Gothic Literature is a genre that refers to elaborate tales of mystery, suspense and superstition. The plot of these novels are rather complex and often involve paranormal schemes against the innocent. Gothic also refers to medieval style of architecture, known for its unique dark nature and gloomy aspect. Setting within Gothic Literature is pivotal upon providing a backdrop for the characters, emphasising the themes of horror and terror. Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, is a gothic science novel published in 1818, though set in eighteenth century Geneva and various other locations, which follows the life of Victor Frankenstein an ambitious scientist who delves into the secrets of life, thus creating an artificial being whom he attempts to prevent from causing further homicide in the world. David Punter, the sin of abortion (2000), declares that “Frankenstein’s main sin is not his act of creation, but his failure to take responsibility for what he produces”, this highlights upon that of Frankenstein’s irresponsible actions of neglecting his creations that led to its monstrous rampage. The 18th century began the period of the Romanticism movement which guided Shelley’s influence of the novel through the idea of freedom and equality triumphing over obedience and subservience. Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, is a gothic mystery novel published in 1886 and set during late nineteenth century London that follows the plot of Dr Jekyll, a scientist who achieves in purifying his inner good from darkness through a special serum, which periodically transforms him into the evil embodiment of himself known as Mr Hyde, whose lack of guilt and morality leads him to mastermind and carry out criminal schemes. The novel is set within the Victorian era which marks the beginning of the industrial revolution that created new job opportunities for people, causing an increase in population and pollution which is repeatedly referenced the fog and smog that shrouded the city of London. The title, ‘Frankenstein’ states Shelley’s intent of having a character whose self-imposed isolation from nature and society leads to the creation of the monster and ultimately his and his loved ones’ demises. Moreover, the title ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ emphasises the dynamic personality contrast between the two personas, allowing an instant juxtaposing of the two characters. As one is a respected doctor, and the other’s name is a homophone for ‘hide’, introducing to the reader the theme of Victorian secrecy. The extent to which setting is responsible for developing characterisation and the impact that setting has on the reader’s feelings towards characters and their behaviour is important within both novels, with moments where the settings evoke a sense of humanity in the character that the reader can identify with, pathos for what might have been, for example when Frankenstein’s creature longs to be accepted into the De Lacey family unit, and even great fear, as seen through the distress and trauma Hyde inflicts not only on the victims he directly assaults, but also on the innocent citizens of London, who are plagued with extreme fog and wind.
In both ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Dr Jekyll and Hyde’, writers present the setting to be responsible for developing characterisation, as in both texts, the writers use the environment to symbolise a character’s attitude and behaviour. Shelley presents the monster’s appreciation for the beauty of nature as a symbol of his love of humankind in particular his love of the DeLacey’s and their family unit, which he longs to be a part of. This is demonstrated within
Chapter 14, whereby the monster observes the DeLacey’s stating his “chief delights were the sight of the flowers, the birds, and all the gay apparel of summer, when those deserted me, I turned more towards the cottagers… They loved, and sympathised with one another; and their joys, depending on each other, were not interrupted by the casualties that took place around them.”
