Tag Archive: feminism


Frankenstein’s Abortion

I sat on the swing outside on the patio, relaxing in the pale moon-glow2light of the rising moon, trying to forget for a while the horrible events of the day. It was supposed to be a happy day, the happiest day of my life. Seeing your baby for the first time is supposed to be a magical moment where awe and wonder at the fact that you made that should overwhelm you. Instead all I could think about was that my baby girl might be deformed, physically and possibly mentally. The doctors weren’t certain about the exact nature of her deformity, but she was there was a strong probability that she was going to be different. I was having a child without no conception of how she was going to turn out. She might be the kid no one ever played with, she might be rejected everywhere she went simply for her differences. She would not thank me for her creation. How could she ever have a normal life? She might be full of anger and hate, unable to cope with her situation, and lash out at the world.

Years ago I had made this same mistake and my son had never forgiven the fact that I could never love him the way he wanted me to or give him the life he desired. He wanted me to have the baby. My son wanted someone he could call family. He had sworn to help provide for and take care of her, but the child may not be satisfied with this and might still loathe me. He might also be disgusted with her deformity and reject her. Anything could happen! How could I know, how could I go through with this when there was so much risk?

If she ever wanted children, her condition would be passed on, and they too might lead terrible lives. Did I have a right, simply to satisfy my desire for a baby, to curse my daughter and all the generations that come after her to lives of loneliness, rejection and suffering? I trembled to think of how much they would hate me, the source of all their pain, who would selfishly choose my own wants without a care for the effect on my descendants.

I looked inside the house through the window and saw him sitting in front of the fireplace, the light dancing on his face in hellish flames.  He wanted someone to love and love him. I had felt so sorry for him that I had agreed to have the baby. He had persuaded and threatened me, to extract that promise, but now its selfishness  and immorality burst over me. As I looked at him, I realized that though his impassioned words had swayed me before, this was my decision and I couldn’t let fear or a desire to satisfy someone else’s wants make that decision for me. A shudder wracked my body and I felt a shift somewhere within. A strange sensation came over me and in a wild rush I threw open the door and said, “I can’t do it. I can’t bring that in to the world.  I’m not going through with this baby.”

An Interview with the Author of the Wildly Popular ‘Frankenstein’s Abortion’ 

Interviewer: It’s so nice to meet you! Congratulations on making the New York Time Top 100 Bestsellers’ list! How has the ride been?

MK: Oh its been mind-boggling. When I wrote that story I was just re-reading the scene in Frankenstein where he destroys the female creature, and thinking about how the novel portrays men through what takes place when a man tries to usurp the natural order. I tried to turn that on its head and write what Victor was feeling, but seemingly from the point of view of a pregnant woman. I never expected people to like it so much.

Interviewer: Why do you think its become so popular?

MK: I wrote it to show the gender essentialism and gender roles we propagate, and I think it resonated with people because of the large amount of attention that feminism has been receiving recently. When Victor destroys the female creature in the book one feels horror, fear for the monster’s retribution and pity for the Creature. The selfishness of Victor seems to come to the fore and the reader thinks “After coming all the way here, upsetting everybody, postponing his wedding and working for hours” he just decides to destroy her and doom himself. But when I portrayed the same things Victor says, in an almost stylistically identical manner, but giving the impression that the individual is a pregnant woman who has been persuaded to have a baby, this scene elicits pity for the speaker’s situation and anger that someone is coercing her into having the baby, very different from what it inspired in readers when the person in question was a man. I think people are responding to this subtle demonstration of the essentialist views everyone holds and it shows what we need to take steps toward changing.

Interviewer: I notice that you never explicitly say the word ‘pregnant’ or make clear that the speaker is a woman. Is there some reason for that?

MK: I only wanted to give the impression of a female speaker, to show even simply that is enough to make the reader feel sympathetic towards her, as a helpless victim.

Interviewer: Why did you choose to write about abortion specifically? I mean as I understand it, there are numerous examples of feminine essentialism and objectification of the female body in Frankenstein, embodied in Justine and Elizabeth. Why did you choose this scene and this issue?

