Nature, in the Gothic, is often the symbol for that which is sublime and, accordingly, that which is transcendental and extraordinary. The symbol is underscored in the absence of God, faith, and religion and its institutions from the text. Repetitive and descriptive use of Nature in the text appears to recall a more ancient religion, pantheism, particularly in light of the stark absence of a Christian God. In Shelley’s Frankenstein, there are many instances where the word “Nature” can be seen as taking the place of “God”, such as when Frankenstein said “[the learned philosopher] might dissect, anatomise, and give names… but causes in their secondary and tertiary grades were utterly unknown to him”. In the age of rapid scientific progress, much of Nature is still unknown to man, despite his best attempts to master it. This, coupled with Frankenstein’s disastrous attempt at mastering Nature, ultimately interrogates the scientific project and the futility of having mastery over that which he cannot fully or even adequately comprehend. There is, however, a repeated emphasis on Man’s nearness to Nature in the text through his admiration of it; even the monster is not immune to its ineffable beauty. There is a sense of order in the world through Man’s “oneness” with Nature, as the instance of Frankenstein’s self-inscribed seclusion while creating the monster suggests—his “[insensibility] to the charms of nature” coincides with his undertaking of the project that goes against the laws of Nature and therefore disturbs this sense of ordering.
The stark absence of God and Christian faith in the text and the various descriptions of Nature in God-like terms highlight the way in which the Gothic indirectly interrogates the relevance of a Christian faith in an increasingly secularized society. In place of Christianity, it seems to suggest a throwback to an ancient pantheistic view of the world, ironically—even as science and technology supposedly enable society to “progress” at even more rapid rates—as a more coherent way of ordering the world.
Courtesy of Denise Li, 2006, National University of Singapore class: EN 4223 - Topics in the Nineteenth Century: The Gothic and After, Gothic Keywords project .