In these lines, the monster expresses his enjoyment for the pleasant scenery regardless of the changing season as he “did not heed the bleakness of the weather”. He comments upon the positive and important aspects of companionship, showing his potential to fit in society, as he clearly possesses human qualities. The adjective in the line “chief delights” suggests that the monster greatly values what nature must offer as he entails what summer appears to be and in particular what he enjoys about it. Shelley aims to present how harmless the monster can be through his peaceful interaction with the environment, this allows readers to form a fondness for him knowing that he never intended to become the destructive force he is later in the events of the novel. The phrase “the gay apparel of summer” uses personification to depict the aspects of summer, like the flowers and birds as like a person’s variety of clothing. This is important in showing how the monster thoroughly analyses his surroundings and is intrigued by it, and it shows his intelligence and passion. This encourages readers to take note of the monster’s innocence through perceiving his behaviour and his joy, often associated with children. This helps the reader to view the monster as an abandoned child, who is faultless in his unusual upbringing which sees him isolated. Shelley intends for the readers to comprehend that the setting is crucial in part of the novel for its shaping of the monster’s positive view of companionship and his aspirations to fit in and become a part of society. Likewise, in both texts, the setting acts as motivation for characters as the monster’s longing desire for companionship is exaggerated by nature’s beauty. Hyde, on the other hand, exploits the secrecy and cover the fog provides to help him carry out his crimes as it disguises him. Thus, revealing to readers why the characters portray these attitudes and behave in specific ways. Shelley’s use of commas in the phrase “they loved, and sympathised with one another; and their joys, depending on each other,” creates a fractured sentence that is broken up into pieces. This forms sympathy for the monster through how he watches over the DeLacey’, becoming envious of their companionship whilst he remains there isolated and lonely. Perhaps Shelley has included this within the monster’s speech to exemplify his inability as well as his longing desire to become a part of society. This is supported by David Punter (2000) who claims “The creature idealizes the domestic world, but is excluded from it”, which reiterates the monster’s love for companionship foretelling how he wishes to be accepted by society as he just wants to live in peace, whilst the fragmented manner of his speech tells a second reader knowing what the monster does not yet know this world of love and companionship cannot ever be for him. This links to Shelley’s intention of the monster’s appreciation for nature as presentative of his human qualities which symbolises his love of humankind. The novel takes an epistolary narrative as it is told through using letters and the foretelling of stories amongst characters, which allows for readers to interpret each key character through their perspective of the plot. Therefore, Shelley casts ambiguity on whether it is Frankenstein or his creation that is the real monster, posing the question for each reader to answer just as Stevenson’s use of the epistolary form allows for the plot to be given to the readers in pieces that they must string together. This builds tension in both novels as readers themselves deduce the reasoning behind the characters actions. A psychoanalytical criticism of the monster reveals he possesses the traits of an ego as he wishes to rationalise his desires of companionship through seeking a realistic solution, which is to a part of the DeLacey’s. However, this takes a negative turn of events as following his rejection, the monster progressively begins to portray human nature at its darkest. He accepts that society will never treat him fairly, regardless of his moral intentions to help others. Realising his desires cannot be met, the monster’s new purpose destroy of his enemies is embraced upon his monstrous rampage, killing all those loved by his creator, who has caused him so much misery. Contextually, the novel challenges whether science has gone too far as it portrays the relationship between experimental science and respecting human life to have negative consequences, which is also evident in Stevenson’s novel through how Jekyll actions of developing the serum had led to severe repercussion. Shelley believed in the sanctity of human life, that all life is sacred and should not to be meddled or altered with. She was conversant, meaning she knew the research carried out by the scientists of her day, whom had studied and practiced the re-animation of corpses. Shelley not only intends for readers to acknowledge the consequences of mistreating and not nurturing the monster, but moreover how defying the morals of life can cause devastating harm to many innocent people. In finality, the beauty of the nature is symbolic of Frankenstein’s love and desire to be accepted within society. The setting provided is responsible for developing his character as it shapes his perception of the world and humankind and highlights his innocence and his potential to be human, which is ironically missed by the actual human characters of Shelley’s novel. This allows for the reader to become aware of Frankenstein’s true intention of wanting peace and his potential to be peaceful shown through the human qualities that he possesses.
