Mary Shelley Gothic Horror and Science-Fiction – Frankenstein Essay
Background: Mary Shelley’s life was surrounded with death as Mary Shelley’s mother died just ten days after giving birth to her. Her own daughter died within two weeks of
birth. Then Mary’s husband drowned when he took a boat out to sea in a storm even though he could not swim. These deaths may be the reason why Mary Shelley became intrigued in bringing the dead back to life.
In 1818 Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein (Although the novel was written in 1818, it was only in 1831 in the third revised edition that Mary Shelley put her name to it as female authors weren’t credited as male authors were.), a Gothic Horror novel also incorporating themes of Science-Fiction, In this essay therefore I will explore how Mary Shelley portraits her skills as a writer of both Gothic Horror and Science-Fiction. Chapter 5 of the novel was originally intended as a short story to be entered into a ghost story competition. In order to stand a chance of winning Mary Shelley had to hook the reader within the first few paragraphs of reading. She does this by shrouding the reader in mystery as to what is going on and throwing the reader into a vivid description of the monster without explanation. As the novel was originally intended for as a ‘ghost story’, the horror theme is explicit.
I previously described the novel as vivid and explicit, this can be traced back to what Mary Shelley described as a ‘waking nightmare’, which originally sparked the idea for the novel. The Gothic Horror theme draws many parallels to the Science-Fiction; both are surrounded by mystery and unrealism. Some themes of Gothic Horror can be: Darkness, the supernatural, pathetic fallacy & mystery. Often upon hearing the term Science-Fiction, vast spaceships and brightly coloured stars immediately come to mind, where as on the contrary Science-Fiction is simply exploring the realm of the unknown.
Firstly, I will explore the setting for the scene in the opening paragraphs of chapter 5; including the use of pathetic fallacy. This is used variously throughout the novel, showing foreshadowing events of which are yet to come. The mood of the scene reflects the weather in the scene. The scene is set “on a dreary night of November” (note this shows evidence of the start of the novel as Mary Shelley does not write, ‘two months later’ or ‘the next day’). Overall, the scene is set as a dark and dreary night with heavy rain; the only light is dim candle light. This makes any given description partially shadowed or not completely known, keeping the reader in some mystery as to descriptor
as a whole, a theme of both Gothic Horror and of Science-Fiction. The description Mary Shelley gives is once again vivid, “his yellow skin scarcely covered the work of his muscles & arteries beneath”. This description is very important as the novel soon comes to a turning point where the novel is told from the ‘monsters’ perspective. This is because many people will envision what is going on through their minds eye, therefore for the reader to follow exactly how Mary Shelley created the monster, they need this description.
This furthers to my next point; Mary Shelley’s description of the monster, this is obvious evidence of the Gothic Horror theme while in a less subtle tone part of the Sci-Fi theme. The monster is a supernatural being, beyond the realms of realism, a element in both themes. Where as the description its self is purely Horror. At the time of writing Sci-Fi was seen in a different perspective to today. The monster sparked revolutionary fear and then a lot less unreal than it would be seen today.
This brings me on to my penultimate point; why did Victor create the monster? Mary Shelley partially based the novel on the Greek myth of Prometheus (there is also a Roman/Latin myth of Prometheus). Mary Shelley subtitled Frankenstein, “The Modern Prometheus”. One common is element is that both of their ambitions were to benefit mankind. Prometheus’s goal was to better mankind by providing them fire from the heavens, Zeus then punished Prometheus by fixing him to a rock and each day a predatory bird came to devour his liver. Where as Victor believed his research could create an ultimate and powerful being, which he considered would help mankind, which later turned on him and killed all of this loved ones. When Victor looks back at what he had created towards the end of the novel, he regrets bringing the monster into the world.
In conclusion, the novel, when it was first published was seen as a unique as well as horrific. Mary Shelley wrote the novel from several different perspective giving a vast insight into many characters feelings and emotions. The viewpoint of the monster is intriguing as the reader will feel sympathy towards the monster only to be reminded of what he actually is. Victor Frankenstein wanted to better mankind and in turn helped corrupt it, this plays on the readers sympathy as he tries to do good, he becomes obsessed with his work, as everything around him falls and everyone he cares about disappears. Mary Shelley’s skills as a writer of both Gothic Horror and of Science-Fiction create a whole new way of thinking which has sparked into many authors writing similar pieces.