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tangerines's picture

I’m interested by your post,

I’m interested by your post, spreston, because I had the opposite reaction. I think that for modern audiences (or at least our class), Frankenstein forces us to see exactly what’s wrong with gender binaries and closed-minded ways of thinking. The first time I read the book, years ago, I believed that the question the book asks was “Who is the real monster?” (i.e., the creature or Victor himself?). I do still think that the question is relevant, but I also think that Shelley blames society and its rigid codes for forcing the creature into the role of the monster. I don’t think Shelley was asking us to create a post-gender world; I don’t think she offered solutions at all. Instead, I think the “morals” (for lack of a better term) embedded in the story are meant to question commonly-held standards that we rarely consider, such as gender boundaries. And most importantly, I believe the novel wants us to ponder the true monstrosity of a society that privileges people based solely on appearance.

                In terms of reproductive technology… I’m fascinated by this reading of the novel. I agree that Frankenstein can be read as a book about motherhood/reproduction/the roles of the mother and the child, but I don’t think it’s a cautionary tale of what happens without a woman’s touch. Having done some (admittedly very limited) research on Shelley, her own experiences with reproduction and motherhood are quite depressing. Of the four children she had, only one of them lived into adulthood (the others died before they had reached three years old). Her own mother died ten days after giving birth to her, and Percy, her husband, left his first wife when she was still pregnant with his child. On top of this, Mary’s beloved father cut all ties with her when she refused to follow the rules of “proper” society.

                Basically, for Mary, as for many other women of the day, reproduction sucked. Childbearing wasn’t fun – it might kill you. Rearing children was also not an enjoyable enterprise, since you got attached to a child who would probably die. Motherhood in general, provided your kids survived infancy, wasn’t all that great since it was your only option as a woman. If you didn’t want kids, didn’t pay enough attention to them, or tried to be a mom while simultaneously (gasp) trying to do something else – you were a failure as a woman. Reproduction as a whole was an unpleasant affair inextricably linked with death as far as women were concerned, and the relationship between parent and child could be incredibly difficult. I honestly think that Frankenstein was a critique of the hardship, loneliness, and sense of abandonment surrounding mother and child. Keeping in mind the feminist readings we discussed, I reevaluated the passage where Victor first describes the creature he’s brought to life. Postpartum depression was not recognized in Shelley’s day – but this passage in the book makes me wonder whether Shelley herself suffered from it.



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