• Louise Othello Knudsen
4. term, English, Master (Master Programme)

The following thesis takes into consideration the sex of the author of Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus, because it is important in the understanding of the novel’s exclusion of female representation. The author, Mary Shelley, was the daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. The latter wrote the radical work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which has granted Wollstonecraft her status as one of the earliest feminists. Wollstonecraft died in childbed and Mary Shelley grew up without her biological mother. Taking those circumstances into consideration, it is puzzling that Frankenstein focuses almost solely on male experience, and does not allow the women of the story voices, instead, most of them die. In the thesis, I have examined how Mary Shelley has presented the male and the female characters. This examination revealed that two of the male characters, Robert Walton and Victor Frankenstein, are described as very ambitious, egotistical, and preferring male friendship over a romantic relationship with a woman. Furthermore, Victor appears to be an embodiment of the qualities possessed by Mary Shelley’s husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, which she did not approve of. The female characters of the story, on the other hand, are embodiments of the dominant expectations to, and images of, what a proper lady should be like, at the time Mary Shelley wrote her story. The examination of these representations has, therefore, also led to an examination of the motivation and reason behind Mary Shelley’s choice.

To examine this, the socially constructed ideas on the different roles for men and women in society and in the family, needs to be presented. To do that, I have included Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s book, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, which introduces the term, “anxiety of authorship”, as an obstacle for women, who wanted to be writers, had to overcome. In Mary Shelley’s case, the anxiety she experienced was related to her literary parentage, and, whether or not, she could live up to her name. But the surrounding society, as well, inspired anxiety in women writers because they tried to enter a world dominated and defined by men. The male discourse in literature offered stereotyped images of women, and in that way, limited the female writers in their depiction of female experience. A limitation that is also evident in Horace Walpole’s Gothic story, The Castle of Otranto, which is used in this thesis as a point of reference to how women typically were portrayed in the genre. Mary Shelley’s marginalization of female characters, and killing of the “angelic” women, is seen as a counter reaction and as a refusal to portray women in those limiting descriptions.

The analysis of Frankenstein also touches upon Mary Shelley’s inclusion of contemporary science, which is presented as having dangerous consequences. Here, she warns against the science which tries to control nature by showing what Victor’s experiment with reproduction without female intervention results in. The disastrous results can also suggest that men, as well as women, can create “monsters” which is a reaction to Erasmus Darwin who blamed the female for all “monstrous births”. The analysis of Frankenstein will draw on Anne K. Mellor’s book, Mary Shelley, Her life, Her fiction, Her monsters, which includes ideas on the importance of science, but also of the semi-biographical elements of the story. The thesis supports a feministic reading of the novel, and at the same time, recognizes that the circumstances under which it was written, created limited possibilities which can serve as an explanation as to why Mary Shelley excluded women from her story.
Publication date31 Jul 2012
Number of pages77
ID: 65640205