On the other hand, Stevenson’s use of the fog that shrouds London symbolises the obscurity of Hyde’s character regarding his identity, the fog also disguises and allows Hyde to escape punishment for his crimes. Just as Shelley’s setting acts as catalyst for the monster’s actions and perception of the world is shaped by the environment, Hyde is shown to strike only during nightfall and when the fog is present. In chapter 4, Stevenson states “Although a fog rolled over the city in the small hours, the early part of the night was cloudless, and the lane, which the maid’s window overlooked, was brilliantly lit by the full moon.” employing a sinister tone, detailing how easily the city had become invaded by the fog and the dazzling moon’s presence. This creates tension and foreshadows the malicious events to occur through how progressively the setting changes into a cryptic atmosphere, further raising the theme of terror. The adverb Stevenson chooses in “brilliantly lit” is representative of Hyde’s imposing presence within London similarly to the full moon shining dominantly in the sky despite all the fog. This allows for developing Hyde’s characterisation as the atmosphere influences Hyde’s malevolent schemes, alerting the readers to the devastating impact he has in the novel, and mirroring Frankenstein, where Shelley’s readers become aware of the monster’s true intentions and innocence in relation to his peaceful surrounding environment. Following this, “Mr Hyde broke out of all bounds, and clubbed (the elderly man) to the earth… with ape-like fury, he was trampling the victim under foot, hailing down a storm of blows.” This illustrates Hyde’s ruthless nature through the extremely violent description of the murder. The use of animalistic language in “ape-like fury” displays Hyde’s bestial capabilities linking back to Hyde being the evil embodiment of Jekyll. The extent of Hyde’s brutality is provided from him murdering an innocent elderly man who couldn’t defend himself, therefore revealing to readers how there is no sense of morality in Hyde’s actions. Furthermore, the phrase “hailing down a storm of blows” uses to create vivid imagery of Hyde beating the elderly man which demonstrates his barbaric behaviour, reiterating his lack of remorse when committing these unlawful crimes. The metaphor also refers to Hyde’s supernatural strength to be similar to the devastating impact and speed of a storm and hails falling. The theme of horror within the scene further emphasises Hyde’s invasion of London, giving an insight to the readers how he continues his crimes without being caught and punished. Structurally, the use of commas within “with ape-like fury, he was trampling the victim under foot, hailing down a storm of blows” creates a fractured sentence that arguably represents Jekyll’s failure to diminish his evil side as instead he has brought upon treachery through releasing Hyde onto London. Furthermore, it also displays how Jekyll exploiting science for his personal gain had resulted in unfavourable tragedies. In comparison to Frankenstein who had also meddled around with science, creating a monster that had been set loose upon the world, causing destruction wherever it went. Stevenson’s use polysyllabic language used in the line “he was trampling the victim under foot” supplements the violence within the scene through how it prolongs the pace of the novel, so that the readers witness far more of murder. Stevenson has included this for the readers to acknowledge the extent of Hyde’s evil nature, though their opinion becomes further eluded regarding whether if Hyde is immoral for his murders or initially Jekyll for his decision of creating Hyde. A reader response theory suggests that the perception of the characters in the novel become different for casual readers and those who have had multiple readings. Casual readers would interpret Hyde as the villain for his murders, causing the people of London to become threatened and in fear of criminal that is unable to be caught. However, multiple readings begin to clarify that Jekyll’s immoral decision to create the serum that catalyses the events of the novel and is Jekyll, who is to be blamed for the death of the innocent, which is supported by Ian Rankin (2010) who states that “The Doctor has played with fire and he’s burning from the inside”. Jekyll attempted to create something that would benefit him, however this backfired as Hyde became stronger and wanted to take over Jekyll’s persona so that only he could remain. Contextually, Darwin’s evolution theory, the belief that evolution occurs through natural selection, was influential for Victorian writers like Stevenson, as it altered the way they imagined the world’s progress. The Victorian people believed they reached the peak of industrialisation so that they couldn’t evolve any further, thus resulting in fear of the ideas regarding devolution that society will succumb to “social, racial and cultural degeneration and decline”. This inspired Stevenson’s portrayal Dr Jekyll’s transformation into Hyde regarding the devolution from an intelligent and ambitious scientist to a primitive and beastlike murderer. Theoretically, Jekyll feared he reached the limit of his evolution, thus causing his devolution into an uncivilised man which completely contrasts his previous persona.
To conclude, both texts present setting as being responsible for developing characterisation through how it is symbolises a particular meaning. In ‘Frankenstein’, the environment surrounding the monster is corresponded to influencing his appreciation of nature leading to his love of companionship and desire to become accepted in society. While in ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ the fog is symbolic of Hyde’s obscurity through disguising his identity from others as well as through creating the sinister atmosphere that prompted him to carry out his evil desires. To a great extent, setting does affects the reader’s response to the characters as in ‘Frankenstein’, it allows readers to perceive the monster’s curiosity and childlike behaviour, creating endearment for him through witnessing his innocence. Moreover in ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ the fog and nightfall act as a backdrop that forms terror whereby Hyde becomes more villainous as perceived through his brutal murders.