Frankenstein as a Gothic Novel

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is widely considered to be one of the most seminal works of the Gothic literary genre. In many ways, the novel is the quintessential Gothic text, featuring use of Gothic tropes and themes, its exploration of the supernatural and the unknown, and how these elements come together to create an eerie and foreboding atmosphere throughout the book. The novel features all the crucial elements of gothic literature such as supernatural, eerie settings, melancholy tone, and aesthetics, the mysterious and grotesque. Shelley was able to successfully capture the essence of the Romantic and gothic movement, setting a benchmark for future literary works in the genre.

One of the most prominent gothic features of the novel is the setting. Shelley employs a number of settings that manifest an aura of eeriness and psychological threat. The catacombs where Frankenstein conducts his experiments are dark and gloomy; they signify a sense of entrapment and desperation. Shortly after Frankenstein brings the abandoned creature to life, he finds himself wandering through a desolate town during a thunderstorm. This setting is not only an expression of distress and helplessness but also highlights the supernatural element of the novel. The story mainly takes place in Switzerland and the Arctic, and both the settings contribute to the haunting atmosphere of the narrative. The frozen wasteland of the Arctic conveys danger and death while the Swiss mountains represent both the beauty and the isolation of the human psyche.

Another important attribute of the gothic novel is the supernatural aspect. Frankenstein’s monster is a classic supernatural character. His creation goes beyond the laws of nature, and his monstrous appearance invokes fear in the reader. Early gothic novels, such as Anne Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, feature supernatural elements that can be attributed to witchcraft, curses, ghosts, and demons, but Shelley’s novel suggests science as the source of the supernatural. In this sense, Frankenstein represents a modern form of gothic literature that relies on science and the human limitations of modifying the natural world.

Furthermore, the novel incorporates themes of death and mortality, love and loss, and the dark side of human nature that are inextricably linked to gothic settings. Mary Shelley highlighted the concept of life and death in her story; in Frankenstein, life and death are interchangeable, culminating in the creature’s desire for revenge for having been ruined by his creator. Other iconic characters, such as the blind man whose shed the creature visited in the woods, offer a fleeting glimpse of domestic comfort. Shelley’s experiment with time, compressed and distorted, alluding to the idea that life is a fleeting illusion that is subject to the whims of high emotion and the fragility of traditional Judeo-Christian morality.

The gothic pictorial conventions of the novel, embodied in Shelley’s description of the grotesque, the sublime, and the uncanny, also contribute to the genre. Early on in the novel, Shelley describes the creature as “yellow skin lustrous black hair and full, white teeth”. Her description of the creature’s appearance is meticulously grotesque in detail and vision. The creature is an embodiment of human error, a hunched and unnatural figure, made grotesque by a lack of care and attention from society. Furthermore, the sublime nature of the setting, such as the grandeur of the mountains surrounding Frankenstein’s laboratory in Switzerland, hosts images of dark greed and death. The uncanny, as represented in the creature’s sentience, is shocking to Frankenstein and his friends. Shelley uses images of recognizable things that have been made strange and uncanny to the reader and protagonist.

Finally, the narrative structure is a key element of the gothic novel. The story is piecemeal, told in a nonlinear structure, contributing to the eerie and suspenseful atmosphere of the novel. The structure of the novel is reminiscent of Radcliffe’s earlier gothic novels, where details are withheld, and the reader is drawn into the suspenseful story. Shelley’s novel is told through various narrations as the story unfolds, drawing on letters, accounts, and recollections. The wealth of multiple narrations of both cruelty and compassion highlights the deeply psychological and emotional layers within the novel.

In conclusion, Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, is a masterpiece of the gothic genre. Its depiction of eerie settings, supernatural beings, themes of death and mortality, sophisticated pictorial conventions, and narrative structure all make it a perfect example of the gothic novel. The novel’s supernatural horror, combined with philosophical questions raised by Shelley, continue to be celebrated, imitated, and read to this day. While the novel is told from a variety of narrative voices, it remains a unified whole, creating an unforgettable journey through a world of terror and emotion, relevant still today. Shelley’s charting of the grotesque and uncanny became a mainstay of the genre, which continues to shock and delight readers into the present day.