The Orkney Islands– Role in Frankenstein


The Orkney Islands are located in the British Isles and are part of the archipelago in Scotland.  The Orkney's consist of 70 islands, most of which are uninhabited.  The Orkney’s have distinct Neolithic culture and tradition, which are present in the stone carvings, sandstone cliffs and seal colonies.  The Orkney Islands have fairly mild year-round temperatures, with a typically wet winter.  Other typical weather patterns include fog and mist, especially on the eastern coasts, as well as the distinctive feature of strong winds that are constant throughout the year.   


Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is a tale set up where Victor Frankenstein becomes somewhat disconnected from the world and creates in his lab a human, that ends up being a terrifying experiment and is then called a monster.  Victor abandons the monster and the monster goes around terrifying the community and because of his abandonment.  The monster also begins to look at the world and learn about how human life works.  On his journey searching for his creator, he encounters many of Victor’s relatives that he ends up killing out of his anger for Victor creating him in such an ugly way and then leaving him alone.  The monster eventually comes into contact with Victor and asks him to make him a female monster to share his life with.  Victor agrees, but then once he tries to start a new creation, he destroys all the current progress he has made and decides he will not do it.  This again sends the monster into a fury and after returning home from his trip he is arrested for the murder of his good friend from university Henry Clerval.  Victor falls very ill and once he recovers is acquitted of the accused crime.  He then marries his love Elizabeth.  The monster ends up killing Elizabeth on their wedding night and Victory vows to search for the monster until his death to revenge his love’s death.  He follows the monster and almost catches up with him when he is separated by the icy sea.  Victor again becomes ill and ends up dying.  The monster weeps over Victor’s body and then departs into the icy terrain to supposedly die.  

Major Themes


The use of the sublime in nature in the novel and other adaptations of Frankenstein is very important.  The aesthetic appeal of the Orkney Islands plays a part in Victor Frankenstein’s reasoning for the destination. The Orkney Islands are traditionally windy and the water surrounding the islands produces large waves because of the windiness, while a thick fog is typical of the islands as well.  This atmosphere contributes to the aesthetics of the reader’s imagination in the scene where Victor runs off to Scotland, leaving behind his friend Henry Clerval.  Knowing that a monster has already been created and that the reason for Victor’s sudden trip to the Orkney Islands is to create a mate for “the monster” is reason enough to allow the reader’s mind to produce thoughts of hidden characters and underling concern for Victor’s safety. 

This destination is also a huge emotionally sublime trigger.  The Orkney Islands provide an emotional disconnect between Victor Frankenstein (the creator) and “the monster.”  Victor goes to one of the many secluded islands of Orkney to be alone with his work, in hopes of creating a mate for the tragedy of a human that he originally made.  After beginning his process of creating the mate for “the monster,” he begins to have thoughts and bouts of terror where he realizes the true implications of creating a new “monster.”  All the while, what the readers are presently aware of throughout the novel, is that “the monster” has been following Victor in the grim light of the Orkney Islands.  This is where we as readers find emotional disconnect; one that the two characters have not yet discovered.  Victor believes he is alone, though he often imagines that “the monster” will show up uninvited or will surprise him and so he refuses to look up from his lab work.  Victor is almost paralyzed with fear and the eeriness of the Orkney Islands plays into the distress we see Victor go through.  On the other hand, we as readers see that “the monster” is happily on his path to find Victor because he is looking forward to his mate that he will be able to spend time with.  The Orkney Islands provide us the territory to be able to have this type of back and forth motion between the two characters and also allows the characters to stay out of contact until the perfect timing has presented itself. 


