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Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: Gothic Or Romantic Novel?

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The notion of Romanticism started to become prevalent in literature during the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century. In this essay, I will present the key ideas of Romanticism, offering close analysis to the novel Frankenstein. Romantic concepts and formal choices often revolve around empiricism, the nature of the human condition, shared humanity and the appreciation for naturalistic beauty. Author, Mary Shelley embodied many of these Romantic ideas within her work, placing significance on her gratitude for the imagination within her work Frankenstein. The novel explores the thoughts and actions of two main characters and the dedication to create a new human, only for it to be rejected by society. Attributes of Romanticism contrast significantly to that of the prior literary period of Augustinism, with Mary Shelley exemplifying these attributes within her work.

The imagination was of great importance to Romantics, as there were many truths to be found in the natural world. Romanticism emphasised the purity of the imagination, claiming ‘…the imagination’s power to synthesize discordant materials results in a new evaluative scale whereby the beauty of an artwork is measured.’ (Duff 82). Mary Shelley, a Romantic poet during the nineteenth century, wrote with respect towards the influence of the imagination. Her novel Frankenstein adopts clever descriptions of landscapes, following nature into a world that is free from misery, a common theme within Romantic works. Many Romantic writers prefer a world where nature and beauty rule supreme. Likewise, the importance of the individual experience is entrenched within the principles of Romanticism. Shelley was best known for her Gothic novels that explored balancing determination with sympathy. Frankenstein discovers the creation of life to cheat death and as a scientist, creates the ‘Creature’, later realising his mistake and abandoning it. Frankenstein declares, “my enthusiasm was checked by my anxiety, and I appeared rather like one doomed by slavery to toil in the mines…” (Shelley chapter 4). This created a connection between the desire for an imaginative escape and the identity of the character. A distinguishing feature of Romanticism is the “appeal to the Imagination rather than the sense” (Duff 86), which Shelley exemplifies using written words to capture the reader’s imagination and inspire an individual experience. The imagination became an essential aspect of the Romantic period, helping all humans understand and form their own perspective of reality.

Nature and the significance of acknowledging natural beauty was the foundation of Romanticism. As Britain’s industrialisation began to advance swiftly, artists such as Mary Shelley began to reflect on the beauty of the natural world. Shelley describes ‘the sun had set, and the moon was just rising from the sea.’ (Shelley chapter 20) deepening the understanding of the character’s internal emotion and foreshadowing the story. Shelley frequently uses indistinct settings such as the foreign country of Switzerland to help characterise Frankenstein and the ‘Creature’. The location of Switzerland is Romantic due to its scenic nature, with Frankenstein expressing, “the black sides of Jura and the bright summit of Mont Blanc…Dear mountains! My own beautiful lake! Your summits are clear; the sly and lake are blue and placid” (Shelley chapter 7). The setting allows the audience to understand how Romantic Frankenstein is but also illustrate his misery, as he stops appreciating nature: “Clerval observed the scenery with an eye of feeling and delight…I, a miserable wretch [was] haunted by a curse that shut up every avenue of enjoyment” (Shelley chapter 18). The ‘Creature’s’ misery is also exposed through nature, as depicted throughout the novel, “the pleasant sunshine, and the pure air of day restored (the monster) to some degree of tranquillity” (Shelley chapter 16) The condition of the ‘Creature’ declines as he is shot after rescuing a child, emphasising the demoralisation of the ‘Creature’.

