You are on page 1of 2

3Ǥ Gothic elements in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or

The modern Prometheus

3.1. Incest
The fear of incest comes from its being a scandalous crime against culture and the social and natural order.
Incestuous actions and thoughts are also the expression of secret and forbidden desires. Formerly a concealed
and unspoken taboo, it becomes a very common theme in Horror fiction. Mary Shelley also uses this topic in
several different forms and correlations to create a sense of the forbidden and the abnormal and thus to evoke
this mentioned fear. The incest topic in Frankenstein occurs right from the start of Victor Frankenstein‟s
narration. His purposed wife Elizabeth is raised as the daughter of his parents, consequently his sister, but
labeled as his cousin. As he tells about the history of his family he describes how close they are and how she is
the “beautiful and adored companion of all [his] occupations and pleasures”. Finally he himself states that “No
word, no expression could body forth the kind of relation in which she stood to [him] - [his] more than sister,
since till death she was to be [his] only.”7

Later on, after Victor Frankenstein finalizes his experiments at the University of Ingolstadt and animates the
dead body to life, he falls asleep while trying to forget for a few moments the hideous monster he has just
created. In doing so he has incestuous dreams. Victor dreams of himself that he kisses his beloved fiancée and
quasi-sister Elizabeth as suddenly “her features appeared to change, and [he] thought that [he] held the corpse
of [his] dead mother in [his] arms”.8

The monster as well represents the thought of incest, even though he does it probably unconsciously. He is
feeling lonely as “no Eve soothed [his] sorrows, nor shared [his] thoughts; [he] was alone.” 9 On this account he
wants his creator, his father, to create a female being for him with whom he intends to start a family in South
America. “[His] companion must be of the same species, and have the same defects.” 10 In fact, this female
being would then be his desired wife but also his sister at the same time.11

3.2. Science
In the late 18th and early 19th century, at the time as Horror fiction emerges, scientific technologies are
progressing fast and to a great degree. Charles Darwin‟s Evolution Theory is only one of the numerous modern
scientific approaches. This progress proceeds in combination with the Industrial Revolution and the newly
originated ways of production. With the accompanying societal changes it causes social instability and fear of
the unknown sciences and their extents and consequences on humanity and the individual. Therefore it offers
another suitable theme for the Gothic novel.12

In Frankenstein science is the origin and cause for the whole plot and supernatural happenings. Victor
Frankenstein stands for the “archetypal mad scientist”. He is very interested in physics and physical
phenomena. Since childhood he “delighted in investigating [the] causes [of magnificent appearances]. The
world was to [him] a secret which [he] desired to 13 divine.”

After studying chemistry in the University of Ingolstadt he applies to physiology.13

One of the phenomena which had peculiarly attracted my attention was the structure of the human frame, and,
indeed, any animal endued with life. […] I had been animated by an almost supernatural enthusiasm. […] To
examine the causes of life, we must first have recourse to death. I became acquainted with the science of
anatomy: but this was not sufficient; I must also observe the natural decay and corruption of the human body.
[…] I paused, examining and analyzing all […] in the change from life to death, and death to life, until […] a
sudden light broke upon me - […] I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I
became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter.” 14

He is so obsessed with accomplishing his aim and creating a human being out of corpses, that he neglects the
thought of the possible danger for mankind as with his scientific experiments he ignores all moral and human
limits. After months of collecting materials from charnel-houses, dissecting rooms and slaughterhouses Victor
“infuse[s] a spark of being into the lifeless thing” 15 and achieves his creation.16

Especially at that time, as science is still in its infancy and common readers do not know much about it the
probability to create a monster using electricity, which has enormous dimensions and inhuman powers, seems
to be absolutely possible. This prospect of course produces horror in the reader.

The use of electricity also depicts a Gothic element, given that in that period of time electricity is not part of
everyday life of many people, even in the context of the Industrialism. Hence it is looked upon as a
supernatural, mysterious force. This attitude towards electricity manifests itself in Mary Shelley‟s
Frankenstein, where it is even capable of infusing life into a conglomerate corpse.17

3.3. Doppelgänger
With the initiation of the Romanticism psychology of the human mind becomes more and more a discussed
topic. In Horror fiction doubles, split selves and other beings whose madness and evil originate from a conflict
within themselves are utilized as the typical villain. They mostly have twisted and unnatural, repressed passions
and wants and struggle with unsolvable dilemmas in their mind, for which reason they are being regarded as
unpredictable, evil and diabolic. Considering that madmen mostly look like everybody else, they distribute a
realistic fear among people.

Mary Shelley employs the subject of the Doppelgänger by making Victor Frankenstein a wretched and
distressed man, who tries to solve his inner conflict by creating a living and breathing copy of himself. This
being symbolizes the evil side of Victor, which he for any reason is not able to live out. Contrary to former
Gothic villains he has no typical outer tees, instead of that his creature materializes the ill in its monstrous
appearance. However, it is not only Victor‟s villainy that appears in the separate character, but also his virtues
and sensitivity.

Actually it is Victor Frankenstein himself who becomes a monster. Obsessed with studying the sciences he
isolates himself from the outside world, his family and his own humanity. Not able and willing to acknowledge
his suppressed monstrosity, he flees from the monster. Though, throughout the whole chase Victor suspects the
true relationship between the monster and himself. This happens for the first time when Justine Moritz, a
friend of the Frankensteins‟, is convicted of the murder of the young William Frankenstein, Victor‟s brother,
since all evidence militates in favor of her guilt and nobody has the vaguest notion of the true murderer. He
suffers from a bad conscience and feels that “[he], not in deed, but in effect, was the true murderer” 18 of his
brother and Justine.

Related Interests