A Sense of Gothic Expressed in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
The term ‘Gothic’ has many forms. Its origins go back to the medieval period and can be seen in architecture such as Westminster Abbey in London and the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. It can also be applied to art in the works of Hieronymus Bosch who’s grotesque and haunting imagery depicted ugly distorted humans who are morally degenerate and depraved, and to William Blake who visualised Dante’s Divine Comedy. In literature, the Gothic novel is credited as starting with Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, (1764) which characterised most of what would become the essential ingredients in the Gothic genre. I will for the purpose of this assignment discuss what constitutes ‘Gothic’ in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein novel.
Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus was first published in London in 1818 and again with an edited edition in 1831. It was a novel of its time in respect to its romantic style of flamboyant and extravagant characters, which are placed in mysterious, remote and exotic settings. Shelly’s ‘hideous progeny’ of a novel was largely inspired by her own tragic personal circumstances which saw the untimely death of her mother, half-sister who committed suicide and the death of two of her daughters, one of which died two weeks after a premature birth. Shelly’s nightmarish vision during a tremendous thunderstorm while on vacation at the villa Diodati at Lake Geneva had a profound effect on the eighteen year old as she embarked on a ghost competition with her fellow guest Percy Shelly, John Polidori and Lord Byron, who instigated the competition after reading Fantasmagoriana (an anthology of German ghost stories).
One of the essential components in gothic literature is its reliance on solitary and isolated locations. The ice baron landscape of the artic circle is where the two anti-heroes – Victor Frankenstein and Captain Robert Walton first encounter each other in a state of near paralysis. The frozen wilderness represents the desolation and unknown, creating a foreboding mood and atmosphere. It may also act as a metaphor for the cold-hearted detached egocentric nature of both characters. This is juxtaposed to the serene and sublime Edenic surrounding landscapes of Victor’s home, which is reflective of Milton’s Paradise Lost.
As the epistolary tale unfolds it relates the abject horror and madness that consumes Victor after creating his abomination. This is another important gothic element of Frankenstein. The deterioration of Victor’s state of mind becomes evident as the story unfolds. He becomes more deranged and delirious as the creature wreaks havoc in his revenge against his creator. Describing the creature on the night of its birth, Victor tells of his repugnance and abhorrence at the monstrosity that stood before him. ‘I saw the dull yellow eye of the...