111 Poe Was Likely Inspired By Mary Shelley

Samantha Latos

I have noticed one similarity and one difference between American gothic and British gothic literature, based off of PymBenito Cereno, and the only British gothic book I have read all the way through: Frankenstein.

The clear similarity is that they both feature para-human entities. Frankenstein’s monster has human qualities: a face, two arms and two legs, etc. But he is also menacing to look at; Mary Shelley describes him as 8 feet tall, with yellow skin and black lips. Frankenstein’s monster frightens people because they don’t know what he is, he’s a giant, scary, thing. With Pym, there’s multiple: the ghosts, turtles, the ocean’s eyes. It all goes to show how the characters Pym and Parker end up going insane enough from hunger that they go off the deep end and eat Peters.

British gothic literature, such as Frankenstein, seems to be about the fear of dismantling of culture. Frankenstein’s monster is obviously not accepted into his society; on top of being ugly, he’s accused of murder, among other things. Britain, and Europe as a whole can be included as well, has a vast, unique, ancient culture that must be presevered and cherished. American culture is borrowed and recycled from Europe. American gothic literature, including Pym and Benito Cereno, seems to be more about being isolated from society, rather than the destruction of society. They are both about being removed from civilization, and the chaos that can ensue from that. British gothic literature, frankly, seems a bit more high-stakes. Besides Poe and Benito Cereno, American gothic seems to be quantitatively limited, compared to British gothic.

Before this class, I had never heard of Pym or Benito Cereno. I had heard of Frankenstein; hasn’t everyone? It’s had several movies, one of the best being Young Frankstein, with Gene Wilder. Americans love Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, and therefore love British gothic literature.

The book Frankenstein came years before Pym and Benito Cereno; who’s to say that the authors didn’t draw inspiration from Mary Shelley?

It can be argued that American gothic literature is borrowed from European gothic literature, along with every other part of American culture. In that sense, British gothic is the leading, original and powerful idea, and American gothic has a similar feel, but lacks that authenticity and rawness that we feel from British gothic texts such as Frankenstein.


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The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project Copyright © 2016 by Samantha Latos is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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