Important things to think about when revising with comments on context.

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Frankenstein as a Gothic Novel

Events take place mainly in countries with “romantic” scenery (e.g. the Orkney Islands). Gothic novels often describe desolate and dangerous landscapes, and explore the experiences of the characters who travel to or dwell in them.

·Wild passions (ambition, fear, rivalry, hatred etc.) are prominent - Mary Shelley is fascinated by extreme emotional states. The novel is intended to arouse powerful emotions in the reader.

· There is emphasis on abused and victimised female characters, and on unimaginable threats to idealised and vulnerable children.

·There is emphasis on the physically gruesome, loathsome, monstrous and horrifying, with dismemberment and death central to the plot. The intensely emotional reactions of the characters to these elements are described in detail. ·There is a doomed hero who brings disaster on himself and others by aspiring beyond the permitted limits for a human being: Frankenstein is occasionally compared to Satan, the rebellious angel.

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Frankenstein as a Gothic Novel 2

ContextGothic is a genre that wasvery popular in the late eighteenth century, though it had gone out of fashion by the time Mary Shelley was writing the novel.Sherevitalisedthe genre to explorecontemporaryissues(science, injustice in society, the position of women, exploitation of the masses, the effects of upbringing which could mean that a criminal was in effect an innocent victim, etc.)

Mary Shelley’s parents were interested in social issues and she usesGothic to analyse and criticise society rather than as simpleentertainment.There was an explosion of scientific research and innovation in the half-century leading up to and during Mary Shelley’s writing career. Mary Shelley was influenced by these ideas, which arenon-Gothic influences on the book.

On the other hand, the novel conveys a sense of the strangeness, wonder and fearful potential of scientific discovery that is obviously like the gothic, and thisis the side of the novel that horror films have taken up and developed.

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Frankenstein as a novel of the romantic period

·The narrator and main characters are sensitive to the sublime, awe-inspiring and elevated scenes of nature.This links to the belief that there a bond between human beings and nature, and that to break this bond is disastrous. Frankenstein does this when he cuts himself off from his family and friends, becoming obsessed with his scientific research. This it results in the birth of the creature, which is represented as a transgression against the laws of nature. ·

Frankenstein explores what is wrong with our society, and especially what we think of as ‘civilised’ society. Society is shown as limited, with it’s injustice, class divisions, cruelty, and an inability to understand the needs of an individual. This criticism of society is typical of the romantic period.

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Frankenstein as a novel of the romantic period 2

The novel is imaginative –imagination was highly valued by the romantics.The events in the novel are unlikelyCONTEXTWhen she wrote the novel Mary Shelley was living with (and later married to) the Romantic poet Percy Shelley, whose poems explore many of these ideas. Byron, another “second generation”Romantic, suggested the ghost-story writing competition that led to the composition ofFrankenstein.

Moral and political radicalismwere part of an active public debate at the time (what has been called “the war of ideas”),carried out in novels, poems, lectures, plays and so on.The novel has a typically romantic view in the effects of isolation and loneliness, especially when brought about by man’s cutting himself off from, or attacking nature.

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Frankenstein as a criticism of society

The different societies

·Ingolstadt : the city of learning where Frankenstein studies is a male environment – it is here he goes wrong,

Geneva: Frankenstein’s happy home, contrasted with other locations in the novel in which he is unhappy. It has it’s faults too – allows unjust condemnation of Justine, as a result of mass panic after William’s murder. Arises through individual cowardice, mob irrationality and the authorities need to deal with the crisis. ·

France: a tyrannical and unjust government victimises Safie and her father because of their religion and wealth. The death sentence is ‘barbarous’, which is ironic, as a large city, Paris is meant to represent civilisation. The French government then take revenge on the de Lacey’s, because of Safie’s father’s escape. The family community of the de Lacey’s: even this ideal community cannot accept the Creature, despite his benevolence. Ireland: shown by Mary Shelley as the place where the virtuous magistrate Kirwin exercises his responsibilities and powers responsibly to help Frankenstein, and is also the place where Frankenstein’s father comes to his aid.

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Frankenstein as a criticism of society 2


·In the Romantic period writers were very interested inthe experience of outsiders, those whom a cruel or indifferent society turns into victims, but whosevalues are represented as superior to those of their tormentors. The de Laceys belong in this tradition, as does the Creature himself


‘’I heard of the division of property, of immense wealth and squalid poverty, of rank…‘I read of men…massacring their species,’

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The Portrayal of women

Mary Shelley was interested in women’s position in the family and in society, and in relationships seen from the woman’s point of view. She analyses the way women are treated in a male-dominated society, showing some of the ways in which they can preserve their integrity.

Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was the best known and most influential feminist writer of the 1790’s. Gothic Novels often dealt with the social pressures on women, with a tormented, victimized but survival-oriented heroine. Writers of the Romantic period, were fascinated by and explored male-female relationships, including those of brothers and sisters.

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The Portrayal of women 2

The women

Elizabeth– is shown as courageous in herattempt to save Justine’s lifeby speaking up for her in court, and herhonest letter to Frankensteinin VolumeIII, Chapter V.Is described as an angel, pure and soft, not strong.

Justine– classic female ‘damsel in distress.’In her trial, all the judges are men – this highlightssocial injustice. She is condemned for killing a child, an ‘unfeminine’ act that goes against maternalinstinct.Justine showscourage in the face of suffering-her self-possession is contrasted with Frankenstein’s hidden turmoil and cowardice.However, she still submits, and dies resigned to her fate.·

Safie-represented asboth a victim and a “winner” in the battle of life.·Frankensteins Mother -Her death is the result of her courageous decision to nurse Elizabeth herselfDespite her father’s ingratitude to the de Laceys and his plans for her to return to Turkey and the harem, she imitates her Christian motherand escapes to join Felix.At the end of the novel, she is used as apawn in the male/male power play.

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Frankenstein and monstrousness


·The reader is encouraged to question whether he truly is a ‘monster’ – we can see why he comes violent and destructive. ‘I am malicious because I am miserable’. ·Even in the murder of William, Mary Shelley ensures that we can still sympathise with him. His intentions were to take William and educate him as a friend and companion, to ease the creature’s loneliness, not to kill him. ·He is deprived of choice – he did not ask to be created, and is rejected by is father. ·He has great potential, as the reader can see from his intelligent and articulate speech. This is wasted because he is rejected, not accepted. ·He develops with the de Lacey’s as good, sensitive and sociable. Their rejection of him shocks the reader, as his point of view has made us sympathise with him and want them to accept him. ·He is a victim, always excluded from an unjust society.

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Frankenstein and monstrousness

CREATURE IS A MONSTER He is hideous. References to his ‘water, clouded eyes’ and him being called a ‘ugly wretch’ (by William) establish him to be a grotesque monster.

He reacts violently when rejected, murdering William, Clerval and Elizabeth, and incriminating Justine. He cannot be controlled. He himself admits he is a monster – ‘misery made me a fiend.’ We are constantly reminded that Frankenstein himself is a different kind of monster – physically ‘normal’ but an outcast because of his dangerous and secretive science. He acknowledges that the creature’s kills are his fault.

He is unnatural, not born from two parents. Born from an act of self gratification? This makes him an outsider. Is made up of dead parts of others – tapping into fears about dismemberment and the treatment of human remains, especially their exploitation by scientists Mary Shelley generates sympathy for the creature – she shows that even Frankenstein pities him. His is trapped by the creatures request for a mate because he has a moral obligation to accept him

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