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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein uses many elements of both Gothic literature and Romantic literature. Being written in 1818 the novel was placed well in the romantic era. Frankenstein uses very descriptive language to create beautiful scenery but also dark suspenseful settings. The novel works very well to balance out the true gothic nature of the novel with the romantic period in which it is set in. Frankenstein has a very dark underlying theme of death and revenge. There is also an incredible amount of emotion not only in the love Victor feels but also in the hatred the monster lets fester. There are many things that make Frankenstein a romantic novel, but the true underlying theme and the overpowering dark imagery is what makes Frankenstein a gothic novel.
Frankenstein uses dark scenery to build suspense and foreshadow the events to come. When Victor is about to breathe life into the monster he describes how “it was on a dreary night of November” (Shelley, 34). This is a subtle sign that things are not about to go as planned. The birth of the monster will be a turning point in Victor’s life and one he will come to regret. Further in the same chapter the dark scenery tells the reader of Victor’s mistake. Victor states that he “felt impelled to hurry on, although drenched from the rain which poured from a black and comfortless sky.” (Shelley, 36). The sky is a representation of Victor’s wrong doing. He should not have created life so easily and carelessly. Many gothic novels will have a setting like a castle to show that it is a gothic novel, however, Frankenstein is different. The novel requires the main characters to move around a lot and travel very far distances. In order to make up for this Mary Shelley uses an amazing amount of descriptive scenery, like the examples from chapter five, to show that it really is a gothic and not a romantic. Another gothic element that the novel has is the use of the supernatural. The monster in which Victor creates is made out of body parts which Victor had to collect and piece together. This makes the reader question whether or not they agree with Victor’s taboo practices. It is very dark to think about Victor digging up bodies to steal parts of them to use in a monster just so he can play God. It seems all too nonchalant in the novel but in reality, that would be horrific.
Shelley’s novel is not only a gothic but also a critique and an exploration of the romantic genre. All through the novel it is clear to see that Victor Frankenstein is a true romantic. He is overflowing with emotion and in the end is consumed by it. Victor is always looking to the impossible he wants to create life in his own image. The romantics were always looking for a bigger, brighter future, but Victor wanted to create it. “Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through and pour a torrent of life into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and sourceâ€¦” (Shelley, 32). Victor is looking to become a God, he wants to create a new species that looks up to him as the almighty. This may be a critique on the romantics point of view. It is okay to look forward to a brighter future but what lengths would a man go to in order to create or mould that future. Through the novel, Victor’s whole life is torn apart by the monster which he created. In creating the future, he destroyed his own. All this horror and death is set in a very hopeful and beautiful setting. The way that Shelley describes the scenery is very romantic, but with the theme of death and revenge the setting feels more like a satire. Some people believe that Percy Shelley, a romantic writer and Mary Shelley’s husband, had a large amount of influence on the novel. Others believe that he even wrote the book in her name. This could explain the romantic feel of the novel. However, if it was Mary Shelley who wrote it herself then it is a clear and obvious critique of the romantic era and the novel goes a lot deeper than one might think at first glance.
Frankenstein was written in 1818 and it shows in the scenery and views on science. The way that Victor creates the monster is a reference to Giovanni Aldini. Aldini used electricity to make a slaughtered ox head spasm and appear to move like it was alive. Victor creates the monster in such a way but the monster actually comes alive rather than twitching on a table. “With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet.” (Shelley, 34). Shelley wanted to create the same shock and horror that Aldini did when he made the ox head move in front of an audience. This shows just how misunderstood science was by the general public. Since many principles of science were misunderstood Shelley equated science to magic and it was believable. The novel also reveals how society was very unaccepting and cold. Victor is scared to reveal his creation for fear that he would be called a monster for bringing such a horrific being to life. “I avoided explanation and maintained a continual silence concerning the wretch I had created. I had a persuasion that I should be supposed mad, and this in itself would forever have chained my tongue.” (Shelley, 136). Victor cannot get the monster out of his head, he feels it must be kept a secret and a burden only he can bear. However, Victor is so caught up in keeping it a secret that everything he says sounds crazy. His own father thinks he is mad and Victor knows this. He is afraid that he will never be thought a credible scientist again if the world finds his creation.
The way that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein is very interesting and takes a few reads and some deeper research to understand. Upon first glance it appears a regular gothic about a monster and his creator, but after a few more reads one can see the deeper romantic influence and the critique of the romantic view. The novel is a perfect gothic which relates itself to the society it was written for and the horror it looks to instil. The dark theme and questionable actions of the main character truly bring out the gothic nature in this novel. The way Victor tries to create the future he looks for is horrific and ultimately a failure. This is used to show that the romantics are dreamers and reality will create its own future. One man cannot create life and toy with the future so easily. Destiny cannot be escaped and dreaming of a better future is futile. The novel creates a feeling of despair in the reader. One can only hope for a better future and trying to create one like Victor will only end in catastrophe. This underlying, deeper meaning of the novel is what makes Frankenstein a true gothic novel.
Shelley, Mary Frankenstein. New York: Dover, 1994.
Smith, Nicole. “Elements of Romanticism in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.” Article Myriad.Â Dec 6, 2011. http://www.articlemyriad.com/elements-romanticism-frankenstein/
“Gothic Literature.” The Gothic Experience. Brooklyn College. October 24, 2002. http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/gothic/gothic.html
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