Gothic novel era is widely accepted as the years from 1764 to 1834. The Gothic genre has remained "an elusive minor literary upheaval that has had eminence influenced on most genres today" (Summer 164). The Gothic novel includes magic and mystery; horrors abound, while ghosts, castles, and charnel houses take part in adding to the mood of terror. The true Gothic novel creates an "atmosphere of brooding and unknown terror" (Holman). In addition, Gothic fiction is usually characterized by "a chronic sense of apprehension" (Tracy 1981). "Although all Gothic fiction is tragedy, its key component is the edifice [or building].... Gothic fiction usually takes place in an ancient castle or abbey whose owner discovers his noble line is doomed, usually because some past misdemeanor has caused the family to be cursed" (Ashley 147).
Walter Scott said Shelley's novel, Frankenstein, is a different kind of Gothic novel, or a "philosophical gothic" adding that "the laws of nature are represented as altered... To show the probable effect which the supposed miracles would produce on those who witnessed them" (Walter 613-20). In addition, "all these monstrous concepts are the consequences of the wild and irregular theories of the age" (Edinburgh Magazine). Although the statement from the Edinburgh Magazine was intended as a criticism, it proves to point out the very elements that make the novel so appealing even today. It appears that Frankenstein took the Gothic novel to new heights, exploring and stretching the elements of mood, engaging the reader with exquisite descriptions. This paper will examine how Shelley was able to create very precise moods among her readers as well as an element of suspense by creating elaborate descriptions of scenery and weather and by also using situations and emotions in opposition to each other.
Frankenstein was published in 1818, and it could be said that her novel changed the way the Gothic novel was perceived. Many typical elements of the Gothic novel appear in Frankenstein, including graveyards, murders, elaborate Continental settings, and young innocent women who become victims. (Levine) and it has also been described as "a romance of a peculiar interest" (London Morning Post). One theme that appears in nearly all Gothic is that of the "outsider" (Ozolins 104).
The creature in Frankenstein fits this role perfectly as one wanders through mountain areas of the far North, lurks in caves and caverns and places no one else would dare to go. He seeks to sure his loneliness. He is gloomy and melancholy, full of self-pity and self-hatred. Marked by his appearance, he doomed to wander the four corners of the earth, alone and reviled. He is truly countercultural, an alternate force, almost mythical in his embodiment of the burdens and sins of society. (Frederick 235-274)
Shelley is different however, in that instead of holding the reader's attention through "suspense or dread" she attacks the reader frontally with events that shock or disturb him. "Rather than elaborating possibilities which never materialize, they heap a succession of horrors upon the reader" (Hume 282-290).
The novel depends much on the landscape to set the mood. In fact, this is referenced in the preface: "It is a subject also of additional interest to the author that this story was begun in the majestic region where the scene is principally laid, and in society which cannot cease to be regretted" (xxviii). The constant juxtaposition of the landscape prove as elements that help create the mood Shelley wishes to convey.
Shelley often uses scenery to reflect the relationships of the characters. This can be seen in the relationship between Victor and the creature, as the desolate landscape of the Arctic can be seen. "This breeze, which has traveled from the regions towards which I am advancing, gives me a foretaste of those icy climes," remarks Walton, which is later seen in Victor's description of the rise to Montanvert, "the sea, or rather the vast river of ice, wound among its dependent mountains, whose aerial summits hung over its recesses" (Shelley 81). With relation to the weather in these pinnacle regions, Shelley rarely uses it to create a pleasant scene.
The weather against the landscape is nearly always used as foreshadowing or as a symbolic representation of the Creature. For example, "the thunder ceased; but the rain still continued, and the scene was enveloped in an impenetrable darkness" (Shelley 44). Here, the thunder represents the birth of the Creature, and the continual rain is the plague, which Victor think he has given the world by his creature.
In addition, the beginning of the novel set amongst Arctic glaciers help the reader see a man that is coldly detached from society. Chunks of ice in the sea, and an ensuing dog sled chase create an icy mood for the reader right from the start, creating a sense of curiosity and suspense. The amazing landscape in which Frankenstein sometimes finds himself is critical to several events in the novel.
Shelley often forebodes an event through elaborate and descriptive language of the scenery. For example, in the description before William's death, Shelley describes the "blue lake, and snow clad mountains" which "never change." This leads the reader to believe that nature may be strong and stable, as opposed to William, who is about to be murdered by the monster. Also, when Victor has fled from the creature to Chamounix, where he is surrounded by peaceful backdrops and glaciers, all seems serene in this scene: "The immense mountains and precipices that overhung me on every side - the sound of the river raging among the rocks, and the dashing of the waterfalls around, spoke of a power mighty Omnipotence - and I ceased to fear" (Shelley 82). Shelley is evoking emotion from the reader with rich descriptions and by also letting the reader experience the landscape with the characters. For instance, Victor is vitalized and changed himself when "Mont Blanc, the supreme and magnificent...raised itself from the surrounding aiguilles, and the tremendous dome overlooked the valley" (Shelley 82). This revitalization serves to evoke Victor's romanticism by emphasizing the tranquility of his surroundings. The intensity is reinforced when Victor says his "heart, which was before sorrowful, now swelled with something like joy" (Shelley 82). The reader can easily relate to the experiencing an awesome display of nature.
Darkness also plays an important role in setting the mood for Frankenstein. The dark scenes involving the laboratory and the graveyards successfully create suspense. For instance, as Victor describes how he studied death, he mentions that "darkness had no effect upon my fancy, and a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life" and how he spent "days and nights in vaults and charnel-houses" (Shelley 36). In addition, the reader can easily envision the night Victor brings the creature to life when he says, "It was on a dreary night in November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils... It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes..." (Shelley 42)
Weather plays a critical part in evoking emotion in the reader. Because the weather can change the landscape so rapidly, it is very effective. For instance, when the rain was pouring "in torrents" and then "thick mists hid the summits of the mountains" the reader is able envision such a spooky scene. Such a rapid change in the weather often pre-empts the creature's arrival. Also, as Victor is traveling through Chamounix, he refers to the "supreme Mont Blanc" and then the scenery has changed to that of "a scene terrifically desolate... where trees lie broken and stewed on the ground,... The pines are not tall or luxuriant, but they are somber, and add an air of severity to the scene." The reader can definitely sense how the landscape becomes more intense prior to an encounter with the creature, therefor creating more suspense. In addition, near the end of the novel, Walton is relating to his sister the scene before him, which includes still being "surrounded by ice, still in imminent danger of being crushed...the cold is excessive... And many have already found their grave amidst this scene of desolation" (Shelley 196). Once again, this is an example of the kind of successful foreshadowing Shelley used so often when writing this novel.
Another example of Shelley juxtaposing two elements to create the mood she intends is her description of the weather. The reader can't help but observe that it is springtime when positive situations occur, and it is in the winter seasons when negative things happen. Spring indicates optimism while winter seems to imply darkness, loneliness and pessimism. The reader is able to relate to the creature when he experiences such scenes when the "showers and genial warmth of spring greatly changed the aspect of the earth... The birds sang in more cheerful notes, and the leaves began to bud forth on the trees. Happy, happy earth!" (Shelley 100) In the same way, Shelley creates the opposite mood when the creature is rejected with…