One of the most important aspects of any gothic novel is setting. Mary
Shelly’s Frankenstein is an innovative and disturbing work that weaves a tale
of passion, misery, dread, and remorse. Shelly reveals the story of a man’s
thirst for knowledge which leads to a monstrous creation that goes against the
laws of nature and natural order. The man, Victor Frankenstein, in utter
disgust, abandons his creation who is shunned by all of mankind yet still feels
and yearns for love.
The monster then seeks revenge for his life of loneliness
and misery. The setting can bring about these feelings of short-lived happiness,
loneliness, isolation, and despair. Shelly’s writing shows how the varied and
dramatic settings of Frankenstein can create the atmosphere of the novel and can
also cause or hinder the actions of Frankenstein and his monster as they go on
their seemingly endless chase where the pursuer becomes the pursued.
Darkly dramatic moments and the ever-so-small flashes of happiness stand
out. The setting sets the atmosphere and creates the mood. The “dreary night
of November” (Shelly 42) where the monster is given life, remains in the memory.
And that is what is felt throughout the novel-the dreariness of it all along
with the desolate isolation. Yet there were still glimpses of happiness in
Shelly’s “vivid pictures of the grand scenes among Frankenstein- the
thunderstorm of the Alps, the valleys of Servox and Chamounix, the glacier and
the precipitous sides of Montanvert, and the smoke of rushing avalanches, the
tremendous dome of Mont Blanc” (Goldberg 277) and on that last journey with
Elizabeth which were his last moments of happiness.
The rest goes along with
the melodrama of the story. Shelly can sustain the mood and create a distinct
picture and it is admirable the way she begins to foreshadow coming danger.
Shelly does this by starting a terrible storm, adding dreary thunder and
lightning and by enhancing the gloom and dread of her gothic scenes. Shelly
writes so that the reader sees and feels these scenes taking permanent hold on
Furthermore, the setting can greatly impact the actions in a novel such
as this. Frankenstein’s abhorred creation proclaims that: “the desert mountains
and dreary glaciers are my refuge. I have wandered here many days; the caves of
ice which I only do not fear, are a dwelling to me, and the only one which man
does not grudge” (Shelly 84). The pitiful creature lives in places where man
cannot go for reason that the temperatures and dangers of these settings are too
extreme. But near the end, Frankenstein’s rage takes him all over the world in
an obsessed search for his doppelganger enduring terrible hardships, which the
monster, too, has endured.
Frankenstein pursues his creation to the Artic
wastes, revenge being the only thing keeping him alive. This “serves only to
thicken the strange darkness that surrounds and engulfs them” (Nitchie 274).
Here it seems as if Frankenstein may finally capture his adversary, but nature
thinks otherwise. The monster tempts his enraged creator through a world of ice
and the setting becomes a hindrance as the “wind arose; the sea roared; and, as
with the mighty shock of an earthquake; it split and cracked with a tremendous
and overwhelming sound. the work was soon finished; in a few minutes a
tumuluous sea rolled between me and my enemy” (Shelly 191). Because of this
gothic setting amid the Artic ice floes, the despair hits both Frankenstein and
So Frankenstein, Mary Shelly’s strange and disturbing tale personifies
the gothic novel. With her compelling writing, she creates the setting that
sets the gloomy mood and causes as well as hinders actions creating dramatic
tension. The entire story is mysteriously set in the cold Artic which adds to
the dark and foreboding atmosphere. Frankenstein pursues his monster there,
fails to destroy him, and dies appropriately in the cold of the Artic that
matches the cold of his heart. Likewise, Frankenstein’s monster dies on his
own terms, springing to his ice raft, “borne away by the waves and lost in
darkness and distance” (Shelly 206).