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Introduction: Frankenstein, published in 1818 was written in the peak era of Romanticism and the gothic genre. This statement leaves one curious about the category that the novel fits into.
Thesis: After examining the romantic and gothic genres, it is clear that Frankenstein respects the ideals of Romanticism and the gothic genre because of the novel’s elements such as the characters, the setting, and, conventions.
To begin with, Frankenstein fits the characteristics of romantic settings due to its picturesque and mysterious nature. It also fits the characteristics of Gothic settings for the reason that the locations presented are dreary environments that build suspense.
Romantic settings often reflect a deepened appreciation of the beauties of nature. Mary Shelley demonstrates this in Frankenstein as the novel is set in Switzerland, well known for its scenic essence. Victor speaks of it highly “Dear mountains! my own beautiful lake! how [...} Your summits are clear; the sky and lake are blue and placid (Shelley 92). Furthermore, they also entail obscure places such as Geneva, Switzerland as well as the Arctic regions that are uncommon travel destinations that remain unexplored to the majority of readers.
Gothic settings, often serve as a backdrop for mysterious circumstances and the night of the monster’s awakening exemplifies this “ It was on a dreary night in November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils [...] It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes and my candle was nearly burnt out.” (Shelley 66) Likewise, they are often located in frightening, gloomy places and Victor’s laboratory is fitting to this description as its details are disturbing being a place where Victor raises the dead.
In addition, the characters in Frankenstein, contain many of the traits of characters in the romantic genre as they often react based on their emotions. Victor fits the gothic genre as well as he is a villain-hero, a character that plays a pivotal role in Gothic literature.
Romantic characters are known to react emotionally as opposed to rationally. The monster, for example, becomes destructive when the family he has grown to love shuns him simply because of his disfigured appearance. After they leave the dwelling he burns it down “The wind fanned the fire and the cottage has quickly enveloped the flames which clung to it, and licked it with their forked and destroying tongues.” (Shelley 183). Through his insane actions, Shelley proves that the monster cannot bear any more injustice and must vent his rage. Another instance where we see the monster unable to moderate the impulses of his emotions is when he encounters young William Frankenstein and kills him. He claims, 'I too can create desolation, my enemy is not invulnerable; this death will carry despair to him, and a thousand other miseries shall torment and destroy him.' The monster’s wrath over his rejections coupled with his desire for revenge causes him to lose his reason. Victor also demonstrates actions that can be attributed to his emotionalism. This is evident when he pursues the monster in a chase at the North Pole. Any person of sound- mind would realize that this is an unattainable mission because of the freezing temperatures and Victor’s size and strength compared to the monster’s however he states “I was hurried away by fury.” ( Shelley 273) Therefore, Victor’s erratic behaviors reveal how he, like the monster abandons logic because has been pushed to the limit.
Victor is a villain-hero, specifically a Byronic hero as Byronic heroes are usually rebellious, isolated young men. Victor fits this description well as he is rebellious in the sense that he indulges himself in the aspect of natural science that is deemed useless and is trying to take on the role of God, something that is known to be bound to have dangerous consequences. Moreover, he becomes increasingly isolated once he moves away from his family to study at the University of Ingolstadt. He states “I threw myself into the chaise that was to convey me away and indulged in the most melancholy reflections. I, who had ever been surrounded by amiable companions, continually engaged in endeavoring to bestow mutual pleasure-I was now alone.” (Shelley 98). This obsessiveness and solitude demonstrate how Victor’s character embodies a Byronic hero.
Finally, Frankenstein, respects romantic conventions due to its lack of realism. It also respects gothic conventions because of the presence of the grotesque and necromancy.
Romantic authors often abandon the limitations of logic and rationality to achieve their creative potential, and Mary Shelley demonstrates this. Although this is obvious throughout the novel, the period following the monster’s creation exemplifies Shelley’s stretching of reality. The monster wanders the city, being excluded by society, and eventually finds an old, hovel adjacent to a cottage with windows but in one of the windows “there was a small and almost imperceptible chink, through which the eye could just penetrate.” (Shelley 139) This conveniently allows him to observe the cottagers and listen in on their conversations, to acquire a basic knowledge of the language. Then, he is able to perfect his language by listening in on the French lessons Felix gives Safie and reading books he finds in an abandoned satchel. To answer the monster and questions about exactly where he originated from, Shelley has him wearing Victor’s lab coat containing a “journal of the four months that preceded [his] creation.” (Shelley 171 ) The plot would be unable to continue with an uninformed and uneducated monster thus Shelley looks to bring about some coincidental turn of events to account for the way the monster comes across the knowledge and becomes as intellectual as he does although it is all highly improbable.
Frankenstein references gothic conventions such as necromancy and the grotesque. The novel is essentially centered on necromancy, magic, or science involving summoning the spirits of the dead because Victor creates a man from dead body parts. We read about Victor wandering the streets of Ingolstadt or the Orkney Islands after dark in a search for body parts and illegally digging them up invoking an eerie, feeling in the reader. It also contains the grotesque, meaning very strange or ugly in a way that is not normal or natural because the monster is strange-looking therefore he contains an aspect of physical grotesqueness. Victor’s description says 'His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same color as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips. (Shelley 66). This description implies the monster’s appearance was horrendous, which invokes a sense of disgust in the reader.
Undoubtedly, it is clear that Mary Shelley respects the traits of two closely connected genres through the physical location and atmosphere of the environments, the individuals’ attributes, and the norm of the literary style. This leads us to wonder what aspects of the two genres Mary Shelley did not make use of and the reason behind this.