Tag Archive: beauty


By Mahealani LaRosa

Mary Wollstonecraft vehemently speaks out against the church and stereotypical gender roles in her text A Vindication of the Rights of Men. She continuously says that she believes women are solely important in society for the way the look, and specifically for their beauty. However when she defines beauty, she says that it is not just a surface level idea. Men have convinced women “that littleness and weakness are the very essence of beauty” and that nature, by “making women little, smooth, delicate, fair creatures” has taken away their right to “exercise their reason” and “excite respect” (47). Women exist to only create “pleasing sensations” by being “uniform and perfect” (47). To Wollstonecraft, whether or not women are intelligent or have morals is unimportant in society. In relation to her criticism of a woman’s place in the world, she asks an important question: “Is hereditary weakness necessary to render religion lovely?” (50). The radical feminist is saying that the connotated weakness that comes with the the idea of beauty also comes with religion. Ultimately, she says that “politics and morals, when simplified, would undermine religion and virtue” (59). And in society, women are not allowed to express their opinions surrounding politics or morals, because they are beautiful and weak, and “weakness and indulgence are the only incitements to love and confidence that you can discern” when “you love the church, your country, and its laws, you repeatedly tell us, because they deserve to be loved” (51). Overall, Wollstonecraft argues that to be beautiful is to be weak, and to be weak is to fear the church so greatly you believe it is love and devotion.

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Mary Wollstonecraft’s daughter, Mary Shelley, communicates some of these thoughts and opinions in her groundbreaking novel Frankenstein, especially in the characterization and life story of Justine. Justine is described as “frank-hearted and happy” and “the most grateful little creature in the world” (66). However, when she is accused of murder, her fear of the church and of God lead to her untrue confession and then to her unjust death. Over and over she says “God knows how entirely I am innocent” (80). She says that “the God of heaven forgive me!” and that that “God raises my weaknesses, and gives me courage to endure the worst” (83). Her complete trust in God is a sign of her weakness that is truly a sign of her fear.

Justine dupes herself into thinking she needs to be forgiven. She knows that she is innocent, but threats of damnation and hell scare her into confessing something she did not do. Because Justine is a woman, she is seen as weak and fearful by the men who run the church she obeys. She is an easy target because her beauty and innocence and terror end up ruining her in the end. Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, mother and daughter, both show that beauty should not be a characteristically defining trait. If Justine had based her confession off of her morals and her education and had been respected by the men who ran her church, she would have been found innocent. After further discussion, I still believe Wollstonecraft does a fantastic job calling out the issues in society and in various societal systems, and these thoughts and opinions ae translated very well into Shelley’s Frankenstein, especially in the scene of the death of Justine, or more accurately, the death of Justice, for women and for all.

 

 

 

Mary Wollstonecraft’s text highlights her intolerance for the church as well as the classifications of class and rank in society. In regards to women and their treatment, she is dissatisfied because they are valued more through the idea of beauty than through their intelligence or morals.  Her views are intertwined and seen in her daughter’s novel Frankenstein, specifically through the character Justine and her unjust death. In order to understand Justine’s situation we must remember that Victor’s creature is the one who framed her for his crime. This supports Wollstonecraft’s view that men can’t be trusted and only care about themselves since they are “men who have no titles to sacrifice,” (49) The creature loathed Justine because she was beautiful and normal, which overshadowed the fact that she was of low status. Where was chivalry when Justine could have been saved by Victor’s confession or when the creature was planning to escape the consequences if his own crime? It was nowhere because the men valued themselves more than an innocent woman. frankenstein08.jpg (560×777)

Justine reveals that she is threatened with “excommunication and hell fire in her last moments.” (83) by her confessor. Here we can see how Justine is being deeply influenced by the church, so much that she fears what will come after death more than being charged for a crime or the act of death itself. She has been made to believe her life is meaningless if she does not conform to the ways of the church, when in reality the church is nothing but a group of over religious men who do as they please. Being aware of her innocence is not enough to keep her safe. However, it’s easy to see that if she were a man, Victor for example, her guilt would have been immediately questioned if charged with murder. In contract to Justine, Victor was an intelligent, educated man…to most. As a woman with no outstanding education or valued status, it was easy to place the crime on Justine. In relation to Wollstonecraft’s views, now that Justine’s beauty was tainted she was of no use to the church or society, even though her good reputation from Elizabeth and little education should have been enough to save her from injustice in a fair society.

