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.
The description of Frankenstein’s time at home in Gene...