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Key Gothic Themes & Elements From Frankenstein, Dr Faustus and The Bloody Chamber


Below are the main Gothic themes and elements that are likely to be involved in English A2 LITB exam. To structure this article, I will highlight the main Gothic themes/elements at the start and then apply each theme or element to each individual literature text with quotes and evidence towards why that is a key theme or element in the text. Feel free to skip to the parts of the article most relevant to you.


Gothic Themes and Elements

  • The presence of a castle.
  • Dark settings such as dungeons, crypts, labyrinths and winding stairs.
  • Low lighting such as the candle being the only source of light, shadows, the moonlight against the dark sky etc.
  • Extreme landscapes such as rugged mountains, large forests or cold icy wastes with the addition of extreme weathers.
  • Magic and the supernatural.
  • Death, decay, darkness and madness.
  • A passion-driven, wilful villain-hero or villain.
  • A heroine with a tendency to faint and a need to be rescued, or a femme fatale.
  • A hero whose true identity is revealed by the end of the text.
  • Evil deeds leading to the downfall of a character.
  • Horrifying events or the threat of such happenings.
  • Gloom, mystery, suspense, the dramatic, macabre and sensational.
A Gothic novel is designed to be pleasurable terrifying - to thrill the reader with the fantastic and frightening events.

Frankenstein

Now, I will try to relate each theme/element of Gothic texts with the contents of Frankenstein.

A Castle - There is no castle in Frankenstein. The reason for Shelley leaving this out is most likely due to the plot of the story which features alot of chasing around and movement. Gothic texts that have castles in them, such as the first story of The Bloody Chamber, have the whole story set in the castle or based around the castle. A castle is used in Gothic texts when the setting is going to still the same throughout the text: unlike the setting in Frankenstein.
  • P97 'Ruined castles hanging over precipices of piny mountains'. Nature is strong enough to overpower man.


Dark Settings - There are lots of dark settings in Frankenstein. When the monster is created, Frankenstein describes how it was a, 'P58 on a dreary night of November'. This pathetic fallacy sets the scene for the start of chapter five which features the birth of the monster. It is a foreshadows the darkness to come further on in the novel.
  • P60 'black and comfortless sky' Massive pathetic fallacy is used here to make clear that what Frankenstein has done is wrong.
  • P170 'I sat one evening in my laboratory; the sun had set, and the moon was just rising from the sea'. This creates an echo/parallel construction to that of Chapter 5 (P58) with the dark setting of when the monster was originally created. This also creates the impression that if the setting is worst than a P58 'dreary night of November', the new creation might be even more evil than the first creation.
  • P71 'I saw, by the light of the moon, the daemon at the casement'. The moon is associated with the monster as being evil. Therefore, dark is evil.


The Effect of Low Lighting - This is used lots especially, again, on P58, 'my candle was nearly burnt out'. At this moment, light represents life and with the candle that is just about to be burnt out, it juxtaposes to what is about to happen (being the birth of the monster). This creates a negativity over the monster before he is even born. The low lighting of Frankenstein is made more apparent with the moon, 'P59 dim and yellow light of the moon'. The moon does not normally shine yellow but white or blue. Therefore, Shelley is making the connection between the moon and the monster seeing that the monster had 'P58 yellow skin'. This makes clear that the reader is meant to associate the monster with being something of darkness. If light represents life and heaven, then darkness represents death and hell. The moon is trying to be light, but it is tinted with the colour of death. The monster is alive, but it is tinted with death from the body parts used to make it and foreshadowing evilness.
  • P39 'The saintly soul of Elizabeth shone like a shrine dedicated lamp in our peaceful home'. Elizabeth is seen as a light in darkness.


