Feminism and the Masculine Voices of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own.
The madwoman in literature by women is not, as she might be in male literature, an antagonist or foil to the heroine. Rather she is usually in some sense the author’s double, an image of her own anxiety and rage.
-- Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, Critical Traditions, pg. 1345
Virginia Woolf and Mary Shelley are both seen as feminist writers held to writing in male form, with male societal influence, “living up to” their heritage/legacy of their parents. The voices of Virginia Woolf and Mary Shelley are distinctively veiled by the male voices dominating A Room of One’s Own and Frankenstein.
In Chapter 3 of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, upon the death of Victor’s mother Caroline, Elizabeth takes the place as the madam of the house and performs all the necessary functions of said position without any question as to her preference. “She indeed veiled her grief and strove to act the comforter to us all. She looked steadily on life and assumed its duties with courage and zeal” (Frankenstein, pg. 29). Whilst Victor is given free reign to attend a University and travel to his heart’s content, Elizabeth must raise the remainder of the children and tend to Victor’s father Alphonse and his household. According to Stephen Behrendt in Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, and the Woman Writer’s Fate, “As objects of discourse, women were continually reminded of their ‘proper’ and ‘natural’ place in private familial and public extrafamilial interaction” (pg. 133). Mary Shelley presents the character of Elizabeth as the token bride, ideal in her very construct of silent, graceful, strong in childrearing, but weak against the masculine character of Victor. The parallel here lies in the premise that Percy Shelley would like the same type of domestic character in Mary exampled by his dominance over the editing of Frankenstein.
In Chapter 4 of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein the emergence of Victor
as a “god-like” man, capable of creating man without aide from
a divine god continues to illustrate the prosecution of man parellel in Woolf
and Shelley. States Victor, “A new species would bless me as its creator
and source; many happy and excellent natures would own their being to me. No
father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve
theirs” (pg. 39). While the character of Victor here parallels the monotheistic
God who creates by Word without the utilization of a female form, Shelley utilizes
Victor as a means to draw a connection between this “god-like” man
and the dictating men who would seek to create the language, form and method
of women’s literature. Can we not ignore the parallel between the Word
of God and the books/words that raised and educated Frankenstein’s creation?
States Sandra Gilbert in Horror’s Twin: Mary Shelley’s Monstrous
Certainly the books which educate him—Werter, Plutarch’s Lives, and Paradise Lost—are not only books Mary had herself read in 1815, the year before she wrote Frankenstein, but they also typify just the literary categories she thought it necessary to study: the contemporary novel of sensibility, the serious history of Western civilization, and the highly cultivated epic poem. As specific works, moreover, each must have seemed to her to embody lessons a female author (or monster) must learn about a male-dominated society. (pg. 53)
Both Woolf’s and Shelley’s novels were subject to the male criticism and censorship. The dictates of male scholars, editors and publishers were another means to mold feminine language and constructs to male language and construct stifling even the strongest of women writers. Both authors present the ideal that the male dominated society itself would have to alter itself to allow the independence and free flow of women’s literature in new and various forms.
Behrendt, Stephen. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, and the Woman Writer’s Fate. Critical Essays on Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Ed. Mary Lowe-Evans. New York: G.K. Hall & Co. 1998. 133-151.
Gilbert, Sandra. Horror’s Twin: Mary Shelley’s Monstrous Eve. Critical Essays on Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Ed. Mary Lowe-Evans. New York: G.K. Hall & Co. 1998. 39-61.
Murfin, Ross C. Feminist Criticism and Frankenstein. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Ed. Johanna M. Smith. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s. 2000. 296-313.
Richter, David, ed. The Critical Tradition, Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1998.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Bantam Books.1981.
Webb, Ruth. Virginia Woolf. London: The British Library. 2000.
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