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Frankenstein And The Gothic Genre Essay

2303 words - 9 pages

Mary Shelleys Frankenstein ( 1818 ) is considered by many literary critics to be the quintessential gothic novel despite the fact that most of the more conventions of the genre are either absent or employed sparingly. As many of the literary techniques and themes of Mary Shelleys Frankenstein adhere to the conventions of the gothic genre it can be considered, primarily, a gothic novel with important links to the Romantic movement.

The period of the gothic novel, in which the key gothic texts were produced, is commonly considered to be roughly between 1760 and 1820. A period that extended from what is accepted as the first gothic novel, Horace Walpoles The Castle of Otranto ( 1764 ), to Charles Maturins Melmoth the Wanderer ( 1820 ) and included the first edition of Mary Shelleys Frankenstein in 1818. In general, the gothic novel has been associated with a rebellion against constraining neoclassical aesthetic ideals of order and unity, in order to recover a suppressed primitive and barbaric imaginative freedom ( Kilgour, 1995, p3 ). It is also often considered to be a premature ( and thus somewhat crude ) manifestation of the emerging values of Romanticism. Although the gothic genre is somewhat shadowy and difficult to define it can be seen as having a number of characteristics or conventions which can be observed in Frankenstein including stereotypical settings, characters and plots, an interest in the sublime, the production of excessive emotion in the reader ( particularly that of terror and horror), an emphasis on suspense, the notion of the double and the presence of the supernatural. (Kilgour, 1995; Botting, 1996 ; Byron, 1998 : p71 )

Gothic settings are typically archaic, harking back to a barbaric past that was considered to be superior to the age of reason and enlightenment. Crumbling castles, manors or old houses and mouldering abbeys have become iconic of the gothic genre although these appear only in the distance in Frankenstein. Settings such as graveyards and charnel houses that do appear however, can be considered typical of the gothic genre. The wild landscapes that are a feature of the novel are also in accordance with generic conventions. It must be noted however, that unlike most gothic novels that tend to be set in medieval times, in particular the fifteen century, Frankenstein is set in the eighteenth century and comparatively modern times. ( Byron, 1998 : p71)

A common characteristic of gothic novels is their interest in the sublime. This interest is expressed in Frankenstein mainly through the sublime aspects of nature for example the Alps, glaciers, forests and the frequent inclusion of mountains which Clery ( 2000 ) sees as being the “ultimate emblem of the natural sublime” ( p6 ). The Alps in particular, because of their scale and grandeur, were thought to inspire powerful emotions of both terror and wonder in the viewer. Botting ( 1996 ) proposes that “ the gloom and darkness of sublime landscapes”...

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