Extreme Landscapes and Weather
  • The start of the novel has the setting as the North Pole: a strange unknown and weird area that is a place God could potentially be.
  • The remote setting of the North Pole creates a isolated and mysterious mood, (P25) 'surrounded by ice, which closed in the ship on all sides', 'thick fog', 'vast and irregular plains of ice', 'lost among the distant inequalities of the ice' and 'many hundred miles from any land'.
  • P42 'the thunder burst at once with frightful loudness from various quarters of the heavens'. The use of lightning will continually link to how Frankenstein created the monster: it was lightning that gave life to the monster. An AO4 point would be about Luigi Galvani who could have possibly been the motivation to include lightening as a way of creating life since Luigi used electricity to cause dead frog's legs to move.
  • P76 'Dear mountains! My own beautiful lake!' Frankenstein's negative emotions at this time cannot link with the landscape. This makes the landscape sublime as it makes the reader and Victor feel insignificant.
  • P97 'The immense mountains and precipices that overhung me on every side - the sound of the river raging among the rocks, and the dashing of the waterfalls around, spoke a power might of Omnipotence'. Omnipotence means 'all powerful' and is a word used to describe God. Victor is making the landscape sound immensely strong and powerful making it sublime. Shelley makes the setting seem sublime to Frankenstein to make it seem like the watchful eye of God is looking down on him. However, Victor goes to the mountains to cleanse his guilt P100 'It had then filled me with a sublime ecstasy, that gave wings to the soul, and allowed it to soar from the obscure world to light and joy'.
  • P140 'a fierce wind'. This represents the vengeance of the monster.
  • P168 'With this resolution I traversed the northern highlands, and fixed one of the remotest of the Orkneys as the scene of my labours. It was a place fitted for such a word, being hardly more than a rock, whose high sides were continually beaten upon by the waves'. This is the epitome of a Gothic setting. The setting is like this because Victor is ashamed of creating another creature like the monster. At first, he was doing it for the greater good of science. Now, he is doing it for the monster. 
  • At Chapter 7 Volume 3 (P205), Victory moves further North away from humanity alienating him further.
  • P208 '[monster] Follow me; I seek the everlasting ices of the north, where you will feel the misery of cold and frost, to which I am impassive. As well as recognising that the monster can write and now has mastered the last form of language, it is luring Frankenstein further North. Frankenstein follows on the vengeance of Elizabeth's death.

Death, Decay, Darkness and Madness 
  • (P27) 'I never saw a more interesting creature; his eyes have generally an expression of wildness, and even madness'. The reader's first description of Frankenstein is of him being mad - this is a punishment for evil deeds. 
  • P52 'To examine the causes of life, we must first have recourse to death'. Frankenstein is meddling with death and the anatomy of humans.
  • P94 'I was tempted to plunge into the silent lake, that the waters might close over me and my calamities forever'. Frankenstein is thinking about committing suicide here which, in essence, is an easy escape from his misery: a cowardly move to make.
  • P144 'I grasped his throat to silence him and in a moment he lay dead at my feet'. The description of William's death is not as graphical as it could have been - does Shelley want us to feel slightly sorry for the monster?
  • The monster cannot be loved because of his ugly appearance which is Victor's fault. Therefore, the monster destroys the people that love Victor so that Victor feels the same as the monster: loneliness (some sense of justice here maybe?).
  • P220 'his eyes closed forever'. Frankenstein's ultimate punishment is death. It is a pathetic death which goes with him possessing feminine qualities.
  • P224 'I shall quit your vessel on the ice-raft which brought me thither, and shall seek the most northern extremity of the globe; I shall collect my funeral pile, and consume to ashes this miserable frame'. The monster is going to destroy himself: completely and utterly negative. 


Passion-Drive, Wilful Villain-Hero or Villain
  • Walton, at the start of the novel, is pursuing a scientific truth just like Frankenstein is.
  • P102 'do not you fear the fierce vengeance of my arm wreaked on your miserable head?' Victor wants to kill the monster for killing his family. Frankenstein + monster = doppelgänger.
  • P102 'Life, although it may only be accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it'. The monster's survival instincts means he will not be killed easily.

Heroine with the Tendency to Faint and Need to be Rescued
Although the women are stereotyped in the novel as powerless, it is Frankenstein that it closest to being that of  Heroine.
  • P181 'passed like a dream from my memory'. Victor faints at the sight of Clerval's dead body. This should have been the typical reaction for a women - Victor is feminised. This creates the juxtaposition from the doppelgänger that Victor is feminist and the monster is masculine (an example binary opposition too).


Hero whose True Identity is Revealed at the End 
  • P54 'how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge'. After Frankenstein's past experience, he is warnings Walton about transgression. He has learnt from his mistakes.
  • (kind of revealed true identity) P190 'A thousand times would I have shed my own blood, drop by drop, to have saved their lives'. This is ironic from Victor seeing that he had the opportunity to save many of his family's lives many times.


