Frankenstein: What makes it a Gothic Novel?
One of the most important aspects of any gothic novel is setting.
Mary Shellys Frankenstein is an innovative and disturbing work that
weaves a tale of passion, misery, dread, and remorse. Shelly reveals the
story of a mans thirst for knowledge which leads to a monstrous creation
that goes against the laws of nature and natural order. The man, Victor
Frankenstein, in utter disgust, abandons his creation who is shunned by
all of mankind yet still feels and yearns for love. The monster then seeks
revenge for his life of loneliness and misery. The setting can bring about
these feelings of short-lived happiness, loneliness, isolation, and despair.
Shellys writing shows how the varied and dramatic settings of
Frankenstein can create the atmosphere of the novel and can also cause
or hinder the actions of Frankenstein and his monster as they go on their
seemingly endless chase where the pursuer becomes the pursued.
Darkly dramatic moments and the ever-so-small flashes of
happiness stand out. The setting sets the atmosphere and creates the
mood. The dreary night of November (Shelly 42) where the monster is
given life, remains in the memory. And that is what is felt throughout
the novel-the dreariness of it all along with the desolate isolation. Yet
there were still glimpses of happiness in Shellys vivid pictures of the
grand scenes among Frankenstein- the thunderstorm of the Alps, the
valleys of Servox and Chamounix, the glacier and the precipitous sides of
Montanvert, and the smoke of rushing avalanches, the tremendous dome
of Mont Blanc (Goldberg 277) and on that last journey with Elizabeth
which were his last moments of happiness. The rest goes along with the
melodrama of the story. Shelly can sustain the mood and create a
distinct picture and it is admirable the way she begins to foreshadow
coming danger. Shelly does this by starting a terrible storm, adding
dreary thunder and lightning and by enhancing the gloom and dread of
her gothic scenes. Shelly writes so that the reader sees and feels these
scenes taking permanent hold on the memory.
Furthermore, the setting can greatly impact the actions in a novel
such as this. Frankensteins abhorred creation proclaims that: the
desert mountains and dreary glaciers are my refuge. I have wandered
here many days; the caves of ice which I only do not fear, are a dwelling
to me, and the only one which man does not grudge (Shelly 84). The
pitiful creature lives in places where man cannot go for reason that the
temperatures and dangers of these settings are too extreme. But near
the end, Frankensteins rage takes him all over the world in an obsessed
search for his doppelganger enduring terrible hardships, which the
monster, too, has endured. Frankenstein pursues his creation to the
Artic wastes, revenge being the only thing keeping him alive. This serves
only to thicken the strange darkness that surrounds and engulfs them
(Nitchie 274). Here it seems as if Frankenstein may finally capture his
adversary, but nature thinks otherwise. The monster tempts his enraged
creator through a world of ice and the setting becomes a hindrance as
the wind arose; the sea roared; and, as with the mighty shock of an
earthquake; it split and cracked with a tremendous and overwhelming
sound. the work was soon finished; in a few minutes a tumuluous sea
rolled between me and my enemy (Shelly 191). Because of this gothic
setting amid the Artic ice floes, the despair hits both Frankenstein and
So Frankenstein, Mary Shellys strange and disturbing tale
personifies the gothic novel. With her compelling writing, she creates the
setting that sets the gloomy mood and causes as well as hinders actions
creating dramatic tension. The entire story is mysteriously set in the
cold Artic which adds to the dark and foreboding atmosphere.
Frankenstein pursues his monster there, fails to destroy him, and dies
appropriately in the cold of the Artic that matches the cold of his heart.
Likewise, Frankensteins monster dies on his own terms, springing to his
ice raft, borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance
2. Shelly, Mary. Frankenstein. Bantam Books. New York, New York.