The novel Frankenstein is dominated with male characters amidst female characters often being used to fill minor roles. For a female character to be ‘hopelessly submissive’ we would expect the character was pre-determined to be passive with no chance of progressing from the ‘submissive’ role. However in Frankenstein we see female character such a Elizabeth Lavenza stand alone at points even when other are against her for example the persecution of Justine Moritz. The term ‘significantly absent’ implies the female to be absent in order to teach a lesson or convey a message, to have some primary objective. Within Frankenstein this is true in relation to Caroline who dies yet the absence is significant within the plot and Mary Shelley’s authorial message.
In regards to women being ‘significantly absent’ we see the character of Margaret Saville, Robert Walton’s sister, follow this idea. Within the opening letters of the frame narrative of ‘Frankenstein’ we are made aware of ‘dear Margaret’ being the recipient of Roberts’s letters informing the reader of his whereabouts. We never hear from Margaret herself yet we know she’s disapproves of Robert’s excursion, Shelley intentionally provides the views of Margaret second handily; whatever we know about her is conveyed through Roberts writings. Throughout the novel any mention of women comes from either Robert or Victor and the reader is never made aware of the thoughts and feelings of the women directly and therefore a gender bias is apparent. The absence of a female narration also reflects the male dominance present at the time the novel was written mirroring the submissive woman.
Similarly Elizabeth Lavenza, an orphan adopted by the Frankenstein’s, can also be seen as submissive due her passive role. Elizabeth is objectified from the moment we are introduced to her; she is presented as property of victor when described as a ‘pretty present’ for victor to play with. Here Mary Shelley is making a point of the unfair treatment of women and their objectification. Elizabeth represents a character much like Shelley herself
she is aids the poor, respects all classes and supports Justine when wrongly accused. In this sense Elizabeth is neither ‘hopelessly submissive’ nor ‘significantly absent’ instead she expresses individualism in her actions which can be admired by the reader and run unconventional in the genre of gothic novels.
Victor’s mother, Caroline Frankenstein, can be seen as both ‘hopelessly submissive’ and ‘significantly absent.’ After dying of ‘scarlet fever’ victor is absent of a mother figure and it may be questioned if this is an element of his disintegration of character. After bringing the monster to life Victor dreams he dreams he ‘held the corpse’ of his ‘dead mother’ creating some disturbance and upholding the genre of the gothic. In this case victors ‘absent’ mother is affecting him mentally and this can be seen as Shelley showing the power of females which is overlooked by men. Caroline can be related to the feminist theory of ‘the angel in the house.’ The angel in the house refers to a maternal, domestic female seen as an idealisation for men. Caroline is often portrayed as a weak vulnerable woman with a ‘soft and benevolent mind’ and therefore fits into the ‘submissive’ female character. After her death it seems the ‘angel of the house’ is then shifted to Elizabeth who takes over the role of the mother and is devoted to the family becoming the maternal figure herself.
The statement reduces the women within gothic novels to just two roles ‘hopelessly submissive’ or ‘significantly absent’ and therefore is very limiting towards the female characters of gothic novels. Although the women in Frankenstein do display these roles these are just two of many. We see both Margaret and Caroline to be significantly absent and Elizabeth is often submissive within her place in the family prior to Caroline’s death. However all the female characters within Frankenstein, other than Margaret (she is the only one to remain significantly absent throughout) display many more elements within their characters. Consequently when considering this statement in the light of the female characters in Frankenstein it fails to account for other character roles and therefore is only partially valid when applying to Frankenstein.
Courtney from Study Moose
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