"The Transformation" starts with the typical Shellian framework narrative where the narrator states that he feels compelled to tell his story despite swearing never to do so. The narrator’s story begins with the perfunctory descriptions of his family and his reckless behavior. After saving his foster sister Juliet from being carried off by his older cousin at the age of 11, Guido and Juliet exchange vows to one another.

Several years later after his father death, Guido travels the world and falls into illicit company which promotes a lifestyle of decadence and debauchery and ultimately forces Guido to sell off his land to cover his debts. On the onset of poverty, Guido returns to Juliet and her father, Marchese Torella, who has become a second father to Guido. Guido makes motions to marry Juliet only to be rebuked by the financial restrictions placed upon the union by Torella. Frustrated by these limitations, Guido unsuccessfully attempts to kidnap and elope with Juliet before being thrown in jail and exiled after spurning Torella aid.

While walking about the cliffs overlooking an ocean, Guido witness a storm quickly rise up and destroy a ship. The sole survivor of this shipwreck is a grotesquely misshapen dwarf who commands the elements amongst other supernatural abilities. The dwarf manipulates and convinces Guido to strike a bargain that grants Guido a large chest of riches that are intended to assist Guido in extracting revenge on Torella and allows the dwarf to exchange his appearance with Guido’s for the space of three days. After three days pass, Guido has a dream where he sees the dwarf in his stead wooing Juliet which incites Guido to return to Genoa where he learns that his dream is a reality. Guido learns that Juliet and the dwarf are to be married the next day. Enraged, Guido attacks the dwarf; the two wound one another in the ensuring fight which results in Guido awaking in his own body where he reforms and marries Juliet, all the while carrying with him the injury he inflicted upon himself in the shape of the dwarf.   

Major Characters

Guido—the narrator. An arrogant and self willed young man who squanders his land and inheritance living a youthful live of decadence and debauchery before switching bodies  with the dwarf and reforming his life.

Marchese Torella—Father to Juliet. Wealthy Genoise noble who was banished for political reasons and eventually turns into a second father when Guido’s widowed father dies. Torella changes his favor opinion of the union between his daughter and Guido after learning of Guido’s damaging lifestyle.  

Juliet—daughter to Marchese Torella and foster sister to Guido. Conducts childhood exchange of vows with narrator after his coming to her rescue from the unrequited amours desires of Guido’s older cousin.

The Dwarf—an agent of Satan who can control the elements and work other wonders of magic. He makes a deal with Guido which allows him to take Guido’s place in the world under his appearance. With the appearance of a kind, benevolent, reform Guido, the dwarf sets out for Genoa and seduces Juliet to marry him, presumably with her father’s consent.  

Major Themes

Prodigal Son 

Guido is the prodigal son both through action by squandering his inheritance only to be forced to return to Torella a penniless beggar in need of help. Guido is self-aware of his status as such when he admits that “I lingered a little longer yet, ashamed at the part of the prodigal returned, which I feared I should play”.[1]

Faustian Bargain

This demonic compact is seen in the agreement made between Guido and the dwarf that grants Guido the prospect of obtaining his revenge in exchange for his appearance. It is also to be noted that this process was carried out through rituals which were sealed the mingling of the two individual’s blood.


The supernatural is present primarily through the dwarf who is seen commanding the natural elements that initially caused the storm and its abatement: “It was a well got up storm, you must allow—and all of my own making”.[2] The supernatural also exists in the physical transformations that occur and the second comingling of blood during the fight between Guido and the dwarf suggests that the dwarf is not the only agent of the supernatural. This notion is partially corroborated in the injury that Guido sustains which ‘never wholly recovers from’.[3]


Pride is the primary sin that Guido commits and leads to his fall from grace. Guido admits this from the start of his narrative by admitting that he “in excess of friendly pride, delivered myself over” and that this pride ‘mastered’ him. [4]


Intellectual Transformation

As the title suggests, this story is one of transformation. Ostensibly, this transformation is physical, but it is the intellectual transformation that Guido undergoes that is the most important. From the beginning of the story Guido expresses a penchant for misbehaving that is the result of being “born with the most imperious, haughty, tameless [sic] spirit, with which ever mortal was gifted”.[5] This spirit combined with the elevated status of being wealthy and good looking young man only inflated Guido’s pride to the point of hubris for which Guido was brought low. The dwarf confirms this notion by liking Guido to Lucifer, even in going as so far as to call Guido the cousin of Lucifer in that Guido “too hast fallen through [his] pride”. [6] The connection and implied familial relationship between Guido and Lucifer are increased by the fact that both figures ‘give up their good looks’ amongst other things “rather than submit[ting] to the tyranny of good”.[7]

Physical Transformation

This aesthetic sacrifice can be seen as the physical repercussions of being removed from the presence of God. For Lucifer this removal is the combination of a physical and ideological separation from the divine, whereas Guido’s decadence and demonic consortium result in his altered appearance. The contract with the dwarf physically allows Guido to don a grotesque appearance that is described as “a misshapen dwarf, with squinting eyes, distorted features, and body deformed… [with] two long lank arms, that looked like spider’s claws”.[8] However, this misshapen figure can be seen as the true reflection of Guido’s essence which has been tainted by years of sin. The true extent of Guido’s debauchery is unknown but the fact that he has to sell of his land to creditors suggests a gambling addiction, but it is revealed that Guido and his ilk “kept nightly orgies in Palazzo Carega”.[8]  

Despite his numerous grievances against morality and Christian theology, Guido still finds salvation. Guido risks his life and sacrifices his perceived revenge by attacking the dwarf rather than allowing his love to “pledge her vows to a friend from hell”.[10] When Guido laments that his “accursed pride—[his] demoniac violence and wicked self-idolatry had caused this act [Juliets near betrothal to the dwarf]” is Guido’s moment of anagnorisis and this admission of fault is a necessary requirement of forgiveness which is obtained by breaking the dwarfs spell by remixing their blood. However, full salvation is only obtained through repentance which is seen by Guido becoming a ‘fond and faithful husband’.[11]

Works Cited

Shelley, Mary. “Transformation”. Collected Tales and Stories. ed. Charles E. Robinson.

            Baltimore MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976. 121-135. Print.

[1] Shelley 123.

[2] Shelley 128.

[3] Shelley 135.

[4] Shelley 121.

[5] Shelley 122.

[6] Shelley 128.

[7] Shelley 128.

[8] Shelley 127.

[9] Shelley 124.

[10] Shelley 131.

[11] Shelley 135.