Sunday, 26 May 2013

A2 English Literature: Gothic Protagonists - Victor Frankenstein

Is Victor a Gothic protagonist? Well, yes. And out of Wuthering Heights, Macbeth, The Bloody Chamber and Frankenstein, I'd argue he's the most obvious Gothic protagonist.

These features are often discussed when one talks about a Gothic protagonist:

  • an absolute goal or aim
  • a fascination with the past
  • extremes of behaviour
  • a tragic flaw
  • linked to the supernatural
  • harbouring a huge inner conflict
  • a high social ranking
Victor undoubtedly had an absolute goal or aim - to answer questions of natural philosophy, further modern science and, more specifically, to assemble a living being from dead body parts. This goal appears incredibly important to Victor, and he tackles this ambition of his with "ardour". No boundaries appear to hinder him in completing his task; he refers to it as "the subject in which my interest was so terribly profound." The utter devotion Victor has in doing what he does is typical of a Gothic protagonist; nothing will stop him. 

This links to the tragic flaw which Victor possesses; his over-reaching ambition. Victor is so obsessed with carrying out his goal, it gets the better of him. In his ambition to create the creature he seems to ignore any possible consequences that may greet him. And, as we know, his ambition doesn't account for the deaths of his friends and family at the hands of his own creation. Victor is perhaps too ambitious in wanting to create life. This links to the notion that Victor has a God complex and also breaks many boundaries of moral and social norms, as discussed in the blog post on transgression. Victor's ambition also links to Walton, who frames the entire novel. It is possible to interpret Walton as an earlier version of Victor, a version who isn't yet consumed with the ambition that leads to his demise.

Victor also has a fascination with the past. Natural philosophy, the area in which he is so interested, is dismissed by his father and university professor because it is so outdated. He fuses ideas from the past with contemporary scientific branches of though such as Galvanism. Agrippa and Paracelsus are the "lords of his imagination", and Victor's obsession with these past thinkers leads to his absolute goal and his fatal flaw.

Extremes of behaviour aren't exactly rare in Victor's case. He doesn't really seem to do anything in moderation; everything is obsessive and/or extreme. He talks of Elizabeth obsessively ("my more than sister, since till death she was to be mine only"), he is "trembling with passion" as he assembles his creature, he uses melodramatic language ALL THE TIME ("a blight had come over my existence", "filled my soul with anguish" and "these thoughts possessed me" to name a few) and a lot of his language is contradictory (compare "inexpressible pleasure" with "my sorrowful and dejected mind", for example). 

Victor is also linked to the supernatural through the creature. In fact, the strong evidence which suggests that Victor and the creature are doubles of one another strengthens the association that Victor has with the supernatural. He is also from a high social rank, with many Marxist critics comparing him to the bourgeoisie to the creature's proletariat. 

Then, of course, there is the mass inner conflict that often provides the main hook in Gothic literature. Victor faces many inner conflicts, the greatest of which may be the issue of whether he should create a female companion for his creature, which may lead to "a race of devils", or face more death and sorrow at the hands of the creature. The fact that this conflict, as with many others, is inescapable gives way for a true Gothic protagonist.


  1. Thank you so much for your blogs - they are so helpful and I find it very interesting reading your essays.