For outwardly feminist, but rather a subtle piece

For years, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley has been seen as a novel that was no help to the feminist movement; it blatantly objectified, abused, and killed off women whenever it was convenient. That idea seems hard to believe when looking at Shelley’s background. The author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, an early feminist piece, Mary Wollstonecraft was her mother, and her father, William Godwin, was a major proponent in the philosophy behind anarchism. Shelley was destined to question the status quo, so why would she bow down to the patriarchal society she was bound to as a British woman in the early 19th century? Well, she didn’t – Frankenstein isn’t outwardly feminist, but rather a subtle piece of commentary on the position of women in society and the actual power they hold – whether it is acknowledged or not. ¨He strove to shelter her, as a fair exotic is sheltered by the gardener… her soft and benevolent mind” – Victor Frankenstein on the relationship between his mother and father. This is just one example of how women were described in the novel. They were always seen in regard of their beauty, and nothing more than that. Women during the beginning of this century were nothing more than property to the men in their lives – with arranged marriages and such – it was like they were cattle or plants, like Victor described. He saw Elizabeth in the same light, later on in the beginning when referencing her, he made a point to explain how he felt responsible to take care of her, as if she was incapable of doing so herself. Victor, and even men in general, weren’t the only people to describe women in such ways. In Elizabeth’s letters to Victor, she is guilty of the same objectification with moments where she says “…the pretty Miss Mansfield…” and “…her ugly sister”. In chapter 8, Victor – though a dreary and morbid scene, not in the slightest romantic – still described Justine in reflection of her beauty – “The appearance of Justine was calm. She was dressed in mourning, and her countenance, always engaging, was rendered, by the solemnity of her feelings, exquisitely beautiful.” She was accused of murder, but was still only seen as beautiful.Men are never described in the same way however. We never read just how “beautiful” or “handsome” Victor, or again, the men in general, was. Men were seen for their intellect and described accordingly. Walton, in reference to Victor, described him as someone with “unparalleled eloquence”. Shelley made it a point to show that in this world she created to mimic her own, women were seen as pretty objects, incapable of intellectual, philosophical, or critical thought. All of this objectification was only a setup for Shelley’s up and coming break from the societal norm. Only once all sexist walls, i.e. ideals, had been built could she begin breaking them down and challenge the existing perspective of women. In chapter 8, Justine and Elizabeth have, arguably, the most thought out and intricate speeches in the novel. In a time period where women couldn’t testify, these two spoke to the courts with the eloquence Victor was described with. I commit my cause to the justice of my judges, yet I see no room for hope. I beg permission to have a few witnesses examined concerning my character; and if their testimony shall not over- weigh my supposed guilt, I must be condemned, although I would pledge my salvation on my innocence.” – Justine “I am,” said she, “the cousin of the unhappy child who was murdered, or rather his sister, for I was educated by, and have lived with his parents ever since and even long before, his birth. It may therefore be judged indecent in me to come forward on this occasion; but when I see a fellow-creature about to perish through the cowardice of her pretended friends, I wish to be allowed to speak, that I may say what I know of her character. I am well acquainted with the accused….For my own part, I do not hesitate to say, that, notwithstanding all the evidence produced against her, I believe and rely on her perfect innocence. She had no temptation for such an action: as to the bauble on which the chief proof rests, if she had earnestly desired it, I should have willingly given it to her; so much do I esteem and value her.” – ElizabethSlowly, Shelley began to expose her readers to the idea that women could fend for themselves, and do it competently. It’s as if Shelley had a 4 step feminist plan in place when she began writing the novel. Step one was to expose the readers to the same objectification they saw everyday, step two was to place the idea that women, too, are intellectuals subconsciously into the minds of characters as well as readers, and now step three is to bring some of those subconscious thoughts into the foreground and openly challenge the female gender roles. With the introduction of Safie, Shelley could do just that. Safie’s mother had encouraged her to break out of the roles placed for her, “She instructed her daughter in the tenets of her religion, and taught her to aspire to higher powers of intellect, and an independence of spirit, forbidden to the female followers of Mahomet.” The characters took note of that, as I will discuss later in regard to Victor, but this was also a plea to the British women of Shelley’s society. Safie was a great model to show Shelley’s peers and such that there is progressivism they could follow and learn from, elsewhere, such as France. The final step of Shelley’s plan would be solidifying the theme that women are independent thinkers – and it really comes together with the idea of a female monster. Towards the end of the novel, when Victor toys with Adam’s wish of having a female companion, the subconscious idea of women being intellectuals (that was introduced with the court scene), comes to the front of Victor’s mind. “…and she, who in all probability was to become a thinking and reasoning animal, might refuse to comply with a compact made before her creation.” -Victor With him saying this, he is acknowledging that females are more than their appearance. The women in his life have shown him that they are intellectuals just like any man, and he understands that they can make independent decisions. He also understands that with the circumstances revolving around her creation that the female monster would most likely choose against being subservient to Adam. That is the kind of power women hold in this novel. The power over their own image, and I mean that in a sense beyond beauty. It’s like Shelley’s mother once said, “I do not wish them women to have power over men; but over themselves.” I believe Shelley wrote Frankenstein to that saying. In no way did the females of this novel sway the entertainment factor of Victor making the monster, or other dramatic points of the story, but they did exert powers over their own situations. Once it was shown that Victor went on with his life as if he had always known women to be intellectuals, their true power had been shown. If they were able to change how Victor saw women without a “coming to” moment where he’s like “Wow, yes, women are so great and I was so wrong to see them so shallowly”, but rather with  a deeper understanding, then they could change any man’s mind. The understanding that women are just as great as men didn’t have to be force fed to anyone – women just had to do their best regardless of their position in the world, and I believe that’s even what Shelley did. More importantly, it’s what she wanted women to go out and do.