Physical Setting in Shelley’s Frankenstein Versus the Film

Topics: Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, Gothic fiction Pages: 6 (2059 words) Published: July 31, 2012
Eudora Welty argues that “place has the most delicate control over confining character it defines it.” This quote cannot be any closer to the truth, as setting is known to be an integral part of any literature piece as it states where and when action is taken. The opening setting is also historical in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as it was originally rooted from her stay in the environs of Geneva in the summer of 1816, where she was challenged to tell the best ghost story. One might say the dwelling at Geneva prompted Shelley to create the characters in mind along with the setting to elevate the plot of her classic horror. Place is not just a location for the characters but the ignition behind the development of characters and steers the plot forward. The setting played a large role in James Whale’s 1931 adaptation that accounts, in large part to the current generation’s perception of Frankenstein to be a scarred and evil monster of dead flesh conjured by an evil scientist in his murky laboratory upon a dark and stormy night. Along with other similar adaptations, differences arise when the source text is changed from one medium to another. One major change is the domination that setting changes from one medium to another. One example is Shelley’s use of gothic literature devices such as the use of leaving a vague description of setting or characters, thus leaving a large part of the description to the imagination of readers. However, the gothic method is loosely used in Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein due to quite large differences in mediums such as the use of filmic images that already endures the description, thus leaving diminutive need for imagination from the audience. Nevertheless, the setting plays important parts in both the source text and Kenneth Branagh’s film as the adaptation tries to adopt near fidelity towards Mary Shelley’s original work. However, when a novel medium is adapted to a film medium, the setting differs and influences the development of characters, the mood and atmosphere and the novel’s plot. It is unfair to criticize many of the changes Branagh has completed because some have improved the source text, such as the reincarnation of dead Elizabeth, but the setting changes the gothic characteristics that Frankenstein is largely based on along with the development of characters, the mood and atmosphere and the plot.

Shelley’s Frankenstein uses place and time as a source of a character’s development in the plot. In both mediums, Victor Frankenstein is fascinated with creating life, thus attaining the need to become a godlike being. Mary Shelley describes the setting of the reincarnation of Frankenstein “on a dreary night of November” (Shelley 58) at “one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light” (Shelley 58). The setting in this creates a monotonous atmosphere, a trait of Gothic culture and explained later on, but it also gives an early insight of the monster’s loneliness as it shows his gloomy upbringing. This also points out Victor Frankenstein’s ability as a father and godlike being to bring up his creation in an environment contrasting differently to how God created Adam in Book of Genesis in the Bible. However, just like other film adaptations, setting is insignificantly creative as the gothic style of vague description allows the reader to use his/her imagination to create a picture of the setting. In a filmic medium, the film does not spend time describing the scene because the audience sees the filmic images of the setting and that constitutes to a phase of “what you see is what you get.” The description of the setting foreshadows character development such as in Shelley’s Frankenstein, the loneliness and the acceptance of his deformedness is defined when the creature states, “the desert mountains and dreary glaciers are my refuge” and...

Cited: Abrams, Meyer, et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Sixth Edition: The Romantic Period Through the Twentieth Century and After. Ney York: W. W. Norton, 1993.
Hunter, J. Paul, et al. A review of the Norton Critical Edition of Frankenstein. New York: W. W. Norton, 2007.
Glut, Donald. The Frankenstein Archive: Essays on the Monster, the Myth, the Movies, and More. North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2002.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. England: Penguins Group, 2003.
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