The Gothic in literature is designed to inspire terror in the reader using a number of methods and techniques. Originally, ‘Gothic’ was used to refer to style of medieval architecture, constructed to deliberately appear frightening in order to scare off ‘bad spirits’: so the term ‘Gothic’ was given to Gothic literature as it inspired emotional extremes such as fear in its readers, as did Gothic architecture, and because the genres preferred setting in buildings of the gothic style such as castles and churches.
Subsequently, the setting is often exploited during Gothic novels in order to isolate the characters, thus provoking a sense of horror and or awe in the reader. Another element Gothic authors use to terrify their audiences is the idea of crossing boundaries which are not supposed to be crossed. This idea of crossing boundaries generates a lot of fear in the reader as it takes them away from their comfort zones and often goes against their opinions of how things should naturally happen.
Physical horror is particularly used to scare the reader, sometimes in a graphic way, playing on humanity’s primitive fear about the body and its mortality, meaning it is prone to damage and decay. Gothic fiction is often narrated using a fragmented style in order to confuse the reader and take them still further away from reality. This differs strongly from other genres of fiction, as generally, in classic realist fiction of the 19th century there is an omniscient narrator throughout the story.
However, Gothic novels often have various narrators contributing to the story in a number of ways, often underlining the presence of bias from character accounts and so giving the reader a better idea of characters allegiance. A good example of this narrative technique is Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” where the novel is narrated by a number of different voices. Also recurrent in the gothic genre is the concept of the doppelganger or double. This idea-that characters are linked together with a common bond or bonds-can be seen in novels such as Doris Lessing’s “The Fifth Child” and “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” by R. L Stevenson.
In Britain, Gothic fiction began with Horace Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto”, a novel which is a good example of the genre as it contains extreme emotions such as terror, love and anger, as well as including a haunted castle, unnatural and horrific events and a menacing villain. The idea of crossing boundaries is used effectively in this novel with the howling ancestral painting crossing the boundary between our own and the supernatural world. Other writers key to the development of the gothic genre includes William Thomas Beckford, Ann Radcliffe, William Godwin, Matthew Lewis, Gaston Leroux and Emily Bronti??.
A feature which has become common-place in the Gothic is an isolated and secluded setting which inevitably stimulates fear in the reader. Many examples of this are found throughout Frankenstein where they can be divided into two categories: those showing the power of nature and the sublime and those creating an isolated and secluded setting. The idea of Shelley including settings portraying the sublime is very relevant to the time in which she wrote Frankenstein, since the Romantics idolised nature whilst the inclusion of the isolated settings adds to the terror.
One of the most notable settings is the site of Frankenstein’s revolting labours; the “Solitary chamber, or rather cell. ” This brief but potent line delivers much impact to the reader, obviously presenting us with the feeling of solitude and seclusion. It also tells us Frankenstein is a prisoner of his toils, with little or no choice to continue in his vile acts. The whole feeling of this setting is gloomy; the “dreary night of November” and the very thought of Frankenstein being surrounded by his “instruments of life” sinks the reader into a mournful state.
The setting is described as being dimly lit where Shelley explains to the reader that it was the dark hour of “one in the morning” and the room is lit by the “glimmer of the half extinguished light. ” With these elements in place the setting can definitely be categorised as Gothic, since one cannot be sure what is hiding in the shadows and there is a distinct sense of isolation. Also, the presence of “the lifeless thing that they at (my) his feet” adds a whole extra layer of dread, as the very idea of a being constructed of dead body parts is sickening and indeed inhibiting.
Another setting used to isolate Victor is “the desolate and appalling landscape” of the Orkneys, “hardly more than a rock”. He describes it as “a place fitted for such works” inclining us to believe that it is highly remote, as Victor obviously does not want to be apprehended by the authorities. The lack of civilisation (“On the whole island there where but three miserable huts” with only “five persons”) adds further to the isolated atmosphere. Also, the fact that the mainland is “about five miles distant” gives the impression that the island is very remote and secluded as well as encouraging the terrifying although slightly clichi??
d thought that there is nowhere to run. These elements combined with the daunting task in hand, making a female monster, as well as the fact that the monster could show up at any second, ensure the Orkneys is a truly horrific and indeed Gothic setting. The graveyard which Victor visits, where he makes his vow to “pursue the daemon who caused this misery, until he or I (Victor) shall perish in mortal combat” is another example of these secluded settings. The fact that “everything was silent” conveys to the reader that Victor is utterly alone, despite the fact that he is still in Geneva.
The night being “nearly dark” is forbidding, given that Victor is in a graveyard, which is very much a gothic setting even without the other ‘ingredients’. The reference to the “spirits of the departed” inspires still more fear in the reader as it is a daunting prospect. This is a frightening scene for the reader, and so when this is combined with the seemingly disembodied voice of the monster, the sequence can be considered very chilling. Aside from the isolated settings, Shelley also uses settings involving the natural power of the sublime.