baron.
Manfred: A Tragedy.
London: Fanfrolico Press, 1929.

Color portrait of Byron in Albanian costume.
From Coote, Stephen.
Byron: The Making of a Myth.
London: The Bodley Head, 1988.

Manfred Symphony, Op. 58.
New York: E.F. Kalmus, [1974].

Eisler, Benita.
Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Among the grim, solitary wanderers of Romantic literature is Samuel Coleridge's Ancient Mariner. Cursed for his thoughtless shooting of an albatross, an act of evil against Nature, the Mariner is condemned to serve as a living warning to those who fail to appreciate the sanctity of life. He must travel from place to place, telling the story of his supernatural encounter. The poem is both hopeful and despairing of man's ability to achieve spiritual growth. Although the Mariner can never compensate for his evil act, Coleridge shows us that man's goodness is revealed in spontaneous moments of love and his recognition of the beautiful and the sublime.

Gustave Doré, a nineteenth-century French illustrator, painter and sculptor, created the remarkable illustrations in the folio edition of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Harper, 1877). Doré also produced twelve woodcuts depicting the legend of the eternal Wanderer for Pierre Dupont's La légende du Juif errant, published in 1856. The Wandering Jew has long been associated with the Ancient Mariner.

Selected Works in Exhibition

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
llustrated in color by Gordon Grant.
New York: For the members of the Heritage Club, [c1938].

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
llustrated by Gustave Dore.
Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 1970.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor.
Selected Poems.
New York: Penguin Books, 2000.

Great Poets of the Romantic Age.
Sound recording on CD-ROM.
Read by Michael Sheen. Produced by Nicolas Soames.
[S.I.]: NAXOS AudioBooks, 1994.

Haney, David. P.
The Challenge of Coleridge: Ethics and Interpretation in Romanticism and Modern Philosophy.
University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.

Holmes, Richard.
Coleridge: Darker Reflections.
London: HarperCollins, 1998.

Tales of the Wandering Jew: A Collection of
Contemporary and Classic Stories
Ed. Brian Stableford.
Sawtry, Cambridgeshire, England: Dedalus, 1991.


The creature of Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein, is not initially evil, although his outward appearance is frightening. He is a "noble savage" who responds in kind to gentleness or ill treatment, only turning to violence when he is betrayed by his creator, scientist Victor Frankenstein. Denied a female companion and fated to a life remote from human society, he turns into a monster capable of destruction and murder. Both the creature and his creator pursue each other into the frozen Arctic, leading to their mutual destruction.

Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus in response to a story-telling challenge issued to the Shelleys and John Polidori by Byron during their summer together on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland in 1816. Her book was well received by nineteenth-century readers and is more popular than ever, publicized by its many film adaptations and by a new interest in the works of Mary Shelley. The Morris Library holds a number of Frankenstein movies, including Mary Shelley's Frankenstein with Robert DeNiro and Kenneth Branagh, Andy Warhol Presents Frankenstein, Roger Corman's Frankenstein Unbound, and the videodisc release of the 1931 motion picture with Boris Karloff.

Selected Works in Exhibition

The Essential Frankenstein.
CD-ROM. New York: Byron Press Multimedia, 1994.

Frankenstein. Image from movie poster.
"L'homme Qui Crea un Monstre." Avec John Boles.
[Image temporarily unavailable on Web.]

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
Videorecording by TriStar Pictures, Inc.
Producers: Francis Ford Coppola, James V. Hart,
and John Veitch.
Culver City, California: Columbia TriStar Home Video, 1995.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft.
The Frankenstein Notebooks.
Transcription and commentary by Charles E. Robinson.
New York: Garland, 1996.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft.
Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus:
The 1818 Text in Three Volumes
Illustrated by Barry Moser. Essay by Joyce Carol Oates.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Jesen, Paul M.
The Men Who Made the Monsters.
New York: Twayne, 1996.

The Vampyre

Lord Ruthven of John Polidori's "The Vampyre" is a fascinating character from English Romantic literature. Ruthven's pale complexion, aristocratic arrogance, and attractiveness to women are supposedly modeled after Byron, creating the stereotype for future depictions of vampires in opera, literature, and film. Polidori's "Vampyre" was based on Byron's fragmentary tale about Augustus Darvell, which was written for the same ghost story competition with the Shelleys and Polidori that produced Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Polidori, Byron's personal physician in Europe until they separated on bad terms in 1816, used the fragment as the basis for his own version of the story, possibly to vent ill feelings. He changed Darvell's name to Ruthven, the name used by Lady Caroline Lamb for her parody of Byron (Clarence de Ruthven) in Glenarvon.

"The Vampyre" was published in the April 1819 issue of New Monthly Magazine. It was misleadingly attributed to Byron, the author's fame ensuring its popular appeal and sales. Although the following month's edition contained a letter of explanation from Polidori, the story's association with Byron's public image was already firmly established. "The Vampyre" was frequently reprinted and adapted for a number of stage productions, including an opera, Der Vampyr, by Marschner.

Selected Works in Exhibition

Brookner, Anita.
Romanticism and Its Discontents.
1st American edition.
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.

Holland, Tom. "Undead Byron."
Byromania: Portraits of the Artist in Nineteenth-
and Twentieth-Century Culture
Ed. Frances Wilson.
New York: Macmillan-St. Martin's, 1999. 154-165.

Macdonald, David Lorne.
'Poor Polidori': A Critical Biography of the
Author of "The Vampyre"
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.

Polidori, John William.
The Vampyre: A Tale.
London: Printed for Sherwood, Neely, and Jones,
Paternoster Row, 1819.

The Vampyre, and Other Tales of the Macabre.
Eds. Robert Morrison and Chris Baldick.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

West, Paul.
Lord Byron's Doctor: A Novel.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Additional Selections

Anderson, George Kumler.
The Legend of the Wandering Jew.
Providence: Brown University Press, 1965.

Manfred: A Choral Tragedy in Three Acts.
Adaptation of Byron's Manfred. Without music.
London: T.H. Lacy, [18--].
Microopaque. New York: Readex Microprint, 1971.

Rajan, Tilottama.
Dark Interpreter: The Discourse of Romanticism.
Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1980.

Schumann, Robert.
Ouverture zu Manfred: Es dur, Op. 115.
Leipzig: Breitkopf & Hartel, [n.d.].

Tales of the Dead: The Ghost Stories of the Villa Diodati.
Ed. Terry Hale. Translation of: Fantasmagoriana.
Originally translated into English in 1813.
Translated into French from the German in 1812.
Chislehurst: Gothic Society, 1992.

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