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The eighteenth century was heavily influenced by the movement of Romanticism, placing importance on an individual’s drive to come upon new experiences, even if they seem impossible. Frankenstein conveys this idea when Frankenstein invents a ‘creature’ from the remains of others, initiating a new understanding of science. Frankenstein distances himself from the rest of society; allowing him to complete his scientific experiment and create a new life that defeats nature. Frankenstein’s application towards the study of natural philosophy led to his intense desire to defeat natural forces. This is evident through the third person narration ‘You go as far as others have gone before you and there is nothing more to know; but in a continual scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder” (Shelley chapter 4). This belief captures the theme of Romanticism, as Frankenstein becomes isolated from society, believing that his new species will overrule the power of nature and God. Furthermore, Shelley employs juxtaposition to contrast the passive setting of nature with Frankenstein’s wild imagination. As Frankenstein creates the ‘Creature’: ‘My attention was fixed upon every object the most insupportable to the delicacy of the human feelings. I saw how the fine form of a man was degraded and wasted ‘ (Shelley chapter 4). This illustrates Frankenstein’s fascination with creating a new species, his health becomes affected as he continues to develop the ‘Creature’. Shelley uses emotive language throughout the novel to reveal Frankenstein’s thoughts: – “I had worked for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this, I had deprived myself of rest and health … but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished” (Shelley chapter 5). The chapter foretells what the future presents for Frankenstein as he faces eventual segregation because of the creation of his ‘Creature’. Thus, the audience observes him transform as a person, a fundamental idea of Romanticism.

The notion of the human condition is existential and illustrates humanity’s need to belong. Without the bonds of acceptance from the community and love from our parents, our sense of identity can be disturbed, and we feel alone in the world, in a similar way to Frankenstein’s ‘Creature’. The ‘Creature’ expresses his physical and emotional feelings as he is conscious of his physical difference from the rest of society. Chapter 15 conveys the ‘Creatures’ final attempt to find a place in the world, which is eventually ruined: “Who can describe their horror and consternation on beholding me? Agatha fainted, and Safie, unable to attend to her friend, rushed out of the cottage”. (Shelley chapter 15) Frankenstein describes his creation as, “I saw the dull yellow eye of the Creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs’ (Shelley chapter 5), conveying emotions of despair as he realises, he has shaped a monster. Shelley focuses on the physical appearance of the ‘Creature’, illustrating what is vital to Frankenstein. How the ‘Creature’ looks are more relevant than his personality, and therefore, he is rejected due to his lack of physical beauty. The feeling of being peculiar and not looking ‘normal’ forces the ‘Creature’ into a miserable state. While

Frankenstein can create a living being, he fails at creating a human being as the ‘Creature’ becomes left out of society. The ‘Creature’, in an attempt to humanize himself, becomes familiar with the language, “My days were spent in close attention, that I might more speedily master the language…I comprehended and could imitate almost every word that was spoken. (Shelley chapter 13). The ‘Creature’ recognises that people connect through sounds, that relay certain emotions, thus, uses language aspiring to create relationships in broader society. The ‘Creature’ is intelligent and can voice his concerns, but due to his appearance is deprived of normal human rights. Therefore, he is unable to defend his crimes and is labelled a murderer. The ‘Creature’ tries to atone for his physical demeanour and learn the way of a man by developing the skill of speaking articulately. However, the attempt to be included in human activities fails, as he is still excluded from the community. Frankenstein illustrates the consequences of not taking responsibility for your actions. Frankenstein’s ‘Creature’ does not murder without reason. He is driven by ferocity by those who reject him expressing his lack of belonging. Frankenstein does not depict an inhumane monster, but a ‘Creature’ who is unable to live in a world where he is the only one of his kind. Thus, the audience develops empathy for the ‘Creature’ as he lives his life alone.

Romanticism embraces shared humanity, the influence of the imagination, the significance of natural beauty and the nature of the human condition. Mary Shelley explicitly conveys the characteristics of Frankenstein and the ‘Creature’, illustrating what occurs when science is corrupted. The ‘Creature’ is not the monster he is portrayed to be, but instead, Frankenstein is as he is the one who creates the ‘Creature’ that is rejected by him and society. Despite Frankenstein being depicted as loving in nature, he is a reckless scientist driven by the passion of sustaining his upper-class status. Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is a Romantic classic that allows the audience to explore the corruption of science and the beauty of nature. Thus, the hugely influential novel stimulates individuals to question our humanity and the meaning of existence.


  1. Duff, David. Romanticism and The Uses of Genre. Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 82-86.
  2. Shelley, Mary. ‘The Project Gutenberg E-Text of Frankenstein, By Mary Wollstonecraft (Godwin) Shelley’. Gutenberg.Org, 2019,

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