Citation
Mary Shelley's monstrous language

Material Information

Title:
Mary Shelley's monstrous language an analysis of Frankenstein's support and subversion of social codes
Creator:
Otteman-Freeman, Amy L
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
102 leaves : ; 28 cm

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Frankenstein (Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft) ( fast )
Sex role in literature ( lcsh )
Social norms in literature ( lcsh )
Sex role in literature ( fast )
Social norms in literature ( fast )
Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 97-102).
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Amy L. Otteman-Freeman.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
54531035 ( OCLC )
ocm54531035
Classification:
LD1190.L58 2003m O77 ( lcc )

Full Text
MARY SHELLEY'S MONSTROUS LANGUAGE:
AN ANALYSIS OF FRANKENSTEIN'S SUPPORT AND SUBVERSION
OF SOCIAL CODES
by
Amy L. Otteman-Freeman
B.A., University of Northern Colorado, 1993
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Humanities
2003


This thesis for the Master of Humanities
degree by
Amy L. Otteman-Freeman
has been approved
by
1 !>-?
Date


Otteman-Freeman, Amy L. (M.H.)
Mary Shelley's Monstrous Language: An Analysis of Frankenstein's
Support and Subversion of Social Codes
Thesis directed by Director of Humanities Myra Bookman
ABSTRACT
In 1818, Mary Shelley anonymously published Frankenstein, which
critics deemed a monstrous work. This work trapped Shelley within the
contradictions of her time; by writing, she abandoned her place in the
traditional feminine sphere of domesticity, and stepped into the masculine
sphere of politics, intellect and literature. These historical contradictions in
Shelley's life have generated contradictions in modem literary criticism of
Frankenstein. Many critics argue that Shelley's work reflects the control of a
male-dominated society; other critics suggest that the novel criticizes society's
gender codes. This study is a response to the tension in modem feminist
analyses of Frankenstein. An explication of the 1818 text and the 1831
introduction to Frankenstein interpreted through George Herbert Mead's
theories in Mind. Self and Society reveals that Shelley upheld society's beliefs
at the same time that she attempted to change them.
Demonstrating Mead's concept of the "me," or the aspect of the self
that reflects its community's attitudes, Shelley wrote a novel which upheld
the middle class's hardening perception of gender roles and its valuation of
the home. The novel also portrays women as altruistic mothers, whose
natural maternity reveals their moral qualities. Finally, the novel attempts to
m


achieve social acceptance through its anonymous publication and its
imitation of respected male author's works. Frankenstein also reveals that
Shelley's "me" assumed the revolutionary and feminist attitudes of a sub-
community-- her parents William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, and
husband Percy Shelley. This community created tension in Shelley's world
because it criticized the larger society.
Because Frankenstein upheld society's prescribed gender norms at the
same time that it demonstrated her family's revolutionary ideas, Shelley
assumed the role of the "other"-someone who supported and challenged
social codes. This otherness allowed Shelley to express her own critical
perspective and separate her ideas from those of her family. Shelley's 1831
introduction and 1818 text of Frankenstein exemplify Mead's concept of the
"I," or an individual's novel and spontaneous expression. Shelley's "I" is
apparent in her attempt to alter society's beliefs by criticizing its definition of
monstrosity and by blurring sodely's binary oppositions of man/monster,
writer/female writer and man/ woman.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis. I
recommend its publication.
Signed
Myra Bookman
tv


DEDICATION
To my husband Robert
for his unwavering love, encouragement
and belief in my dream
and to the memory of my great-great grandmother
Alice Garrett Wyman, whose feminist sensibilities
continue to inspire me today


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
I would like to thank the members of my thesis committee Dr. Myra
Bookman, Dr. Nancy Ciccone and Dr. Marjorie Levine-Clark for their
flexibility, patience, guidance and scholarly expertise. Additionally, I
recognize my two mentors: Dr. Craig Smith, whose inspirational teaching
fostered my love of the humanities, and Mr. Tom Smailes, whose support and
sympathetic ear helped make this thesis project possible.


CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION...........................................1
Research Questions..................................8
Overview of Chapters...............................11
Summary of Frankenstein............................12
2. SOCIETY, THE "ME" AND MARY SHELLEY....................19
An Overview of G. H. Mead's Views
on the Development of the "Me".....................19
Embracing the Views of
the Generalized Other..............................22
The Social and Literary Generalized
Other: Historical Context....................23
The Familial Generalized Other:
Literary Context of Godwin,
Wollstonecraft and Percy Shelley.............47
Conclusion.........................................57
3. MARY SHELLEY'S CRITICAL "I"...........................60
An Overview of G.H. Mead's Ideas
on the Role of the "I".............................60
Altering the Views of the
Generalized Other..................................61
The 1831 Introduction and
Shelley's "I"................................62
mi


Frankenstein's Social Criticism..........70
Conclusion....................................90
4. CONCLUSION.......................................92
WORKS CITED..............................................97
vtti


CHAPTER 1
EvTIRODUCTION
On a stormy day in 1816, Mary Shelley conceived her hideous
progeny. Intending to "speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and
awaken thrilling horror ... to make the reader dread to look round, to
curdle the blood, and quicken the beating of the heart,"1 Shelley's ghost story
(later to become her novel Frankenstein) paints a picture of a "pale student of
unhallowed arts," so intent on creating life that he is willing to rob graves for
body parts and to defy the laws of nature to fulfill his desires. Blinded by his
ambition, Shelley's "pale student" fails to recognize the horror of his "odious
handiwork"2 until it is too late his creation lives, breathes and wreaks havoc
on those who judge him for his hideous appearance.
Published anonymously in January 1818, Shelley's novel received a
reaction similar to what her creature encountered. Society shunned her
novelmuch the way it shunned Frankenstein's creature for its monstrous,
immoral qualities. Scandalized critics labeled the work "a tissue of horrible
and disgusting absurdity," written by an author whose head or heart was
"most diseased."3 The British Critic denounced the work for harassing the
1 Author's Introduction, Frankenstein. 1831 edition, pp 7-8.
2 Author's Introduction, Frankenstein. 1831 edition, p. 9.
3 "Rev. of Frankenstein: or The Modem Prometheus by Mary Shelley." The
Quarterly Review 18 (January 1818): 379-385.
1


reader, and making him feel as if he "had been over-dosed with laudanum, or
hag ridden by the night-mare." The reviewer concluded that the author
possessed a "diseased and wandering imagination, which has stepped out of
all legitimate bounds" creating in the novel a "mass of absurdity. . that
approaches so often the confines of what is wicked and immoral."4 The
public reacted in a similar manner to the novel; in her 1831 introduction,
Shelley refers to the "question, so very frequently asked me" (5) of how she
could conceive such a story. This suggests that public reaction to the novel
was one of surprise that a young woman produced a work like Frankenstein.
Critics' responses and the public's reaction to the novel led Maty
Shelley to explain in Frankenstein's 1831 introduction "How I, then a young
girl, came to think of and to dilate upon so very hideous an idea" (5). Her
comment closely parallels the creature's narrative in the novel; both hope to
explain why they are not monsters. In his narrative, the creature reveals his
humanity and compassion. In a similar fashion, Shelley's 1831 introduction
explains how a young woman could create such an "impious" and "immoral"
work filled with murder, grave robbing and destruction. Furthermore,
Shelley's statement reveals her consciousness of society's expectations of
women. By writing and publishing a literary work, Shelley became trapped
within the contradictions of her time; she abandoned social codes that placed
women in the private sphere of domesticity, innocence and maternal
nurturing, and stepped into the masculine public spheres of business,
4 "Rev. of Frankenstein: or The Modem Prometheus by Mary Shelley." The
British Critic 9 (18181: 432-438.
2


intellect, science and finances. Shelley also abandoned similar bifurcated
gender codes in the literary world. "High literature" and literaiy talent were
considered male achievements and attributes. Bradford Mudge notes that
although the patriarchal literary community "allowed" women to express
themselves by writing Gothic novels, at the same time, it became enraged by
the popularity of the predominantly female genre (93). This dichotomy in
the literary world led to what Gilbert and Gubar call the "anxiety of
authorship"-- or a woman writer's fear that she cannot create because her
very act of creation might isolate her from literaiy society, or from society as a
whole (49).
The social and literary contradictions in Mary Shelley's life have led to
contradictions in modem literaiy criticism of Frankenstein: many critical
analyses attempt to determine if the novel, which contains powerful male
narrators and absent women,5 can be read as Shelley's passive acceptance of
social codes or as her critique of society. Some critics contend that Mary
Shelley's ideas and words were controlled and influenced by a patriarchal
society, and thus, cannot be read as polemic literature. Margaret Homans,
5 The majority of the women in Frankenstein are either minor characters
whose function is to nurture life, or characters who die because of their
nurturing qualities. These women do not tell a story, and are confined within
the language of the novel's three male narrators.
3


Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, and Ashley Cross6 argue that Shelley's
words reveal the control of an androcentric society, and suggest that Shelley's
novel does not represent a woman forging her way in the literary world, but
instead represents a woman whose literary power is suppressed by a male
dominated language, which does not allow her a voice. Bette London
theorizes that Percy Shelley's extensive editing and revision of Mary Shelley's
language in the text created a work that reflects a "masculine scaffolding"
(255) that makes the entire text masculine (258). Other critics argue that
Shelley embraced social codes in order to reveal social problems; critics James
P. Davis and Vanessa Dickerson7 suggest that Shelley's novel emphasizes the
male and de-emphasizes the female in order to demonstrate the female's
importance through her absence.
My study is a response to the contradictions in modem feminist
criticism of Frankenstein. By explicating the 1818 text and the 1831
introduction to Frankenstein within the context of George Herbert Mead's
theories from Mind. Self and Society. I intend to demonstrate that it was
6 Margaret Homans, "Bearing Demons: Frankenstein's Circumvention of the
Maternal." Frankenstein Ed. Fred Botting. New York: St. Martin's Press,
1995:140-165.; Sandra M. Gilbert, and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the
Attic. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979; Ashley Cross, "Indelible
Impressions: Gender and Language in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein"
Women's Studies 27 (1998): 547-80.
7 James P. Davis "Frankenstein and the Subversion of the Masculine Voice"
Women's Studies21:3 (1992): 307-323; Vanessa Dickerson, "The Ghost of a
Self: Female Identity in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" Journal of Popular
Culture 27:3 (1993): 79-91.
4


possible for Shelley to uphold the beliefs of a male-dominated society and to
criticize these beliefs at the same time. My study is an extension of Sylvia
Bowerbank's argument that Shelley intentionally included contradictory
conservative and radical elements in her novel;8 my analysis will draw from
Mead's theories to explain why such contradictions occurred within Shelley's
text. Mead's ideas lend insight into a person's ability to adhere to social
expectations and to change such perceptions at the same time. While my
study will include some applicable references to the revisions in the 1831 text,
my intent is to examine how the 1818 text and the 1831 introduction reveal
Shelley's consciousness of her place in society as well as her critical view of
society.
Mead's ideas are particularly relevant to a literary study, as he argues
that language (including writing) is an essential component in the creation of
the self. Mead's self is different from the "physiological organism proper"
(135) , as it does not exist at birth, but instead "arises because of social
experience and activity." The self does not exist in lower forms, or in humans
who simply exist, "moving about" without any sense of how they relate to
the rest of the world (135). Additionally, the self is not connected to sensuous
experience, and therefore does not arise from habitual actions or responses
(136) . The self is a social construction in that it arises in a social situation such
8 Sylvia Bowerbank's "The Social Order vs. the Wretch: Mary Shelley's
Contradictory-Mindedness in Frankenstein" argues that Frankenstein
"sentimentally defends, and yet skeptically attacks, domestic and social
tranquility" (419), and provides examples of such contradictions within the
text.
5


as a conversation. In a conversation/ the self reflects on what has been said,
and uses this awareness to determine the next thing that should be said (MO-
141). When the self arises in a social situation, it reveals one, or both, of its
two parts: the "me," which comprehends the generalized other's (ie a specific
community's)9 10 * influence on the self's behavior and evokes an appropriate
response, and/or the "I," which reflects the self's spontaneous behavior, and
evokes an unpredictable response. By identifying the "I," Mead theoretically
accounts for each person's novelty and individuality (201-202). His analysis
suggests that an individual is more than a product of social conditioning; she
possesses an "I" which reveals her unique perspective. When an individual
reacts to situations in novel ways, she in turn facilitates change in society
(214). These ideas represent the foundation of my argument: that
Frankenstein evidences social attitudes representing Shelley's "me," and at
the same criticizes society by means of Shelley's spontaneous "I."
The presence of Shelley's "me" and "I" in Frankenstein creates an
additional contradiction; the novel supports social beliefs at the same time
that Shelley violated them by writing literature. This contradiction allowed
her to adopt the role of the other~a woman who was caught between two
worlds, at once upholding social beliefs and at the same time, stepping
9 For Mead, the act of writing also represents a type of conversation, in that an
individual's self attempts to communicate with others, and invoke a response
from them (147).
10 The generalized other may represent society as a whole, or a smaller sub-
group. My analysis will analyze the influence of society (the larger
generalized other) and the literary community (a sub-generalized other).
6


outside of the domestic sphere and into the public sphere.11 Shelley's
otherness allowed her to understand what it meant to be a monster in
society's eyes. Therefore, Frankenstein encodes the opposition of social and
literary prescriptions with Shelley's belief that women belonged in public
social and literary spheres. Such opposition allows the text to develop an
"otherness" that creates a new, monstrous language.
Shelley's monstrous language created yet another "otherness"-- a
monstrous spacebetween the emerging bifurcated worlds of the masculine
(public) and feminine (private).12 Because it is narrated by men and stresses
the importance of the domestic influence in a person's life, the novel
demonstrates Shelley's comprehension of a social rhetoric,13 which reflected
society's reevaluation of gender roles and movement toward bifurcated
gender spheres and the valuation of the home. However, the novel also
reveals a young female writer who stepped out of the prescribed private
sphere, upheld her family's tradition of writing, and at the same time,
11 Devon Hodges argues that like her creature, Shelley is neither completely
within nor outside of her culture. This otherness allows Shelley to create a
writing style that experiments with literary techniques and themes, examines
philosophical questions and subverts the patriarchal language (160-161).
12 As Amanda Vickery notes, the concept of "separate spheres" was not
absolute at the beginning of the nineteenth century. She contends that advice
books, women's magazines and Evangelical speeches all argued for a
separation of spheres, but do so in a prescriptive, rather than descriptive way
(383-384). Recent historical scholarship suggests that the concept of separate
public and private spheres is more dynamic than static.
13 In "Separate Sphere, Female Worlds, Woman's Place: The Rhetoric of
Women's History" Linda Kerber argues that the phrase "separate spheres" is
a rhetorical device used by a society that had no other term to define gender
relationships (37-9)
7


asserted her own opinions. Frankenstein exhibits a Shelleys unique
perspective, and suggests that women as well as men may participate in the
public and private realms. Furthermore, the novel attempts to blur socially
accepted binary opposites such as man/monster, writer/ woman writer and
man/woman14 to demonstrate that individuals who are socially abhorrent
often are less monstrous than those whom society accepts. These two
elements reveal Shelley's subtle criticism of a society that pigeonholed
individuality and judged a person on appearance alone.
Research Questions
The contradictory feminist interpretations of Frankenstein generate my
first research question: to what extent did society's prescripted codes of
gender behavior influence Frankenstein? This complex question begs several
sub-questions: did Shelley intend to support social codes in her novel
Frankenstein, or did she intend to criticize society for its exclusion of females
141 am using Anne K Mellor's definitions of the following terms: the terms
male/female will be used to denote biological sexual differences, and terms
such as man/woman, masculine/feminine will be used to describe social
definitions relating to gender codes (socially created roles and functions that
are based on perceived sexual differences) (Romanticism and Gender 17).
Robert B. Shoemaker argues that the differences between the sexes are
determined by social, cultural and political constructions, and thus may alter
within a time span (1). Joan Scott contends that gender is way of conveying
"cultural constructions, or socially established roles for men and women.
Therefore, gender is "a social category, imposed on a sexed body (45-46).
Gisela Bock echoes these ideas, suggesting that "the sexes and their relations
must be perceived as social, political and cultural entities. They cannot be
reduced to factors outside of history, and still less to a single and simple,
uniform, primal or inherent cause or origin" (29).
8


from the public sphere, or, alternatively, did she intend to do both? By
applying Mead's ideas of the "me" and the "I" to Frankenstein. I contend that
Shelley did uphold social beliefs regarding women, and she did attempt to
alter them.
My second research question relates to the influences on the novel
itself: what events or ideas inspired the novel's creation? I have broken this
question down into several sub-questions as well: is Frankenstein the
product of Shelley's own ideas, is it an autobiographical work, which
exemplifies Shelley's guilt over the death of her mother and her first child15 as
Barbara Johnson suggests;16 is it a reflection and retelling of works written by
male authors such as John Milton and S. T. Coleridge, or is it merely an echo
of the revolutionary ideas of her father William Godwin, mother Mary
Wollstonecraft, and husband Percy Shelley? Mead's ideas provide a
plausible answer to these questions, as his theories allow a reader to conclude
that all of the aforementioned events/ideas influenced Shelley's novel, at the
same time that her novel reflects her unique perspective.
My final research question relates to the first and third versions of the
15 Mary Wollstonecraft died of complications from Mary Shelley's birth.
Shelley's first child Clara, bom on February 22,1815, was two months
premature. She died on March 6 of the same year.
16 "My Monster/ My Self" Diacritics. 12 no. 2 Summer, 1982: 2-10.
9


text:17 was the novel published anonymously in 1818 because Mary Shelley
internalized society's belief that women belonged in the private sphere, and if
so, did Shelley intend for her preface in the final edition of Frankenstein to
apologize for her shameless violation of social codes? Shelley anonymously
published the three volume 1818 version of Frankenstein at the time, many
critics believed that the author was Percy Shelley or some other male admirer
of William Godwin's theories. Even if a reader interprets Mary Shelley's
novel as an example of a female assuming a place in the public/male world of
literature, her anonymity in the 1818 text suggests that she understood the
social codes that aimed to restrict female activities to the private sphere.
Anne K. Mellor suggests that Shelley experienced a sense of guilt at writing
such a horrifying novel, demonstrated in her use of three male narrators
(Captain Walton, Victor Frankenstein and the creature), who suppressed the
female voice, and in her act of allowing an established male author (Percy
Shelley) to edit and correct the novel ("Introduction" xiii-xiv). Mary Poovey
contends that the 1831 introduction represents Shelley's attempt to justify her
"audacity" at writing such a horrific work. Poovey suggests that Shelley's
intent was to assure her readers that she was no longer the "defiant, self-
assertive girl who once dared to explore ambition and even to seek fame
herself without the humility proper to a lady" ("The Lady" 100). Again,
v The original 1818 version and the revised 1831 version. There is also a
second two volume 1823 version, which was published under Mary Shelley's
name, but lacked any substantial revisions or an author's introduction.
Because the 1823 version lacks any significant alterations, I will not include it
in my analysis.
10


