What's the Genre of Frankenstein?

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

If you've ever read ''Frankenstein,'' you know that the novel tells the story of a scientist who builds and animates a monster. This lesson discusses the two genres of literature the book falls under: Gothic novel and science fiction.

What Is a Genre?

You've probably heard the word genre in your English class, but what exactly does it mean? In literature, a genre is the category that a work falls under based on different similarities between texts. Some common genres include epics, fairy tales, or ghost stories. But what about the story of Frankenstein? Mary Shelley's novel actually falls under two different genres: Gothic novel and science fiction.

Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley

What Is a Gothic Novel?

First thing's first: What is a Gothic novel? Gothic novels were a popular genre during the late 1700s and early 1800s. Think of them as a combination of mystery and horror all rolled into one. Most Gothic novels take place in creepy settings like dark castles, damp dungeons, and dusty passageways. When writing her novel, Shelley employed these setting elements, adding an extra layer of mystery for her largely British audience. Frankenstein's laboratory is located in Central Europe, a place most of her readers had not visited.

Gothic Elements in Frankenstein

Shelley's Frankenstein falls under the genre of Gothic novel because of its general themes and content. Gothic novels typically explore the mysterious and unexplained like supernatural phenomena and ghosts. In Frankenstein, Shelly describes reanimating a dead body. For most people, even the thought of bringing something dead back to life is terrifying, let alone something built with parts from multiple dead bodies!

Shelley leads her readers to ask many questions about Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. It's perfectly normal for a scientist to study a cadaver for research purposes, but why does this guy want to bring something dead back to life? Where did he get the body parts? How did he bring the monster to life? Can this even happen in real life?! Throughout Frankenstein, Shelley builds a sense of suspense for her reader, a classic hallmark of Gothic novels. The combination of ominous scenery, mysterious characters, and of course the monster itself, create the feeling of impending doom.

Illustration from the 1831 print of Frankenstein
Illustration from the 1831 print of Frankenstein

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