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.2. Definition of literary criticism

Literary criticism is the study, analysis, and evaluation of imaginative literature. Everyone who expresses an opinion about a book, a song, a play, or a movie is a critic, but not everyone’s opinion is based upon thought, reflection, analysis, or consistently principles. A single thought does not reflect a complete criticism. To develop literary criticism or any type of academic criticism, a student needs to support his/her ideas with examples from the text.

4. Examples (Frankenstein and Hamlet)

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is an early product of the modern Western world. Written during the Romantic movement of the early 19th century, the book exemplifies themes that were born from the romantic era.

The liberation of European revolutions came with high ideals and a strong belief in man's influence over his environment. In Shelley's novel, the reader can see the harsh reality that takes hold of such ideals. The book provides the concepts of the romantic disillusionment with the established order produced a crisis of idealism, faith in human perfectibility, and revolutionary energy.
6. Historical Analysis of the story

How does the work reflect the time in which it was written?

* In the XIX century, the creationism was in crisis, so that the positivism appeared, -although not totally- the faith in science replaced faith in God. In the story, science itself becomes religion not only for Aylmer but also for Georgina (along with the love for her husband):

“...and with her whole spirit she prayed that, for a single moment, she might satisfy his highest and deepest conception.”

Also, we can found examples of religious language in the story but in relation with the practice of science:

“...It is grateful," said she with a placid smile. "Methinks it is like water from a heavenly fountain...”

What historical events or movements might have influenced this writer?

* This story has a historic background that the critic Alfred Reid brought it in connection. Is about a murder that occurred in 1633 and in which the author was inspired.

A woman called Venetia was discovered dead in bed, the causes of her death are unknown she was married with Sir Kenelm Digby, a teacher, philosopher and alchemist. People suspected that she was poisoned by a fashionable potion of the era that her husband created, used to purify blood and skin.

As you can see the most unlucky incident in this man life coincides with the central incident in the story. In undertaking to remove his wife’s birthmark—symbol of her earthly imperfection—and achieve immortality, he repeats Digby’s fatal error.

* Puritanism

Puritans were diverse group that arise from Protestantism, they stand for religious purity in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries in Europe. The saw God as omnipotent and human beings as depraved sinners. Although Hawthorne was born into a family that were Puritans since generations, he thought -from his modern point of view- that this religious dogma was the worst and he expressed in his works.

Here, Aylmer pointed out the imperfection of his wife regardless if it truly existed. This is critic of Puritan culture, the pursuit to remove the birthmark shows his own blindness to focusing on his own failures as Puritans believed they had to separate from everything that was not perfect or according to their beliefs.

* Alchemy:

Alchemy appears prominently in the story. The principal character is apparently a chemist, but then we will discover him as an alchemist.

“...He gave a history of the long dynasty of the alchemists, who spent so many ages in quest of the universal solvent…”

(just as his pursuit for the elixir to eliminate the birthmark)

Later when Georgina came into his library, she found books of Albertus Magnus, Cornelius Agrippa and Paracelsus, all them famous philosophers and writers on alchemy.

At first sight, to assign alchemy a significant role in a story set in the eighteenth century would seem illogical because alchemy had its boom in the seventeenth-century. Then why did Hawthorne revive this subject to his contemporary readers?

Well, the later interest in alchemy was inspired by a Romantic hate for positivist science. So, his resurrection of alchemy implies an opposing view of this period's prevailing values, it is a critique of 19th century positivist science, the alchemists proposed science of God against a positivism that was guided only by science Men.…...

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