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Gothic Conventions Used in Frankenstein: Volume one

In my English course we specifically must focus on three schools of thought whilst constructing an essay: Marxist, psychoanalysis and feminist readings. I’ve nearly always grasped the concepts of psychoanalyst with novels such as ‘The Kite Runner’, with ‘Death of a Salesman’ I studied Marxist readings and with ‘King Lear’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’ I combined the two elements, only really dabbling my hand in the feminist school of thought. But none the less, this year, it being presumably my last as an English student, I’ve decided to get off my stubborn backside and write this set essay on ‘Frankensteins gothic conventions’ with the view of a feminine light. At first, admittedly I was weary, however, I’ve interlinked the views of feminist critics with other interpretations involving sexuality and fate. Frankenstein is a very interesting novel to search upon if reading into the role of woman in novels. I even found myself enjoying writing this little dissertation, this essay is only brief, there was no formal examination so I spent less time on it as I would normally, but nevertheless I am pleased with roping down from my high horse to ponder upon another view-point. You never know, i might just do some more feminist readings. Enjoy!

Frankenstein is often portrayed and glamourized by critics as the ‘ultimate gothic novel’ however; we must delve into Shelly’s exact use of gothic conventions in order to understand exactly how Shelly utilizes simple gothic motifs to create a world so tantalizing and elusive.

Such use of gothic conventions are used during the creation of the monster, it is through this, that Victor erodes the role of woman in society; he has broken down social barriers and fails to see the implications of the consequences, he flees from the monstrosity he has created and attempts to suppress the blame from himself by citing that the monsters birth was from ‘a workshop of filthy creation’ this quote is a direct allusion to the woman’s womb. Victor is subtly mocking woman’s place in society as beneath a man by branding their internal organs as ‘dirty.’ Victor tries to usurp the role of Woman in the novel;Feminist literary theory would claim that Frankenstein’s act of creation is not only a sin against God and the force of nature. It is also an act against the “female principle”, which includes natural procreation as one of its central aspects and as a result, The Monster then seeks to destroy womankind as a vengeance against woman principles as Victor has deprived woman of their natural function in society.Mary Shelly’s mother was a founder of the feminist movement, a liberal thinker with forceful philosophy who no doubt influenced this rational and predominant theme within the novel. Instantly, this recalls the much broader implications of the human condition and the relationship between man and God. The relationship between Victor and the monster raises many questions as to the meaning of humanity and existence. In his corrupting pursuit for the ‘thirst of knowledge’ Victor Frankenstein is frequently compared to Prometheus, as the novel’s subtitle “The Modern Prometheus” suggests. Prometheus stole fire from the Gods whereas in a bid to create the monster, Victor harnessed the power of electricity and became ‘beheld’ by a ‘most violent and terrible thunderstorm’ it is Frankenstein’s most terrific mistake in presuming that he could displace God, Victor tries not only to find the secret of life but also to remove life’s defects by rebelling against natures natural order and selection. But it is unlike God, that Victor fails to nurture the one thing that he produced. The ‘secret toils’ that he endured suggest that he has been the victim of a shameful ploy. It is by this, that the novel can be viewed as a mock of religion, it is fact his rash, impatient and stubborn desire to create life that the horrible physiognomy of the Monster is a direct result of Frankenstein’s hurry and anxiety caused by his awareness of committing a sin against God. Victor then tries to surpass the blame upon destiny as he describes it as ‘too potent’ Victor’s futile plead is attempting to convince us that destiny is predetermined, and fate is premeditated and that there might be a higher power after all, men are corrupted by the preconditioned aspects of the world, and free will is only a limited scope and far limits Victors scientific desires. It is Victor’s fixated desire only to rid of the ‘distant species’ that he regards as woman who implies he fears also his own sexuality.

As Victor describes the ‘dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils’ it is the pivotal moment of horror as Victor arrives at a climax of his anguished trepidation. Pathetic fallacy is then used to set an appropriate bleak and depressing atmosphere as the ‘dismal rain’ bellows down from above. Victor envisions his mother’s dead corpse. He has an unwillingness to embrace his mother or the face of Elizabeth that he first thought he sought. This could be a deliberate link back to when Victor describes Elizabeth as his ‘more than sister’ and this reveals his fear of incestuous desire, however, by juxtaposing the creating of the monster with this most terrific vision, the void between illusion and reality is opened up as it is blurred in Victors mind, and we can start to trace his descent into madness and deliberate isolation. By creating the monster Victor has destroyed female persona, as previously discussed, however, it is as if he has effectively killed his mother, she is nothing more than a rotting corpse. It is also suggestive that he sees sex as destructive and ‘hideous’. This chapter in volume one involves the three elements of sex, death and the monster. They are thus linked in a single image; this dream episode establishes a clear link between Victor’s avoidance of sexuality. Further regards to sexuality can also be found in the isolation of The Monster–he destroys the female creature horrified upon thinking another could tread upon the earth. The frequent motif of fear of sexuality could also be similarly found in Walton who ‘desires the company of a man whose eyes would reply to mine’ Duality is often a gothic convention and a frequent motif in gothic fiction.

The framed narrative used in Frankenstein is a complex structure; it involves embedded narratives of stories upon stories within stories. The narrative first begins through Walton sending letters to his sister, this approach is commonly known as an epistolary style is a novel in which a character (or characters) tells the story through letters. In Frankenstein, Captain Robert Walton writes letters to his sister. Walton sets the frame and the scene of the novel up, he begins to recount about Victor, the narrative is then given wholly to Victor, presumably to increase our understanding of the character and to increase our paths and awe, before Victors catharsis is then given back to Walton as the novel ends on a denouement. Shelley did not insert the letters by chance; they are purposefully added to provide a deeper dimension to the novel. Walton first allows us to channel a way to suspend our disbelief as with him the novel becomes more plausible as there are now two men seemingly hell-bent on a pursuit, Walton to ‘tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man’ and Victor to ‘make the secrets of heaven and earth known to me’ It is because of this framed narrative structure that the voices, the stories given to us become blurred as to whom is speaking them and we ask ourselves who exactly is recounting their narrative. A deliberate ploy, perhaps used by Shelly, as traditionally gothic ghost tales are orally given and it was the night previous to writing Frankenstein that her and Lord Byron, along with Percy Shelly told such stories in order to ‘make the blood curdle and quicken the beatings of the heart’ The narrative also involves the role of a listener and each narrative allows the reader to carefully consider the narrative of before and draw upon certain aspects of each one before they are drawn and tied together in a single continuum. We can also consider the reliability of the narrator as a whole, their interpretations, specifically Victors, serves for us to look for parallels and echoes within the plot. Therefore, it is important to behold an open mind whilst reading Frankenstein, otherwise self-absorbance is imminent. Its intention as a cautionary tale is applied as Walton, upon hearing Victor’s narrative on the destructiveness of knowledge and power, turns away from his perilous mission to the North Pole and we see Shelly’s gothic conventions all lay out. Victors attempt to eliminate God and the woman race, carried with it implications that he could not fathom, he rebelled against the laws of nature and is therefore condemned, he is, like Prometheus punished for dabbling in the arts of something far beyond what he academic achievements could possibly behold.

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