The Influence of a Long Dead Mother

Mary Wollstonecraft died only eleven days after giving birth to her daughter, Mary Shelley. She was an English feminist writer, whose most famous work was A Vindication of the Rights of Woman published in 1972. Then, why is it that women are objectified in her daughter’s most famous work?

Indeed, from the very first pages of the novel, Elizabeth the main female character is being treated as an object. She is referred to by Victor’s mother as a “pretty present” (Shelley, 18) and then as a “gift” (Shelley, 18) which gives her no more value than the dining table. To add on, Victor refers to her as a “possession of his own” (Shelley, 18), which symbolises that he sees her as nothing more than an item he can discard whenever he pleases. If Shelley comes from a family of such hard advocators of women’s right, why is she objectifying the women in Frankenstein?

The answer is fairly simple. By depicting women as they were perceived in the 19th century, Shelley emphasises her revulsion towards this attitude. She demonstrates that women are not subordinate beings who have to be entirely subjected to men’s superior faculties (Wollstonecraft), just as her mother so vehemently claimed. Feminism in Frankenstein is subtler than what might be expected from the daughter of an advocator for women’s rights and equality. However, it is undeniably a part of the story.

References

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. Print.

Dover Thrift Editions.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. earlymoderntexts.com April

2010. Web. 7 April 2017

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5 Replies to “The Influence of a Long Dead Mother”

  1. Wow! I did not know that the author’s mother was a feminist writer. Do you believe that Mary Shelley was trying to portray this with all of her female characters? Like Justine? What about the two women in the cottage during the ‘creature’ story telling session to Victor? (Anna)

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    1. I wouldn’t say with all of her female characters, but with most. Justine, whose name is reminiscent of justice, serves as a way to comment on the real monster of the novel, society. Shelley uses this character to prove how unjust the society was at the time towards women, but men also. As for the two women in the cottage, I don’t think that the young girl, Agatha, is of enough significance in the novel to say that Shelley intended to portray her with a feminist point of view. However, Safie is depicted as an icon of perfection, much like Elizabeth is. She is the stereotypical “damsel in distress,” in need of being rescued by a man. So, through her female characters, Shelley shows how the women of the 19th century were unfairly treated and how they were viewed as dependent on men.

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