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Gothic novels are usually set against a backdrop of mystery and foreboding. The action usually takes place in wastelands, such as the Arctic ice, or on bleak mountaintops. Where Victor conducted his experiments they were either in his eerie lodgings in Ingolstadt or in his remote dwelling on the Orkney Islands.
In every good Gothic tale, there is a strong element of the supernatural. Shelley demonstrates this in the actual creation of the monster, where the hint is that Victor harnessed the forces of nature such as lightning, to give the spark of life to the collection of body parts he had assembled. This creation had a supernatural link with its creator, and vice versa, and whenever they were close to one another, they sensed the other’s presence.
The appearance of ghosts is also a key element, and before Victor embarks on his crusade of vengeance he goes to the graves of the innocents killed at the hands of the monster to commune with their spirits and seek their approval for his quest.
There is also a need to shock the reader, and it is said that when Lord Byron first heard Shelley’s tale, he ran from the room screaming. No doubt this was due to his fertile imagination. Although Shelley holds back from giving precise details of the actual creation of the monster, she does not spare the reader regarding the description of the finished product. It should be noted that the thought of bringing to life a dead body would have made the average reader in the 19th century feel very uncomfortable.
Many of the main characters in Gothic tales are flawed, and this brings an element of sub-normal behavior to the plot. Victor was clearly a spoiled child, who developed an unhealthy passion for his experiments in Ingolstadt. Often the characters provide a link between the natural and supernatural worlds, and this was certainly true of Victor and the monster in this tale, as both seemed to have a 6th sense.
Shelley holds back from giving the reader a full description of how the monster is created. Clearly this would be too much for the 19th century reader. She makes it plain, however, that the monster’s formation is the result of evil work, and the ultimate creation has, therefore, a Gothic element. This is perhaps demonstrated in Victor’s following quotation, “I doubted at first whether I should attempt the creation of a being like myself, or one of simpler organization; but my imagination was too much exalted by my first success to permit me to doubt of my ability to give life to an animal as complex and wonderful as man.”
Deep down, Victor knows that his work is wrong, but he justifies his actions by saying, “If no man allowed any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the tranquility of his domestic affections, Greece had not been enslaved, Caesar would have spared his country, America would have been discovered more gradually, and the Empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed.”
Shelley makes the point here that Victor’s state of mind must be in question in that he can boost his own ego by making references to famous discoveries of the past. She also warns the reader that man must always be in control of science and not vice versa - when man’s experiments usurp the power of God, then that work is evil.