By Galilea Sanchez

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In Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke notes that, “…will save herself from the last disgrace, and that if she must fall, she will fall by no ignoble hand” (75).  Justine “…confessed a lie” in order to safe herself rather than having the town find her guilty (Shelley 83). In Shelley’s novel during the trial when Justine is describes as being, “Confident in innocence, and did not tremble, although gazed on and execrated by thousands; for all the kindness which her beauty might otherwise have excited, was obliterated in the minds of the spectators by the imagination of the enormity she was supposed to have committed” (79). Burke is being represented here with this description just as he described Marie Antoinette as having such beauty that, “Ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult” (76). Burke believe that the revolution destroys the beauty of nature. Through the logic of Burke and his essay, the creature being the “ugly monster” that he is, is truly what is at fault of the death of the beautiful Justine. The only person that is one-hundred percent certain of Justine’s innocence, besides herself, is Victor Frankenstein. Although he admits that Justine is one of the “victims to [his] unhallowed arts” he does nothing about it and allows the town to animalize Justine and kill her, which also helps to prove Burke’s point about the age of chivalry being dead (Shelley 85). Justine “killing herself” showed the faulty morals of Victor and his being unjust while allowing her to die in order to protect himself from doom.

– Alina Cantero

Just throwing ideas out here

The uncanny seems to be anything that reminds a person of their earlier psychic stages of the unconscious. Victor’s unconscious was definitely reminded, upon the animation of the creature, of his Oedipal psychic stage. On the surface, Victor seems to have progressed normally through that process. However, the dream reveals that isn’t quite the case. Although it seems that Victor is in love with Elizabeth, her image in the dream regresses to that of his dead mother. However, we can’t say that this directly correlates with Victor’s unconscious wanting to get with his mother. According to Freud’s dream interpretation, the forbidden desires of the unconscious are censored in dreams. The explicitness of the dream suggests that what it censors is even more taboo than desiring his mother. What could be more taboo than that?

Warning–I’m gonna say something pretty crazy here: maybe Victor like–I don’t know–didn’t think the creature was so hideous. Maybe he really thought, “damn this guy is fine.” In a weird, weird way he felt attracted to what he had created? I mean, he was set to marry his adoptive sister so already his life is pretty weird. But let’s turn to the text, and talk about my second best friend: Victor’s unreliability as a narrator. “His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast…” (60). Victor may have designed the creature to be beautiful, but it is interesting that, in describing the “monstrosity,” he first paints it as beautiful. Present Victor, the one on Walton’s ship, knows that the creature isn’t beautiful. He knows that the creature becomes a murderer. The Victor of that moment, however, doesn’t know that.

Perhaps that is why Victor carelessly leaves the creature alone, right after it’s birth. He can’t handle the fact that he’s feeling something for a guy-like creature. He lives in a hetero-normative world. His mother literally said to him, on her deathbed, “My children [Elizabeth and Victor]…my firmest hopes of future happiness were placed on the prospect of your union,” and to impress her point she has them hold hands (49). He’s been told that Elizabeth was his since she joined the family. In the dream, Elizabeth’s transformation into his mother seems to be a throwback to his mother’s dying words. To what is expected of him. The norm that he may be–probably is–deviating from. The possibility of not fitting the mold laid out for him was too much for him to take

the creation

Finding it difficult to wrap my head around Marxist theory, I tend to defer to the experts. So when Warren Montag, in “The ‘Workshop of Filthy Creation,’” argues that the creation is “not so much the sign of the proletariat as of its unrepresentability” (Montag 395), I’m inclined to believe him. And the more I think about it, this makes a lot of sense considering the confusing mishmash of emotions I’ve felt toward the creation.

The creation’s interaction with the portrait of Frankenstein’s mother illustrates what Warren Montag calls the “combination of pity and fear” (388) that the proletariat naturally elicits. The creation initially looks at the woman “with delight on her dark eyes, fringed by deep lashes, and her lovely lips” (Shelley 127). The beauty of the elite bourgeois that Caroline Frankenstein represents contrasts starkly with the poor creation’s “dull yellow eye,” “dun white sockets” and “straight black lips” (60). In fact, this is likely what the creation remembers, as his joy quickly disintegrates and turns to rage, recalling, “I was for ever deprived of the delights that such beautiful creatures could bestow” (127). The ugly, poor, neglected creation is unique in that only he cannot receive affection from human beings. Important, however, is that this monstrosity is still capable of feeling delight and is even “softened and attracted” (127).

