“Frankenstein” fulfils the description of a novel of the Gothic genre in many ways, and the influence of this highly original piece of gothic literature on our modern day culture cannot be questioned. The statement: ‘Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is widely regarded not only as a fine example of Gothic Literature but also as a seminal text in its fictional exploration of the possibilities of scientific endeavour and the consequences this has for our humanity,’ is a statement that can be proved true on in many respects. An element common to gothic novels is that the story is set in the context of some sort of social upheaval.
Frankenstein was written in the early 19th Century – a time when the industrial revolution was beginning in Britain. The advent of machinery, that beginning to be widely used, created a lot of interest in machines which eventually led to the investigation of science and scientific methods. One of the underlying themes throughout the novel of Frankenstein is the pursuit of knowledge – in Victor Frankenstein’s case, the pursuit of the ‘physical secrets of the world. ‘ Frankenstein later states that ‘natural philosophy is the genius that has regulated my fate,’ which again emphasises his “predilection for that science.
” This theme may reflect Britain’s growing inclination to encourage scientific pursuits, spurred on by the industrial revolution. It may be said that Frankenstein is actually one of the earliest examples of science fiction – as it deals with the horrible consequences of an experiment gone wrong. However, many critics have argued that science at the time was not developed enough for this to warrant such categorisation, and that the novel’s relation with science is just as a means to express the warning that the pursuit of knowledge may not always be beneficial, and that some things are better left undiscovered.
However, the influence this novel has had on the science fiction genre may in fact be quite profound. While the novel may not be able to match modern day science fiction stories for realism, the idea of bringing something dead to life, only to experience ruin can be seen in Crichton’s Jurassic Park, and the creation of a monstrosity may even have left its impact on the modern day by influencing “The Hulk. ” Secrecy is an important element in science fiction, whether it be to protect what is being researched or to escape scrutiny for performing immoral acts in the name of science.
“Frankenstein” combines the latter with the Gothic element of horror and terror to exemplify the immorality of what Victor Frankenstein does. The many references to his undertaking as “The secret I was acquainted with” and the “one secret I alone possessed” seem to emphasise that Frankenstein is shrouding himself in secrecy as he is aware that he is transgressing. Another important element of the science-fiction genre is that science is not something fully under our control.
The interest in science elicited by the industrial revolution of the time, would have meant that the audience for which this novel was intended would have taken the implied warning from Shelley – that delving into the unknown can herald disaster – rather seriously, much as we might with modern day science fiction. This is a clear example of how the novel is ahead of its time, as it is evident that such themes regarding science are common to many science-fiction novels.
The underlying warning present in the novel is clearly cautioning people of the repercussions of scientific progress. She conjures an image of a monster which can roam unchecked, and, it is through Victor “pursuit of the devil” to his own doom, that the reader is able to see what misery may befall those who do not consider the consequences of their actions. Indeed, there is a strong sense that Frankenstein is using forces he does not understand, and it is the consequences of using these forces which can be quite unexpected.
Shelley warns us that the idealism which inspires science may blind us to its true consequences, as Frankenstein was blinded by his idealism to create a “new species… of excellent nature” and instead created a “daemonic form. ” One may also say that the novel “Frankenstein” reflects the psyche of the main character, a property of many gothic novels. Indeed, the narration of Victor Frankenstein allows the reader to share his innermost thoughts, and thus, the author is able to make the reader understand Victor’s dilemmas and quandaries pertaining to his insatiable desire to create a noble life.
After Frankenstein realises his folly and the grave mistake he has made after the monster is brought to life, we are also able to empathise with Frankenstein, and truly understand how he might feel; the ‘extremest agony’ or be filled ‘with joy,’ due to the close rapport between reader and character created by the intimate and revealing first person narrative. A gothic element which has been taken further by Shelley is the usage of the first person perspective to try and create such empathy for the character through such an explicit conveyance of his thoughts and the machinations of his mind.