The 19th century was a marking era in literature with many movements and genres gaining popularity. After examining the romantic and gothic genre, it is clear that Frankenstein written by Mary Shelley respects the ideals of romanticism and the gothic genre. It is thus because of the setting’s frightening and sublime elements, it t is a work of the romantic and gothic genre. This is present in the sense of mystery they evoke, the value they attribute to nature and the fact that they are eerie environments that build suspense.
Gothic settings often serve as a backdrop for frightening circumstances, and the novel exemplifies this through dreary settings. The first instance the readers see of this is when Victor’s obsession with chemistry and anatomy as a student builds his desire to further develop his God complex explaining, “To examine the causes of life, we must first have recourse to death” (Shelley 58). The readers observe how this leads him to wander the cemetery at night, illegally digging up and gathering body parts, “Now, I was led to examine the cause and progress of this decay and forced to spend days and nights in vaults and charnel-houses […] I beheld the corruption of death succeed to the blooming cheek of life; I saw how the worm inherited the wonders of the eye and brain” (58). This assembly of corpse fragments at the cemetery fits into the gothic genre due to the fact that it evokes a sense of uneasiness in the reader and emphasizes the fear factor as a result of the frequent presence of paranormal activity at cemeteries. Shelley also makes use of dark, stormy settings at key moments. These are gothic settings for their purpose is to add to the mystery of the novel and foreshadow future events such as on the night of monster’s awakening“ 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” (66). This pathetic fallacy sets the tone for the monster’s birth and foreshadows the trouble he will cause further in the novel. Subsequently, the night Frankenstein and Elizabeth arrive at the inn for their honeymoon, there are violent winds and Victor observes that “Suddenly a storm of rain descended” (263). This also is a pathetic fallacy that foreshadows Elizabeth’s approaching death. It is evident due to these arguments that foreshadowing through the use of these sinister environments is a gothic convention that aids to build suspense and keep the readers interested. Subsequently, suspense is also developed in obscure settings.
Furthermore, gothic settings entail obscure places such as the Arctic regions and Orkney islands that are uncommon travel destinations that remain unexplored to the majority of readers. For instance, the remote setting of the North Pole creates an isolated and mysterious mood, “we were nearly surrounded by ice, which closed in on the ship on all sides […] compassed round by a very thick fog” (18). This setting is, additionally another example of pathetic fallacy as it correlates to the characters’ feelings of isolation. The monster is a lonely creature after a life of abandonment by his creator and rejection by mankind similarly to Walton, who has distanced himself from family and friends in the pursuit of knowledge and has little interaction with his crew. These two characters demonstrate the seclusion and essentially the dreary nature of the Arctic. Similarly, the Orkney Islands, a scarcely populated place with hardly even enough livestock to keep the animals and few inhabitants fed provides a total sense of isolation for the character. These are gothic settings because they are serving to unsettle the readers and create a sense of impending doom. They stimulate mystery to frighten the readers who can only imagine the unknown location where another destructive creature will be created. These isolated settings also often demonstrate the sublime, a characteristic of romanticism.
Finally, 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! […]Your summits are clear; the sky and lake are blue and placid” (92). We also see later in the novel how the sublime natural world, serves as a source of consolation for the characters. After William’s death for which Victor feels that he is at fault, he heads to the mountains filled with anguish and remorse to restore his spirits
I remained two days at Lausanne, in this painful state of mind. I contemplated the lake: the waters were placid; all around was calm; and the snowy mountains, `the palaces of nature,’ were not changed. By degrees the calm and heavenly scene restored me, and I continued my journey towards Geneva (91).
Likewise, after a long, winter, the monster who had felt isolated and horrified with his appearance feels hopeful and joyful when spring arrives. Delighted at the surrounding beauty he says “My spirits were elevated by the enchanting appearance of nature […] (150). Mary Shelley uses the the romantic settings mentioned to demonstrate the admiration and healing powers of nature prevalent in the Romantic era.
Due to the setting characteristics, Frankenstein respects the criteria for the gothic and romantic. Undoubtedly, it is clear that Mary Shelley respects the traits of two closely connected genres through the physical location and atmosphere of the environments. Many of Mary Shelley’s other literary works fit the romantic or gothic genre which leads the reader to question what aspects of the two genres she made use of in those novels.