But why does any of this matter? Well, the creation declares, “I only wonder that at that moment, instead of venting my sensations in exclamations and agony, I did not rush among mankind, and perish in the attempt to destroy them” (127). This is the constant tension that underlies the relationship between the bourgeois and the proletariat. On one hand, the poor and neglected, like the creation, are at once sympathetic and pitiable, but on the other they are also capable of immense destruction and harm. In what Montag calls “a rural world dominated by scenes of a sublime natural beauty” (394), the creation sticks out as the singular entity of contradictions, a being of tenderness that can turn to rage in an instant. So why didn’t the creation go absolutely manic in that moment? Maybe there’s no way of knowing for sure. And maybe that’s the lingering uneasiness and obscurity of the unrepresentable proletariat.

Convenient Parallels in Portrayal

We all know that Percy Shelley was Mary Shelley’s alleged drive to finish the Frankenstein novel.  While we are not completely sure of all of his involvement, we can assume that he at least encouraged Mary to complete the novel, and pushed her along.  However, it seems like he has a great deal of influence in the novel, especially the passages regarding Mont Blanc, which he wrote a poem of the same name about as well. Mary repeats some of the ideas that her husband-to-be uses in his poem, as well as some imagery, to perhaps enrich the scene with a more poetic feeling.

On page 74, Mary describes Frankenstein and his surroundings in his journey to Geneva, to “investigate” his brother’s murder.  In Frankenstein’s words, she tells us of the great beauty of the space and mountains, saying “the calm and heavenly scene restored [Frankenstein]” (74), and continues to mention how beautiful it was, as influenced as he was by it being a happier time in his life.  What particularly sticks out when rereading the passage is that in extolling this beautiful landscape, Frankenstein calls out, “Dear mountains! my own beautiful lake! how do you welcome your wanderer?” (74).  While this is not necessarily important on its own, something particular to note of Percy Shelley’s Mont Blanc is that the second section is written in the second person, addressing the “Ravine of Arve.”  In using a similar manner to describe the same nature (while not the exact same body of water), she is clearly invoking some of her husband’s work to help develop this image.

Beyond this, she also does something that not many people likely would think of.  In describing the lake that Frankenstein had just addressed partially, and dark mountains around it, she mentions thunder striking over his head,and “vivid flashes of lightning dazzled my eyes, illuminating the lake, making it appear like a vast sheet of fire” (75).  In describing water as looking similar to flame, she is effectively creating a contrasting image, which builds the character of the scene and is an interesting thing to imagine.  I would commend her greatly for this, but in fact, Percy did a very similar thing in Mont Blanc, as well.  In the same second section, he describes the motion of the river Arve: “Bursting through these dark mountains like the flame / Of lightning through the tempest” (18-19).  She is effectively calling the same image, with lightning and all, as Percy did to describe the river Arve in his own poetry.

While it is unsurprising how you could see parallels between a couple’s work, it seems like Mary asked Percy for some assistance in describing the beauty of the mountain landscape that they together experienced in Geneva.

No Sympathy for Victor

Page 95: “As he said this, he led the way…he thus began his tale.”

In this passage, it is with considerable thought and convincing that Victor decides to hear the creatures tale. One would  think that what moved him was sympathy — the language of it is definitely there. Victor does not, however, ultimately act out of feeling for the creature, but out of his own rationalizations that he claims are sympathetic.

A major tension exists in this paragraph between what Victor is actually saying, his word choice, and the tone of the overall passage. “My heart was full” he says, and “compassion confirmed my resolution” (95). He supposedly feels something, may it be ever so slight, for his creation, something akin to sympathy. For a moment, the reader can imagine that Victor does feel the sympathy Edmund Burke describes in A Philosophical Enquiry: “a passion accompanied with pleasure, because it arises from love and social affection” (42). Yet, when one reads the passage, the tone of it is coldly calculating and impersonal. Even though Burke views the bond between creator and creature as one inherently possessing sympathy, by his account, Victor cannot love the monster because he does not find it beautiful. If Victor does not have any affection for the monster, how can he feel real pity, sympathy, or compassion?

Victor’s layering of compassion/sympathy language over the story is probably meant to maintain Robert Walton’s esteem. People are more likely to like people if they are benevolent. We again come up against Victor’s unreliability of narrative, a theme throughout the work. His sympathy is vague; real, true emotion is entirely missing from the passage, save Frankenstein’s dread at the upcoming tale. Victor is very aware that he is telling a story. When he sprinkles in sympathetic words, bits of emotional description, he seems to expect that the reader (or listener) will focus on those, rather than passages such as “I weighed the various arguments that he had used” (95), which are completely at odds with the emotion-driven compassion he attempts to portray.

