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The Gothic novel

Definition: genre of novel influenced by the concept of the sublime. Inspired by the medieval architecture, these novels aimed to induce fear in the reader, which seems to reflect that specific historical moment, characterised by increasing disillusion with Enlightenment rationality and by the bloody Revolutions in America and France.

Features: -ancient settings, like isolated castles or churches
-time setting during the night, when there isn’t the light of rational explanation and evil creatures go out and dominate the world
-use of supernatural beings, like ghosts, witches, etc
- based on terror and horror, two irrational reactions to uncertainty
- always the same characters: a young girl, the heroine, a villain, who rapes her and locks her somewhere very remote, and a brave handsome hero who saves the heroine
-the prose language is easy to read, but the novel is quite long
First example: The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole, which subtitle, “A Gothic Story”, marks the first time that the term was used in a literary context. It is set in the medieval Apulia, and it pretends to be the translation of a manuscript.
Other example: The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) by Ann Radcliffe
FRANKENSTEIN, or the Modern Prometheus, and MARY SHELLEY
The author: was born in 1797, daughter of the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the philosopher William Godwin, whose house was visited by some of the most famous writers of that time, like Samuel Coleridge and the future husband of Mary, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Mary was influenced by the ideals of the French Revolution and was interested in science together with her husband, so that by the time she wrote Frankenstein, she was aware of the latest scientific theories and experiments of the day in the fields of chemistry, evolutionism and electricity. In fact, the monster of this novel is given life through a lightning of a storm, explaining his supernatural creation thanks to science, according to the pre-Romantic tradition.
Differences between F. and a Gothic novel: Shelley’s book is one of the most famous Gothic novels because of the dark atmosphere and the simplicity to read, but there are some strong differences: 1) it has been published in 1818, so at the beginning of the 19th century, not in the 18th like The Castle of Otranto or The Mysteries of Udolpho. 2) it is written in an epistolary form 3) it has four different points of view instead of only one: there is Walton who informs his sister Margaret Saville, then Frankenstein who informs Walton, finally the monster who informs Frankenstein, but the writer herself is hidden behind these male narrators 4) there are no more the three traditional characters, because the three most important characters are double: Walton is a double of Frankenstein for his ambition to overcome the limits of death; Frankenstein and his creature are complementary because they both suffer from isolation and try to be good but become obsessed with hate and revenge against society and scientists.
Themes: quest for forbidden knowledge, overreacher and penetration of nature’s secrets, usurpation of the female role and social prejudices through the figure of the monster as an outcast. The first four are linked to the subtitle of the book, “the Modern Prometheus”, because Frankenstein is a new Prometheus, the Greek mythology’s giant who stole fire from the gods in order to give it to men: the doctor is a criminal against God replacing him in giving life and also against nature in creating a new human being without the participation of women.
Texts: –The Creation of the monster The actions begin in November at one in the morning. Frankenstein thinks that it is his duty to create a new human being, so before the creation he is worried about the possible failure, but he is exalted and hopeful. After the creation, instead, he is disgusted and horrified about the appearance of the monster, so upset and thoughtful that he cannot sleep well because he is full of remorse for his crime. The creature’s yellow eyes are watery and dull in the dull-white eye sockets, his black lustrous hair is in contrast with his pearly white teeth, his yellow skin is shuttered while the lips are black, and he breathes hard trying to convulsively move. Frankenstein rushes out of the room and goes to sleep. He has a nightmare in which his wife becomes the body of this dead mother and when he wakes up and turns to see his creature, he runs away because it attempted to approach him.
-Frankenstein and the monster Creator and creature meet on the Alps after the monster’s killing of Frankenstein’s younger brother. The Doctor is initially terrified, but then fury takes over and he purposes to kill him. The monster expects it but does not accept his supposed duty towards him. He wants to tell his thoughts and his story to him, because all the other humans are full of prejudices, but Frankenstein swears vengeance on him.
-The monster talks to Dr Frankenstein The monster is determined to cause fear and destruction to his creature, his friends and his family. His face, as he says that, is wrinkled into contortions too horrible to be seen by human eyes. All he asks his creator is a creature of another sex to live with her far away from civilisation, so that he won’t be alone anymore. He thinks that Frankenstein has to do this, because he is the cause of his pains.
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