Gothic Literature

A great majority of Frankenstein is viewed as falling under the genre of gothic literature. These were works rooted in supernatural events. Gothic literature is heavily linked to Romanticism, which was a reaction against the Scientific Revolution and its tendency to rationalize nature. Romantics were focused on the Meta aspects of nature, things not easily defined or understood but nonetheless easily appreciated. For centuries people had lived with little understanding of the world around them and the sudden shift to scientific explanations was startling. The scientific method and empiricism were just becoming properly articulated. In the meantime, most Europeans chose to remain enamored by the aesthetics of the natural world around them. Frankenstein is deeply connected to a lot of these Romantic ideals.

An immensely important aspect of gothic literature was the gothic revival architecture that became popular in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This is why gothic works are so often set in gloomy castles, old manors. Gothic architecture is ornate, austere, and imposing. For examples consider Count Dracula’s hauntingly large castle, or even an old graveyard at midnight with its elaborate graves, family tombs and towering iron fences and decorate trellises. These are all prominent aspects of gothic architecture, which were employed by authors like Horace Walpole and Shelley’s good friend Lord Byron. A perfect example of Shelley’s use of gothic motifs is when Victor Frankenstein toils away to make his creation. Dr. Frankenstein works at midnight in dim lighting while outside a haunting storm rages (Willis 84).

The key aspect to comprehending gothic literature is its reliance on the supernatural. Perhaps Arthur Conan Doyle best summarizes gothic literature in this one quote, “There was something awesome in the thought of the solitary mortal standing by the open window and summoning in from the gloom outside the spirits of the nether world.” Gothic writers relied on the supernatural to achieve what Edmund Burke called the sublime (Alkon 2). By achieving sublimity through the supernatural gothic writers were reaching out toward Romantic ideas. After all, Romanticism is fully reliant on sublimity, particularly by achieving it through nature and body. Shelley certainly uses gothic literary devices in Frankenstein, however, Shelley transcends gothic literature with the aid of science and this marks the earliest foray into what would later become science fiction.

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