The Aging Process in "The Mortal Immortal"

Mary Shelly


The novella "The Mortal Immortal", by Mary Shelley, gives the reader an interesting insight into the topic of aging and its implications for both men and women.

At the beginning of the story, the narrator, a man, tells the reader how beautiful his lover is, with her dark hair and beaming eyes (361) . It is clear enough from the start that Bertha's good looks and Winzy's love for her are closely related. "How lovely Bertha looked! her eyes flashing fire, her cheeks glowing with impatience and anger (…) I adored - worshipped -idolized her" (364). Unfortunately for Bertha, since she has not, as her husband has, drunk the philter of eternal youth, she soon falls prey to the aging process. While Winzy keeps his "wonderfully youthful look", he mentions "the faded beauty of Bertha" (365). Curiously, he starts talking about her as "poor Bertha" and the reader can feel that pity and duty slowly replace the now fading love. Love is becoming a thing of the past: " …this was my Bertha , whom I had loved so fondly (…) I should have revered her grey lock and withered cheeks…" . He will, however, be faithful and perform his duty scrupulously towards her, even when she is bed-rid and paralytic (376). "She had been mine in youth, she was mine in age…", he will say when she dies.

One can wonder who, from the man and the woman, suffered more from her getting old. Indeed, as the whole process is taking place, her temper gets more and more difficult (366). "She sought to decrease the disparity of (their) ages by a thousand feminine arts-rouge, youthful dresses, and assumed juvenility of manners" (367).

Maybe her beauty would not have seemed so faded if she had herself accepted the reality of getting old. Had her temper not changed so much in a negative way, she could have enjoyed a different kind of beauty, a more mature one maybe, but one her husband could surely not ignore.

by Catherine Lessard