During the Georgian Era (mid 1800s) women were described as physically weaker, but morally superior to men, which meant they were best suited for domestic roles, while the men labored all day (See Figure 1)(Gender). These roles apply to the novel Frankenstein, as women do not venture far from home and take care of domestic duties, while men go off to various occupations and quests. In addition, “no women speak directly: everything we hear from and about them is filtered through the three male narrators:” Robert Walton, Victor Frankenstein, The Creature (Smith.313). One would think that Mary Shelley would include a strong female role, because she is a female author; however, “she doubted the legitimacy of her literary voice,” and decided to privilege the perspectives of men (Smith.313).
Although she uses male characters to carry on the story, she reveals how selfish and prideful they are, traits which result in the death of the female characters. Mary Shelley exposes various problems that were, and still are significant in the world of women, which is influenced by her life experiences that help with the development of her characters in Frankenstein. Throughout the book, she shows how women are viewed and treated by men and society: submissive, weak, and only present for the pleasure of men. The three narrators may be allowed to weaken the female voice, but Shelley brings to light their undermining of women, revealing the consequences of their misogyny and, significantly, the immense effects of the traditional masculine role that they embody.
In the novel Frankenstein, and during the Georgian Era, women were presented in more caring and maternal roles that require them to stay at home. On the flip side, men work outside the house and take on public professions. As men are either going to work or completing quests, the daughter, mother, and sister are at home taking care of others. The women are described as objects only, and rarely pursue opportunities outside of their “private” sphere. When Elizabeth Lavenza is first introduced, she is described in terms of her aesthetics only, as if this is the only matter of importance to men. As Victor Frankenstein describes her, “the beautiful and adored companion of all my occupations and my pleasures” (Shelley.1.17). From the beginning, her sole purpose was to be Victor’s wife, and nothing more. Even Victor’s mother, Caroline agrees, “I have a pretty present for my Victor–tomorrow he shall have it” (Shelley.1.18).
Elizabeth is only a possession of Victor’s, given to him by his mother who encourages the same kind of misogyny. Elizabeth is a toy for Victor to play with as he goes through life; she is to wait for him to marry her, and do nothing more with her life. In addition, her voice is not heard, especially when she stands up for Justine Moritz. Elizabeth’s words were moving: “I do not hesitate to say that, notwithstanding all the evidence produced against her, I believe and rely on her perfect innocence,” her appeal was simple and powerful, but the “public indignation was turned with renewed violence, charging [Justine] with the blackest ingratitude” (Shelley.8.57). It was determined Justine must be executed for the murder of William Frankenstein even though Elizabeth’s words were touching. It goes to show, even when Elizabeth stood up for Justine, she was proven weak and ineffective by the men in court, whom had the final decision of Justine’s fate.
One of the most profound terrors of this novel is Victor’s constant goal of creating a society for men only. His creature is male, and he refuses to create a female. Victor’s task to become the sole creator of a supernatural being without the aid of a woman, denies women’s rightful role as deemed by nature; the only process that women are responsible for and good at. Victor’s Genevan society is set up on a rigorous division of sex roles: men inhabit the public sphere, while women are confined to the private or domestic sphere (Smith.313). Men work outside the home, as public servants (Alphonse Frankenstein), as scientists (Victor Frankenstein), as merchants (Henry Clerval and his father), and as explorers (Robert Walton). Women are confined to the home, kept either as a kind of pet, as housewives (Elizabeth Lavenza), nurses (Caroline Beaufort), or as servants (Justine Moritz).
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