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 the memory.
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).
2. Shelly, Mary. Frankenstein. Bantam Books. New York, New York. c1991