Mary Shelley began her writing career at the tender age of 10 years. This was partly due to the influence of her father, William Godwin, who was an established writer and a political journalist.
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Mary’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, had died when her daughter was only ten days old owing to childbirth complications. Mary’s labor pains had lasted a record 18 hours and required four more hours to remove the afterbirth. After her demise, the young child named after her late mother grew up under the custodian of her father and his friends.
At a young age of 21 years, Mary’s first book Frankenstein was published, and it became an instant success. That was partly due to its representation of the feminine gender. Mary borrowed heavily from the writings of her mother, who had also been an established writer. All the women in Frankenstein are presented as being beautiful, submissive, and virtuous regardless of the position they hold in society.
Frankenstein’s Female Characters
The first female character that the writer introduces to us is Caroline Beaufort. This character represents the other female characters in the novel. When we meet Caroline, she is tending to her invalid father “with the greatest tenderness.” This means that Caroline is a dedicated woman who is ready to help her family members.
After the death of her father, Caroline’s courage rises “to support her in adversity.” This shows that the woman presented to us has a strong character that enables her to deal with the enormous loss in her life. This lack of weakness in her character leads Frankenstein’s father to marry her. Caroline’s ability to evoke love from those around her becomes a common trait among all the women in the narration.
Frankenstein’s father seems to have a kind of “reverence” for her virtues, something that suggests to us that she must have been a religious person. Her strong character is displayed even at the point of her death. This demonstrates how women conducted themselves in trying moments. According to the writer, their “fortitude and benignity” does not leave them even when they are staring death.
Another woman whom we encounter in the novel is Elizabeth. From the description that we first get of her, one does not fail to realize that Elizabeth has the same character as Beaufort. Elizabeth introduces her as “a being heaven sent,” which implies that she is a great help to her and her family. Beaufort continues to claim that Elizabeth is a blessing to the whole family. Her complexion and beauty, which is “fairer than pictured cherub,” does not blur her character.
What the writer wants to bring out in this passage is that the women in question lean more on their character than their beauty. One thing that we learn through Elizabeth and Frankenstein’s mother is that the women in the book heavily rely on the men in their lives for provision.
By the time that this book was published, women were less valued in society, and this might be one reason why the writer chose to present women as playing supportive roles to men. Frankenstein confesses that he looked “upon Elizabeth as mine,” showing how women were viewed as men’s property at the time. This desire for the woman to be owned proves that they were weak in the physical sense. Even though they had a strong character, they still needed the assurance of a man.
The final female character whom we encounter in the book is Justine. Justine is Frankenstein’s house cleaner, and she represents the ideal misrepresentation of women in the novel. While Elizabeth is still alive, she refers to Justine as “softness and winning mildness.” It is fascinating to notice how a woman heaps praise on another for her submissiveness.
All the women in the book are praised for their passive nature, especially toward men and the authority. When Justine is taken to court for a crime that she has not committed, she gladly accepts her punishment, although she knows that she is innocent of any wrongdoing.
This passiveness in her nature can either be looked at the angle of her being a woman or for being a lowly house cleaner. During the time, the rich despised the lower class, and women were considered second-class citizens. This combination might have contributed to the passiveness witnessed in all the women in the story. Like all the other women, Justine is presented as “very clever and gentle, and extremely pretty.” Despite her beauty, she still maintains her character, which is more desirable among women.
The view of women is a key component of the book. All the women in the book are presented as possessing physical beauty, but they disregard it in favor of their spiritual and inner beauty. The writer of the book presents women as submissive creatures who rely on men for provision and protection.
By looking at the upbringing of Shelley, one fails to understand where she drew her inspiration from since she grew in a very different background where she had to fight to get everything. One, therefore, realizes that the writer must have been avoiding risking disagreements just for the sake of it. The female characters, therefore, help us to understand the character of Frankenstein and to provoke the reader’s empathy for him.