Evil Deeds Leading to the Downfall of a Character
  • P38 'thirst for knowledge'. This can be seen to be Frankenstein's main downfall: his obsession for transgression was what made him make the monster.
  • P51 'I read with ardour those works, so full of genius and discrimination'. Frankenstein has a passion for knowledge which makes science, to him, seem obsessive and unrestrained.  
  • P81 'My tale was not one to announce publicly; its astounding horror would be looked upon as madness by the vulgar'. This is Victor's excuse not to reveal the monster as the murderer to William. This makes clear that Shelley is being ironic as Victor could have done something but chose not to (he could have saved Justine and everyone else who was murdered.
  • P93 'Sleep fled from my eyes'. Guilt leads to sleeplessness. 
  • P132 'but I was wretched, helpless, and alone. Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition; for often, like him, when I was viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me'.The monster's story makes him more like Satin and less like Adam (evil which is not good).


Horrifying Events or the Threat of Such Happenings
  • P35 'He strove to shelter her, as a fair exotic is sheltered by the gardener, from every rougher wing'. Botanical imagery is used on Caroline to illustrate tat Caroline is just like an exotic plant which needs to be cared for more than normal. This represents the general vulnerability of women in the novel.
  • P58 'How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe?' 
  • 'I shall be with you on your wedding-night'.


Gloom, Mystery, Suspense, the Dramatic, Macabre and Sensational 
  • (P25) 'the shape of a man, but apparently of gigantic stature'. This is the first sight of the monster which is a dramatic moment to the plot of the novel. Already, the reader can tell this 'thing' is not normal and possesses abnormal qualities.
  • (P27) 'But he is generally melancholy and despairing . Frankenstein is depressed which helps to build tension and drama because it is a foreshadow: why is he depressed?
  • P43 'Destiny was too potent, and her immutable laws had decreed my utter and terrible destruction'. 
  • P55 'I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay?' Here, it is clear Frankenstein is obsessed with death with him knowing that what he is about to do is cruel.
  • P73 'William is dead! - that sweet child'. The short happiness Victor had after creating and forgetting about the monster is shattered by the letter which states his brother is dead. What makes it worst is that William was young and at the epitome of innocence: there was no reason for him to die as he had done nothing wrong.
  • P90 'graves of William and Justine, the first hapless victims to my unhallowed arts'. This sets the reader up for Volume 2 because it foreshadows the monster as something that is likely to kill again.
  • P133 'Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust?' This mimics when Adam complained to God in Paradise Lost.
  • P138 'my feelings were those of rage and revenge'. The monster was born innocent. However, with his bad experiences with humanity, he has turned vengeful towards them.
  • P199 'I heard a shrill and dreadful scream'. The scream is Elizabeth who has been attacked by the monster. But, because the attack was only heard by sound but not directly seen by Victor, suspense is created to if Elizabeth is dead or alive.
  • P222 'I [monster] abhorred myself'. From everyone hating the monster has led the monster to hating himself.


Pleasurably Terrifying?
  • P55 'A new species would bless me as its creator'. Frankenstein is playing the role of God which can be seen to be his tragic flaw. By putting himself in the position of God, he is making the audience, especially to the audience the novel was written in, worried. What will the consequences be of playing God? As the audience, we are sacred but curious was is to follow in Frankenstein's journey through transgression.
  • P77 'it was the wretch, the filthy daemon'. When Frankenstein sees the monster for the second time, he knows it was it who killed William. Evil destroyed goodness (symbolic moment of good vs evil). Monster is described worst as he has done an evil deed.
  • P101 'and then close with him in mortal combat'. Victor wants to kill the monster as he killed William and Justine. This creates anticipation and excitement because we are unsure whether Victor can defeat something that is of 'gigantic stature' and extremely strong.
  • P146 'My companion must be of the same species, and have the same defects. This being you must create'. The monster finishes his narration demanding Victor to create him a partner or 'Eve' so that the monster is not lonely. This creates suspense about what Victor chooses to do: creating one like the monster is maybe double the trouble - has Victor not learnt from his mistake?
  • P173 'I shall be with you on your wedding-night'. From the monster saying this creates tension to when Victor marries Elizabeth. He thinks he is in danger, P195 'I had prepared only my own death'. However the monster wants Victor to suffer; Elizabeth is in danger. 
  • P199 'Great God!' Victor also says this during the creation of the monster. Therefore, the death of Justine is linked to the creation of the monster.


