Physical setting

Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein was begun in 1816. This year is known as the “year without a summer”, because in 1815 the eruption of the volcano Mt Tambora had filled the atmosphere with ash and lowered temperatures worldwide. The dark summer perhaps inspired the gloomy atmosphere in Frankenstein. Also, Shelley was staying near Lake Geneva in Switzerland, and much of the narrative takes place in Switzerland. 

The time setting of the story is presumably the end of the 18th century. Captain Robert Walton’s letter are dated “17—” (p. 16), locating the story in the 1700s. The narrative refers to scientific phenomena such as electricity and galvanism, which suggests that it probably takes place towards the end of the century.

In terms of the physical setting, the frame story is primarily set on board a ship in the Arctic, surrounded by ice. Much of the main narrative takes place in Frankenstein’s hometown of Geneva, the university town of Ingolstadt, and various natural settings, such as the Swiss Alps and the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland. The variety of locations symbolizes that this is a universal story.

In many ways, the physical setting is symbolic of Frankenstein’s development and his struggle with the creature. We explain this below.

Interior locations

The description of Frankenstein’s time at home in Geneva lays important groundwork for the rest of the narrative, because it establishes the happiness of the domestic setting: “No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself.” (p. 39). This happy, domestic environment is disrupted by the death of his mother, and Frankenstein then rejects his home and his family, focusing instead on his dangerous studies.

Frankenstein’s laboratory in Ingolstadt, Germany, is an important part of the physical setting. This is where he secretly works on the creature: 

In a solitary chamber, or rather cell, at the top of the house, and separated from all the other apartments by a gallery and staircase, I kept my workshop of filthy ...

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