Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Men mocks Edmund Burke’s idea of beautiful femininity being inherently virtuous, differentiating having virtue and merely looking it: “Not to cultivate the moral virtues that might chance to excite respect, and interfere with the pleasing sensations they were meant to inspire,” (Wollstonecraft, 47). Wollstonecraft notes that this idea of beauty pleases others but does not uplift one’s own self, putting women in a position of inspiring inferiority that requires no actual virtue. She would consider the character of Justine a prime example of this disparity in action. The characters of Frankenstein claim the maid’s beauty is at odds with her unfortunate fate. The first description of her by Elizabeth emphasizes how she clears negative emotions with her very appearance: “For the same reason that Ariosto gives concerning the beauty of Angelica – She looks so frank-hearted and happy” (Shelley, 67). Even though the text makes a distinction between beauty and Justine’s qualities, that divide is imaginary; she does not alleviate woe because she is frank-hearted and happy, but because her physical appearance reminds of those qualities. The word “frank” means truthful, yet Justine’s frankness is only skin-deep, creating a paradox of her frankness being a mask. In an everyday situation, a character may describe Justine’s virtue the way Elizabeth did, yet when dealing with the grim business of murder, that appraisal disappears: “As the trial had proceeded, her countenance had altered” (80). Beauty is only necessary as long as it pleases; when real virtue is needed, beauty does not suffice, and so it is no longer perceived as so pleasing.

The sentence of Justine in Frankenstein is supposed to inspire anger at the unfairness of the proceedings, since Justice is killed even when innocent. Her name even resembles the word “justice” to illustrate how justice dies. However, Wollstonecraft would not claim that justice died during the trial, but instead before it, pointing to the failure of beauty to balance with truth. Even though the reader knows Justine is innocent in retrospect, the presented evidence against her is overwhelming. Even Elizabeth cannot actually provide reason, instead discussing her emotional relationship with Justine: “Elizabeth’s heartrending eloquence failed to move the judges from their settled conviction in the criminality of this saintly sufferer” (Shelley, 85). While her defense is described as aesthetically pleasing, the beauty is hollow, and Justine is sentenced for her crime. The judges have already decided, but it is not because the court is unfair; in the face of all the evidence, it would be a farce to think otherwise just because of one person’s account being “heartrending”. What is unfair is that beauty was ever considered an acceptable substitute; Wollstonecraft thinks it bizarre that Burke’s definition of beauty does not come from “those exalted qualities, fortitude, justice, wisdom, and truth” (47). Justine provides no fortitude and is broken into confession, she provides no truth in her paradox of only appearing truthful, and worst of all, Justine is not able to actually embody justice when reason and evidence, the very items most important to a court, are not on her side. Wollstonecraft rejects Burke’s and Frankenstein‘s definitions of beauty if embracing beauty means one must reject the best human qualities in favor of a sham.

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