Mead's theories allow a reader to comprehend the dichotomy in Shelley's
writing; Shelley assumes social codes of gender behavior by publishing her
novel anonymously and "apologizing" in the 1831 preface, but at the same
time, subtly champions herself as a writer.
Overview of Chapters
Each of the following chapters begins with a discussion of George
Herbert Mead's ideas on the development of one aspect of the self; chapter
two focuses on the development of the "me" (associated with the generalized
other, or society), and chapter three focuses on the role of the "I" (associated
with spontaneous behavior). In each chapter, I follow Mead's ideas with an
analysis of how Frankenstein18 represents the development of either Shelley's
"me" or her "I." Chapter two situates Shelley within the historical and
literary contexts that influenced her writing, and chapter three examines how
Mary Shelley attempted to alter the prescripted ideas of her historical and
literary communities.
A certain referential difficulty exists within a feminist study of Mary
Shelley; she might be called Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, but this
seems superfluous. However, in a study that focuses on Mary Shelley, to
refer to her as Mary Shelley and to refer to her husband as just Shelley is
ultimately sexist. Therefore, I elected to refer to her as Mary Shelley or
18 This analysis contains references to the 1818 and 1831 versions of
Frankenstein. Citations from the 1818 version are cited with 1818 proceeding
the page number within the parenthetical citation, and citations from the 1831
text are cited with 1831 proceeding the page number within the parenthetical
citation.
11


Shelley. I refer to Percy Shelley as Percy or Percy Shelley. Also, to avoid
undue confusion, I refer to Mary as Mary Shelley (rather than Mary Godwin)
when I discuss her work and experiences prior to her 1817 marriage to Percy.
Summary of Frankenstein
The novel begins with Captain Robert Walton's letters to his sister
Margaret Saville, who is in England. These letters recount Walton's
adventures on a ship bound for the North Pole, and describe his ambitious
desire to explore an area unknown to humankind and to find the secret of the
North Pole's magnet. Walton also describes his loneliness and desire to find a
friend who understands his passionate desire to unlock the secrets of the
natural world. Upon arriving in the Arctic, the ship's progress is halted by
seas of impassible ice. While the crew waits for the ice to disperse, they see
two figures on the ice one a huge being who "had the shape of a man" (1818
13) and the other a civilized European. The second traveller, named Victor
Frankenstein, is near death, and is taken aboard to be nursed back to health.
Walton finds a kindred soul in this traveller, who was a scientist searching for
a way to create life. As a sort of warning, Victor begins to tell his story,
hoping that Walton will avoid the pitfalls of ambition.
In his narrative, Victor recounts his idyllic childhood in Geneva. He
describes his parents' (Alphonse and Caroline Frankenstein) loving care, and
his companions Elizabeth Lavenza (in the 1818 version, Elizabeth is Victor's
paternal cousin, in the 1831 version, she is Victor's adopted cousin) and
Henry Clerval. As a child, Victor discovered Cornelius Agippa's "scientific"
12


theories of the occult and supernatural, which led to his fascination with
natural philosophy. This interest was spurred on in part by Alphonse's
denouncement of the work as "sad trash." Just before Victor left for the
University of Ingolstadt, Elizabeth fell ill and was nursed back to health by
Caroline, who succumbed to scarlet fever and died. Elizabeth assumed
Caroline's position as matriarch.
In Ingolstadt, Victor strived to learn the secret of creating life. Once he
discovered this secret, he attempted to create life from the sewn-together
body parts he stole from graves and charnel houses. Victor became obsessed
with his creation, and isolated himself from the rest of the world in a small
laboratory above his apartment. When he successfully animated dead tissue,
he was horrified by the appearance of his creation. This horror caused him to
flee to his apartment. The creature appeared later that night in Victor's room,
and reached out to him, but Victor once again abandoned his creature by
running out into the streets of Ingolstadt.
On the streets of Ingolstadt, Victor encountered Henry Clerval, who
returned a feverish Victor to his room. Victor became violently ill and was
nursed back to health by Clerval. While recovering from his illness, Victor
received a letter from Elizabeth, which contained the sad news that Victor's
younger brother William was murdered, and Justine Moritz (who was a ward
of the Frankenstein family) was accused of his murder. This news
necessitated Victor's return to Geneva, where he silently watched as Justine
was tried, condemned and executed for a crime that Victor knew his creature
committed. Even though Victor had the power to save Justine's life, he
13


remained silent because he feared that society would view him as a madman.
Unlike Victor, Elizabeth, testified of Justine's goodness in court, and later
denounced the system that convicted an innocent girl.
After the trial, Victor became despondent over his role in the death of
two family members and decided to hike on Montanvert to forget his
troubles. While on the desolate mountaintop, Victor encountered his
creature, who began a narrative of his experiences since Victor abandoned
him in Ingolstadt.
After his last encounter with Victor, the creature fled to a forest near
Ingolstadt. Here, he discovered physical sensations of light, dark, hunger,
thirst and cold. In his search for food, the creature entered a hut and terrified
an old man. In a village, he encountered people who fled at the sight of him.
These incidents convinced the creature to hide from humanity in a forest;
here he found an abandoned hovel near a small cottage. The cottage was
inhabited by the DeLacey family an old blind man and his son Felix and
daughter Agatha. The creature observed this family and came to understand
that they suffered from poverty and sadness. His compassion led him to stop
stealing food from them and to secretly assist them by gathering wood. As
the creature watched the family, he began to understand the importance of
language, and vowed to acquire this "god-like science," which he believed
would allow the family to look past his hideous appearance.
In the spring, a young Arabian woman named Safie joined the family.
Her arrival brought great joy to the DeLaceys, especially Felix. Felix began
teaching Safie his language, and as she learned, so did the creature in the
14


nearby hovel. When he was able to understand the DeLaceys' language, he
slowly learned of the hardship that brought them to the isolated cottage.
DeLacey was a respected member of the community in Paris, until an event
with Safie's father (who Shelley describes only as "the Treacherous Turk") led
to his downfall. The Turk was a wealthy merchant falsely accused of a crime
and imprisoned. Outraged, the DeLacey family attempted to help him, and
during one of his visits to the prison, Felix met the Turk's daughter Safie.
Felix fell in love with Safie, and the Turk promised her hand in marriage if
Felix assisted him. Safie and Felix began to exchange letters; Safie's letters
described her precarious plight (the monster told Victor that he copied some
of Safie's letters to "prove the truth of his tale"). Safie's mother was a
Christian, who encouraged her daughter to assert her independence and
develop her intelligence. Safie's father wished her to uphold the customs of
his Islamic religion, and Safie was fated to return home to live in a harem.
Felix helped Safie's father escape from prison and flee to Italy, but when the
plot was later discovered, Mr. DeLacey and Agatha were imprisoned. Felix
returned to assist his family, having arranged with the Turk that Safie should
remain in Italy and wait for Felix's return. Felix was unable to help his
family, and they were tried, stripped of their wealth and exiled to Germany,
where the creature found them. The Turk, in the meantime, fled from Italy
with his daughter, and betrayed Felix's trust. Unwilling to accept her fate in
her father's country, Safie ran away and found the DeLacey family's cottage
in the forest.
After learning of the cottagers' history, the creature discovered an
15


abandoned satchel containing Goethe's Sorrows of Werther. Plutarch's Lives
and Milton's Paradise Lost. From these works, the creature learned of the
error and brutality of humanity. His education was completed by some of
Victor's papers, which were left in a coat that the creature stole on the night
he fled from Ingolstadt. These papers revealed the circumstances
surrounding the creature's creation and the horror that Victor felt for his
"child." Shocked by Victor's response toward him, the creature resolved to
reach out to the DeLacey family, in the hope that they might look past his
hideous appearance. He decided to speak first with blind Mr. DeLacey; his
attempts to communicate failed, however, when Felix, Agatha and Safie
returned, and horrified by the creature's appearance, drove him away. This
led the creature to declare war on humanity. However, as the creature fled
from the DeLaceys' cottage, he encountered a young girl drowning in a river.
He rescued the young girl, only to be shot by her father, who suspected the
creature of harming her. Near Geneva, the creature encountered a young
boy. The creature wished to take the young boy away with him, so that he
might teach him of the dangers of judging someone by appearance.
However, when the boy mentioned that his father Alphonse Frankenstein
would seek vengeance, the creature strangled young William with his bare
hands. The creature found a picture of Caroline Frankenstein in the boy's
pocket and hid it in the dress of a young girl Justine Moritz whom he
found sleeping in a bam.
After describing the extent of his suffering, the creature ended his
narrative and demanded that Victor make a female companion for him. At
16


this point Victor again assumes the role of narrator, and describes how he
initially refuses the creature's request, but was swayed by the creature's
eloquent persuasion and vow to end his war with humankind. Victor
therefore promised to create an "Eve" for his creature.
Victor and Qerval traveled to England so that Victor might gather
information for the creation of a female monster. Victor began work on the
female in an isolated hut on a desolate island in the Orkneys. In the midst of
his work, Victor became troubled by his fear of the female creature's ability to
procreate more monsters. Looking up from his work, he saw the creature
watching him, and in response, destroyed the female. Enraged, the creature
vowed to be with Victor on his wedding night, which Victor interpreted as a
threat against his own life.
After the creature left, Victor took the body of the female out to sea
and dumped her overboard. A wind storm ensued, and Victor was unable to
reach shore until morning. When he landed the next day, he was arrested for
a murder committed the night before. Victor believed that he was accused of
the female creature's murder until he was shown the body -- his friend Henry
Qerval whose throat bore the imprint of the creature's fingers. Victor fell ill
and was kept in prison until he recovered. When he recovered, he was
cleared of the crime and returned to Geneva to many Elizabeth.
Fearful that the creature would kill him, Victor took Elizabeth away on
a honeymoon near Lake Como. That night, Victor waited for the creature's
arrival, until a scream from Elizabeth revealed the creature's true intent-- to
murder Victor's wife. Victor returned home to his father who died of grief a
27


short time later. Faced with the loss of most of his family, Victor resolved to
hunt down the creature and to destroy him. Victor tracked the creature north
to the Arctic. The creature played a cat-and-mouse game with him, leaving
food and taunting notes to urge him on. In the Arctic, Victor almost caught
up with his creation, but a break in the ice prevented him from reaching his
creature.
Here, Victor ends his narrative, and Walton resumes his letter to
Margaret. He describes Victor's death, and his horror at the creature's arrival
to grieve over Victor's body. The creature tells Walton of his intense sorrow,
loneliness and remorse, and asserts that Victor's death will end his suffering
as well. Intending to throw himself on a funeral pyre and finally find peace,
the creature leaves Walton.
18


CHAPTER 2
SOCIETY, THE "ME" AND MARY SHELLEY
An Overview of G. H. Mead's Views on the
Development of the "Me"
According to Mead, a person's "self" is comprised of two components:
the "me" and the "I."19 The "me" develops when an individual sees herself as
an object20 within two different contexts: language and play. Through
language and play, an individual comes to understand how the larger group
the generalized other-evaluates her behavior. This group's reaction to the
individual's speech or behavior influences her next response (152).
Therefore, when a person comprehends the attitudes and acceptable rules of
behavior and modifies her behavior accordingly, she demonstrates the part of
the self that Mead labels the "me." The "me" represents a person's
understanding of the generalized other's attitudes (175), and her ability to
establish a place within a community (199).
Language is one type of social interaction in which the generalized
other contributes to the "me;" an individual takes part in a conversation,
becomes aware of what she is saying, and uses this awareness to determine
19 The 'T'reflects an individual's spontaneous reaction to a social situation
(175) and will be discussed in the following chapter.
20 Mead suggests that individuals view themselves as subjects. However,
when an individual examines his/her behavior from the viewpoint of society,
that person is also viewing him/herself as an object (169).
19


what should be said next. This use of language, or "significant symbols,"
determines an individual's conduct within a social experience (Mead 136-
141).21 By extension, the acts of thinking and writing become a type of "inner
conversations" in which the individual prepares for a social experience; "He
thinks it out, and perhaps writes it in the form of a book; but it is still a part of
social intercourse in which one is addressing other persons and at the same
time addressing oneself, and in which one controls the address to other
persons by the response made to one's own gesture"(141).22 Thus, the social
experience of communication determines an individual's place within a
community, as her community accepts or rejects her comments within a
conversation. This "community" is not limited to one group, however. An
individual may develop a sort of "multiple personality" in which her self
responds to different social experiences and relationships, and thus belongs
to several communities at once (141-2).
A person's "me" also develops through her practice of "play"and "the
21 Linguistic meaning stems from a "triadic relationship." In this relationship,
the first gesture is made by the first individual, and the second individual
adjusts his/her gesture to match the response of the first organism. The
response is significant on two levels: first, it indicates that the speech act
initiated has been completed, and second, it gives the first gesture meaning.
For Mead, communication and the social act of gesturing are inseparable; a
gesture cannot exist within the experience of a single individual (145-6).
Mead's pragmatic beliefs contrast with those of empirical philosophers such
as John Locke, who suggested that language and communication can occur
within the mind. Mead acknowledges that thought plays a role in
communication, but also argues that universal symbols (which create
meaning) must occur outside the mind first before an individual can think of
them and use them in language (166-167).
22 Mead's term for a "significant speech act" (141).
20


game/' metaphors that Mead uses to explain an individual's assumption of
social practices and beliefs. A child's act of role playing best exemplifies
"play." For example, a child who plays the role of a teacher encounters
stimuli specific to that situation; these stimuli call for the same responses in
the child or any other individual playing the same role. The "play" of an
individual takes on a social connotation, however, when the individual
participates in "the game." If a child merely is playing, she passes from one
role to another (from a teacher to a super hero) according to her whim.
However, if the child participates in a game, she and the other players must
assume specific roles. In the game, responses are organized in such a way
that the attitude of one individual requires an appropriate response from the
other individual (150-151).
Mead argues that when a child participates in a game, she acquires the
attitudes of the others playing the game (who represent a community) and
thus becomes aware of what Mead calls the "generalized other,"or larger
community. To clarify his point, Mead utilizes a baseball metaphor in which
the team represents the generalized other, affecting the experiences of the
individual members. As participants in this game, individuals must play
different roles, and the generalized other, which is the team as a whole,
determines their responses. This metaphor explains how an individual comes
to understand the acceptable social behaviors and responses of an individual
interacting within a social group. The generalized other determines the
attitudes and acceptable rules of behavior for an individual. The ability to
assume the role of the generalized other and to acquire the attitudes of her
22


