Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is known as one of the greatest pieces of gothic literature of all time. Mary Shelley wrote the novel at the young age of 19 and had the book published in 1818. She first came up with the idea of this story when telling ghost stories in Switzerland with a group of her friends. The story consists of a young student with a great passion for science who discovers the secret to creating life and constructs a monster, who after being rejected by society, seeks revenge on his creator.
The novel Frankenstein is subtitled The Modern Prometheus because the novel’s protagonist Victor Frankenstein’s shared similarities with Prometheus from Greek mythology. Prometheus was a Titan who created mankind, much in the same way in which Victor created life. Prometheus stole fire from the heavens and let man take advantage of it. Zeus punished Prometheus for his sin by tying him to a rock where each day an eagle would come and consume his liver, only for his liver to grow back the following day.
One of the main elements of this novel is its Gothic genre. However, Mary Shelley has taken a very unique and original approach to the typical Gothic tradition. There are still many conventional elements of the Gothic genre in the novel (such as the graveyards, the creation of the monster and even the dark forests), but Mary Shelley also wanders into unknown territory and explores the forbidden.
Shelley’s main aim was “to curdle the blood and quicken the beatings of the heart” (York Notes Advanced), but managed to attain her goal without using supernatural presence or mysterious castles and instead delves into the “the horror that is in us now” and the “dark side of the human psyche” (York Notes Advanced). Despite the fact that Frankenstein is predominantly Gothic it has hints of Romanticism. The connection between the two genres seems inevitable as Mary Shelley was married to a famous Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley and she was also often in the company of Lord Byron the famous Romantic.
Frankenstein applies elements of Romanticism through the workings of the imagination and the interest of nature. Romanticism generally focuses on what occurs inside one’s mind and Mary Shelley also emphasises this in her novel and uncovers the hidden feelings and emotions behind the monster’s horrid appearance. Therefore, we must ask ourselves, if the monster has feelings like a human being then is he actually a monster? First and foremost, we must look at the creation of the monster. Victor’s intentions were always pure and never did he mean to cause harm to the world.
His aim was to “pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation” and in most people’s eyes this was his biggest crime; trying to replace God’s role as creator. Victor’s other monstrous act was the way in which he decided to pursue his ambition “I collected bones from charnel houses” shows that Victor’s passion for science was so extreme that even the idea of death couldn’t tear him away from reaching his target. To a nineteenth century reader this was perhaps the most horrifying crime of all as they were very religious and would have considered toying with dead human parts as a terrible sin.
Also, Victor’s attitude towards examining dead body parts, “-a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life” makes the reader feel disgusted by the fact that he could be comfortable with doing something so ‘evil’. The word “merely” suggests that Victor doesn’t seem to feel discomforted by gathering dead body parts as he seems to dismiss the idea of dead bodies being frightening. However, when the actual monster is created the reader is led to believe that he truly is a fiend.