Almost two hundred years ago, world literature was swarming. At this period of time the publishing business began to be profitable. People had more free time and that let them spend their pastime as they liked. The best entertainment of that time may be called reading. But it was quite different reading in comparison with previous epochs because if earlier people mainly created books which could be read only by few and the topics were not very interesting for an average person. The cause of such situation is evident, it was a very expensive thing to buy and read books but the changes in the society and the development of technologies gave people a chance to change their traditional way of life. A very quick spread of printing and, consequently, the appearance of great reading audience, due to the growth of number of educated people led to the appearance of new trends and genres in literature.
The great shift that I have just described was one of the main reasons of invention of such new and a bit unusual (for the literature of that time) genre as the gothic novel. So what is it the gothic novel? It originates from folk tales, medieval romances, translations of Eastern legends enriched by various experiments of modern authors. It was traditionally treated as the reading for entertainment but very often such works had a deep philosophical sense which was probably not so obvious for large audience.
As for the structure of any gothic novel it is traditional and, to some extent, rigid. Traditionally the character of such a novel is removed from usual, familiar surrounding to some supernatural, dark and evil realm. The castles surrounded by impassable barriers that make escape practically impossible are the classic for the gothic novel. The gothic novel is a novel of mystery dealing with horrors of supernatural phenomena. Its appearance is also due to the renewal of interest to the Medieval culture. It was the reaction of the Enlightenment. The usual things in gothic novels are: ruins, frightening landscapes, haunted castles. The circumstances may vary but the corner stone of the plot remains unchangeable: a character fights against supernatural forces in abnormal situations.
Naturally, this type of novels became very interesting and popular among readers and many authors sharpened their skills in writing such works. Among the most popular authors of those days I can name Bram Stoker, Ann Radcliffe, Horace Walpole. But, to my mind, Mary Shelley and Ernest Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann are the best representatives of this genre. If we take a deeper look and compare their creative work we will find a lot of things and thoughts that are common for both writers. I would like to take “Frankenstein” by M. Shelley as the basis for comparison of her work with that of E.T.A. Hoffmann.
Firstly, I want to start from “Ritter Gluck” by E.T.A. Hoffmann. On analyzing this work we may find that M. Shelley has practically the same problems in her work. For example both Victor Frankenstein and Gluck look for their ideal but if for Frankenstein it is an ideal creature then for Gluck it is an ideal music. Also when I reread and analyze these works it seems to me that there is something in common between Gluck and an unfortunate creature of Frankenstein. Both of them are not generally accepted by people: Gluck creates music that other people do not appreciate and they avoid it and Frankenstein is a monster that only frightens people and is alone in this world as well as the musician Gluck. I think they are both alone and the only difference between them is that the isolation of Gluck is caused by his inner world, his desire to create his own not ‘very popular’ music, and the isolation of Frankenstein is caused by his outer traits, by his appearance. They are both aliens in this world and they won’t be treated as normal members of the society. And if we return to Victor Frankenstein, the creator of the monster, he reminds me the whole Berlin’s public because for him the creation of an alive being was an experiment, probably, caused by his desire to replace the God but still it was nothing more. So the creature was like a toy for him and the same happens to Gluck’s music that is accepted by public only like an amusement, one more thing that should entertain people and nothing more but it means everything for Gluck himself as well as for the creature – his birth is not a game it is his life and both of them can not change anything or, it’s better to say, they can not change themselves.
Thus, in these two works we see that the dreams of Victor Frankenstein and Gluck remains unrealized and, probably, misunderstood and they are disenchanted that is why V. Frankenstein says: “I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I have deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I have finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.”
Next, I would like to analyze “The Sand Man” by E.T.A. Hoffmann in comparison with “Frankenstein” by M. Shelley. May be at first, it won’t be quite simple to find anything in common between these works but when we analyze them more thoroughly we will see that some parts of them are really close to each other. First of all, I think it is necessary to underline that the main characters feel guilty in terrible events that happened to their closest relatives. So Victor Frankenstein realizes that he is responsible for the death of his younger brother and his bride Elisabeth while the principal character of “The Sand Man” blames himself in the death of his own father who died when he tried to save his son from the sand man as well as Victor understands that his creature killed his relatives because of him.
One more common thing for both of these works is the role of women in them. In “The Sand Man” the mother and the nurse of the principal character inspired him to look for the creature and, to some extent, they are also guilty in the tragedy that happened when boy was waiting for the sand man. At the same time, not the least role plays a woman in “Frankenstein”. Firstly the death of Victor Frankenstein’s wife made him mad and on recovering he began to chase the creature trying to kill it. Also we mustn’t forget that the monster demanded a mate for himself, a woman in order not to be alone in the world and the refuse of the scientist to create it provoked the revenge of the creature that ended only with the death of Frankenstein that meant the lost of last hope and the eternal solitude of the monster: “He is dead who called me into being; and when I shall be no more the very remembrance of us both will speedily vanish. I shall no longer see the sun or stars, or feel the wind play on my cheeks. Light, feeling, and sense will pass away; and in this condition must I find my happiness.”
Thus, we can find a lot of common moments in works of Mary Shelley and E.T.A. Hoffmann. Their style may seem different but the genre makes their masterpieces closer to each other. Both of them write about people and creatures that could be ideal or were intended to be and the characters dreamed about some ideal but, unfortunately, their dreams didn’t realize and at the and failure waited for them. That is why I can make a conclusion that the dream, the ideal do not correspond with the severe reality in works of M. Shelley and E.T.A. Hoffmann.
Smith, J.M. “Frankenstein: Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism” (2000)
E.T.A. Hoffmann. “Tales”. The German Library, series ed. Volkmar Sander, Continuum Publishing, New York, 1982
The Gothic Quest, A History of the Gothic Novel, Montague Summers, The Fortune Press, London, 1969 (1968).