The naturalistic imagery that pervades Mary Shelley’s Mathilda acts as an underlying theme for the incestuous affair between Mathilda and her father and its unruly consequences. Their relationship is a crime against the laws of Nature and causes Mathilda to become ostracized from the very world that she loved as a child. Shelley’s implementation of naturalistic imagery accentuates the unlawful and subsequent ramifications of the relationship between Mathilda and her father and contrasts the ideals and boundaries of the natural and spiritual worlds.
Naturalistic imagery encompasses Mathilda’s childhood as she is prompted to take solace in Nature due to the lack of affection she receives from her stern aunt, whom she describes as being a "plant beneath a thick covering of ice" (1343). Mathilda besets a dreary childhood lacking in affection and companionship by becoming lost in the dynamics of Nature: "I loved everything, even the inanimate objects that surrounded me. I believe that I bore an individual attachment to every tree in our park; every animal that inhabited it knew me and I loved them…But my pleasure arose from the contemplates of nature alone, I had no companion: my warm affections finding no return from any other human heart were forced to run waste on inanimate objects" (1343-44).
The lack of human affection that she experiences incites her to long for the father that abandoned her as an infant. Mathilda likens herself to being a solitary being that "brought Rosalind and Miranda and the lady of Comus to life to be my companions, or on my isle acted over their parts imagining myself to be in their situations" (1344). The reference to Rosalind from Shakespeare’s As You Like ...
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...I should raise my eyes fearlessly to meet his, which ever beamed with the soft lustre of innocent love" (1373).
It is fitting that it is Nature that commences the end of Mathilda’s life. She grows mortally ill after becoming lost in the forest after Woodville leaves, and then during her last days, she chooses to die surrounded by Nature: "I caused myself to be led once more to behold the face of nature" (1376). Death represents rebirth to Mathilda, in which she can exist in a world that won’t judge her feelings as unfit. In her farewell to Woodville, Mathilda illustrates her feelings of alienation from the natural world and how death will allow for her to escape such feelings: "Farewell, Woodville, the turf will soon be green on my grave; and the violets will bloom on it. There is my hope and my expectation; your’s are in this world; may they be fulfilled" (1376).
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