Dr Faustus

Below are some of the key Gothic quotes from Dr Faustus. Ultimately, Dr Faustus transgressed and had a thirst for knowledge which led him to perform magic of the dark arts. He sold his soul to Lucifer for 24 years of power. After 24 years, he was sent to hell.

A Castle - There is no castle present in Dr Faustus because he has come from 'base of stock'. He has not got the wealth to live a castle.

Dark Settings

  • P17 'gloomy shadow of the earth' - Darkness is associated with evil (Gothical pathetic fallacy).
  • P17 'Orion's drizzling look' - The stars have gone out because they are associated with heaven: the presence of evil and hell has made them disappear.
  • P47 'When I behold the heavens, then I repent And curse thee' - Faustus is looking up at the starts (heavens) and wants to be close to the person that made the stars (God).


The Effect of Low Lighting - Faustus' study is often only lit by a single flickering candle. This creates a dark setting for the devil and hell to enter.

Extreme Landscapes and Weather

  • P111 'Thunder and lightning' appears when the clock strikes twelve signifying the presence of hell and damnation that is coming to Faustus.


Magic and the Supernatural

  • P7 'necromantic books are heavenly . These are the types of books that can bring spirits back to life: Faustus is transgressing death. At the time this play was created, people believed in witchcraft and hell.
  • Faustus begins his magical chant or 'incantations' on P17.
  • The appearance of Lucifer and the seven deadly sins furing Act 2 Scene 5 is extremely Gothic (sinning is Gothic).


Death, Decay, Darkness and Madness

  • The Old Man is killed by Mephistopheles on P105, 'Hence, hell! For hence I fly unto my God'. He goes to heaven because he keeps his faith with God.


Passion-Drive, Wilful Villain-Hero or Villain

  • P5 'Settle thy studies, Faustus' - Straight away, the audience (because this is a play) will view Faustus as an arrogant man from the way he talks to himself.
  • On P9, Faustus lists all what he desires from transgressing - he thinks his list of desires are all worth eternal damnation.


Hero whose True Identity is Revealed at the End - Although Faustus did transgress, the audience will learn that deep down, he still doesn't deserve this because he is far too clever to die and become dammed in the way in which he was.

Evil Deeds Leading to the Downfall of a Character

  • P7 'The reward of sin is death...Why then belike we must sin, And so consequently die'. Faustus is arguing with himself that if we have all sinned we will all die and go to hell. Therefore, he might as well transgress seeing that his fate is already settled.
  • Faustus, when he summons the devil for the first time, should have learned not to transgress. He appears arrogant as it is evident he feels he is greater than hell.
  • On P103, Helen is brought forward (which is the devil disguised). Faustus kisses her making clear he is focusing on the moment and not eternity, 'Here will I dwell, for heaven be in these lips'. Faustus doesn't know she is the devil and is so damming himself.


Horrifying Events or the Threat of Such Happenings
The few hours Faustus has left to live creates a sense of panic and fear that he is close to going to hell soon.

Gloom, Mystery, Suspense, the Dramatic, Macabre and Sensational

  • P89 - Faustus' leg coming off.
  • P35 - Faustus cutting his arm.
  • P105 - The Old Man getting murdered.
  • Wife as devil appears to Faustus.
  • P113 - The whole ending how Faustus is dragged to hell.


Pleasurably Terrifying

  • P19 'Thou [Mephistopheles[ art too ugly to attend on me' - The audience is suspended with disbelief that Faustus has managed to summon the devil. As much as the audience are terrified, they are enticed by this magic.
  • P113 'Ah, Mephistopheles ' - This is not pleasurable in any way but complete and utterly terrifying. The audience will learn that nothing is worth the same fate Faustus received  damnation and being dragged into hell.




The Bloody Chamber

In The Bloody Chamber which is split up into ten short stories, I will pick key quotes from different stories that relate to the Gothic themes and elements.

A Castle

  • The Bloody Chamber - The setting of the first story is set in a castle. This helps to isolate the girl from society making her seem in more trouble from the Marquis.
  • In The Courtship Of Mr Lyon, Carter creates the idea of claustrophobia around the Beast's castle, 'it might have been the reflection of a star, if any stars could have penetrated the snow that whirled yet more thickly'. The idea of shielding the castle of the Beast from the outside world. 