community therefore forms an individual's character (154). In absorbing the
views of the generalized other, the individual assumes the attitudes of her
community at large, an event which allows sodality to occur (155).
Embracing the Views of the Generalized Other
Mary Shelley's development as a writer demonstrated her attempt to
become a part of the generalized other. Frankenstein exemplifies Mead's
belief that a person's language reveals her assumption of the generalized
other's attitudes (her "me") and her ability to arouse similar sodal attitudes in
others. Writing allows Shelley to respond to and to reinforce acceptable
sodal behaviors (Mead 161-162). However, Shelley interacted with two
contradictory communities, both of which allowed her to shape her unique
qualities, as no member of one group belongs to the exact same subgroups as
another individual (Mead 156-7). Shelley's first generalized other was the
larger sodal community, which determined acceptable gender behavior. This
community induded the sub-community of Romantic literature, which
upheld sodety's prescribed gender roles at the same time that it criticized
sodety. The second generalized other was Shelley's immediate familyher
father, dead mother and husband,23 who represented a smaller literary
community. These communities demonstrated significant opposition in
Shelley's world; the larger sodal community (and by extension, the literary
community) dictated that she uphold prescribed domestic roles for women,
23 To avoid undue confusion, I refer to Percy Shelley as Mary Shelley's
husband, even though his contributions to Frankenstein occurred in 1816,
when he was her lover, not her husband. The two were not married until
1817.
22


and the familial community expected her to achieve public notoriety for her
literary work. These contradictions are complicated by the contradictions
that occurred within the social and literary generalized other. While the
social generalized other embraced separate gender spheres, at the same time,
many men and women did not live this separation in practice. Moreover, the
Romantics upheld society's prescribed notions of gender, but at the same
time, they criticized society. All of these contradictions influenced Shelley;
Frankenstein reveals a fusion of her social and literary generalized other's
attitudes and her familial generalized other's attitudes. Therefore, in her
novel, Shelley demonstrates a wish to adopt the attitudes of both
communities and make a name for herself as both a "proper" 19th century
woman and as a writer.
The Social and Literary Generalized Other:
Historical Context
During Mary Shelley's lifetime, the Industrial Revolution, the
aftermath of the French Revolution, and the Evangelical Movement
contributed to hardening gender expectations. Occurring at a time of
tumultuous economic and social change, the Romantic period (1780-1830)
demonstrated an evolution in gender roles that would become the dear
delineation between the masculine public sphere and feminine private sphere
in the Victorian Period. However, this separation of gender spheres was not
absolute; there were significant contradictions between sotial norms and
practices. Sodety embraced the notion of a male public sphere and a female
23


private sphere at a time when some men actively participated in the home
and some women earned money, ran businesses, and became involved in
public religion and philanthropic organizations. William Stafford's English
Feminists and Their Opponents in the 1790s argues that the literary works of
"unsex'd" women (women whose behavior was deemed improper by society)
and "proper women" reveal that the concepts of "public" and "private" do
not have a single, coherent meaning; "[these concepts] interconnect and
interpenetrate. In 1790s Britain there were physical spaces from which
women were excluded, but woman-authored writings recognize no spheres
from which they were totally debarred" (171). John Tosh's A Man's Place
suggests that a man's role as the head of a household continued to connect
him to the private realm (50). Amanda Vickery's historiographic study on
gender spheres also concludes that while many women were associated with
the domestic sphere, this realm was not the oppressive prison that many
historians believed it to be. Citing research from middle class women's
manuscripts, Vickery suggests that many women embraced their roles in
home, and viewed themselves as "a group with a special destiny and their
consciousness of sisterhood was therefore heightened" (384).
The literature of the male Romantics further complicated society's
gender rhetoric in that the male poets exhibited the traditional feminine
qualities of emotion, intuition and a connection to nature. At a time when
male writers merged masculine and feminine qualities in their work, they
continued to disapprove of women's writing. Essentially, male Romantics
believed that they could demonstrate both male and female qualities, but
24


women writers could not. Women's writing reveals similar gender
contradictions; women's religious and moral literature was socially
acceptable, while women's literary works (such as gothic novels) were not.
Whereas it is difficult to determine absolutely the differences between
social practice and norms, the middle class and Evangelical emphasis on the
sanctity and morality of the home corresponded with society's championing
of a delineation between a public world connected to men and a private
world connected to women. Romantic poetry and female literature also
suggest a belief in separate gender spheres. Shelley's Frankenstein not only
reflects these growing gender perceptions, but also the author's consciousness
of the gender contradictions in the social and literary communities.
The Middle Class. Evangelicals and Perceptions of Home. The
Industrial Revolution, which epitomized capitalism and competition, spurred
the growth of a middle class. Whereas the Industrial Revolution's emphasis
on capitalism allowed many men to earn their fortunes, it also helped to
break down the old society's perception that the group was more important
than the individual.24 According to Lilian Lewis Shipman, capitalism valued
24 There are notable exceptions to this philosophy. As Davidoff and Hall note,
the Evangelical Movement strove for the moral transformation of the
individual, but did so in order to improve the moral fiber of England as a
whole (82-83). Furthermore, the Evangelical Movement stressed that the
parish should work as an organization to spread religion through groups
such as Sunday Schools, dubs and meetings. Both men and women,
dergymen and laymen were expeded to support this enterprise (83).
Additionally, while Romantic literature embraced the importance of the
individual, the ultimate goal of a Romantic poet was to achieve the sublime, a
state in which a person loses himself and becomes a part of the higher order
of nature.
25


the needs of the individual above the desires of the group. Now, "the highest
value . was placed on the individual as a producer, citizen or public
figure" (2). Thus, capitalism's emphasis on the individual, competition, and
financial gain led to the middle class's revised vision of the home, which
represented a sanctuary from the immoral world of capitalism.
The middle class's valuation of the home resulted in a gradual
separation of work and home, and an alteration in domestic relationships.
Davidoff and Hall note that during the early part of the Romantic period,
women were active participants in both the household and business
enterprises. However, as the nineteenth century progressed, social views
transformed, reflecting the belief that middle class women "were and should
be dependents" (279). According to Tosh, as men developed their business
interests, many of them began to divide the worlds of work and home, and to
remove the household from any direct involvement in business enterprises.25
This separation specifically affected a woman's behavior: "Once work was
located outside the home, the implications of intruding in the public sphere
and perhaps forgoing her husband's protection were disturbing" (17-18). As
husbands became more prosperous, wives were expected to rely more
heavily upon them and to withdraw to the domestic realm. Many wives
went from acting as a "help-meet" to a "home-maker" (18). Although there
25 This separation between work and home was not absolute for many men,
however; separation was most noticeable in the commercial classes and
manufacturing classes. Many clergymen, doctors, writers and the like
continued to work out of their homes, but often established a "work space"
separate from the rest of the home (Tosh 17).
26


were exceptions,26 many middle class women remained tightly controlled by
economic, political and social practices and "were expected to accept second-
class citizenship in a separate domestic sphere under the protection of their
husbands. . Women depended on the good will of men for a decent life"
(Lewis Shipman 5).
The middle class's reverence for the home also contributed to
hardening gender roles, particularly for women. Tosh argues that the growth
of capitalism led the middle dass to view the home as a moral sanctuary
which shielded children and women from the immoral practices of the
business world, and offered men a respite. Home was the antithesis of the
business world; home nurtured relationships, love, devotion and "natural
forms of authority and deference" (33). Urban life centered
around the nucleus of the family, which became a private world connected to
the public world through limited contacts in church, dubs and school (Lewis
Shipman 35).
Lewis Shipman notes that within this private world, men and women
had dear roles (35). Men were leaders and authority figures in both the
public world and private world. They represented the dvil and religious
authority figures what Davidoff and Hall call the "Father God" and also
controlled the household's finances (329) While many fathers were
26 Tosh notes that there were exceptions to this separation of sphere, such as
shopkeepers, but that their "blurring" of domestic and business enterprises
was what kept them from achieving middle dass status (18). Davidoff and
Hall also discuss the blurring of domestic and business spheres, arguing that
women represented a "hidden investment" in business, demonstrated by
their finandal contribution to enterprise, and their contribution of resources
(either through their knowledge or skills) to the family business (279-280).
27


concerned with their children's happiness, this concern normally was from an
economic standpoint. Furthermore, fathers who participated in their
children's lives did so by choice (Davidoff and Hall 355).
Women's roles, on the other hand, were connected to their moral
function within the home. According to Davidoff and Hall, the middle class
gradually came to believe that mothers, possessing innate nurturing and
moral qualities, bore and cared for children because it was natural for them to
do so. Mothers represented a source of personal care and emotional support,
(355) and acted as the moral guides of the homes, protecting their children
and husbands from the corrupt influences of the outside world. Medical
journals from the late eighteenth century also contributed to the connection
between morality and motherhood. First, medical analyses of the ovum
suggested that a woman's role in creation was much more important than a
man's; conception began to be seen as a "natural process unfolding within the
woman's body." Second, discourses on breast feeding linked motherhood to
morality, as the act of breast feeding became a selfless act unique to mothers
(Tosh 45). This reverence for maternity stemmed from the middle class's
scorn for the aristocratic habit of allowing servants to rear children (Davidoff
and Hall 355). The middle class's perceptions of motherhood led to a
merging of the moral and natural functions of motherhood, which eventually
would become the cultural icon of the "Angel Mother," a selfless, holy
woman whose maternity revealed her morality (Tosh 45).
Education reinforced masculine and feminine roles. Both girls and
boys were expected to receive religious training so that they might serve
28


others. However, for girls, this religious education represented the
foundation of their learning (Davidoff and Hall 289), as it prepared them to
become the moral guides of the home. Girls' education prepared them for
marriage; they learned practical skills and moral values that would make
them a good wives (Laurence 165). While girls were excluded from reformed
grammar schools, many received a broad exposure to academics within their
homes, and acquired a better education than that in girls' schools. However,
parents' expectations for their children's education centered around future
economic gains; girls, who were destined to become wives and mothers, were
taught by unpaid family members, while boys, who would become a part of
the business world, received a formal education to ensure their prosperous
futures (Davidoff and Hall 290-291).
The middle class's emphasis on the home and movement toward more
clearly defined gender roles was reinforced by the Evangelical Movement,27
which began at the end of the eighteenth century. Women did possess some
power within the Evangelical Movement, serving as public orators and
writers (such as Hannah More), whose work was intended to improve the
moral conduct of society (Shoemaker 34), and as members of missionary,
27 The Evangelical Movement arose in part because the French Revolution
created a public fear of change in England. People began to believe that
anyone who deviated from the norm was a harbinger for revolution, and
determined that if change should occur, it should happen within individuals
themselves, not within institutions (Lewis Shipman 43). Catherine Hall
suggests that the Evangelical movement also wielded influence over the
aristocracy shortly after the French Revolution, as the Evangelical principals
of helping the poor seemed a suitable way to prevent a similar political
upheaval in England (18).
29


philanthropic and reformative associations (Hall 15-16). However,
Evangelicalism's belief and doctrine established a dear separation between
gender spheres (Davidoff and Hall 107). Evangelical doctrine, based on
biblical passages, stressed that men must strive for moral and religious
rewards and must embrace their duty to work. This doctrine did not
distinguish the differences between men's spiritual work and their livelihood,
but did caution men against becoming too attached to the home, as such an
attachment "would promote a feebleness of character and dependence,
characteristics that could never be assodated with manliness" (Davidoff and
Hall 110-113). On the other hand, women's roles, defined by the story of the
Fall, emphasized dependency, which exemplified a woman's Godly
femininity (Davidoff and Hall 114). This dependency bound husbands and
wives together and fostered domestic stability. Furthermore, women were
"naturally more delicate, more fragile, and morally weaker," which
according to Evangelical reformer Hannah More, obligated women to
constantly hold themselves in check, lest they fall victim to their weaknesses
(Hall 25). Although these ideas stemmed from prior religious doctrines such
as Puritanism, the Evangelicals argued for altered conceptions of a "woman's
sphere" and the practice of "naturally feminine" behaviors (Davidoff and
Hall 114).
Because of the middle class's affiliation with the Evangelical
Movement, Evangelicalism also stressed the importance of the home, which
represented the heart of the moral struggle within England (Hall 22) and the
place where serious Christianity began. As spiritual and moral guides,
30


middle dass women were expected to prioritize moral reform in their own
households. Thus, the proper place for women was within the home,
guarding their domestic virtues and instilling moral virtues in their children.
To the Evangelicals, placing the woman in the domestic sphere afforded her
some power and influence, a concept embraced by More in 1799, when she
challenged women to assist in reform and thus improve the morals of the
country (Hall 25). Whatever influence women possessed, their main function
within sotiety became dear; they protected the morals of their country, and
did so within the confines of Evangelicalism, whose concept of gender
exduded women from any truly overt political or sodal reform.
The Romantic Movement and Gender Roles. The Romantic writers
represent a sub-community that influenced Shelley's "me." This community
complicated Shelley's partidpation in the sodal generalized other because the
Romantics opposed much of what the larger sodety embraced capitalism,
industrialism and traditional morality. Instead, Romantic writers embraced
nature, freedom and revolution, and envisioned an egalitarian sodety.
However, at the same time that the Romantics opposed the larger generalized
other, they shared sodety's developing ideas about gender division,
specifically the notion that men wrote public works of literature. For this
reason, the Romantic community may be induded with the larger sodal
generalized other. The Romantic movement reflects contradidory
perceptions of gender similar to that of the larger sodal community; through
their literary works, they assimilated traditionally female sensibilities, but at
the same time rejeded the notion of women's importance outside the
32


domestic sphere. Arne K. Mellor labels these beliefs "masculine
Romanticism," and suggests that they evolved into a literary style that reveals
the male writers' desire to conquer the feminine by "regendering"the male,
thus eliminating the female from discourse altogether (Romanticism and
Gender 19).28 Alan Richardson argues that this male absorption of female
qualities led to an emphasis on androgyny in Romantic poetry. This
androgyny destroys binary opposites between masculine and feminine, but
"cannibalizes" the female, and thus relegates the female to dual subjectivity;
women become subjects whose qualities male poets appropriate in order to
become the subjects within their own works (22). Marlon B. Ross echoes
Mellor's theory of male Romanticism, but argues that the male conquest of
feminine qualities stems from the Romantics' insecurity over the growth in
popularity of "low" literature (literature associated with popular culture),
and reveals the Romantics' attempt to "reassert the power of a vocation that
[was] on the verge of losing whatever influence it had within and over that
tradition" (28-29). Romantic poetry thus becomes distinctly male, as poets
used their poetry to "find themselves" and to reassert themselves over the
28 Because the female does not speak within Romantic poetry, in Mellor's eyes,
she does not exist (Romanticism and Gender 19). Mellor also suggests that
works such as Wordsworth's "Ruined Cottage" demonstrate male pleasure in
silencing the female; the Old Man who narrates the tale and the Peddler both
receive comfort from the tale of a woman's physical and mental demise
(Romanticism and Gender 19).
32


world (29).29 Additionally, Ross reads Romantic poetry as the male attempt to
disseminate political and revolutionary ideas in order to improve the fate of
humanity (31). Margaret Homans argues that the Romantic poets' attempts
to objectify women within their works left women without a voice, as their
language became associated with the literal (everyday language) rather than
the symbolic (literary language). Homans concludes that because women are
not allowed a symbolic language30 and have become objects within that
symbolic language, they cannot participate as subjects in language as easily as
men (Bearing 5). Thus, Romantic poetry exemplified society's belief that
women did not belong in the public sphere, particularly in Romantic poetry.
Romantic writers' assimilation of feminine qualities created a literary style
that either objectified women, or robbed them of a language altogether.
Therefore, while modem scholarship associates Mary Shelley with the
Romantic movement, and Shelley herself embraced Romantic views in her
work, the male members of this community would not have accepted her into
29 Ross concludes that the male Romantics would not have perceived female
writers as a threat; even if females were writing, their creativity was much
different that a male's. Furthermore, Ross suggests that male Romantics
relegated women writers to their own sphere of competition, making
successful women writers compete with one another, but not with the men
who operated on a different level (30).
30 Homans' argument is a Lacanian analysis which suggests that the phallus
becomes a marker of distinction between a boy and his mother. This
distinction is furthered when the boy learns the language of his father and
joins the symbolic or figurative order of language. Because the is not present
in a girl's relationship with her mother, she never totally separates from the
mother, and therefore does not completely join her father's symbolic order of
language (Bearing 6-7).
33


their midst. The Romantics' perception of writing and gender roles therefore
contributes to the formation of Shelley's "me."
Socially Acceptable Writing vs. Unacceptable Writing. Other literature
published during the period echoed the male Romantic's perception of
gender, and perhaps furthered Mary Shelley's absorption of the social
generalized other's attitudes. As Davidoff and Hall note, literature played a
key role in developing the social concepts of gender and domesticity, which
formed the foundation of middle class propriety. Much of the literature, such
as the works Hannah More, attempted to improve morality by clarifying the
proper roles for men and women (155). Other women's literature echoed the
gender roles that More prescribed. At this time, socially acceptable women's
writing-- autobiographies, prophecies, hymns and spiritual reflections had a
religious or moral purpose (Laurence 172).31 Society accepted these works
because they were written at home, did not take a writer away from her
domestic duties, and in fact, helped preserve the moral sanctity of the home.
Furthermore, women's genres religious literature such as hymns and
domestic stories-could be trivialized by male writers as insignificant
"scribblings." Hymns and other religious writing were insignificant in the
literary realm; novels (written by men) were significant literature (Lewis
31 Some polemic literature evaluated politics, education and marriage, but
these works "rarely earned anything but execration for their excursions into
print" (Laurence 173). While some women did support themselves as
journalists (like Mary Wollstonecraft) or as religious writers (like Hannah
More) the majority of them publicly claimed that they did not write for profit
(Laurence 175).
34


