Use of form in Frankenstein

The form of a text is the type of text you are reading. The form of Frankenstein is a novel – a long work of fiction. The genre of fiction to which Frankenstein belongs may be defined as Romantic or Gothic – two separate but linked genres.

Romantic fiction

Romanticism was a general movement in the arts (novels, poetry, paintings, music, etc) which occurred in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and reached its height around the time Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. Mary's parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, influenced many of the Romantic writers of the time and Mary herself was married to one of the movement's most famous poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley. The Romantics were concerned with:

  • The power of nature. There are many storms in the book and it is an electrical force that brings the Monster to life.
  • Wild and rugged landscapes in faraway lands. Some of the book's settings include the Swiss Alps, the Orkney Islands, the Irish coastline and the Arctic.
  • Intense feelings. Both Victor and the Monster experience extremes of emotion and care passionately about their beliefs.
  • The isolated Romantic hero. The Monster is rejected by society and, at first, is generally noble in its bearing.
  • Social responsibility and justice. This is a key theme in the novel.

Gothic fiction

Boris Karloff, as seen in the 1931 film 'Frankenstein'
Frankenstein as an example of Gothic horror

Gothic fiction can be seen as the 'dark' side of the Romantic movement and would, a century later, become the backbone of Hollywood horror films - one of the first of which was a famous adaptation of Frankenstein. Although some of the key elements of a typical Gothic novel are not present in Frankenstein (there are no ghosts for instance) the atmosphere of the book is undoubtedly Gothic in tone. Some of the elements contributing to this are:

  • The Monster. It is horrific to look at, it commits murder and it has been constructed out of the body parts of dead people.
  • The settings. Dimly lit laboratories, graveyards in the dead of night and hostile threatening foreign landscapes all appear.
  • The weather. Thunderstorms, driving rain and icy blizzards all feature.
  • Females in danger. Caroline Frankenstein dies of a fatal illness, Justine is executed, Elizabeth is murdered and Safie (the guest of the De Laceys) is victimised.
  • Extreme emotions. Both Victor and the Monster vow to revenge themselves on each other.
  • Atmospheres of mystery and suspense. We are never actually made aware of how the Monster is bought to life and at the end we cannot be really certain that it has died.