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Essay on Frankenstein and the Gothic Genre

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Mary Shelleys Frankenstein ( 1818 ) is considered by many literary critics to be the quintessential gothic novel despite the fact that most of the more conventions of the genre are either absent or employed sparingly. As many of the literary techniques and themes of Mary Shelleys Frankenstein adhere to the conventions of the gothic genre it can be considered, primarily, a gothic novel with important links to the Romantic movement.

The period of the gothic novel, in which the key gothic texts were produced, is commonly considered to be roughly between 1760 and 1820. A period that extended from what is accepted as the first gothic novel, Horace Walpoles The Castle of Otranto ( 1764 ), to Charles Maturins Melmoth the Wanderer ( 1820 ) and included the first edition of Mary Shelleys Frankenstein in 1818. In general, the gothic novel has been associated with a rebellion against constraining neoclassical aesthetic ideals of order and unity, in order to recover a suppressed primitive and barbaric imaginative freedom ( Kilgour, 1995, p3 ). It is also often considered to be a premature ( and thus somewhat crude ) manifestation of the emerging values of Romanticism. Although the gothic genre is somewhat shadowy and difficult to define it can be seen as having a number of characteristics or conventions which can be observed in Frankenstein including stereotypical settings, characters and plots, an interest in the sublime, the production of excessive emotion in the reader ( particularly that of terror and horror), an emphasis on suspense, the notion of the double and the presence of the supernatural. (Kilgour, 1995; Botting, 1996 ; Byron, 1998 : p71 )

Gothic settings are typically archaic, harking back to a barbaric past that was co...


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... a vampire and daemon on many occasions and thus an aspect of the supernatural does surround this character. Clery ( 2000 ) sees the supernatural as “..an opportunity for asserting poetic vision beyond the mundane for the writer, and achieving a sublime experience of terror for the audience”( p8 ) which is how it can be seen as functioning in Frankenstein. ( Byron, 1998 : p71)

As can be seen Frankenstein utilises many of the conventions of the gothic genre and can thus be considered a gothic novel. Its links to the Romantic movement are also evident. The stereotypical settings, characters and plots, interest in the sublime, emphasis on suspense, the production of excessive emotion in the reader ( particularly that of terror and horror), the presence of the supernatural and the notion of the ’double’ are all features of Frankenstein that illustrate this.


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