Shipman 45).32
As a horror story, Shelley's Frankenstein theoretically would not have
fallen into a socially acceptable category, and perhaps Shelley encoded the
social generalized other's beliefs about gender to make her work more
acceptable. Ashley Cross suggests that Frankenstein attempted to support
society's belief that women should not write for profit. Cross argues that
Shelley's language and storyline, which support social beliefs regarding
gender, reveal that the female cannot be empowered by language and
writing, and that a female's written use of "male language" could transform
the female writer into a monster in the eyes of the androcentric culture (549).
Shelley's "me" also must have been conscious of the literary world's attitudes
towards female gothic novelists, attitudes which Stephen Behrendt argues
gave publishers and critics the "power to silence the woman writer by
denying her access to an audience or by so characterizing her efforts as to
render them wholly unattractive to the inquisitive reader"(138). To male
writers and publishers, the gothic novel threatened to allow women power
and importance in the literary world. Bradford Mudge theorizes that the
controversy over the gothic novel corresponds to the middle class' rising
concerns over prostitution (93). He suggests that the middle class saw little
difference between a woman physically removing her clothes for money, and
a woman figuratively exposing herself by writing for a profit. Such a view
directly relates to the middle class's attempt to establish a stable and moral
32 Davidoff and Hall argue that More's ideas were contested by some parts of
society, who believed that reading and writing were "dangerous ground,"
particularly for women (155).
35


society. If women were excluded from most public activities, they also
should be excluded from "prostituting" themselves by writing literature for
sale. These beliefs led reviewers and publishers to denigrate the gothic genre
as a "prostitution" of a true literary work, allowing reviewers to believe "that
their literary Edens, like their middle-class domiciles, remained unblemished
by female desire" (Mudge 98). Asa female writer, Shelley comprehended
both the middle class and Romantic disdain for women's literature that
challenged prescribed gender roles. Perhaps hoping to separate herself from
other female literature that attempted to compete stylistically and
economically with male literature, Shelley's "me" encoded the generalized
other's attitudes about gender.
The Social Generalized Other and Frankenstein. Shelley's Frankenstein
exemplifies society's defined gender roles and demonstrates that on some
level, Shelley's "me" internalized the ideas of the social (and by extension,
literary) generalized other. In conforming to these social codes, Shelley not
only suggested that the attitude of the community was her own, but by role
playing (through writing), she also demonstrated an understanding of what
was acceptable in the social and literary worlds; women remained in the
domestic realm, and men governed the public and private realm, created
36


stories of horror, and wrote Romantic literature.33 The social generalized
other influenced Frankenstein in several ways. First, Frankenstein reflects the
middle class's hardening perception of gender roles and its valuation of the
home. Second, the novel portrays many women as the "Angel Mother" (Tosh
45), whose natural maternity reveals their moral qualities. Third, the novel
attempts to become more socially acceptable because it was published
anonymously and imitated the works of respected writers such as Coleridge
and Milton. Both Stephen Behrendt and Maiy Poovey link Mary Shelley's
views to her community. Behrendt suggests that Shelley's work evidences her
absorption of gender roles, and intends to "perpetuate women's oppression
by discouraging public roles for women" (134). Poovey argues that Shelley
intended to foreground the domestic sphere as the regulating force in human
life. As Victor and Walton step outside of this sphere, they fall prey to
egocentrism. According to Poovey, Frankenstein supports the notion that
when an individual is governed by domestic love, he is protected, but when
he leaves this guiding force, he is relegated to a life of isolation ("The Lady"
33 Mary Poovey's work "My Hideous Progeny: The Lady and the Monster"
suggests that in 1831 Maiy Shelley found her novel "perverse"because she
had wandered outside of the domestic sphere. Therefore, Shelley intended in
her 1831 introduction to justify her "audacity" in creating such a horrific
work, and to assure her readers that she was no longer the "defiant, self-
assertive girl who once dared to explore ambition and even to seek fame
herself without the humility proper to a lady"(100). Poovey argues that
Shelley believes her boldness to be a defiance against the social order, making
her literary work "perverse," because she has substituted a "hideous corpse"
for the more natural "cradle of life" (100-101). As she has failed to conform to
male stereotypes of women, Shelley has exiled herself from her maternal
nature. Therefore, Shelley's fear of artistic creation (manifested in her
"hideous progeny" and the monster himself) stems from a guilt of exceeding
her proper societal role (101-102).
37


84-85).
Captain Walton is the first character to express Shelley's belief in the
importance of the home. At the beginning of the novel, he writes to his sister
Margaret Saville, who symbolizes Walton's link to home and social stability.34
Remaining in England, Margaret regards her brother's quest to the North
Pole "with. . evil forebodings" (1818 7). Here, Shelley establishes
Margaret as a guardian against evil, a fact that is reinforced when Walton
encounters Victor Frankenstein and his creature; the former a man whose
careless creation of life leads to the destruction of many other lives, and the
latter a being whose inability to fit into society causes him to declare war on
humanity. Walton associates Margaret with morality and goodness, linking
her name and very being to heaven, love and kindness. Although Shelley
does not include Margaret's response,35 she is an important nexus in the text;
her stable, domestic realm in England counterbalances the wildness of the
Arctic and the madness of Victor Frankenstein. In his third letter, Walton
assures her that "for my own sake, as well as your's [sic], I will not rashly
encounter danger. I will be cool, persevering, and prudent" (1818 12).
Walton's behavior at the end of the novel also demonstrates his link to
34 Behrendt argues Walton "casts [Margaret] in a role as sanctifier, whose
province it is to hear, understand, sympathize, and approve" (133), and
Dickerson suggests that Margaret represents Walton's "keeper" or a person
who maintains harmony between near and distant relationships (83).
35 According to Bachelor, Walton's epistolary narrative framework suggests
the power of male language over the feminine, as Walton's sister Margaret
Saville becomes an image of stable domesticity, but one who has lost her
voice to the male (363-4).
38


Margaret and society; he understands that he cannot risk the lives of his crew
to help Victor pursue his creature. Thus, by placing Margaret Saville at the
margin of the novel, Shelley reinforces society's belief that women are
guiding moral forces for men.
Shelley's internalization of the generalized other's belief that home and
domesticity are society's nucleus is evident also in her description of Victor's
family and childhood. Her portrayal of Victor's family intimates that the
Frankenstein name, which represents domestic stability and life-giving
qualities, should be a guiding force in Victor's life.36 Shelley criticizes Victor
because he ignores the attitudes of his family, violates nature, and ultimately
isolates himself from society (represented by his death in the frozen Arctic).
Because Victor does not internalize the importance and sociality of the
domestic sphere, he isolates himself from the world in small room above his
apartment to create a being that will destroy his life and the lives of his
family.
Shelley indicts Victor by contrasting his actions with his family's. In
his narrative in chapter one, Victor describes the Frankenstein name and the
nobility associated with it; the Frankensteins are a family that charitably save
others and value domesticity. Specifically, Victor recounts the story of his
parents, in which his father marries the young, orphaned Caroline Beaufort to
save her from poverty and starvation. Shelley extends the importance of this
36 Bernard Duyfhuizen notes that a family name merely establishes the
accepted modes of behavior and not necessarily identity (479). Therefore, by
Shelley's emphasis of Victor's family's behavior reveals her criticism of
Victor's behavior.
39


rescue through art; Alphonse Frankenstein's favorite painting depicts
Caroline Beaufort kneeling at her father's casket with "an air of dignity and
beauty, that hardly permitted the sentiment of pity" (1818 49). This art
serves as a tangible example of Alphonse's nurturing qualities and Caroline
Beaufort Frankenstein's strength in despair. Shelley further emphasizes the
importance of the domestic sphere by expanding Alphonse's role as care-
giver; he chooses to participate in the domestic sphere and adopts Elizabeth
Lavenza, who in the 1818 version of the text is Victor's paternal cousin.37
Victor states that when Elizabeth's mother died, Alphonse "immediately
went to Italy that he might accompany the little Elizabeth to her future home"
(1818 19). Alphonse's status as a care-giver is somewhat tempered by
Elizabeth's inherited wealth; "her mother's fortune is secured to her" (1818
19) and therefore, she is not financially beholden to those who adopt her.38
The Frankenstein family also adopts Justine Moritz; Caroline Frankenstein
rescues Justine from a life of hardship and neglect, and even though Justine
works as her servant, Caroline provides her with an exceptional education.
Through each of the preceding situations, Shelley reveals the importance of
37 In the 1831 version of Frankenstein. Caroline Frankenstein is captivated by
Elizabeth's golden beauty, and insists on taking her home as a "gift" for her
son.
38 Elizabeth's inheritance also establishes her as an independent woman; she is
not "kept" by the Frankenstein family, but is self-sustaining. In the 1831
version, Elizabeth is being cared for by a family that has fallen upon hard
times. Having no means to care for Elizabeth, the family relinquishes her care
to Caroline Frankenstein, whose wealth promises that Elizabeth will have a
"proper" upbringing (cf 1831 35).
40


domestic stability and helping those in need.
If Victor's family represents Shelley's reverence for the domestic
sphere, then Victor's spontaneous actions of creation and abandonment
represent her criticism of those who do not respect this realm.39 Victor's first
crime is that he circumvents the maternal by creating his monster, which
leads to the deaths of Justine and Elizabeth, who exemplify femininity.
Victor's crime stems from his inability to temper his desires, and because of
this, he loses total control. Victor describes his passionate interest in
metaphysics and explains how his "insensible steps" led to the "birth of
passion, which afterwards ruled my destiny." Likening his passions to a
mountain river, Victor recounts how the water swelled, becoming a "torrent
which, in its course, has swept away all my hope and joys" (1818 21).
Victor's initial response to his living creature's appearance also reflects his
uncontrolled passions; he suggests that his "ardour [to create] that far
exceeded moderation" is responsible for his odious handiwork. Secondly, his
initial response to his creature is to flee, an action that opposes the
responsible behavior of a parent. Shelley indicts Victor because he cannot
control his passions, and does not accept responsibility for his uncontrolled
actions. Even when he self-consciously reflects on his past behaviors, Victor
39 While Victor's creation of a "hideous progeny" suggests a similarity to
Mary Shelley's creation of her novel, Shelley most likely did not intend to
create a parallel between herself and Victor. Victor is referred to as the
"author" of the creature, a reference that critics such as Gilbert and Gubar
and Poovey suggest demonstrates Mary Shelley's "anxiety of authorship."
However, the word "author" is not Mary Shelley's own; it was added to her
manuscript by Percy Shelley (Mellor "Choosing a Text" 33). Shelley the
woman writer and Victor the scientist diverge in their understanding of the
importance of the generalized other's attitudes about domesticity.
41


does not assume responsibility for his impulsiveness;40 instead he faults
family, specifically his father. Victor suggests that had Alphonse explained
modem science's advances since Aggripa, rather than labeling the work "sad
trash," he might have just "thrown Aggripa aside, and with my imagination
warmed as it was, should probably have applied myself to the more rational
theory of chemistry" (1818 21). While Bowerbank argues that this passage
reflects Victor's underlying attempt to question his father's justice (419), it
also reveals a final example of Victor's disregard for domesticity; he faults his
family for his own short-comings.
Caroline's act of rescuing Justine also exemplifies an additional
perception of Shelley's generalized other the altruistic mother.41 Shelley
40 Wohlpart suggests that Victor's abandonment of his creature demonstrates
that Victor has neglected his moral responsibility to his creature.
Furthermore, Victor is immoral because he excludes the female from his
creative process, an act which makes his creation monstrous (and thus
immoral). Wohlpart interprets Victor's immoral assumption of the female as
Shelley's indictment of the male Romantics, especially Percy Shelley and
Byron, whose creativity also ignores the feminine (266). Kate Ellis contends
that Victor cannot assume responsibility because of his family's
preoccupation with domestic affection. Because the family excludes evil from
their world, Victor cannot cope with his actions. Ellis argues that the family's
need for domestic affection causes them to perpetuate the separation of male
and female spheres (137).
41 Bowerbank argues that all the women in Frankenstein represent the
"predictable self-sacrificing female entity which preserves domestic bliss"
(421). Dickerson suggests that all of the women in Frankenstein are "ghosts"
whose connection to the private sphere makes them silent listeners; "their
passivity, their nurturing, their soft and muted tones simultaneously
undermine the concreteness of their identities rendering them materially,
politically, and socially less potent even as their angelic qualities enhance
their potential fro domestic and spiritual power" (85).
42


contrasts Caroline with Justine's mother to emphasize the importance of
nurturing: Caroline surrounds Justine with love and comfort; Mrs. Moritz
suffers from a "strange perversity" (1818 40), which causes her to reject
Justine. Shelley emphasizes Mrs. Moritz's perversity by describing her later
behavior toward Justine:
The poor woman was very vacillating in her repentance.
She sometimes begged Justine to forgive her unkindness,
but much oftener accused her of having caused the deaths
of her brothers and sister. Perpetual fretting at length
threw Madame Moritz into a decline, which at first
increased her irritability, but she is now at peace for ever.
(1818 41)
Here, Shelley portrays Mrs. Moritz as the antithesis of domesticity; her
unnatural treatment of her daughter results in her own decline and death.
When Elizabeth falls ill with scarlet fever, Caroline's status as the angelic
mother elevates. Unable to stay away from "her favorite," Caroline exposes
herself to the disease, and dies three days later.42 Before her death, however,
Caroline bequeaths her legacy of maternity to Elizabeth, remarking
Elizabeth, my love, you must supply my place to your
younger cousins. Alas! I regret that I am taken from you;
and, happy and beloved as I have been, is it not hard to quit
you all? But these are not thoughts befitting me; I will
endeavour to resign myself cheerfully to death, and will
indulge a hope of meeting you in another world.
(1818 24-25)
42 The 1831 version of the novel elevates Caroline's angelic status to an even
greater degree. Victor describes how Elizabeth's life was "menaced" but
Caroline's "watchful attentions triumphed over the malignity of the
distemper Elizabeth was saved, but the consequences of this imprudence
were fatal to her preserver" (1831 42).
43


