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Compare and contrast three examples of gothic fiction

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Introduction

Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and The Island of Dr. Moreau are excellent examples of Gothic fiction. These stories deal with the forces of good against evil. The good forces are the family, social conscience, religious belief and moral judgement, all constituents of a civilised society. The evil side is the corruption of conscience, the misuse of power, violation of nature and rampant ego. The themes of each work explore the dual nature of mankind. Behind the benevolent face of civilisation there still lurks the beast within every man and it is this fear that the protagonists exploit to justify their blasphemous experiments. The brooding gothic background is powerful vehicle for writers to express their unease regarding the imbalance between nature, science, man and spirituality. Frankenstein is the story of a brilliant chemist who discovers the elixir of life and sets himself up as a 'creator'. The second story is The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the equally famous tale of a scientist who assaults the social order by unleashing his dark side. Finally The Island of Dr Moreau, is where we meet the most modern of the three scientists, but we are left without a solid description of what we must fear. The Island of Dr Moreau, as with the other two novels, deals with the failures of science. As Mason Harris points out: The Island of Dr Moreau, where science fails, belongs entirely to the Gothic genre...Early reviewers condemned the story for gruesomeness and blasphemy and readers since have found it particularly disturbing. (Harris 7) He also points out that: Gothic horror endows the story with a deep ambivalence towards science and contributes much to the mood and anxious uncertainty in which it ends. ( Harris 7) The very fact that practically everyone knows of Dr Frankenstein's experiments is ample proof of the fear that science can invoke. ...read more.

Middle

Hyde is the ultimate threat to a society based on mutual friendship and patriarchal ties. He is a one-sided user of the friendships established by Jekyll - both those of his lawyer, Mr. Utterson, and his fellow researcher, Dr. Lanyon. He commits the blatantly threatening act of murdering of Sir Danvers Carew, a member of the House of Lords. Importantly, this act is committed with the very cane given to Henry Jekyll by one of his fellow gentlemen. Hyde is no longer the underling, the hidden self; he becomes the master and the dominant persona. The Victorian social order is turned around, a great fear in that class-conscious society. David Punter in The Literature of Terror raises political parallels. He considers the novella can be viewed from different levels. For instance, perhaps it dramatises the striving of the bourgeois middle-classes to sublimate their more humble working class origins in their quest for social respectability. Therefore Jekyll mixes with the upper class in his desire to conform with accepted society. Hyde therefore is the antithesis of Jekyll desiring only the satiating of his appetites and inclinations and using Jekyll's friends and contacts as his prey. It is the Freudian theory of the 'shadowy' otherness within all of us. It is relevant that in the late 19th Century Imperialism was the dominant culture and the British Empire was Master and sought to dominate other countries for it's own furtherance. Jekyll and Hyde represented the reversal of this relationship. While Stevenson, like Shelley, was certainly in part simply trying to write a terrifying tale, he was all too aware of the nature of the English gentry. His life varied between happy member and distrustful outsider, and it seems likely that he was well aware that the tenuous bonds of society were all that held the culture together. Moreover, he was familiar with the way that the infamous murderer, Deacon Brodie, used his upstanding reputation and appearance to prey on his fellows. ...read more.

Conclusion

Kelly Hurley in The Gothic Body examines 'the ruination of the human subject', by examining the way in which the human body is destroyed both in physical and metaphorical form in Gothic literature. In the second section, Hurley, 'situates the Gothic's making-abhuman of the human body within a range of evolutionist discourse' (Hurley 10). This links the behaviour of humans and animals with their physical appearance. The setting of The Island of Dr Moreau is most similar to that of Frankenstein. The island has great natural beauty and provides a strong contrast for the unethical horrors lurking beneath. These two tales involve the corruption of God's creation into ungodly abominations. Their creators started out with good intentions of improving the lot of mankind but were overtaken by ambition and vanity. Frankenstein does suffer from enormous feelings of guilt and horror and tries to make amends by destroying his own creation, but Moreau has no such misgivings. Indeed in isolating himself from the restraints of society upon his island, Moreau destroys any chance of moral intervention from outside forces. Moreau has no conscience, no pity and his ego is the most monstrous. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has a more urban setting. It is the story of one man's life being stolen by his doppelganger. Whereas Victor Frankenstein and Dr Moreau do have degrees of dual personality involving man versus scientist, Dr Jekyll achieves a complete split allowing the evil Mr Hyde, his 'shadowy other', to invade and take over his existence. Dr Jekyll's experiment has both moral and social ambition but he is unable to control his 'creation' Mr Hyde, and is unable to replicate his original experiment. All three tales explore the relations between the human and the bestial. We all fear our 'otherness', the beast within. All three scientists sought to replicate in some way, 'the creation' and all failed because as their stories suggest they sinned against the natural order of life and simply created a parody of God's perfection. ...read more.

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