Contents Index

Contexts -- Geography

The sense of place is strong in Frankenstein. From the polar expedition that opens the novel to the list of cities Frankenstein passes through in his pursuit of the Creature, Mary Shelley refers to dozens of places, which would have been more or less familiar and suggestive to early nineteenth-century readers.

The opening of the novel on Walton's search for a polar passage generically aligns the novel with accounts of travel and exploration, which were very popular at the time. The great age of exploration begun in the Renaissance had continued up to Mary Shelley's day: Captain Cook discovered Australia in 1770, and searches for a Northern Passage continued well into the nineteenth century. The anonymous Letters Written during the Late Voyage of Discovery in the Western Arctic Sea (1821), for instance, although published after Frankenstein, bears some striking resemblances to the novel. Sir John Ross published his Narrative of a Second Voyage in 1835.

Not all travel writing dealt with exotic locations: Mary Wollstonecraft left a travel narrative, Letters Written during a Short Residence in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, and Mary Shelley's own History of a Six Weeks' Tour includes descriptions of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland. Many of the places mentioned in that travel narrative appear in Frankenstein, and acquire a particular resonance from Mary Shelley's experience of them.