While leaving Edinburgh, Victor tells Henry Clerval that he would like to tour Scotland alone.  Once he had convinced Clerval to go alone, he determined that he wanted to visit a remote spot of Scotland to work in solitude, which is very possible in the Orkney Islands.  The novel states, “With this resolution I traversed the northern highlands, and fixed on one of the remotest of the Orkney's as the scene of my labours.  It was a place fitted for such work, being hardly more than a rock, whose high sides were continually beaten upon by the waves.  The soil was barren, scarcely affording pasture for a few miserable cows, and oatmeal for its inhabitants, which consisted of five persons, whose gaunt and scraggy limbs gave tokens of their miserable fair” (Shelley, 127).   Even now, the Orkney Islands are known for their serenity and isolation.  Although this is the case, the Orkney Islands are portrayed as a relaxing destination as well as a romantic getaway for many couples and actually was the top honeymoon destination for England in 2015.  I find it interesting that today the Orkney Islands are considered much more of a wonderful and relaxing getaway.  When Victor goes to the islands he spends time on a remote island with hardly any people or even livestock to keep the area running.  Since there are around 70 islands, it is very likely that Victor Frankenstein would have visited one of the islands that is still mostly uninhabited and remote compared to the mainland, which tends to hold most of the tourists.  I believe that this is an important and significant idea portrayed by the text because having Victor alone and in a remote location provides a total sense of isolation for the character.  Isolation on this island also allows the audience to work up their own image and ideas of what may happen while Victor is in the lab again beginning to create a second creature to be the mate of “the monster.”  Isolation also plays a huge part in the way the monster responds to situations.  Setting up the second creation scene in the location of the Orkney Islands becomes incredibly important because it gives a sense of heightened anxiety for Victor.  Victor knows that the monster has followed him before and knows that he is probably lurking in the shadows of the rocky and mist-filled island where he is working.  Sure enough, just as Victor was making progress, the monster shows up to the hut on one of the Orkney Islands.  The novel portrays a scared, nervous and angered Victor as the monster shows up when Victor says, “I trembled, and my heart failed within me; when, on looking up, I saw, by the light of the moon, the daemon at the casement.  A ghastly grin wrinkled his lips as he gazed on me, where I sat fulfilling the task which allotted to me.  Yes, he had followed me in my travels; wide and desert heaths; and he now came to mark my progress, and claim the fulfillment of my promise (Shelley, 130).  Isolation makes the new encounter with the monster all the more frightening because he shows up in the desolate and mostly uninhabited island with ease and access.  While the monster is present, Victor becomes completely overwhelmed with his emotions and the thoughts that have constantly consumed him during this process of creation.  He destroys the monster’s mate, while “the monster” watches.  This brief moment of community between “the monster” and Victor again becomes a time of isolation for each of them as “the monster” furiously runs away.  The Orkney Islands are a great location to set up this scene because of its weather and traditional eerie climate.  It provides enough anxiety for Victor and concealment for the monster that both are seemingly isolated even when they are in the near presence of one another.  


Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein was originally published anonymously in 1818, and then in 1823 a new edition with her authorship was published.  The original release of the novel caused a mixed response.  Many were unsure of the content and felt it was a risky novel.  Though this was the case, the story of Frankenstein took off quickly and saw its first adaption in the stage production of Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein by Richard Brinsley Peake (1823).  Today we see many adaptations being produced, such as the recent television series Penny Dreadful (2014) and the movie Victor Frankenstein (2015).  

Significance of Adaptation

This adaptation by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is the original and because of its interesting and climatic plot line, Frankenstein has been turned into many adaptations for the last 198 years.  This original novel gave life to many types of adaptations, but most importantly stage adaptations and now for several years’ film adaptations as well.  As consumers we see the most commonly depicted picture of the monster that graces the fronts of books, movies and even billboards during October for Halloween scares.  Though we see it portrayed often and the picture of “the monster” can come in many different forms, we almost always connect it immediately to Frankenstein.  Even if you have not read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, you know about the monster from one of the many adaptations that have been produced.  

Some of the most famous adaptations that started the movement from novel to stage is Peake’s Presumption, H. M. Milner’s The Man and the Monster.  In the original version of Peake’s Presumption, the part of the Creature or monster was played by Thomas Potter Cooke, who had spent time in the Navy and then by 1820 had established himself as an actor through the role of “Ruthven, the hero of The Vampire, a play derived from the novel of that name by Byron's friend John Polidori” (Romantic Circles, August 2001).  About a century later in 1931, we see the first big film production of Frankenstein produced by James Whales, where Boris Karloff becomes the star of “the monster.” 

Commonly, we see the monster change its appearance slightly from adaptation to adaptation, but one thing that generally does not change in the adaptations is the locations or the general idea of the more isolated and blustery geographic area.  Although we can endure slight changes in the monster/creature, without the sublime and anxiety driven atmosphere places such as the Orkney Islands have, the audience would not have the same response they have always had to the adaptations.  As the reader or the audience to a screen adaptation, we simply cannot imagine the monster being scary or on the brink of murder if he was surfing in the Caribbean or kayaking on a lake leisurely.  The original and the adaptations would not have the same effect on its perceived audience nor would it give the same outcome.  If it had not been for the eerie locations presented in Mary Shelley’s original novel Frankenstein, there might not have been such a shocking response that eventually led to the commercialization and continued adaptation of the story that we have today.  

References/Suggestions for Further Reading

"Mary Shelley." Mary Shelley. American Society of Authors and Writers. Web. 01 Mar. 2016.

"Orkney Islands Frankenstein - Google Search." Orkney Islands Frankenstein - Google Search. Web. 01 Mar. 2016. Photo credits

"Romantic Circles." Cast and Characters. Romantic Circles, Aug. 2001. Web. 01 Mar. 2016.

"Romantic Circles." Responses to and Adaptations of Frankenstein in Film and Elsewhere. Ed. Melissa J. Sites. NASSR-L Discussion List, Dec. 1999. Web. 01 Mar. 2016.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Susan J. Wolfson. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. 2nd ed. New York: Longman, 2003. Print.

Troughton, R. K. "The Greatest Science Fiction Novels of All Time Part 9 - Amazing Stories." Amazing Stories. 2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2016.