Dark Settings

  • The Company Of Wolves - 'the forest closed upon her like a pair of jaws' - This demonstrates the entrapment of the setting: especially how it creates isolation and a Gothic atmosphere.
  • The Courtship Of Mr Lyon - 'When the sky darkened towards evening'. The transition of light foreshadows the transitions of Beauty and the Beast.


The Effect of Low Lighting

  • [Not so much low lighting] The Erl King - 'vertical bars of a brass coloured distillation of light coming down'. This shows her desire to be caught, light is a positive image yet it is creating cage-like patterns. This links to the Gothic idea of confinement.


Extreme Landscapes and Weather

  • The Erl King - 'the wood swallows you up'. The wood is personified here creating the sense of isolation too.
  • The Erl King - The Erl-king can 'tie up the winds in his handkerchief'. The use of the Erl-king controlling the weather illustrates his immense power.


Magic and the Supernatural

  • The Courtship Of Mr Lyon - 'white rose' [in winter]. To have a perfect white rose blossom in winter suggests the presence of magic.
  • The Erl King - 'magic lasses of inhuman music'.


Death, Decay, Darkness and Madness

  • The Bloody Chamber - 'She was pierced, not by one but a hundred spikes'. From the contents of the Chamber, we can see the Marquis is mad which can be linked (AO4) to the Maquis de Sade who wrote a novel '120 days in Sodom'. If the Marquis is going to do this to previous lovers of his, the reader will fear for the young girl's life.
  • The Courtship Of Mr Lyon - 'Since you left me, I have been sick. I could not go hunting, I found I had not the stomach to kill the gentle beasts, I could not eat. I am sick and I must die; but I shall die happy because you have come to say goodbye to me'. This is the moment where Beast prepares to die making clear the juxtaposition of fortunes. At the start, Beast was the powerful one. Now, it is Beauty who has the power.
  • The Erl King - 'eyes as green as apples. Green as dead sea fruit' - Green is the colour of life yet, in this sense, it is 'dead'. This shows that he controls death as he controls the greenery in the forest.

Hero whose True Identity is Revealed at the End

  • The Courtship Of Mr Lyon - 'Mr and Mrs Lyon walk in the garden'. The identity of Beauty and Beasts have been revealed showing Beauty's masculine submission caused by Beast.


Gloom, Mystery, Suspense, the Dramatic, Macabre and Sensational

  • The Company Of Wolves - 'carnivore incarnate'. This is repeated numerous times when describing the wolves. It creates a sense of dread and fear.
  • The Courtship Of Mr Lyon - 'a mighty, furious roaring' - The beast is a powerful and dangerous creature creating suspense of what he is going to do.
Pleasurably Terrifying?

  • The Courtship Of Mr Lyon - 'Indescribable shock...on all fours'. Beauty's nativity is shown here as it is obvious that he will run on all fours from being a lion. Although this is pleasurably terrifying for Beauty, it isn't to the reader as we expected the Beast to have animalistic features.
  • The Erl King - 'I knew from the first moment I saw him, how Erl-King would do me grievous harm'. This is foreboding and terrifying: the reader fears for her. However, she still continues to see him, part of her own endangerment?

This is only a quick Gothic summary to Frankenstein, Dr Faustus and The Bloody Chamber. More analysis will be on Ask Will Online soon. 

About Will Green

A student in England studying Automotive Engineering with Motorsport, Will created Ask Will Online back in 2010 to help students revise and bloggers make money. You can follow AskWillOnline via @AskWillOnline.

10 comments so far:

  1. by the way, 'I saw, by the light of the moon, the daemon at the casement'. is on pg 203, not 71. i advise you check all your page numbers for the quotes you found

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    1. You do realise there is more than one Frankenstein novel therefore differing in page numbers?

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  2. actually it 156..

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  3. Will I love you

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  4. Which version of Frankenstein is this? Is it the 1818 one or the later one Shelley wrote? Thanks!:)

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    1. I think this is the 1818 version - Mary Shelley still wrote the first edition. It was only till 1823 when the second edition was published that her named appear as the author of the novel.

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  5. Dude its 'worse' not 'worst'. Nice article though :D

    ReplyDelete