Caroline's death-bed speech not only reveals her status as the nurturing
mother, but also combines her natural maternal qualities with moral ones.
She loves her family so much that she is saddened by her impending death.
However, her religious beliefs temper this sadness, and she quietly accepts
the divine promise of an afterlife with her loved ones.
A final way that Frankenstein exemplifies Shelley's "me" is through
her conformity to social perceptions of male and female writers. First, she
anonymously published her 1818 version of Frankenstein. which suggests
that Shelley understood that women should not write works filled with
murder and monstrosity.43 At the time the novel was published, most writers
and reviewers believed that the author was male; when Shelley's sex became
known, however, many critics used this fact as an additional reason to
denigrate the novel. An anonymous reviewer for The British Critic lambasted
the novel, and concluded his review with an indictment of Shelley herself:
The writer of [the novel] is, we understand, a female; this is
an aggravation of that which is the prevailing fault of the
novel; but if our authoress can forget the gentleness of her
sex, it is no reason why we should; and we shall therefore
dismiss the novel without further consent. (438)
This statement reveals a potential reason for why Shelley anonymously
published Frankenstein: her very sex was a reason why the novel would not
be accepted in society. Simply by writing for profit, Shelley threatened the
male literary community. Moreover, in spite of the novel's support of
43 Regina Oost argues that Shelley's comprehension of social codes led her to
allow to Percy to write the 1818 preface, which intended to "disarm
potentially resisting readers by asserting the writer's commitment to
uncontroversial values" (30-31).
44


society's gender perceptions, Frankenstein accentuates grave robbing,
murder, and violating the natural order. This subject matter aggravated
Shelley's audience, as it was not a socially acceptable topic for anyone, least of
all for a woman.
Perhaps Shelley's "me"also attempted to make Frankenstein socially
acceptable by drawing motifs and themes from respected literary works such
as S. T. Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner and John Milton's Paradise
Lost.44 Through her use of Coleridge's and Milton's ideas and themes, Shelley
reveals her participation in Mead's "game" in which the appropriate behavior
of one player causes appropriate responses from other players. (151). Shelley
"plays"(in Mead's sense of the word) at being a writer. By alluding to
respected literary works, she assumes a specific role (that of respected male
44 Scholarship that has been written about the connection between Paradise
Lost and Frankenstein falls into two categories. The first group of critics such
as Harold Bloom,"Frankenstein, or the New Prometheus."Partisan Review. 32
,1965: 611-618; Burton R. Pollin, "Philosophical and literary Sources of
Frankenstein." Comparative Literature 17 (1965): 97-108; Milton A. Mays,
"Mary Shelley's Black Theodicy." Southern Humanities Review 3 (1969): 146-
153; and Leslie Tannenbaum, "From Filthy Type to Truth: Miltonic Myth in
Frankenstein." Keats-Shellev Toumal 26 (1977): 101-113 interpret Frankenstein
as a Romantic retelling of Paradise Lost. The second group of critics such as
Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic. New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1979; Mary Jacobus, "Is There a Woman in this
Text?" New Literary History 14:1 (1982): 117-142; Margaret Homans, "Bearing
Demons: Frankenstein's Circumvention of the Maternal." Frankenstein Ed.
Fred Botting. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995:140-165; Chris Baldick, hi
Frankenstein's Shadow: Myth. Monstrosity and Nineteenth Century Writing.
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987; and Chris Lamb, "Mary Shelley's
Frankenstein and Milton's Monstrous Myth." Nineteenth-Century Literature
47:3 (1992): 303-319; argue that Frankenstein criticizes Paradise Lost's concept
of social identity and misogyny.
45


writer), and hopes that her actions (writing) will produce appropriate
responses (ie acceptance) from the other players (her audience). Shelley
attempts to make Frankenstein acceptable to her audience by employing the
moral themes present in Rime and Paradise Lost. Both works address the
consequences of poor choices. In Rime, the Mariner incorrectly chooses to kill
the albatross and is haunted by the stare of the dead crewmen's eyes, and in
Paradise Lost. Satan chooses to war against God and is sentenced to Hell, and
Adam and Eve choose to fall from Grace and are banished from Eden. By
connecting Victor's decision to create life (and attempt to become a "god") to
these literary precedents, Shelley elevates the significance of Victor's choice
and uses it to further vilify him. Victor not only violates natural law by
creating life, he also destroys life by ignoring his creature.45 Moreover,
Shelley reiterates the importance of her theme by employing narrative
devices found in Rime and Paradise Lost the motifs of the power of
45 Shelley establishes links between the Mariner, Satan, Adam and Eve and
Victor in Frankenstein. She directly quotes Rime's description of the dread
caused by the dead crewmen's eyes, and likens their stare to the creature's.
This occurs three times in the novel: at the creature's first moment of life, at
the moment that Victor decides to destroy the creature's female companion,
and at the moment that Victor sees the creature and realizes he has killed
Elizabeth. In each of these instances, the creature's gaze faults Victor for
slowly destroying the creature's life. Frankenstein also connects to Paradise
Lost through direct textual references. When the creature is shunned by
society, he becomes "like the archfiend" bearing "a hell within" and declares
an "everlasting war against the species, and more than all, against him who
had formed me, and sent me forth to this insupportable misery" (1818132).
Furthermore, the creature remonstrates with Victor that he "ought to be they
Adam" but is "rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no
misdeed" (1818 77).
46


language and the "glittering eye." Like Satan and the Mariner, Victor, the
"divine wanderer," (1818 16) possesses the power to bewitch his listener with
his story, which Beth Newman argues represents Victor's "glittering
eye"(145).46 Shelley's connection to the other two works reveals her belief that
the characters in each work must be regarded and listened to very carefully;
the Mariner comprehends the importance of nature and the foolishness of
rash actions, Satan's speech represents the danger of false flattery and
temptation, and Victor reveals the folly of unchecked imagination and
passionate intensity.
Frankenstein's adherence to socially derived gender roles, reverence
for the domestic sphere and acceptance of literary gender roles, reveals that
Shelley's "me" embraced the attitudes of her social and literary generalized
other. Furthermore, her use of additional respected literary sources such as
Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Paradise Lost exemplified her desire to
adhere to the attitudes of the literary generalized other and to write a work
directly connected to revered men's literary works.
The Familial Generalized Other:
Literary Context of Godwin. Wollstonecraft
and Percy Shelley
While Mary Shelley's social/literary generalized other upheld
hardening gender roles that embraced domesticity and maternal love (and
therefore placed women within the home), her second generalized other,
46 Peter Brooks suggests that the creature's language and ability to bewitch
Victor also represents the Mariner's "glittering eye" (207).
47


comprised of her parents William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft and
husband Percy Shelley encouraged her to step out of the domestic realm,
write, and make a literary name for herself. Godwin's, Wollstonecraft's and
Percy Shelley's radical and revolutionary philosophies were the antithesis of
society's traditional views, and therefore do not seem to represent a
generalized other. However, in the context of Mead's theories, the three
comprised another group, or generalized other, whose ideas and beliefs Mary
Shelley adopted. Mead's concept of "generalized other" not only refers to the
general beliefs of society as a whole, but also to the views of smaller sub-
groups within this society. To use Mead's metaphor, Godwin, Wollstonecraft
and Percy Shelley represent another "team" for which Shelley plays. This
game is structured much like the social generalized other's game (with
players who fulfill specific roles and respond in specific ways), but is played
with different rules and behaviors. While Godwin, Wollstonecraft and Percy
Shelley criticized society, their attempt to better it through their literature
demonstrated their interaction with the social generalized other, which
according to Mead's theories, revealed their consciousness of social
expectations. Mead allows for criticism of the generalized other, and suggests
that the self-conscious individual must assume some of the ideas of the group
before she is able to express her views on social problems which affect her
specific group or community (156-157). Therefore, Mead argues that any
group that embraces specific attitudes and influences others represents a type
of generalized other, even if this group's beliefs oppose another group's
beliefs; in effect, Godwin, Wollstonecraft and Percy Shelley's criticism create
48


another sub-level of society that influences Shelley's ideas and writing.
The Context of Family Politics. Much of Mary Shelley's work reflects
William Godwin's radical and revolutionary beliefs. Written at a time when
England was reeling from the social upheaval in France, Godwin's Enquiry
Concerning the Nature of Political Tustice (1793) urges England to follow in
France's footsteps and to establish a government in which an egalitarian
society determined justice. Godwin's work openly praises France's reform,
which he believed taught men to embrace equality and independence
(Seymour 6-7). Moreover, Baldick notes that Godwin's novels Caleb
Wililams (1794) and St. Leon. A Tale of the Sixteenth Century (1799) have a
combined moral and revolutionary purpose, urging readers to learn from
heroes who search for a fantastic element, fail to benefit humankind and hurt
their loved ones (36).
Mary Wollstonecraft's works also criticized society, but from a feminist
point of view. Wollstonecraft shared Godwin's dream of an egalitarian
society in which all members male and female- played an important role.
Her Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) stresses the need to educate
women so that they might "restore their sexless humanity" and overcome a
male dominated British society that limits their potential by defining them by
their gender (7). Vindication also faults England's educational system,
arguing that its faults lie in the texts written by men "who considering
females rather as women than human creatures, have been more anxious to
make them alluring mistresses than affectionate wives and rational mothers"
(7). Youngquist argues that Wollstonecraft's utopia represents a qualified
49


androgyny, for she does suggest that women should maintain conventional
roles of wife and mother, as long as they practice these roles within a society
that does not restrict them to such roles only (340).
Wollstonecraft's The Wrongs of Woman or Maria (1798) extends this
feminist argument, conveying what Bachelor calls Wollstonecraft's fear of the
"authentic feminine voice" being taken over by an androcentric society (348).
Bachelor suggests that Wollstonecraft's novel stresses the importance of
education for women, so that they might become significant members of the
community. Her characters attempt to redefine themselves as "obstacles to,
rather than victims of, social oppression" (351). As in Vindication.
Wollstonecraft bases her idealized community upon the notion that women
must be educated so that they may participate in the public social community
(Bachelor 356). The fate that befalls Wollstonecraft's heroine, however,
reveals her criticism of society; for attempting to become a part of the public
community, Maria is declared criminally insane (Bachelor 360).
Percy Shelley was a final member of Shelley's familial other. Percy
Shelley was William Godwin's student, and he shared Godwin's
revolutionary ideas. His work Queen Mab. published in 1813, was a
Godwinian dream vision, and he spent much of his life championing
Godwin's cause and fighting against oppression. For example, Percy Shelley
married his first wife Harriet because he felt her father oppressed her, and he
spent a year in Ireland arguing against the Protestant aristocracy and urging
for Catholic emancipation and assistance for the poor. In works such as
"Sonnet: England in 1819," he criticizes the rulers of England, who "leechlike
50


to their fainting country cling,/Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow"
(li. 5-6) as well as the military, the "Christless, Godless" Church of England
and the Senate, hoping that the "glorious Phantom" (li. 11) of revolution
would soon "burst to illumine our tempestuous day" (li. 14). Percy Shelley's
revolutionary works also reveal his belief that the poet acts as a nexus
between the spiritual, enlightened realm of nature and the regular world of
society. In his "Defense of Poetry," published in 1840 by Mary Shelley, he
argues that poets not only create beauty, they also function as "the institutors
of laws, and the founders of civil society, and the inventors of the arts of life"
(698). For Percy Shelley, the poet assumes an important responsibility to
society, for through his works he fulfills his role as a prophet and a legislator,
for he not only beholds intensely the present as it is, and
discovers those laws according to which present things ought
to be ordered, but he beholds the future in the present, and
his thoughts are the germs of the flower and the fruit of latest
time" (698).
The attitudes of Godwin and Wollstonecraft and Percy Shelley
represent a foundation of Mary Shelley's philosophical beliefs. By studying
her parents' and husbands' works, Shelley acquired their attitudes and
became a part of their generalized other. Therefore, Frankenstein exemplifies
Shelley's adoption of her familial generalized other's beliefs.
The Familial Generalized Other and Frankenstein. Shelley's name
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (and, in 1817, Shelley) revealed her
tremendous literary heritage, and identified her need to live up to the
51


accomplishments of her familial generalized other.47 Perhaps this generalized
other exerted the most influence on Shelley; her parents' and husband's
influences on Frankenstein reveal that Shelley's "me" assumed their attitudes
and wished to write works worthy of her family heritage.
In her 1831 introduction, Shelley acknowledges her desire to live up to
her parents' literary talents. She writes "It is not singular that, as the
daughter of two persons of distinguished literary celebrity, I should very
early in life have thought of writing" (1831 5). Shelley connects her own
work to her parents' work by describing how her heritage influenced her
decision to become a writer. This connection reveals Mead's theories on the
development of her "me;" as child, she plays (to use Mead's term) at being a
writer, and assumes this role in her familial community Shelley continues in
her 1831 introduction by describing her childhood attempts at writing, and
states that her first works were not her own: "I was a dose imitator rather
doing as others had done than putting down the suggestions of my own
mind. What I wrote was intended at least for one other eye my childhood's
companion and friend48 (1831 5). Shelley's reference to "doing what others
had done" links her writing to her parents' writing (as well as others who had
written before her), and suggests that she consdously wished to become a
part of the familial generalized other.
47 Shelley's name also demonstrates a tremendous burden, which Bernard
Duyfhuizen suggests overwhelmed Shelley's identity (477).
48 One of the Baxter daughters. Because of her strained relationship with her
step-mother Mary Jane Clairmont, Shelley was sent, at the age of 12, to
Dundee, Scotland, to live with the family of David Baxter.
52


Many of the radical messages in Frankenstein also suggest Godwin's
and Wollstonecraft's influence on Shelley's "me." For example, Victor
Frankenstein's quest for scientific knowledge fails and ends in his family's
destruction, a plot line that mirrors William Godwin's Caleb Wililams and St.
Leon. A Tale of the Sixteenth Century (Baldick 36).49 Bachelor argues that
Victor's family represents the Godwinian utopia; it is a community based on
feelings, in which each individual is encouraged to develop his/her own
interests and talents. Although Bachelor claims that Victor's passion for
science represents his status as a "revolutionary" suppressed by a rigid
society who "devalues the free expression of feeling and thought that shaped
the young scientist's mind and spirit" (354), he is in fact the antithesis of
Godwin's ideal revolutionary; Victor rejects the creature based on his
appearance alone, and therefore destroys any meritorious "revolutionary"
actions. Thus, Shelley's criticism of Victor reveals a consciousness of her
father's political beliefs.
Another way that Frankenstein reveals Shelley's assumption of her
father's political beliefs occurs in her thinly veiled criticism of society. Felix
describes society's
49According to Bowerbank, Frankenstein contains an "inconsistent Godwinian
ideal" because the creature, who represents Godwin's innocent outcast who is
persecuted by society, often denigrates himself for his crimes against the
society he abhors (424).
53


division of property, of immense wealth and squalid
poverty; of rank, descent, and noble blood. . the
possessions most esteemed by your fellow-creatures were
high and unsullied by descent united with riches. A man
might be respected with only one of these acquisitions, but
without either he was considered, except in very rare
instances, as a vagabond and a slave, doomed to waste his
powers for the profit of the chosen few. (1818 80)
Shelley's obvious criticism of the traditional class system prompts the
creature to question "But what was I?" (1818 80). This question reveals
Shelley's use of her father's revolutionary ideas; because society's emphasis
on wealth and status warps relationships, the creature who "possess[es] no
money, no friends, no kind of property" (1818 80) cannot understand himself,
or his place in this society. Therefore, Shelley's critique of a society that
excludes a monster based on his social status reflects Godwin's argument for
a unified society, and reveals that Shelley's "me" incorporates and upholds
her father's philosophies.
Frankenstein also reflects Shelley's attempt to echo Mary
Wollstonecraft's feminist beliefs. According to Baldick, the importance of
education to Victor, the creature and Safie parallels the ideas in Mary
Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Man and Vindication of the
Rights of Women, works that associate utopian communities with the
presence of educated men and women (36-37). Bachelor argues that
Frankenstein's silenced womenElizabeth, Caroline Beaufort Frankenstein
and Justine echo the ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft, who feared that female
54


voices would be silenced by male voices.50 Gary Kelly suggests that Shelley
adopted her mother's autobiographical style to criticize her society, especially
the masculine attempt to force women into the private sphere (22).51 Kelly
adds that each woman's narrative techniques (namely the "confessional"
style of first person narrators) exemplifies their critique of the social, political
and economic orders, because these orders place the narrators under duress,
therefore proving the inadequacies of the current social construct (27).
Finally, Nancy Yousef contends that Shelley internalized her mother's views
by rejecting Rousseau's theories on "natural man" and motherhood (214). By
combining the theories of each critic, a reader discerns that Shelley's "me"
absorbed her mother's theories on education and gender, and incorporated
them into Frankenstein. Perhaps Shelley incorporated these views to
demonstrate her desire to write literature as influential and important as
what her mother wrote.
Percy Shelley exerted the greatest influence on Frankenstein's creation.
50 Youngquist argues that Shelley rejects her mother's feminism to "more
deeply investigate the feminine" (339).
51 Kelly assumes that Shelley intended Frankenstein to be a reflection of her
personal experiences in society. Kelly's analysis is similar to Barbara
Johnson's, which argues that Frankenstein is an autobiographical work that
reflects Shelley's fear of motherhood. Kelly concludes that Wollstonecraft
uses an autobiographical form to voice her criticism, a discourse that allowed
female revolutionaries a voice in an otherwise masculine domain. After the
revolution, society became suspicious of revolutionary excess, and instead
embraced literature of sensibility, which moved feminine subjects into the
private and domestic sphere, making the home a foundation for community,
nation and empire, and feminized the male subject, making him the
foundation of the public and political sphere (21-22).
55


Not only does the novel's title Frankenstein: or the Modem Prometheus
allude to Shelley's work "Prometheus Unbound," the work also contains
allusions and specific quotations from Percy Shelley's works "Alastor" and
"Mont Blanc." Moreover, Shelley allowed Percy Shelley to edit and correct
her novel, perhaps deferring to a more experienced writer's opinions. Percy
altered the style and content of the novel in several ways. In "Choosing a
Text of Frankenstein to Teach," Mellor contrasts Shelley's original manuscript
with Percy Shelley's revised version (the 1818 text) and reveals that Percy
improved the novel by correcting factual errors, correcting grammatical
mistakes, strengthening transitions between paragraphs and improving the
stylistic flow (33). However, Mellor also notes that Percy altered his wife's
portrayal of her characters and the novel's message. Mellor's analysis of
Percy's corrections demonstrates that Percy, unlike Shelley, believed the
creature to be more of a monster than a man, and overlooked many of the
flaws in Victor's character. Mellor also argues that Percy Shelley added his
own philosophical and political beliefs (33). For example, Percy's atheistic
view of the world contrasts with Shelley's more spiritual portrayal of the
world. In her original manuscript, Shelley portrayed Victor's desire to find
the monster as "task enjoined by heaven", while Percy altered the Victor's
motivation, suggesting that it was "the mechanical impulse of some power of
which I [Victor] was unconscious" (qtd in "Choosing a Text" 33).
Percy Shelley also altered the novel's ending by rewriting the last line.
Mary's original last line read "I soon lost sight of him [the creature] in the
darkness and distance," while Percy's revised line reads ""he disappeared in
56


darkness and distance." Mellor contends that Shelley's version leaves open
the possibility that the creature is still alive (especially because his promise to
build a funeral pyre for Victor and then throw himself upon it would be very
hard to fulfill at the North Pole). Percy's version, on the other hand, provides
what Mellor feels is a false sense of closure to the novel ("Choosing a Text"
33-34). Shelley's compliance with her husband's revisions reveals an
additional example of her "me" responding to the attitudes of the familial
generalized other. Because Shelley respected Percy's literary prowess and
assumed his radical philosophy, she allowed him to edit her novel..
By adopting the beliefs of her parents, employing her mother's writing
style and allowing her husband to edit her novel, Shelley's "me" assumed the
attitudes of her familial generalized other. Her social criticism and fear of
women's voices being silenced associated Frankenstein with the works of
William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft and allowed Shelley to fulfill her
literary destiny. Moreover, Percy's editing reflected Shelley's desire for her
novel to realize her husband's ideals as well. William Godwin believed that
Shelley's novel lived up to the attitudes of the familial generalized other. In
an 1823 letter, he wrote to Mary that her novel was "the most wonderful
work to have been written at twenty years of age [she was actually nineteen]
that I have ever heard of' (qtd in Seymour 195).
Conclusion
By participating in two contradictory generalized others the social
and literary generalized other and the familial generalized other- Mary
57