MK: Abortion has been a major topic of contention recently with numerous new legislature being passed in different states. I wanted to throw some light on that topic too. The tense that this story is written in is the same as the novel’s and it imparts the idea that could be happening at any time, any place and to anyone.

Interviewer: Is there anything else you would like to say?

MK: Well, I just want to mention how ridiculously easy it was to mould this scene in Frankenstein into one of a pregnant woman deciding to abort, and it is almost as if Mary Shelley was talking about abortion too. Victor says “My labour was already considerably advanced… [but I had] forebodings of evil, that made my heart sicken in my bosom”, which is very similar to a woman who is pretty far along in her pregnancy but dreads the prospect of the baby and does not want it anymore.

Interviewer: Thank you so much for coming, I look forward to reading more of your brilliant work.

The Might of Imperialism?

“Ambiguity in the Subaltern’ https://foundationsofliterarystudies.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/ambiguity-in-the-subaltern/

In this post, the author analyses the relationship between two groups: Felix, and the monster and Safie. The author relates Felix to the imperial power, the coloniser, while assigning Safie and the Creature the subordinate group of the colonised. The author shows the power that Felix wields over his “subjects”, influencing their thoughts and behaviour. However, far from casting imperialism in a positive light, Frankenstein actually hones in on the negative aspects that the imperialist mould has forced on the native people. In fact the novel shows the insidious nature of imperialism, where it promotes movements such as feminism and yet at the same time disparages it too.

As the author presents, the monster is an intelligent being, able to differentiate and make his own judgements. Through listening to Felix, who is very pro-colonisation, he gains a rough idea of the social status that the colonised people occupy. He identifies with this colonised people and is affected with pity and sorrow for their “hapless fate”. In this feeling of sorrow for the colonised, we see the first seeds of defiance against imperialism. The clear disapproval in the disruption of lives is a trespass that even a monster is able to sympathise with. The second challenge to the idyllic representation of imperialism common in the time is seen through Safie. Here we see Safie, a colonised Eastern woman, learned in the language and principles of the Western sphere. She is the burgeoning feminist; strong and independent. Feminism is actually a direct consequence of imperialism, where values such as independence, tolerance and innovation are held at the forefront. Yet, the effects of imperialism on Safie seem to vanish when she encounters the monster. “Safie, unable to attend to her friend, rushed out of the cottage.” (114). These high handed values of tolerance and compassion for the Other disappear under the first instance of confrontation, giving lie to the effectiveness of imperialism on human nature.

The effect of imperialism on the characters in the novel do not exactly promote the efficacy of the movement. In fact, although benefits such as language and education are touted, the overall impairing effects and the negative reactions of the ‘colonised’ within the novel expose its weaknesses.

Don’t Force It

Mellor’s argues that Frankenstein is subconsciously engaging in oppressive sexual politics in his pursuit of the creation of life. In other words, Victor’s scientific endeavors are an assault on females and inherently sexist, simply by virtue of his scientific pursuit.

I would argue that Mellor’s paper is subconsciously engaging in oppression to logic and critical thinking. By extrapolating her conclusions, which are tethered together with rickety evidence, she is launching a direct assault on literary study and common knowledge. Sometimes, I think people get too caught up in wanting an argument to be true, and bending whatever support they can to justify their position. In Mellor’s case, I think she had reached her conclusion well before analyzing and doing a thorough reading of the book. Instead, she used her reading simply to back up what she wants to believe about the book.

I mean, come on. Out of all the things Victor does to warrant personal criticism, I think his devotion to the sciences is one of the only admirable things he does in the entire movie. “Manipulating nature”, as Mellor so critically describes Victor’s actions, is also responsible for all of modern medicine, technology, and mechanics. Those things are essential to our society today, and were each borne out of a manipulation of nature.

Frankenstein does some morally reprehensible things throughout the story, and probably was a sexist, and probably was also completely insane. I would not want to hang out with Vic, because he seems like the kind of guy to just stand in the corner awkwardly and make everyone uncomfortable. But regardless of that, he definitely was a brilliant scientist, and I don’t think it’s fair to chastise him for trying to innovate and create the next great step for mankind.

