One of the key settings involving this (and to an extent isolation) is during the beginning and final stages where Walton is stuck in the bleak expanses of the Arctic. An idea which is common throughout Frankenstein is that Victor and Walton are both trying to penetrate nature, going against her will with their respective goals. Walton is trying to travel where man is not supposed to and so nature is angry, striking back with her divine power by trapping his ship in the ice.
This very much indicates the sublime power of nature which is common throughout the Arctic scenes.
Also present in this scene is a sense of isolation, since Walton is secluded from all civilisation. Granted, he does have his crewmen with him, however there is a distinct barrier between them and Walton; he even admits to Margaret during his letters “I have no friend”. The ship is “surrounded by ice”, isolating them from the outside world and giving the reader a feeling of captivity and imprisonment.
Also, like many of the other settings, vision is impaired, in this case by “a very thick fog.
” With this, you are given an impression of uncertainty which is frequently used throughout the Gothic to convey a sense within the reader of foreboding and unknown horror. Another setting Shelley uses to convey the sublime is “the ravine of Arve” and the surrounding mountains. Whilst there, Victor tells us of the “immense mountains and precipices” as well as “the sound of the river raging among the rocks”.
Victor describes the mountains as “immense” which conveys to the reader their sheer size and gives them a sense of dormant power- saying the river is raging also makes it seem naturally mighty and adds to the setting’s sensation of awe.
Victor also explains how the setting “spoke a power mighty as omnipotence”, summarising the scene in one sentence and putting into perspective the scene’s scale (so vast and powerful it can be considered god-like). The setting provides Victor with newfound courage as he tells us how he “ceased to fear or to bend before any being less almighty than that which had created and ruled the elements”, communicating that this landscape has such power that it can even manipulate one’s mind.
In order to further interpret the natural beauty of the awe-inspiring setting, Shelley describes how the sublime setting contrasts with more picturesque features of the landscape such as cottages and ruined castles. Victor explains how the normal features are “augmented and rendered sublime” by these natural wonders, such as the Alps, adding further still to the beauty of the setting; so magnificent it can make fairly ordinary things appear extraordinary.
One could argue that settings of this nature, concerning the sublime and the power of nature are not truly Gothic, as it would seem this nature of setting does not inspire or help to produce terror in the reader. However, contrary to this thought, it is arguable that in their portrayal, these settings are Gothic as they inspire awe in the reader, which involves wonder as well as a slight feeling of fear, which is essentially a Gothic characteristic.
During Gothic narratives, characters often, due to inescapable events which transpired previously, find themselves in an inevitable hellish nightmare from which there is no escape. This concept of inescapable doom adds a nightmarish atmosphere and contributes to the terror as there is the idea that the characters cannot escape their fate. Examples of these events where fate conspires against characters are common throughout Frankenstein where it is clear to see, looking at Victor’s past, that he was destined to create the monster and eventually die with nothing.
This pathway of sorrow begins the day “the inclemency of the weather obliged us (Frankenstein’s) to remain a day confined to the inn”. This in itself could be looked upon as no more than a coincidence; however when young Victor finds a “volume of the works of Cornelius Agrippa”, a Roman alchemist who attempted to turn tin into gold and men into lions, in but a humble inn, the reader begins to feel that Victor is bound to a single, tragic path.
Perhaps, Victor’s father’s dismissal of the book as “sad trash” further still reinforces desire to pursue its claims, and so is also evidence of Victors inescapable fate. The death of Caroline from the scarlet fever ensures that Victor and Elizabeth will eventually be wed, meaning Elizabeth can be taken away from Victor, leading onto his hellish existence. On top of this, his mother’s death also fortifies Victor’s resolve to pursue the goal of bestowing life on an inanimate corpse. The following events at Ingelstadt involving M. Krempe and M.
Waldman seem to also prompt Victor along his destined path as he even explains that “chance- or rather the evil influence, the Angel of Destruction” influenced him. Krempe’s rejection of Victors scientific idols being “as musty as they are ancient” further still enforces his desire to prove him wrong, and also leads Victor to Waldmen, who agrees with Victor and encourages his aspirations, with the views that scientists should be made Gods. With Waldmen’s guidance Victor aims to “penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding places”.
He proceeds to “spend days and nights in vaults and charnel houses” and becomes completely obsessed and infatuated in his works. At this point it is clear to the reader that he will either succeed in his goal of creating life or die trying: either way, sadness is inevitable. Later in the novel, we are again given the opinion that there is no escape for Victor when he is creating the monster’s female partner. Because the monster is overseeing the operation, he has little choice but to continue the vile act, and cannot escape.