Shelley's "me"gained a unique perspective. The social generalized other's
gender expectations and perception of work and domesticity influenced
Shelley's "me," in that her novel demonstrates a criticism of Victor
Frankenstein's selfish disregard for humanity. This criticism reveals Shelley's
support of social attitudes; Victor's behavior represents his disdain for the
domestic sphere. Ironically, in spite of the novel's "unacceptable" status as a
gothic novel, Shelley's work, like other "acceptable" women's literature of her
time, upheld and contributed to society's prescripted notions of gender and
the sanctity of the home. By upholding society's views, Shelley's novel, like
the work of Hannah More and other female writers, helped prescribe specific
gender roles for men and women. Her prescriptive literature also encoded
the contradictory Romantic notions of gender; male poets assimilated
traditionally feminine qualities of emotion, intuition and a closeness to nature
at the same time that they denigrated "literary" works by women.
Essentially, Shelley's assumption of the generalized other's attitudes
confirmed Percy Shelley's claim in the 1818 preface that the novel intended to
support the "amiableness of domestic affection and the excellence of
universal virtue"Q818 6).
Frankenstein participated in society's notions of gender and the home
by placing male characters in the world of work and academics, and
removing females to the domestic sphere. Furthermore, Shelley's "me"
portrayed the home as a source of life and protection, and created altruistic
mothers whose natural roles are merged with their morality. Finally, the
novel's anonymous publication and allusions to respected, accepted literary
58


sources such as Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Paradise Lost, depicted
Shelley's attempt to gain literary "respectability" at the same time that she
upheld the social and literary community's attitudes regarding gender roles.
Shelley's criticism of Victor is complicated by her participation in the
familial generalized other. As the attitudes of this community represented a
radical departure from traditional social values and embraced revolution,
egalitarian worlds and feminist perspectives, Shelley's novel reveals a
complicated criticism of those who do not adhere to social values as well as
those who do. This contradictory support and criticism makes the novel itself
seem contradictory, representing, as Bowerbank notes, Shelley's radical and
conservative views at the same time (419).
59


CHAPTER 3
MARY SHELLEY'S CRITICAL "I"
An Overview of G.H. Mead's Ideas on the Role of the "I"
Because Shelley participated in the contradictory social and familial
generalized others, she gained a unique perspective.52 This perspective
afforded Shelley a sense of freedom that enabled her to respond to social
situations based on her individual experiences; that is, her actions revealed
her "I," which is the second part of Mead's self (196). Mead's "I" and the
"me" are not polarized; together, they create a personality in which both
aspects of the self represent distinguishable phases in the social experience.
The "me" allows for "conscious responsibility" and the "I" allows for novelty.
An individual's novel response has the power to change the behaviors and
ideas of the community. Unlike the "me," which is marked by conventional,
habitual responses that connect a person to a community, the "I" is reflected
in an individual's reaction to the community and attempt to express herself:
52 Anne K. Mellor argues that Mary Shelley also belonged to a group of
writers she labels "Feminine Romantics" who wrote moral didactic novels.
As moral teachers, these writers (Mary Wollstonecraft, Maria Edgeworth,
Helen Maria Williams, Mary Hays, Susan Ferrier, Jane Austen and Mary
Shelley) subtly criticized the intellectual and moral flaws of both their
masculine and feminine characters, and challenged the conservative views of
Hannah More who upheld the separation of spheres (Romanticism and
Gender 40-41). If Shelley participated in this writing tradition, as Mellor
suggests, this placed her in another smaller group who opposed the ideas of
the larger social order, and therefore allowed her another occasion to voice
her opinions on social codes.
60


"The attitudes involved are gathered from the group, but the individual in
whom they are organized has the opportunity of giving them an expression
which perhaps has never taken place before" (197-98). This unique response
allows an individual to assert herself against the social order; the "I"
represents an individual's desire for freedom from the social order, a freedom
which is possible only if an individual from a smaller community appeals to a
larger community, a community that is
larger in the logical sense of having rights which are not
so restricted. One appeals from fixed conventions which
no longer have any meaning to a community in which the
rights shall be publicly recognized, and one appeals to
others on the assumption that there is a group of organized
others that answer to one's own appeal even if the appeal
be made to posterity. (199)
Mead argues that the "me" and the "I" are crucial to complete expression; an
individual must participate in a community and react to social attitudes in an
attempt to change them (200). The "I" is most apparent in two areas: art and
impulsive behavior. Artists demonstrate their "I" when they introduce an
original element into their work, a quality that makes the art of one person
different from that of another. Impulsive behavior also reflects the "I," which
is not "censored" by the socially conscious "me" (Mead 209).
Altering the Views of the Generalized Other
While Mary Shelley encoded the attitudes of the social and familial
generalized others as demonstrated in the previous chapter, she also
exhibited a novel "I" in her writing. An examination of her 1831
61


introduction, which "explains" her novel, and the 1818 version of
Frankenstein53 reveal that Shelley's ideas on gender roles and social
relationships make her work unique, and represent her attempt to alter the
social generalized other's views and to separate from the ideas of the familial
generalized other. Because Shelley internalized, upheld and self-consciously
reflected the attitudes of the generalized others, she also was able to challenge
gender perceptions through her writing (Mead 199). Furthermore, her text
reveals Shelley's novel interpretation of the familial generalized other's
attitudes; this is apparent in the novel's indictment of society's definition of
"monster," be it an outsider who is a deformed creature or a woman writer.
The 1831 Introduction and Shelley's "I"
The 1831 introduction, which outlines the genesis of Shelley the writer,
reflects Mead's belief that each person possesses creative and unique views
that merge with social views to create a personality and self. Specifically,
while the "me" reflects the organized set of societal attitudes that one
assumes --Shelley's support of social codes and her desire to reproduce or
reflect the ideals and talents of her parents the "I" allows for unique
53 James O'Rourke contends that while recent scholarship tends to privilege
the 1818 version as the purest version of Mary Shelley's radical ideas, the
radical edge of the 1818 version still exists in the 1831 text. He argues that an
analysis of what is missing from the introduction, as well as an analysis of the
care giver scenes in the text reveals that Shelley's radical views are still
present (365). In my discussion, I will base my analysis on the 1818 version's
depiction of the story, but will also include a discussion of the 1831
introduction. Significant changes between the 1818 version and 1831 version
that are applicable to my analysis also will be included in my discussion.
62


expressions --Shelley's explanation of her work and championing of her
literary abilities (Mead 197-198). Therefore, Shelley's self-conscious
introduction not only reflects her evaluation of her previous behavior, but
also a revelation of her imaginative power as a writer.
Many critics such as Anne K. Mellor, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar,
and Mary Poovey54 argue that Shelley's authorial introduction represents an
older Mary Shelley attempting to disavow her earlier radical ideas. Barbara
Johnson suggests that Shelley's introduction intends to usurp the parental
role [ie her parents' literary talent] and give birth to herself on paper, an
example of "figurative matricide" that parallels the death of Mary
Wollstonecraft shortly after Shelley's birth (6). The language of the 1831
introduction also reveals that Shelley attempted to separate her ideas from
her parents' and husband's ideas and to alter the the social generalized
other's view of women writers.55 While the introduction's reference to
54 Anne K. Mellor, "Choosing a Text of Frankenstein to Teach." Approaches
to Teaching Shelley's Frankenstein. Ed. Stephen C. Behrendt. New York: The
Modem Language Association of America, 1990:31-37; Sandra Gilbert and
Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic. New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1979; Mary Poovey, "'My Hideous Progeny7: The Lady and the
Monster." Modem Critical Merpretations:Franfcewsfem. Ed. Harold Bloom.
New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987: 81-106.
55 O'Rourke reads Shelley's 1831 introduction as an indictment of other
Romantic writers. Analyzing Shelley's description of the wet, rainy day that
prompted Lord Byron to suggest a ghost-story writing contest, O'Rourke
suggests that Shelley's stylistic shifts between an ornate to a simple style
reveals that for all of Lord Byron's, Percy Shelley's and Lord Polidori's
literary talents, she was the only one to finish a ghost story, as "the illustrious
poets. . annoyed by the platitude of prose, speedily relinquished their
uncongenial task" (qtd in O'Rourke 369 -370).
63


Shelley's parents reflects the influence of the familial generalized other, a
closer examination of the introduction's language and organization reveals
that Shelley also combines her discussion of her parents' influences with a
discussion of her spontaneous desire to create. In effect, she merges her "me"
with her "I" and creates her "self."
Shelley begins the 1831 introduction by describing how she, as the
"daughter of two persons of distinguished literary celebrity" began to "'write
stories'" (1831 5, emphasis M.S.'s). O'Rourke notes that while Shelley's
reference to her parents at once establishes a potential link between the
writing of Frankenstein and her early literary training, her sudden shift to a
discussion of her "dearer pleasure" (1831 5)her indulgence in "waking
dreams" also suggests that the novel's impetus stems from her imaginative
thought, not her parents' influence (373). Also significant in this passage is
Shelley's emphasis on her early acts of writing; she writes that "as a child I
scribbled; and my favourite pastime during the hours given me for recreation
was to 'write stories'"(1821 5). Shelley's emphasis of the phrase "write
stories" suggests that she does not consider her earlier works to be
representative of her literary talents. These are stories inspired by her desire
to please her reader and influenced by her parents. Shelley contrasts these
acts of "scribbling" with her "waking dreams":
64


My dreams were at once more fantastic and agreeable
than my writing. In the latter I was a close imitatorrather
doing as others had done than putting down the
suggestions of my own mind. What I wrote was intended
at least for one other eye. . but my dreams were all my
own; I accounted for them to nobody; they were my refuge
when annoyed my dearest pleasure when free. (1831 5)
In this passage, Shelley clarifies that her early writing was deeply influenced
by not only her parents, but also by her audience. She depicts her early
writing as a self-conscious act, always aware of what others would think of
her work. Her dreams, on the other hand, represent a freedom and act of
ownership for Shelley. Shelley's contrast reveals that while some of her
writing demonstrates a connection to the influences of the generalized other,
the true inspiration for her work comes from her dreams, which are "all [her]
own" and reflect her spontaneous "I."
Shelley further links her dreams to Frankenstein's creation by
describing her "waking dream" that inspired her to write the novel. She
describes her dream of a "pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the
thing he had put together. . the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out"
(9). O'Rourke argues that Shelley links her novel, the "transcript of the grim
terrors of my waking dream," to her "waking dream" and confirms that the
65


inspiration for Frankenstein was Shelley's own secret imaginings (373)
Devon Hodges suggests Shelley's reference to dreams in her introduction
reveals her intent to subvert the patriarchal tradition of novel writing. The
novel's disjointed narratives (represented by the stories of Walton, Victor and
the Creature) are all products of Mary Shelley's waking dream, and thus do
not allow the novel a conventional narrative sequence, representing Shelley's
criticism of traditional novel structures (158).56 57
56 Mary Poovey also examines the importance of Shelley's dreams on her
writing. In "My Hideous Progeny: Mary Shelley and the Feminization of
Romanticism," Poovey suggests that in discussing the influences of her
dreams, Shelley may be revealing her desire to fit into society, apologizing for
her "adolescent audacity" and explaining how she herself was a victim of
forces of inspiration beyond her control. However, in victimizing herself in
this manner, Shelley also elevates the "dilemma of the female artist to the
status of myth and sanctions the very self-expression she professes to regret"
(333). Paul Youngquist suggests that the nightmare is intended to link Mary
Shelley to Victor Frankenstein. The key difference between the two dreams is
that in Victor's dream there is no mother, which suggests that Shelley's dream
"announces a fantasy of female independence from the biological fate of
motherhood" (353).
57 According to Hodges, this thematic element is particularly evident in
Victor's egotistic belief that he will create a race of creatures in his own image
who will view him as their god. Hodges suggests that Victor's egotistic
creation and expectations of the monster's submissiveness metaphorically
represent patriarchal dominance and female submissiveness in a patriarchal
society. This metaphor is exemplified particularly in Victor's pose over his
inanimate creature; he dominantly stands erect above the creature's prone
body. Shelley interrupts this cycle of male dominance and female
submissiveness when she reveals that Victor does not possess the mastery
needed for creation and dominance; his creation is a sewn together
compilation of random parts. This disruption of Victor's mastery also serves
to disrupt the traditional narrative flow, also revealing how Shelley
challenges the patriarchal tradition's definition of narration in a text (159).
66


Shelley's introduction reveals that she understood the importance of
her "I" her imagination's expression to her writing. She contrasts the
influences of the generalized other with the influence of the "I" on her work,
and concludes that the "I"-inspired works are superior to the generalized-
other-inspired works. This idea correlates to Mead's discussion of the artist,
who produces novel elements in her work and distinguishes her art from
another's (209). Shelley begins by recounting her childhood writing
experiences in Scotland, and describes her two different styles of writing. On
the bleak banks of the Tay, she "communed with the creatures of [her] fancy"
but writes in a "common-place style." However, when Shelley describes the
writing that she did underneath the trees on the house grounds, she suggests
that these works were her "true compositions, the airy flights of [her]
imagination"(1831 6). She explains how she was never a part of these tales, as
her life was too "common-place" to be a part of such works. Shelley's
repetition of the phrase "common-place" suggests that she equated her every
day life with a type of writing disconnected from her imaginative world. In
creating such a division, Shelley clarifies that there are two sides of the writer
Mary Shelley: the writer who is "common-place" and deeply rooted in
everyday life, and the writer who is "not confined to my own identity" who
passes the hours with "creations far more interesting to me at that age than
my own sensations" (1831 6). This dichotomy suggests that Shelley
understood the influence of everyday life on her work; it was common-place
because it was what was expected of her. This demonstrates an awareness of
the generalized other's social expectations. However, Shelley's imaginative
67


writing exemplifies the "I," which she finds much more intriguing than her
common-place and habitual behaviors associated with her "me."
Shelley's analysis of Percy Shelley's influence on her writing provides
another example of the difference between her expected/common place
writing (exemplifying the ideas of the generalized other) and her imaginative
writing (exemplifying the "I"). Her discussion reveals a writer attempting to
free herself from the the expectations of the familial generalized other which
Percy represents-and express herself in a unique manner. Shelley begins by
describing how she wrote less and less when her life became busier, and
reality replaced fiction. In spite of this, she reflects how Percy was
very anxious that I should prove myself worth of my
parentage, and enroll myself on the page of fame. He was
for ever inciting me to obtain literary reputation, which even
on my own part I cared for then, though since I have
become infinitely indifferent to it. At this time he desired
that I should write, not so much with the idea that I could
produce any thing worth of notice, but that he might himself
judge how far I possessed the promise of better things
hereafter. Still I did nothing. Travelling, and the cares of a
family, occupied my time; and study, in the way of reading
or improving my ideas in communication with his far more
cultivated mind, was all of the literary employment that
engaged my attention. (1831 6)
This passage appears to be a straightforward discussion of Percy Shelley's (ie
the familial generalized other's) desire that Shelley write. Shelley links Percy
to her familial generalized other in her description; she explains how
important her literary heritage and personal fame were to her husband, and
68