By saying that Victor’s attempts to manipulate nature were inherently sexist, Mellor is arguing that the sciences themselves are also inherently sexist. That message is the last thing we need these days. Women need to be encouraged to study and participate in STEM-related fields, and placing a sexist label on certain fields of study is counter productive and dangerous.

Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_Wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fog

So, we have reason to believe Victor Frankenstein is a rapist.

Yes, yes, I know the victim we’re talking about isn’t a person, but nature (if that makes it any better), but let’s wrestle some more with that idea. Because I can’t help but think, “Victor may be violating nature by playing God and all, but doesn’t he also show affection for nature? Doesn’t he spend a lot of time romanticizing landscapes?” And the answer to all that is, “Yes … but not really.”

Victor does have some tender scenes with nature. Roaming the mountains, he describes how nature “congregated round me; the unstained snowy mountain-top, the glittering pinnacle, the pine woods, and ragged bare ravine; the eagle, soaring amidst the clouds — they all gathered round me, and bade me be at peace” (Shelley 90). In times like these, Victor dotes on nature and calls her (if I may continue the metaphor) a healing friend. But the lovey-doveyness quickly stops. When Victor wakes up the next morning, the rain is so heavy that he can no longer see his “mighty friends” (91), the mountaintops or the trees or the eagle. And he declares, “Still I would penetrate their misty veil, and seek them in their cloudy retreats. What were rain and storm to me?” (91).

Wait. What? Penetrate?

Sounds messed up, but any reader of Anne K. Mellor’s “A Feminist Critique of Science” shouldn’t be surprised. Mellor argues that Frankenstein is a story where “the aggressive, virile male scientist legitimately captures and enslaves a fertile but passive female nature” (Mellor 1). And based on the novel’s gendered language, it’s pretty hard to refute that. (The word “penetrate” comes back a lot more than you’d expect.)

So Victor’s definitely obsessed with raping nature, but the cool thing is nature doesn’t just take it. After he decides to mess with nature again by agreeing to make his creation a female companion, Victor accuses the sky for mocking him and asks it to “crush sensation and memory; let me become as nought” (Shelley 131). He bemoans to Walton, “I cannot describe to you how the eternal twinkling of the stars weighed upon me, and how I listened to every blast of wind, as if it were a dull, ugly siroc on its way to consume me” (131). The horrific results of his rape (the creation) now fully illuminated to him, Victor cannot even bear the mere presence of nature. Where there was once comfort now lies misery. Gone is the restorative, consoling friend. Gone is the passive, silent victim. So, yes, nature in Frankenstein may be feminine, and she may have been violated, but she’s far from submissive.

And I think Victor may want that veil back.

Revised.

Anne Mellor argues for two types of science, a ‘good’ one which only seeks to understand and describe the machinations of nature and the ‘bad’ kind which attempt to harness and control nature’s powers for the scientist’s own benefit. The idea which struck me most while reading her feminist critique was that of the scientist “substitute[ing] work for love”(Mellor 10). I believe this can be extended to say that the study of nature itself becomes almost a lover or sexual object to the scientist, in that all their feelings of love and sexual desire get, to use the Freudian term, sublimated onto their work. In this vein the difference between the two kinds of science become comparable to, respectively, a loving relationship, involving understanding and fascination, and rape, involving power and domination. I think Mellor’s analysis shows that in the post-enlightenment era, science was moving more towards the controlling and gaining power over nature, with the new advances in technology and industry, and this is supported by the sexual images of domination and subjugation created by “embued with a fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature”(Frankenstein 47)  and “pursued nature to her hiding-places”(58), and that scientists, such as Davy, sought to “interrogate nature with power, not simply as a scholar, passive and seeking only to understand her operations, but rather as a master, active with his own instruments.” The making of the Creature is an embodiment of this rape and violation of nature. This is evidenced by the repeated use of the word “ardour” for Victor’s passion for his work and quotes such as “to arrive at once at the summit of my desires, was the most gratifying consummation of my toils.”(57). This gives the creation of this monster sexual connotations as it is compared to reaching a peak, and called a “consummation”. The Creature is regarded as monstrous and horrifying because it is the result of this unholy act. Victor himself refers to his “profane fingers” but he cannot stop himself as he desires that power, he wants to “break through”(58) the bounds between life and death. This is also seen in how he becomes “insensible to the charms of nature” (59) signifying that he can no longer see its beauty and only seeks that power over ‘her’. The imagery of the line “The leaves of that year had withered before my work drew near to a close”(60) with the specific use of the word “withered” also lends itself to the idea that nature is violated and hurt by that act of rape which was the creation of the monster.

