"Gothic...reflects humanity's quest to aspire to great things, but also to hide in shadowy spaces. It represents perpetual human ambition, and the constant threat of human failure"

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"Gothic…reflects humanity's quest to aspire to great things, but also to hide in shadowy spaces.  It represents perpetual human ambition, and the constant threat of human failure"

The Gothic novel is characterised by horror, transgressive violence, supernatural effects and a taste for the mediaeval.  Horace Walpole heralded the arrival of the gothic genre in 1764 with his archetypal novel: The Castle Of Otranto.  The success of this catastrophic story led the way for an analogous torrent of gothic releases such as William Beckford’s Vathek (1786) and Mathew Lewis’ The Monk (1796).  By 1818, Mary Shelley’s perennial masterpiece; Frankenstein had been released, its arrival marked a new chapter in the gothic genre; by combining her knowledge of feminist authors such as Radcliffe and her reading of patriarchal tales such as those listed above, Shelly was able to actively critique previous gothic traditions while still managing to create a great myth.  Like many of the stories before, Frankenstein reflects humanity’s quest to aspire to great things.  

Shelley subtitled her novel; The Modern Prometheus, by doing this she is reinforcing her protagonist’s great endeavours while infusing inevitable failure.  The subtitle refers to the figure in Greek mythology who was responsible for a conflict between mankind and the gods.  Prometheus stole fire from Zeus in order to help people create weapons and tools.  Although peace was concluded, Prometheus had to pay cruelly for his thefts (Rose 52).  The character traits of Prometheus are present in each one of the main protagonists.  One could utilize the character of Victor Frankenstein for example, throughout his life he aspires to discover the secrets of nature and gain mastery of the physical universe: "The world was to me a secret which I desired to discover" (Frankenstein 30).  However this desperate need induces a fear of failure and an incapability to take responsibility for his actions.  For example, in chapter 8, Frankenstein watches as an innocent girl is sent to her death. He feared the truth and the reaction of those around him, choosing instead to hide from those who care about him most:

'I believed in her innocence; I knew it.  Could the daemon who had (I did not for one minute doubt) murdered my brother also in his hellish sport have betrayed the innocent to death…' (Frankenstein 81)


Frankenstein dispatches these traits on to his monster.  On realising the perverse reality of what he has spawned by creating unnatural life: that he has undermined the Gods, he flees responsibility of his creation and leaves the monster alone to learn and fend for himself, telling him "There can be no community between you and me; we are enemies" (Frankenstein 96).  The monster fears rejection and seeks the inherent needs of companionship and comfort.  When Frankenstein turns his back on the monster, this need turns to hatred for his master, and due to this, failure to become a balanced human being.

This terrifying tale is narrated in part through letters written by Robert Walton; the fearless explorer who witnesses the eventual plight of Victor Frankenstein and his monster.  The novel begins with a letter addressed to his sister about his plans to travel the earth and expand the known boundaries:

'I may there discover the wondrous power which attracts the needle; and may regulate a thousand celestial observations… I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited…'  (Frankenstein 13-14)

Walton aspires to: "obtain a niche in the temple where the names of Homer and Shakespeare are consecrated" ('Frankenstein' 11).  Walton’s need is shown to be similar to Frankenstein’s as his expedition is an exploration into the unknown, amidst the beauty of the natural world.  His feat is also endeavoured despite the risks involved to himself and his crew.  In the midst of the trip, his boat passes a man so on the verge of death: "His limbs were nearly frozen, and his body dreadfully emaciated by fatigue and suffering" (Frankenstein).  This man was Victor Frankenstein, he had travelled one hundred miles from shore chasing his child, his enemy, with a wish only to destroy him.  It is Victor Frankenstein's aspirations that rise above all others in this novel.  He performs a miracle; he enters the female arena in a shadowy "work-shop of filthy creation" (Frankenstein 50).  He even records his progress in the language of pregnancy:

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'After so much time spent in painful labour, to arrive at once at the summit of my desires was the most gratifying consummation of my toils' (Frankenstein 47).


The relative newborn, unleashed on to the world alone and with little training responds to nature with joy and appreciation, he slowly learns about what he sees.  However, he still finds it painful to adjust to harsh light and sound, quickly learning that although beautiful at times, perception and consciousness hurt.  Shying away from the glare of sunlight and often forced to hide in shadows, the monster would be cradled ...

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