The Victorian Women of Shelley's Frankenstein Essay

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The Victorian Women of Shelley's Frankenstein

She is a daughter, a wife, and a mother who faithfully carries out her domestic duty in subservience and passivity. She's a willing sacrifice to her father, her husband, and her children. She's sentimental, meek, and docile in nature. She's also flawless in every physical aspect. She's her superior man's play-thing and possession--she's his to protect and cherish. She is a typical nineteenth-century Victorian woman of England. Such typical images of the Victorian women are clearly and accurately depicted in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein through one of the female characters, Elizabeth.

Subservience is one of the main characteristics of Victorian English women. They were
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. . so as I may truly say, I am an owl in the desert. (Prior 200)

Similarly, in Frankenstein, while the young Victor Frankenstein and his friend Henry Clerval actively prepare for public futures, the subservient and passive Elizabeth simply exists as a "domestic icon" (Shelley 276). Elizabeth merely "contemplates with a serious and satisfied spirit the magnificent appearances of things," while Victor "delights in investigating their causes" (Shelley 42). As Victor says:

I was capable of a more intense application, and was more deeply smitten with the thirst for knowledge. She busied herself with following the aerial creations of the poets; and in the majestic and wondrous scenes which surrounded our Swiss home--the sublime shapes of the mountains; the changes of the seasons; tempest and calm; the silence of winter, and the life and turbulence of our Alpine summers--she found ample scope for admiration and delight. (Shelley 42)

It is quite apparent in this passage that Elizabeth is viewed as the inferior and passive being. She is busy, but she is only "following," being delighted and admiring, whereas Victor is "capable," applying himself intensely. The most elementary aspects of the physical world--the changes of the seasons, the sublime shapes of the mountains, and the silence of winter"--are more than enough for her, in contrast to Victor, who has a deep "thirst for knowledge."

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