The pursuit of scientific knowledge is aggressive. That pursuit has to be aggressive for good reason. Anne Mellor says it herself when she quotes Francis Bacon, “The ‘true sons of learning’ are those men who do not remain satisfied with the well-known truths but rather ‘penetrate from Nature’s antechamber to her inner closet” (Mellor 12). While the wording used is feministic, it goes to show that the pursuit of science is aggressive and necessarily so. I do not believe however, that “a scientist who analyses, manipulates, and attempts to control nature unconsciously engages in a form of oppressive sexual politics” (Mellor 12). If that were the case, every male and female in my lab classes who has created new chemicals from other chemicals has engaged in oppressive sexual politics because we have “bent” nature many times in that class.

Victor when he is first learning about electricity states, “It seemed to me as if nothing would or could ever be known. All that had so long engaged my attention suddenly grew despicable” (Shelley 48). Victor, like any other scientist, is intrigued by an intense passion to expand his knowledge about the working world around him. The point of science is not to be able to conquer nature but to understand how it works. In some cases, we can use nature to better our lives however because even when “bending” nature, we are not changing nature. We are simply speeding up or slowing down processes that already occur naturally. Victor “pursues nature to her hiding-places” (Shelley 58)  in creating the creature but in what way has he belittled nature? From what it seems, Victor seems more to be in awe of nature than anything. Science is aggressive. The terms used to describe the pursuit of science even for Victor in the story are feministic but at the time period in which the story was written, that was the norm. You would be hard pressed to find a scientist speak that way today. If we saw a nature as an it and not a she, then all science conducted would not be “a form of oppressive sexual politics”. Although nature has been seen as a female throughout history, the term “mother earth” was coined by enlightenment thinkers to separate nature from God. Had this not happened, there would be no argument here. The pursuit of science is aggressive, nature is seen as feminine, and the quotes and ideals used in Anne Mellor’s piece are outdated in the scientific community.

I might just be tired, but I found Mellor’s argument, all in all, fairly reasonable. However, I don’t agree with Mellor in all aspects. I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to say that thinking of science as a challenge to control a “passive and possessable female” will cause research to be self-furthering and “morally insensitive” (Mellor). However, Mellor didn’t touch on the effects of gendering Nature and the sciences on female scientists and researchers. (Or I could’ve missed that because I’m so tired.) Science as a “passive and possessable female” speaks prominently to a male audience and leaves little room for and blocks the progression of women in science. Of course, not to say that women cannot also want to possessively bend Nature to their wills. I think it’s strange that Mellor doesn’t talk about this that much. Maybe she might’ve implied that this language opposes women in science; perhaps she is relying on their omission to speak for them. However, in the 18th-19th centuries (and before, and after), there were still many women in science. A quick Google search takes us to a Wikipedia list of names. I just feel like women could have constituted a more visible part of her argument. All of her sources were from men of science. By ignoring women, Mellor seems to exemplify the very erasure that the gendering Nature causes. How science is thought of–as a woman to be taken rather than what it actually is (the natural world, which is for the most part gender-neutral)–causes the “oppressive sexual politics,” rather than the actual manipulation of nature. If we get rid of all these women comparisons/personifications, then we should be good.

