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Frankenstein by Mary Shelly - So before we have even read her tale, we know that she initially intended to write it as some form of ghost story. Did Shelley achieve her goal?

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Introduction

In their chapter on ghosts in literature, Bennett and Royle propose that nineteenth century literature altered the widespread understanding of ghosts. The ghost now 'move[d] into one's head. The ghost is internalised: it becomes a psychological symptom, and no longer a thing that goes bump in the night...' (p. 133). Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley certainly provides evidence for this argument that nineteenth century Gothic literature became more concerned with the haunted consciousness than the haunted house (Byron 2004: Stirling University). The tale like all Gothic works is concerned with the uncanny, and if we believed the popular representation of Frankenstein, we could be fooled into thinking that it is simply about a terrifying, grotesque monster. However, is this actually what Shelley's novel is about? By paying particular attention to chapter two in volume two of Frankenstein, and using Bennett and Royle's chapter on ghosts, I will consider to what extent Frankenstein can be described as a ghost story. Before we start to look at Frankenstein itself, we should first look at the context in which it was written. As is well known, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein when travelling in Geneva with her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. ...read more.

Middle

Victor constantly lives in fear from the appearance of the creature, and also fears that he will kill all his family and friends. The way in which Frankenstein is narrated also carries on this haunting theme. It is told through a series of multiple narratives, as if Shelley was trying to recreate the way in which scary stories are passed down through generations, and perhaps also how they change over time. A noteworthy example of the creature's haunting effect on Victor comes when the two are reunited on the glacier. Victor describes with horror the feeling that came over him as he 'beheld the figure of a man...advancing towards me with superhuman speed.' He tells the reader that 'I felt a faintness seize me; but I was quickly restored by the cold gale of the mountains. I perceived as the shape came nearer, (sight tremendous and abhorred!) that it was the wretch whom I had created. I trembled with rage and horror...' (Norton Anthology, p. 959). Victor must have, on some level, expected a reunion with his creature at some point; he knew he could only run from him for so long. ...read more.

Conclusion

However, while I do believe that Frankenstein is a ghost story to a very large extent, I do not think one could describe the tale of Frankenstein without, at some point, mentioning the genre of science fiction. While at once being Gothic and having the style of the German ghost stories that Shelley and her companions were reading on their travels, the story would have much less of an impact if it were not for the role that science plays in the book. Victor becomes obsessed by the secret of life in the book, and it is he who creates the 'ghost' in the story, so it is not simply a case of the bogey man in Frankenstein. The creature challenges our way of thinking about ghosts because he was brought to life made of dead parts, as if life can spring from death with the use of science. So, while I would argue that the tale is most definitely a ghost story, I do not think that Frankenstein would have become such a literary classic if Shelly had not chosen to use the role of science to show us what can happen if we mere mortals meddle too much with God's prerogative. Word Count: 1, 994 1 ...read more.

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