that he desired that she live up to the reputation of her parents.58 However,
the passage also reveals Shelley's attempt to avoid writing "expected" (ie
common place) literature, and write because she wishes to. Shelley balks at
Percy's request that she write so that he might ascertain her potential talent.
This statement reflects Percy's desire to control her writing and to define it as
"good" or "bad" according to his own aesthetic. Shelley's following
statement-- "Still I did nothing"-- reveals that Shelley wishes to write for
herself, not her husband. Her use of the word "still" may be interpreted in
two ways. First, it reflects her desire to continue to do nothing; second, it
reflects her desire to do nothing in spite of Percy's suggestions. The former
interpretation suggests that Shelley did not wish her work to be evaluated in
such a manner, and by continuing to do nothing, she escaped Percy's
criticism. The latter interpretation intimates that Shelley's decision not to
write opposed Percy's desires, again placing her at odds with her husband
and his ideas. Although Shelley indicates that she did not write because she
was occupied with other activities, her syntactic isolation of the phrase "Still I
did nothing" reveals that Percy's influence was not entirely welcome.
By separating her writing from the influences of her parents, her
husband and her audience, Shelley expresses her "I's" novel perspective.
This perspective reflects her subtle pride in her ability to write unique works
58 The passage also could be interpreted as Shelley's attempt to modestly
devalue her accomplishments by "blaming" her husband for her unwomanly
writing career, that is she wrote because he wanted her to. While Johnson
notes that Shelley, the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, had no reason to
believe it was improper for her to write (6), the passage possibly indicates
Shelley recognizes the attitudes of the social generalized other.
69


which are the product of her own dreams and not someone else's. By
championing her own ideas, Shelley challenges the perceived notion that
women cannot produce exemplary literature.
Frankenstein's Social Criticism
Just as Mary Shelley's 1831 introduction challenges social perceptions,
the text of her 1818 novel also intends to alter the social generalized other's
prescribed beliefs. In portraying the creature's plight, Shelley demonstrates
Mead's belief that the balance of social views and an individual's creativity
allow for a 'locus of change" in society, because the individual brings
spontaneity to the social scene. This sociality occurs when a "novel event [the
"I"] is in both the old order [the "me"] and the new which its advent heralds"
(qtd in Aboulafia 19). Because it alters social views, this novel event allows
the "me" to evolve. Discussing Mead's views on sociality, Aboulafia writes:
The capacity to take the role of the other leads to the
internalization of the other, thereby giving rise to a self
which is multi-perspectival. The various perspectives are
aspects of an integrated object known as the self, or me
system, which mirrors the generalized other, while the
element of novelty, the I -pole, transforms the personality
by modifying the object self. (21, emphasis mine)
Thus, individuals cannot express unique perspectives unless they also
assume the role of the other, which allows them to become sensitized to
"being the self and other and to living in between." This multiple perspective
demonstrates an individual's ability to assume various roles within society
(Aboulafia 21).
Because Shelley upheld social attitudes at the same time that she
70


challenged them by writing, she adopted the role of the other. This otherness
allowed her to understand what it meant to be monstrous, or someone who
differed from the generalized other's norms. In Frankenstein, she criticizes
society's perception of monstrosity and attempts to alter the social
generalized other's views on acceptable behavior and perceived gender roles;
this action reveals her "I." Shelley's novel attempts to alter the attitudes of
the generalized other in two ways: first, through periphrasis59 that questions
who the true monster of her novel is, and second, through a blurring of the
binary oppositions of man/monster, writer/female writer, and man/woman.
Periphrasis and the Binary Opposition of Man/Monster. Through
Frankenstein. Shelley's "I" attempts to alter the generalized other's definition
of monstrosity. She begins her critique by contrasting Victor Frankenstein's
family name with the creature's lack of one. As shown in the previous
chapter, Victor's family name is associated with nobility, morality and care-
giving qualities. Lacking a surname or even a given name, Victor's creation
has no social identity by which to define himself and his actions. Bernard
Duyfhuizen notes that the periphrastic terms of "the creature," "the
wretch"and "the daemon," substitute for the creature's lack of a proper
name and establish his alienation from society (478-479). Furthermore, he
argues that Shelley's use of periphrasis (especially "wretch" and "wretched")
suggests the angst the creature suffers-as he realizes that his appearance, not
his language or behaviors, determines social acceptance (Duyfhuizen 483).
Although the term "wretch" frequently identifies the creature, Shelley first
59 The use of a longer phrase in place of a shorter one.
72


applies the term to Victor; Walton writes in his letters that he "never saw a
man in so wretched a condition" (1818 14). Shelley also describes Victor as a
wretch at moments when he comprehends his transgressions against his
creature and society. For example, after running away from his laboratory on
the night of the creature's "birth," Victor describes how he "spent the night
wretchedly" (1818 35).60 Shelley's periphrastic description of both the
creature and Victor reveals the extent of Victor's crime; the creature is
wretched because he does not fit into society; Victor, on the other hand, is
wretched because of his own actions. By employing such a contrast, Shelley
indicates that Victor is the true monster, and that those society deems
monstrous are actually the innocent victims.
Shelley's periphrastic contrast of Victor and the creature serves an
even greater linguistic purpose; her descriptions of Victor and the creature
blur the text7s binary opposites to such an extent that social codes of
acceptable behavior begin to vanish. The most obvious blurring occurs in her
depiction of the "man" and the "monster."61 She begins this criticism within
Walton's letters; he recounts seeing two individuals: one, "a being which had
60 Although Duyfhuizen recognizes that Shelley's repetition of the word
"wretch" could stem from some stylistic immaturity, he argues that she also
uses the periphrasis to develop characterization. He concludes that "'wretch'
provides a root for so many usages [within the text]. . that they form a
matrix reinforcing the narrative line" (486).
61 Fred Botting suggests that monsters appear in literary texts to signal threats
to established orders. They also represent a call to arms. As symptoms of
anxiety and instability, monsters frequently appear in revolutionary
literature. He makes a point to refer to the "monstrous" language" in
Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women (51).
72


the shape of a man, but apparently of gigantic stature" (1818 13) and the
second, "not as the other traveller seemed to be, a savage inhabitant of some
undiscovered island, but an European" (1818 13). By establishing this
contrast in die beginning, Shelley appears to uphold the society's binary
opposition of man (European) and savage (monster). However, she instead
exemplifies Mead's theory that the "I" allows individuals to reflect both a
community's ideas and at the same time, criticize them (Aboulafia 13).
Shelley uses the initial binary opposites of man and monster to reveal social
perceptions associated with each term. However, in the rest of the novel, she
criticizes this binary opposition by blurring the difference between "man"
and "monster."
Shelley first blurs the binary opposition of man/monster in Victor's
narrative. Victor's self-description reveals that he perceives himself to be a
quintessential human, possessing all the qualities expected of an upstanding
member of society: he is from a respected family, and is wealthy, educated,
intelligent and articulate. This description echoes Walton's initial description
of Victor as a "European." However, Shelley contrasts Victor's self-
perception with a description of his physical appearance and secret scientific
activities, both of which reveal his monstrous qualities. At the beginning of
the novel, Walton writes that Victor's "eyes have generally an expression of
wildness, and even madness. . he is generally melancholy and despairing;
and sometimes he gnashes his teeth, as if impatient of the weight of woes that
oppresses him" (1818 14). Later, when Clerval joins Victor in Ingolstadt,
Victor describes how Clerval noticed a "wildness in [his] eyes" (1818 37);
73


Victor also describes his reaction to Justine's impending execution: "I
gnashed my teeth, and ground them together, uttering a groan that came
from my inmost soul" (1818 57). Victor's "sdentific"actions further his
monstrous status; he robs charnel houses and animates dead human tissue,
both actions that violate social and moral standards of behavior. Perhaps
Victor's greatest crime is that his abhorrence and abandonment of his "child"
unleashes a reign of death and destruction, making Victor no better than the
creature he creates.
Shelley extends Victor's monstrous status by revealing that Victor's
actions destroy nature and innocence. Mellor notes that Victor's act of
creation represents a rape of nature, "a violent penetration and usurpation of
the female's . womb" ("Possessing Nature" 226). She contrasts his crime
with the actions of those who embrace nature and possess sympathy,
imagination, sensitivity, intelligence and devotion: the young child William,
74


and Henry Qerval ("Possessing Nature" 228). Compared to Clerval,62
Victor's betrayal of nature is obvious; not only does he violate Nature by
animating dead tissue and abandoning the child he should nurture, but when
he fails to explain who killed William and to save Justine's life, he also
abandons the innocent children associated with nature.63 Victor's monstrosity
connects to his fear of society's mockery and condemnation; he comprehends
society's belief in justice and morality, but fearing that he might be labeled a
madman and isolated from society, he does not come forward to save Justine
from execution. His description of the trial reveals that he understands the
moral course of action, but simply cannot follow it:
62 Victor describes Clerval as his opposite: "how great was the contrast
between us! He was alive to every new scene; joyful when he saw the
beauties of the setting sun, and more happy when he beheld it rise, and
recommence a new day. He pointed out to me the shifting colours of the
landscape, and the appearances of the sky." Victor's description of their trip
on the Rhine River also reveals the contrast as Clerval "felt as if he had been
transported to Fairy-land, and enjoyed a happiness seldom tasted by man."
Victor concludes that Qerval's passion for nature reveals that "he was a being
formed in the 'very poetry of nature'" whose "wild and enthusiastic
imagination was chastened by the sensibility of his heart. His soul
overflowed with ardent affections, and his friendship was of that devoted
and wondrous nature that the worldly-minded teach us to look for only in the
imagination. . The scenery of external nature, which others regard only
with admiration, he loved with ardour" (1818 106-107). Shelley concludes
Victor' description of Qerval with a passage from Wordsworth's "Tintem
Abbey" a poem which contributed to Romanticism's creation. By contrasting
Qerval and Victor in this manner, Shelley reveals that while Qerval reflects
the Romantics' ardent worship of nature, Victor reflects its destruction.
63 This concept echoes William Wordsworth's belief that children represent
the nexus between adults and nature, and between God and adults.
Wordsworth believed that children possessed an intrinsic understanding of
the natural world.
75


During the whole of this wretched mockery of justice, I
suffered living torture. It was to be decided, whether the
result of my curiosity and lawless devices would cause the
death of two of my fellow-beings: one a smiling babe, full of
innocence and joy; the other far more dreadfully murdered,
with every aggravation of infamy that could make the murder
memorable in horror. Justine also was a girl of merit, and
possessed qualities which promised to render her life happy:
now all was to be obliterated in an ignominious grave; and I
the cause! A thousand times rather would I have confessed
myself guilty of the crime ascribed to Justine; but I was absent
when it was committed, and such a declaration would have
been considered as the raving of a madman, and would not
have exculpated her who suffered through me. (1818 52)
Victor's reference to both William, the "smiling babe full of innocence and
joy," and Justine, "a girl of merit," reveals that he understands that he has
abandoned innocence because of his fear of seeming monstrous. This fear
establishes another similarity between Victor and his creation; Victor is a part
of society, but fears losing his place; the creature is not a part of society, and
fears never gaining his place. Such a contrast reveals that a society that
accepts the cowardly Victor but rejects the kind-hearted monster needs
alteration.
Even though Victor suggests that the creature's appearance "bespoke
bitter anguish combined with disdain and malignity, while [his] unearthly
ugliness rendered it almost too horrible for human eyes" (1818 65), the reader
soon realizes that the physically monstrous creature represents internal
goodness. Here, Shelley's binary contrast of man and monster reveals that
things are not always as they seem; the creature is in fact much more of a
"man" than Victor is. The creature reveals his humanity through his
76


narrative. He describes his first struggles to survive, as well as his slow
understanding of language and human nature -- his first forms of education.
Hiding from society in the Edenic forest, the creature discovers the DeLacey
family, and is moved by their kindnesses toward one another. In response,
he stops stealing food from them and instead begins to perform menial tasks
to help them. His dose study of the family soon leads to a bond that allows
him to share their emotions, which represents the his first sotial interaction.64
The creature also attempts to react in nurturing, compassionate ways deemed
appropriate by his "family," who are also sorial outcasts possessing moral
qualities.65 Because of the DeLaceys' revolutionary influence, the creature
appears to be capable of altering society's definition of monstrosity.
Influenced by the teachings of his "family," the creature attempts a sotial
interaction with DeLacey family and tries to prove that physical appearance
64 These events seem to mirror Rousseau's theories, which argue that when
issolated and surrounded by sufficient amounts of food, humans do not
develop beyond their animal states. However, Nancy Yousef notes that
because the creature does not experience infantile helplessness, he is not a
true version of Rousseau's natural man; instead he appears as a reconfigured
monster, not created in his original human form (208).
65 The DeLacey family represents those who challenge society and help others
in need, demonstrated by their assistance of the Safie's father, "the
treacherous Turk" (1818 84). Felix's assistance of the Turk, who was
imprisoned because of his religion and wealth, represents an attempt to
change social perception and persecution. Unable to bear injustice, Felix
saves the Turk from his death-sentence and helps him escape. Even though
the Turk betrays him, Felix does not abandon his noble pursuits, returning to
Paris to free his father and sister who have been imprisoned for his crimes.
The actions of this family are not those of society at large; instead they
represent a smaller community which attempts to change the views of the
larger society.
77


is not a true mark of monstrosity.66
Shelley parallels the creature's failure to alter the DeLacey's
perceptions with his interaction with William Frankenstein. Again, the
creature hopes to alter society's definition of monstrosity by making William
his young companion; the creature imagines that William is "unprejudiced,
and had lived too short a time to have imbibed a horror of deformity" (1818
96). The creature believes that if he can educate William on the perils of
judging by appearance, he "should not be so desolate in this peopled earth"
(1818 96). Once again the creature's attempt fails, and William labels the
creature a "monster! ugly wretch!" who wishes to "eat [him], and tear [him]
to pieces" (1818 96). The creature does not become violent, however, until he
learns of William's connection to Victor, who is the source of the creature's
suffering. Although William's death is tragic and brutal, it reveals the
dangers of both judging by appearance and teaching children to do the same.
Through the creature's interaction with the DeLaceys and William,
Shelley attempts to blur society's definition of monstrosity. The creature's
narrative allows the reader to experience the his struggles and view his initial
humane behavior. This monologue reveals the creature's goodness and
gentleness, both qualities that encourage the society outside the novel to
change its definition of monstrosity and prevent the violence outbursts of
those who do not possess a "typical" appearance. Moreover, the creature's
failure to change the DeLaceys' and William's perceptions reveals a final
66 Franco interprets the creature's attempt to use language as a way of
revealing his goodness. Here, the creature believes that he can control his
language, and not be controlled by it (85).
78


contrast between him and Victor; like Victor, the creature also wishes to be a
part of society. However, unlike Victor, the creature's inherent goodness
renders him worthy of interaction, even if his appearance does not.
Tragically, society does not recognize his goodness and rejects him, causing
the creature to behave like the monster he appears to be.
The novel's mirror images best demonstrate Shelley's blurring of the
social terms "man" and "monster." When Victor and his creature gaze at one
another, each individual's gaze represents his ability to look at the man or
monster across from him and see part of that individual in himself. These
mirror images are literal examples of Mead's theory that in order to solve
problems, humans require reflection, which allows us to shape ourselves, and
in turn, the world (357). In a sense, by emphasizing reflection in her text,
Shelley transforms the novel itself into a mirror for her readers; by gazing at
the society in the novel, which shuns the humane creature, readers see a part
of that society in themselves. This reflection might cause social change.
Shelley incorporates the looking glass symbolism into the text many
times to reveal that Victor and his creation are foils. This mirror imagery
supports her notion that Victor's and the creature's external images do not
reflect their internal natures. Dean Franco interprets the first "mirror
image"~when Frankenstein gazes into the eyes of his creature--as Victor's
recognition of the unnaturalness he has created (S3).67 Other mirror images in
67 Franco also interprets this image as Victor's realization of his Oedipal
desires, that is, his creation of a life reflects his desire for his mother. Franco
claims that Victor's fear of what he has become is the real reason he abandons
his monster (83).
79


the text also blur the differences between Victor and his creature. The most
obvious example occurs on Victor's wedding night after the creature kills
Elizabeth. Holding his dead wife, Victor looks out the window into the eyes
of the creature. That Victor is responsible for the destruction of the creature's
bride makes this parallel even stronger. Victor and the creature's symbiotic
relationship represents a final mirror image;68 each is responsible for the
creation of the other as well as the destruction of the other. Victor is not only
responsible for the creature's physical creation, but also for the psychological
trauma which makes him behave like a monster. Similarly, the creature's
systematic destruction of Victor's family creates Victor; after Elizabeth dies,
Victor's intense need for revenge both defines and sustains him. Finally,
Victor's death serves as the impetus for the creature's death; only after Victor
dies from his efforts to destroy the creature does the creature leave to lie upon
his own funeral pyre.
Ultimately, Shelley's contrast of Victor and the creature reveals that
while Victor appears to be a moral man, his secret actions, crimes against
nature, and inability to assume responsibility for his actions make him a
monster. The creature, on the other hand, appears to be a monster, but his
kindness and gentleness, as well as his connection to the DeLacey family
makes him a man. The tragedy of Shelley's contrast is that Victor and the
68 Franco claims that the final "mirror" occurs in language, as the creature
serves as a trope for language and of language. Franco describes the creature
as "not just a form, or sign, but, in his own words, deformity itself. . the
Monster is the figuration of disfiguration" (88). This role allows the creature
figuratively to represent Victor's unconscious and unconscious desires (88-
89).
80