The feminist reading of Frankenstein by the author Anne Mellor was frankly (pun intended), a desperate grasp. Mellor disparages the sciences in her text, being all too sympathetic with Mary Shelley’s murky understanding of the field. Mellor acknowledges that given the time period, sciences such as chemical physiology were not truly understood by the leading scientists, yet uses Shelley’s ignorance and perceptions as a launching point for her argument over the male dominated field.

it’s slightly ridiculous when you think about it, seeing as Shelley does not exactly have a good grasp on science in general. The fact that she even compares alchemy (an outdated practice even in the context of the book) to the modern sciences in the novel shows her lack of knowledge. This is also the same woman who supposes that the proper work environment for scientific experiments is hunched in a dusty attic over a candle, a fact that Mellor also agrees with. Yet she uses Shelley as her centrepiece in the critique of the men and science. She hones in on Victor Frankenstein as the embodiment of what’s wrong with science. She places great store in how this unstable character pushes the limits of science and attempts to dissect the inner workings of nature. Victor Frankenstein? The man who has fainting fits over passing shadows? Yet it is precisely this quality of being a man that Mellor attacks discreetly instead of any grounded dislike towards the sciences.

She raises one fair point over the rapidly advancing field, where she claims the products of science are a danger to their creators, as seen today through bombs and weaponry. This she says, has been symbolised through the Creature, a hideous creation with the potential to rain destruction down upon Victor. Also the fact that the Creature takes on a male identity doesn’t hurt her point either. In any case, while i agreed that the sciences were male dominated, I found Mellor to provide a weak argument over the fact that they were a result of the perpetuated male ego. This being due to the fact that Shelley’s perceptions were her main focal point, a biased and skewed viewpoint to begin with.

For this Thursday (3/19), students will write a blog post that explores Anne Mellor’s feminist conclusion about Frankenstein: that “the scientist who analyses, manipulates, and attempts to control nature unconsciously engages in a form of oppressive sexual politics” (12).  To what extend does Mellor’s analysis of gendered imagery and metaphors help expose enlightenment-era ideologies about labor, reproduction, and technological development or, more brazenly, attack the study of science itself?  In other words, does her argument about the dangers of impersonal and instrumental modes of reasoning go too far in condemning the sciences and exalting the humanities (like English literature, for example)?  To help answer this question, focus on those passages in the novel where Victor first encountered and practiced science.

Please categorize under “Feminism and Science” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags.

Over the course of the semester, I’ve become most interested in the usage of language and communication, both as tools to reach an ideal “I”, and as a way for different literature to communicate with each other. To me, the idea of language as both a tool and a barrier that we use to try to embody the symbolic is deeply fascinating, affecting us not only on a person-to-person scale, but on a cultural scale. There’s some pure form behind Frankenstein, out of the reach of the novel and the films. Words, Lacan reminds us, are just approximations. These works constantly speak to each other, trying to build towards that imago, that idealized pure form they want to be. Kenneth Branagh’s film tried to exceed the novel — and yet his Creature, designed to be sympathetic, came out as little more than a sadistic monster by the end of the movie. The lack of sympathy felt towards the Creature is due to it’s total lack of the novel’s psychodynamic linguistic elements.

Language, and particularly the Creature’s linguistic development, play a key role in the novel. His narration offers a window into his psyche, and it reveals his deep adoration for the De Lacey’s. It displays the nature of his development, showing how the Creature identified the De Lacey’s as his ideal “I”, rather than his own reflection. When the De Lacey’s betray him and he realizes his imago is a lie, he is  submerged in the Real. His violence becomes not just a response to society rejecting him, but a result. In the film, this adoration is made unclear. Branagh removed the narration but failed to compensate for the lost window. The De Lacey’s are never made into his imago, and the Creature’s turn from docile to hostile becomes far more one-dimensional than the complex motivations of the character in the novel.

The film, rather, tries to communicate and outdo the novel by heightening the intensity of the conclusion by including the composite female body. Diverting from the novel after following it (mostly) faithfully for it’s duration is a direct comment on the novel; the film, looking back through time seems to say “Hey! It’s the 20th century! We can give women a choice!” However, this choice falls flat. It essentializes women, instead: it combines two starkly different women–servant Justine and aristocratic Elizabeth–into one body in an attempt to unify all women. The message comes out muddled, and the film seems to say that all women want choice. The novel, however, resists such temptations. Such is the nature of aspiration and competition. While it can lead to profound success, it can also destroy the fine balance of an existing literary work. In the end, Kenneth Branagh’s film shows just how minute of a tight-rope Shelley walked when writing Frankenstein. The story she was trying to reach is within her grasp, so much so that I doubt anyone will ever use language to get closer.