When Victor “tore to pieces the thing”, it is made clear that he was never going to actually complete his second creation and so the dispute between himself and the monster was always going to continue. The threat of the monster (“I will be with you on your wedding night”) gives the reader a huge sense of dread as to what the sinister threat will equate to. It also adds to the sense of inescapable doom and that there is no way Victor can rectify or escape the nightmare world he has created for himself.
Victor and the reader finally realise the monster’s intentions when Elizabeth is found “lifeless and inanimate, thrown across the bed”. This horrific image is made doubly terrifying by the likely idea that there was no way Victor could have escaped this outcome, and following it Victor is left with absolutely nothing but the bitter desire to end the monsters existence. Featuring frequently throughout the book, basically every time the monster appears, is the ominous symbol of the moon. Whenever it is seen, a lurch is felt in the reader’s stomach as the arrival of the monster is imminent, and indeed inescapable.
Another important aspect of the gothic is the emphasis on physical horror; that is our primitive fears that the body is mortal, susceptible to decay and the uncontrollable change or pain the body plays host to. Despite our obvious intimacy with our bodies they can often seem alien to us and so physical horror can be the root of a terrifying Gothic novel. Frankenstein has many examples of physical horrific sequences; one of the most repulsive of these is just before creating the monster, whilst Victor is learning about the decay of human flesh in the charnel house.
Victor explains to Walton how “I (he) saw how the fine form of man was degraded and wasted; 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” which is a very nauseating set of images. Consequently, for readers of the time when Frankenstein was published (1818), this was absolutely terrifying and so Gothic. Perhaps most notably of all the episodes of physical horror throughout the novel is the creation of the monster, where Victor, using various body parts stolen from corpses, attempts to bestow life.
The “convulsive motion which agitated its limbs” is a nasty image, almost as though the monsters limbs are not supposed to be moving again and so they are “agitated”. Also, a violent “convulsive motion” is the monsters first movement, perhaps a warning of the violence the monster will later bring in its wake. His “yellow skin” which “scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries” is a revolting thought, and the unnatural shade of the skin is perhaps a symbol of the whole operation, as is his “dull yellow eye”.
Indeed this repetition of using the same colour for the moon, skin and eyes is a key feature in the Gothic. The few luxuries which the monster does have, including his “lustrous black” hair and his “teeth of pearly whiteness” serve only to form a “horrid contrast” with his other features, and so the reader is presented with a disgusting image of the monster. Following this sequence, Victor has a dream which can also be classified under physical horror. At first, he sees his sweetheart Elizabeth “in the bloom of health”, however on embracing her, a revolting change occurs.
On kissing her lips, they “became livid with the hue of death”. Victor then thinks he holds the corpse of his dead mother and sees “grave worms crawling in the folds of the (her) flannel”. This nightmare is obviously riddled with physical horror, each item more horrific than the last. The reader almost feels as though they are sitting beside Victor in the dream, the description is so vivid, and so this scene is terrifying. The inclusion of his dead mother also makes the reader feel sorry for Victor, despite his shortcomings.
Those who have read the novel already would know that there is some truth in the nightmare, as Elizabeth is eventually killed, and this truth contained within makes it seem all the more horrific. The horror of the monster is escalated even more as throughout the novel he remains nameless, mainly being referred to as the “wretch”, meaning he is less easy to relate to. Other accounts of physical horror during Frankenstein include the monster’s “supernatural speed” as well as his fiendish “grin”.
The speed is daunting as it further adds to the idea that the monster is greater than human and corrupting the laws of the natural world. The grin in many cases lends the monster a sinister dimension which cannot be achieved solely on his appearance. All these accounts are clearly Gothic and help to terrify the reader, as well as enhance the novel overall. Throughout Gothic literature, boundaries, whether they be physical or metaphysical, are crossed, and in witnessing this, we, the reader, question and doubt the world in which we live and in doing so lose our security and go into foreign areas.
During Frankenstein, one of the main boundaries crossed is the line between human and animal. On a few occasions we see the monster degenerate to his primitive animal state; for example when Victor destroys the monster’s female companion, the monster lets out “a howl of devilish despair”. Another characteristic which also makes the monster seem less human is his supernatural speed; for example, having killed Elizabeth he flees “running the swiftness of lightning”. This not only scares the reader but also raises an important question in the readers mind; what is it to be human?
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