creature's society does not understand the difference between the two and
creates a monster from a previously kind-hearted creature.
Binary Opposition Between Writer /Female Writer. Shelley extended
her criticism of the social generalized other by blurring its perception of the
oppositional roles of "writer" (ie a male writer) and "woman writer." By
writing and publishing a novel, Shelley challenged the social and literary
generalized other's perception that women should remain in the domestic
realm and not produce literature. Frankenstein's publication therefore placed
Shelley outside of the social and literary generalized other and connected
Shelley (the woman writer) to Victor's creature. By creating this parallel
between woman writer and the creature, Shelley merged the oppositional
roles of "writer" and "female writer" into one entity, and by extension,
altered the social and literary generalized other's attitudes about writing and
gender. Devon Hodges argues the creature's violent behaviors parallel
Shelley's language; both have the power to destroy a society that projects
monstrosity on them (162). Stephen Behrendt also notes that the creature
symbolically represents the woman writer, and contends that society
marginalizes both creature and woman writer because their appearance and
behaviors do not conform to social expectations (83). However, Behrendt
theorizes that novel serves as a warning to other monstrous female writers
who refuse to act according to gender prescriptions (70).
Another element that must be added to Hodges' and Behrendt's
analysis is Shelley's portrayal of the creature's nature, which reveals his
goodness and sociality. If the creature parallels the woman writer, the
81


creature's nature also reflects the woman writer's nature; although she may
seem externally "monstrous" because she participates in the public sphere,
she too wishes to be a part of her society. The creature's behavior after his
birth exemplifies his natural sociality; after Victor flees, the creature's first
action is to find his creator and attempt communication. Victor describes
how the creature's "jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds,
while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear;
one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me" (1818 35). The
creature's act is not based on any observed social action, as his only prior
experience is Victor's abandonment. Instead, his act reflects an intrinsic
desire to communicate and to belong. When the creature reaches out to
Victor, his actions are spontaneous gestures, similar to Shelley's "I."
Although the creature attempts to conform to social codes, his appearance
disables him. At this, he responds with a desire to wage war on humanity. If
the creature and his actions parallel the female writer, Shelley suggests that a
female writer demands to express herself and experience egalitarian
companionship. If denied, she ultimately responds with destructive rage. In
her case, she does not bum the houses of cottagers, she figuratively bums the
social codes with her social criticism.
Binary Opposition Between Man/Woman. As Fred Botting notes,
monstrosity plays such a dominant role in the Frankenstein, it cannot be
contained within the binary oppositions of human and monster (55). A
subset of the human/monster binary opposition is that of man and woman.
While the previous chapter demonstrates that Shelley's "me" upheld the
82


society's hardening gender roles, her portrayal of androgynous characters
reveals that her "I" also challenges these social constructs. In Frankenstein.
Shelley blurs the definition of man and woman to imply that in spite of
physical differences, there is no difference between the two sexes,69 a concept
argued by Marjean D. Purinton, who contends that Frankenstein's blurred
gender roles "demonstrate a revolution against codified patterns of behavior
and sexuality"and redefine society's concept of "feminine"(53).
Shelley blurs Victor's masculine and feminine qualities to criticize him;
she indicts him because he fails to balance his male and female qualities. Like
the male Romantics, Victor uses his masculine qualities of domination and
usurpation to assimilate female qualities, which then prevents him from
fulfilling his role as a care-giver correctly. A. James Wohlpart argues that
Victor's acquisition of feminine qualities represents Shelley's criticism of the
Romantic poets, who assumed female qualities in their literature, but
continued to denigrate female literature (266). Victor's flaw is that he cannot
achieve a balanced, androgynous role; all of his actions demonstrate extreme
masculine or feminine behavior. Because he usurps female qualities and
violates nature by creating life from dead tissue (representing masculine
behavior), he in turn fails to nurture his child (feminine behavior). As Victor
does not balance his masculine and feminine qualities, he cannot fulfill his
69 By blurring the definition of man and woman in Frankenstein. Shelley also
deviates from Mary Wollstonecraft's perception of man and woman. William
Stafford argues that Wollstonecraft did not support androgyny; she argued
that men should be men and women should be women-- they should just not
be judged by their sex in the public sphere (185-186).
83


role as care-giver. Specifically, even though he comes to understand the
duties of a "mother" toward his "child" on Mont Blanc and decides that he
must first "render [the creature] happy, before he complained of [the
creature's] wickedness" (1818 67), he fails to grant the creature's wish for
domesticity and destroys the female creature.
Additionally, Victor allows extreme feminine behavior to overtake his
masculine behavior; when he should participate in the public sphere and
protect others, he cannot cope with his actions and chooses to hide in the
private sphere, falling ill in the process. Specifically, instead of asstuning
responsibility for his creature, he faints and becomes ill after "giving birth."
Instead of coming forward after William is killed and Justine is accused, he
feels faint and ill. Instead of assuming responsibility for his destruction of the
female creature, he falls ill after the creature murders Henry Clerval and
faints after finding his wife Elizabeth murdered. While Bette London reads
Victor's illnesses as an example of "masculine hysteria" or "the English
Malady" (262), they also might represent Victor's weakness. His illnesses
parallel those of Caroline Frankenstein and Elizabeth, whose illnesses
exemplify their feminine qualities of weakness and altruistic mothering.
However, in contrast to his mother and wife, Victor lacks the maternal
instinct and possesses only stereotypical feminine weakness. Therefore,
Victor's behaviors represent his inability to balance his male and female
qualities; his extreme actions prevent him from achieving an androgynous
role.
Shelley's criticism of Victor becomes clear when the reader contrasts
84


Victor with the other men in the text In the majority of her male characters,
Shelley provides a positive portrayal of an almost androgynous man.
Walton, the scientist and explorer, not only cares for Victor during his illness,
but he also learns from Victor's mistakes, and at the end of the novel, chooses
to save the lives of his crew and stop the trek through the Arctic. Alphonse
Frankenstein, the politician, exhibits the same behaviors. Shelley reveals
Alphonse's qualities in Victor's description of his father's marriage to
Caroline: "When my father became a husband and a parent, he found his
time so occupied by the duties of his new situation, that he relinquished
many of his public employments, and devoted himself to the education of his
children"(1818 19). Because there is no dear mention of Victor's birth prior
to Alphonse's derision to devote himself to his family, the order of ideas in
this passage portrays Alphonse, who is 20 years Caroline's senior, as both her
husband and father. The passage not only establishes Alphonse as a care-
giver to both his wife and (later) to his children (including Elizabeth
Lavenza), but also suggests that he comprehends and even reveres the
importance of the domestic sphere. Even Henry Clerval, who demonstrates
the male Romantics' valuation of nature, represents a blending of spheres, as
he nurses Victor through his initial illness following the creation of the
creature, and serves as what Mellor refers to as "the touchstone of moral
virtue against which Victor's fall was measured" ("Choosing a Text" 36).
But, how can Shelley contrast male and female qualities in a text that
emphasizes male characters and marginalizes female characters? Many
85


critics such as Purinton, Davis, Youngquist and Dickerson70 argue that Shelley
marginalized women to criticize women's role in society. However, the 1818
text's portrayal of women suggests that she challenged the beliefs of the
generalized other by redefining both men and women. Shelley's women in
the 1818 version reveal a desire to embrace both traditional maternal and
non-traditional "masculine" behaviors and values. Elizabeth is an obvious
example. In the 1818 text, she is Victor's "playfellow" and as they grow, his
"friend" (19), more of an equal than a subordinate. She is
lively and animated, her feelings. . strong and deep, and
her disposition uncommonly affectionate. No one could
better enjoy liberty, yet no one could submit with more
grace than she did to constraint and caprice. Her imagination
was luxuriant, yet her capability of application was great.
(1818 19)
In this description of Elizabeth, Shelley adheres to the social generalized
other's view that women are emotional, submissive and nurturing. However,
70 Maijean D. Purinton argues that Shelley uses a linguistic and rhetorical
tradition (letters and story-telling) normally associated with women to give
her male characters a voice, and thus "inverts the private/public dichotomy
and transforms power from the masculine to the feminine" (53). Davis
contends that although the three male narrators (Walton, Victor and the
Creature) misogynistically attempt to subvert the female voice, ultimately
Mary Shelley subverts their subversion by writing her novel, and thus
demonstrates "the social consequences of their misogyny and by implication,
the broader historical effects of the masculine literary tradition that they
employ" (307). Youngquist suggests that Shelley, who creates a "hideous
progeny" that she controls, attempts to free women from the physical
constraints of motherhood (353-6). Vanessa Dickerson contends that Shelley
de-emphasized women and placed "narcissistic" males (scientists and doers)
at the center of her novel, to criticize the "ghost-like" role that women play
when they follow social codes (78-79) and to reveal the wrongs of the social
code that confines women to the role of domestic life-giver (82).
86


she also depicts a woman who possesses a desire for liberty and a keen mind
capable of imagination and scholarly learning, a description which reveals
Shelley's "I." This passage reveals that Elizabeth's character blends
"womanly" and "manly" traits of nurturing and intelligence.
Elizabeth's speech prior to Justine's execution also reflects her blurred
gender role. William Veeder's contention that Elizabeth is a female avenger,71
who destroys women whose qualities Mary Shelley disliked (167) is apt in
that it recognizes Elizabeth's power, but it does not account for Elizabeth's
nurturing qualities as well. Elizabeth steps forward in court to testify for
Justine, and, unlike previous "timorous"witnesses who refuse to testify on
Justine's behalf, eloquently professes gentle Justine's inability to commit such
a crime. Elizabeth's testimony combines the public and domestic realms; she
testifies in a public court, but her evidence stems from her observations of
Justine in the Frankenstein home. This testimony at once suggests that
Elizabeth is a traditional life-preserving woman, but at the same time
establishes her as an orator in a public setting.
A final example of Elizabeth's blurred gender role occurs in her tirade
against society, which Sylvia Bowerbank overlooks in her contention that a
reader "looks in vain for this tone of fierce outrage against social injustice in
the females of Frankenstein" (423). Learning that Justine has confessed to the
crimes she is accused of, Elizabeth first laments that she placed so much faith
in such a person. However, when Elizabeth learns that Justine's testimony is
71 Veeder suggests that Shelley altered the Italian word "vendicanza"
(vengeance/revenge) by taking letters from the beginning and the end of the
word and adding a feminine article of "la" to create the name Lavenza (167).
87


coerced, she vehemently criticizes the judicial system and the society
empowering it:
"heaven bless thee, my dearest Justine, with resignation, and a
confidence elevated beyond this world. Oh! how I hate its
shews and mockeries! when one creature is murdered, another
is immediately deprived of life in a slow torturing manner; then
the executioners, their hands yet reeking with the blood of
innocence, believe that they have done a great deed. They call
this retribution. Hateful name! When that word is pronounced,
I know greater and more horrid punishments are going to be
inflicted than the gloomiest tyrant has ever invented to satiate
his utmost revenge. Yet this is not consolation for you, my
Justine, unless indeed that you may glory in escaping from so
miserable a den. Alas! I would I were in peace with my aunt
and my lovely William, escaped from a world which is hateful
to me, and the visages of men which I abhor.
(1818 56, emphasis M.S/s)
This speech is significant for two reasons: first it is the most obvious criticism
of society in the text, and second, it is orated by a woman. These two facts
ultimately establish Elizabeth as an intelligent, public woman, capable of
observing and criticizing the flaws of a society. Her powerful oratory
contrasts with Victor's silence; he refuses to speak the truth and save Justine
from death. By creating such opposition, Shelley undermines the social codes
which demand that women remain silent while men orate.72
Shelley's treatment of the creature's promised revenge on Victor
further elucidates her "I's" attempt to alter the generalized other's perception
72 While Elizabeth's oration is omitted from the 1831 text, she gains another
form of independence in the latter text; she inherits property and a house, the
Villa Lavenza, on the shores of Como. Therefore, while Elizabeth is not given
a chance to denounce society in the 1831 version, she cannot be considered a
completely helpless woman either. Her property represents a more subtle
example of Shelley's blurred gender codes.
88


of gender roles. While Elizabeth's death appears to destroy previously
blurred gender roles and to redefine her as a helpless victim, the analogous
death of Henry Qerval, who also functions as a life-giving androgynous
character, reveals that Shelley's "I" is still at work. Qerval's death, like
Elizabeth's, represents the creature's revenge following Victor's destruction
of the female creature. In the context of the creature's rage, Elizabeth's death
represents the second part of his recrimination; Shelley emphasizes blurred
gender roles by pairing the death of Victor's closest male friend, his
"benefactor" (1818 122) with the death of his wife. As both characters
possess male and female characteristics, their deaths must be considered the
creature's complete (and balanced) revenge on Victor.
Safie represents a final androgynous example of Maiy Shelley's "I."
Safie literally keeps the DeLacey house, which was stricken by poverty before
she came. After her arrival, the monster notes that Safie's presence gives
new life to the cottagers, both because of her kindness and her stolen wealth.
According to Dickerson, Safie differs from the other passive, domestic women
because she possesses sexuality, assertiveness, her own possessions and her
own language. Her craving for "forbidden knowledge" and refusal to uphold
her father's mandates affords her the role of independent female (89); she
blurs the social codes and lives a life of her own choosing.
Safie's letters, written to Felix before she joins him in the Edenic forest73
also reveal Shelley's blurred gender roles within the novel. As Zonona notes,
73 The creature offers copies of these letters to Victor to "prove the truth" of
his tale (1818 83).
89


Safie's character recalls Mary Wollstonecraffs argument against
"Mahometanism's" refusal to recognize women as people (173), but her
letters also represent Shelley's unique social critique, evinced in Safie's ability
to free herself from a harem (and indeed, the patriarchal culture),as well as
her committed, balanced relationship with Felix(172).74 Safie's letters
therefore echo a theme exemplified in the monster's tale and by Frankenstein
as a whole: "that an animated human body is spirit as well as flesh and will
demand treatment as such" (Zonona 177). While Zonona suggests that Safie
and the creature's connection stems from their status as outsiders and their
demand to be respected as living creatures (178), Shelleys's merging also
reveals that women who step out of their prescriptive roles seem monstrous,
but like the creature, are more human than those humans accepted by the
social generalized other.
Conclusion
Because Mary Shelley's Frankenstein upheld the attitudes of the
contradictory social and familial generalized others, the novel reflects
Shelley's contradictory perspective. This perspective created a space which
allows Shelley to alter the views of the generalized other through actions
74 Safie exchanges letters with Felix, who sympathetically responds to her
epistles with his own. This exchange evokes a picture of mutability and
harmony because the letters represent the only completed dialogue within the
text. The letters' absence from the text reveals a "female poetic" or a blank
page that is not over taken by a male narrator (Zonona 178-9). Zonona reads
this silence at the center of the text as a resistance to male acts of
appropriation. Safie is the only autonomous character in the text; because her
letters are not read by a voyeuristic reader, her life is her own (180-81).
90


which reveal her "I." Shelley's "I" is apparent in Frankenstein in several
ways. First, Shelley's 1831 introduction demonstrates her separation from her
familial generalized other. Shelley proudly reveals that her own dreams are
the most important influence on her work, and that she, through the power of
her imagination, creates literary works worthy of notice (reflecting her "I").
The 1831 introduction also attempts to alter society's perception of women
writers through Shelley's subtle refusal to allow Percy Shelley to control her
writing. Second, Frankenstein also demonstrates Shelley's critical view of
social monstrosities. Through contrast and blurred binary oppositions,
Shelley revealed her critical view of a society that does not accept monstrous
outsiders. In doing so, she stepped beyond the generalized other, and voiced
her unique opinions, which intended to alter societal prescriptions embodied
in the binary oppositions of man/monster, writer/ woman writer and
man/ woman. Shelley's "I" is no where more apparent than in her argument
for an egalitarian world in which there are no monsters, women write
without sacrificing their moral virtue, and men and women develop their
intellects while embracing their sympathetic emotions.
91


CHAPTER 4
CONCLUSION
This study was a response to contradictory modem feminist criticism
which argues that Shelley adhered to society's gender expectations, or that
she criticized such expectations. Using George Herbert Mead's theories on
the "me"(the part of the self that responds to and adopts a community's
attitudes and beliefs) and the "I" (the spontaneous part of the self) in Mind.
Self, and Society. I determined why Shelley both upheld the beliefs of a
patriarchal society and challenged them. By using Mead's ideas, I was able to
situate Mary Shelley within her historical context and still analyze her ability
to criticize social attitudes from her unique perspective.
By participating in her social and familial communities, Mary Shelley
reflected and assumed the attitudes of each. However, her unique
perspective provided her with the means to contribute to social change. Her
response to society her support and denial of social and familial attitudes
exists in her 1818 text and 1831 introduction of Frankenstein. Mead
recognizes that an individual's "me" and "I" significantly contribute to social
change; as an individual participates in her community, her unique
perspective on her community (or communities) allows her to respond in a
manner that differs from another individual in the same community. This
unique perspective slowly alters social attitudes, as an individual's reactions
produce a slight change in society, which then causes a reciprocal change in
92