Mary Shelley lived and wrote her novel Frankenstein during the peak of the romantic era of literature in the early 1800’s. She shows this as her work reflects many of the key elements that are associated with romanticism. In Frankenstein, Shelley also utilizes many of the elements of gothic literature. Shelley uses many of the conventions aligned with romantic and gothic literature in Frankenstein’s setting, subject matter, characterization, and plot to portray her overall tone and mood in the novel.
The romantic setting used by Shelley helps characterize Victor Frankenstein and the Creature throughout the novel. One of aspects of romanticism that is very prevalent in the novel is the focus on nature. The observations and reactions Frankenstein and the Creature make on the nature around them reveal the state of their character at certain points in the novel. At one point, Victor says, the black sides of Jura, and the bright summit of Mont Blanc .Dear mountains! My own beautiful lake! Your summits are clear; the sky and lake are blue and placid (p72), when he was describing the beauty of nature and his appreciation for it. At another point in the novel, it says that Victor took refuge in the most perfect solitude. [He] passed whole day on the lake alone in a little boat, watching the clouds, and listening to the rippling waves, silent and listless (p159). Nature also plays a role in the novel to show how Victor Frankenstein becomes more despondent as he becomes less and less appreciative of the scenery around him. At one point, Victor says that, Although Clerval observed the scenery with an eye of feeling and delightI, a miserable wretch, [was] haunted by a curse that shut up every avenue of enjoyment (p164). From this quote the reader can understand that Victor isn’t doing as well because he no longer enjoys the nature that he once did. In a similar way, the Creature’s development is also revealed by nature through the course of the novel. It can be seen in the quote the pleasant sunshine, and the pure air of day, restored [the Creature] to some degree of tranquility (p144) that nature has as somewhat positive impact on him. The Creature’s condition degrades over time, however. Later, the Creature says, The labours I endured were no longer to be alleviated by the bright sun or gentle breezes of spring (149). Nature again is used to emphasize how demoralized the Creature has become. The Creature’s appreciation of nature is also a way for the reader to realize that the Creature still has some humanity and goodness in him. Shelley effectively uses the romantic element of nature to develop Victor and the Creature throughout the novel.
In Frankenstein, Shelley chose to use Gothic elements to build suspense. The best example of this is the night the Creature first awakened. Victor described that night when he said, It was on a dreary night of November that I behalf the accomplishment of my toilsIt was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out (p51). His gothic painting of the scene used to establish a dark and dreary mood, leading towards the Creature’s awakening. Another example of Shelley’s use of a gothic setting is the scene where Victor is returning to Geneva. The darkness and storm increased every minute, and the thunder burst with a terrific crash over [Victor’s] head (p73). This quote foreshadows Victor’s sighting of the Creature and sets up a horrific mood for the reader.
The motif of death is Gothic element that Shelley uses in Frankenstein as a way to scare the reader. Gothic literature focuses heavily on the subject of death. Frankenstein is no exception in this matter. There are plenty of deaths in the novel, specifically people who are close to Victor. Victor’s mother dies of scarlet fever, William is murdered by the monster, Justine gets executed, Henry is murdered by the monster, and Elizabeth is murdered by the monster. The murder of Elizabeth is described in horrific and grotesque detail. Victor says, Everywhere I turn I see the same figureher bloodless arms and relaxed form flung by the murderer on its bridal bier (211). The descriptions of death create a darker mood that invokes a sense of fear and suspense for the reader.
One of the major elements of Romanticism is the emphasis on the expression of emotion. Shelley specifically crafted Frankenstein and the Creature in a way to emphasize the emotional turmoil they are in. The Creature’s way of acting becomes erratic and destructive when he is rejected by society. The Creature burns down a cottage and, the blast tore along like a mighty avalanche, and produced a kind of insanity in [his] spirit that burst all bounds of reason and reflection (146). Through the Creature’s emotion driven actions, Shelley shows how he has been pushed to his limit and that he cannot tolerate the feeling of rejection anymore. Victor also makes irrational decisions throughout the novel that are driven by his emotions. One such decision was his choice to pursue the Creature to the North Pole. He did this out of anger and the desire for revenge. The emotions, and the actions that result from the them, reveal a lot about Victor and the Creature.
The Gothic and Romantic elements that Mary Shelley worked into Frankenstein all serve a purpose in establishing character development and portraying the overall themes of the novel. Shelley effectively utilized the elements of these two seemingly opposite literary styles to masterfully craft the token piece of literature that is Frankenstein.