The creature is negatively perceived by individuals of society, even prior to their understanding of the wrong-doings he has committed. This brings up issues of appearance and the importance of a person’s appearance with regards to how that individual is perceived by society. What does society value more, beauty or morals?

The creature is an interesting character because of the fact that he is created as a fully cognizant being who still however does not understand the world, as opposed to how natural beings are created as infants and they slowly learn about the world as they develop. The creature’s naivety highlights a lot of the issues in society. For example, we can presume that he at first does not understand why people are repulsed by his appearance. Burke’s description of beauty aligns with this lack of understanding, as he calls beauty a “social quality” (burke 39). The creature is not able to understand his beauty or his lack thereof fully due to his lack of social interactions.  The monster himself addresses his situation, deeming himself “utterly inexperienced,” (Shelley 110). This allows each experience the creature encounters to heavily shape him. He diseases himself that if the first human he had met was different, he would feel much different towards humans in general.

The creature desperately wants the cottagers to see past his appearance. The role of the creature’s appearance plays in the cottager’s perception of the creature is evident from the fact that the blind man accepts the creature before the seeing people arrive. The blind man was able to “see” the creature’s sympathy and virtue because he was not “blinded” by the ugly appearance that the creature presents on the outside. While the creature had learned that he was ugly by this point, it was nonetheless a rude awakening as to the inhibiting nature of his appearance. The creature describes himself as “overcome by pain and anguish,” indicating that he could not have been accepting this reaction (Shelley 121).

Mary Wollstonecrant also talks about issues of beauty in relation to character. She relates beauty to both morals and reason, questioning weather or not they should be a part of each other. The cottagers were “systematically neglecting morals to secure beauty” by choosing to focus on the creature’s appearance rather than his character (Wollstonecrant 47). While Wollstoncrant speaks much of female beauty and the rejection of morals involved, the same analysis can be used to judge the reception of the creature’s appearance. For example, Wollstonecrant argues that women are valued for their “breast rather than (their) inventions,” (Wollstonecrant 51). This parallels the fact that the creature’s hideous nature was valued over his virtue. In both cases, something on the outside is overpowering something on the inside.

The creature’s experience with the cottagers presents a claim that individuals cannot overcome what is on the outside, at least not without great difficulty.

Unjust Justice

The death of William in Frankenstein rightfully sparked the search for his killer, and a long-time servant of the Frankenstein’s house, Justine, was convicted of the murder under a conglomeration of circumstantial evidence. Of course the reader and Frankenstein know that Justine is guilty of no such crime, however the attempt for others in the house and community to establish justice leads to her downfall. The task at hand is to examine the execution of Justine through the framework and lens of radicals such as Mary Wollstonecraft. In the words of Wollstonecraft, the execution of  Justine, who herself was “extremely pretty,” ( Frankenstein pg. 68) the embodiment of beauty, was necessary “to render men more virtuous, and to banish all enervating modifications of beauty from civil society.” (Wollstonecraft pg. 48) Justine “appeared calm, and her countenance, always  engaging, was rendered, by the solemnity of her feelings exquisitely beautiful. Yet she appeared confident in innocence..” (Frankenstein pg. 79) Ernest, Victor’s brother, even expresses his unbelief that such an amicable girl would be capable of such an atrocious crime. The community’s attempt at justice was an honorable reach for righteousness. Justine’s conviction was the perfect example of the community’s attempt to separate what Wollstonecraft would argue they “reasoned” to be true, Justine’s guilt, from her “beautiful” appearance, something that had the potential to cloud their judgement. (Wollstonecraft pg.47)

Justine’s execution is ironic, however, in that she was convicted in her innocence. William’s locket was found on her person, and her inability to reasonably explain her possession of the locket led to her conviction. If we are to make Justine’s death analogous to what Wollstonecraft says is a “respect of the naked dignity of virtue” (Wollstonecraft pg.  49) or an attempt to make society just, should not the conviction have been just in itself? I present the idea that Justine’s execution does not accurately depict the virtue that Wollstonecraft so passionately defends. Throughout the scenario, I never see justice present itself. The first wrong: William’s murder. The second wrong: Justine’s conviction. The third wrong: Justine’s execution. Along the bridge between William’s murder and the execution of Justine lies a longing for righteousness, a desired explanation and vengeance for his downfall. However, I would argue that the sole desire for these things does not ensure justice. Only when vengeance is rightfully achieved will justice prevail. In lam en’s terms, “two wrong’s do not make right” nor is Wollstonecraft’s “virtue” achieved by the wrongful “removal of beauty”, or Justine, from “civil society”.(Wollstonecraft pg.48)