Shelley presents the feminine principle as a once beautiful body, which is doomed to wither and oblivion. While a woman is generally accepted as a symbol of beauty and youth, Shelley portrays Bertha as a “mincing, simpering, jealous old woman” (Shelley). Winzy’s image contains an intellectual, spiritual component as love makes him weaker and more feminine, as he notes, “I adored her – idolized her” (Shelley). Thus, Shelley presented women not as a symbol of a new beginning and birth, but death and withering. The man, on the contrary, symbolizes eternal life, eternally young and striving for spiritual values.
Shelley gives Bertha an exclusively maternal role towards the end of the story, while Winzy strives for more spiritual values. Winzy, caring for an aged Bertha, notes, “I nursed her as a mother might a child” (Shelley). In turn, she takes on the mother’s role earlier, asking “to take me to your mother’s cot” (Shelley). Shelley tries to show the inseparability of male and female in the human psyche and the social nature of gender differences in her story.
The Victorian era is notable for its interest in Gothic motives in various otherworldly details. In interaction with Agrippa, Winzy continually mentions that he feels the presence of “the Devil for my sake” (Shelley). Moreover, when Agrippa asks the character to become his apprentice, Winzy mentions that “Satan himself tempted me” (Shelley). Thus, the interaction with Agrippa reflects the craving of Victorian-era authors for everything related to death and the Devil.
Winzy’s immortality story is tragic, as he wanted to be with his beloved, but the happiness was short-lived. The hero had to experience torment watching as Berta slowly grew old and deceased. As a result, Winzy sought death, as he saw in it the only salvation from his suffering. In addition, towards the end, Bertha began to envy and get angry at her husband’s youth, which also adds to the tragedy of his fate.
Bertha evokes sympathy towards the end of the story, as it becomes difficult to watch her transformation against the background of Winzy’s immortality. In addition to external physical changes, her character and attitude towards life also mutilated. She became grumpy and jealous, which suggests that she was hardly happy in the last days. Moreover, the fact of her aging and death evokes some existential compassion.
Shelley, Mary. The Mortal Immortal: eBook Edition. Jazzybee Verlag, 2015.