Tag Archive: Justine

Blog Summary 1: False Justice

As I perused my previous blog posts, I reread one in particular that caught my eye: my post titled “The Bond of Creator and Creation.” In it, I cite a quote from Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful: “”And as our Creator has designed we should be united by the bond of sympathy…”, and then I elaborate on the bond of sympathy between Frankenstein and the Creature when he listens to his progeny’s story. Upon further reflection, however, I realized that moment is the only display of sympathetic connection between this God and his Adam found in the whole novel. Everywhere else, most particularly the execution of Justine, it is absent—but why? There should be a strong bond of love between them like that of a father and son, but no connection or true communication can be found. Understanding this disparity between expectations and reality can be further explored using Marxist analysis.

A preliminary structural analysis reveals that the turning point in the novel is the death of William and the execution of Justine. Before that point, Victor is at peace and the Creature’s location is, for all intents and purposes, held at bay. After the death of Justine, however, everything changes; Victor now lives a life of fear, and the Creature is a broken human with an insatiable desire for vengeance trying to exert control over his creator. The focal point of Marxist analysis also centers on the death of Justine—the symbolic death of justice. Frankenstein, a scientifically and technologically inclined member of the bourgeoisie, created Frankenstein much in the same way that the techno-centric industrial bourgeoisie created the new working class. There is no sympathy between the two emerging classes because their stratification was not created through humanistic demands, but rather socioeconomic demands. The bourgeoisie, despite begetting a whole new “race” of people, could never view them as anything but a means to an end—and the end is money. In the French revolution, they promised the proletariat egalitarianism, but their words were hollow—the proletariat, being naïve and possessing no prior context, were able to be repressed by the bourgeoisie’s bastardization of the ancient ideology of justice. They believed that it was killed during the revolution, but it was killed long before then, when the first factory manager looked down on his newly-minted workers and saw them as a stack of dollar bills. The proletariat never stood a chance, and their mislead sense of justice prevented them from seeing the creator as the true enemy.

The dynamic between Frankenstein and his creation acts in very much the same way. Frankenstein, a disgusting but powerful mass of muscle and sinew, is the large, dirty proletariat; suppressed by their master, they only blame themselves. In the Justine episode, the Creature fails to fully realize it is Frankenstein’s fault for the death of justice, not his—the very act of creating “a new species [that] would bless me as its creator” (Frankenstein 58) killed justice before the starting gun had even fired, for to create a species for the sake of deification is the most unholy of all injustices. The ideology that the Creature follows is a false one, perpetuated by Frankenstein (who knowingly refused to intervene to save justice before her execution at bourgeoisie hands) in order to exert control over his creation. Frankenstein does all of this because his creature was not created for humanistic reasons; it was a means to an end, an attempt to gain power to stay the cold hand of death from those he selfishly wanted to keep forever in this world. In the end, the Creature is unable to see Frankenstein as an enemy. Even after he kills everyone Frankenstein loves, he still cries when his creator is finally subdued by Death and sacrifices himself to the sea. His false ideology will always blind him to his creator’s evil. Unless the proletariat can see what the bourgeoisie’s sense of justice actually is—frail, twisted, and coughing up the blood of innocents—they will never throw off the yoke of oppression.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a deep text with many more elements to it that I had never considered, and would probably never consider before dissecting it in this class. One of those considerations is how the monster and his actions can be connected to the French Revolution.

In the context of writers such as Edmund Burke, William Godwin, and Mary Wollstonecraft, many seemingly minor passages of the novel – such as the execution of the former servant to the Frankenstein family, Justine – take on a whole new importance. If Justine’s death is supposed to represent the “death” of Justice in the French Revolution, then the creature must be representative of the thing that killed Justice: the revolution itself. From a Marxist perspective, Dr. Frankenstein can be interpreted as the wealthy elites, sculpting an amalgamation of men (the monster) like the proletariat, which he rejects and subsequently despises. In this same interpretation, it is easy to see that the creature could be symbolic of the Revolution itself; a monster regretfully created by the wealthy that leads to the destruction of Justice and the eventual downfall of the people that created it. Like the kings of France, Dr. Frankenstein had no intentions of creating a monster from his activity; it was an unintentional product of satisfying a thirst, power and wealth for the kings, but knowledge for Victor. The monster itself shares many traits with the revolutionaries, such as their combat against a being that left them in their current state, yet did nothing to alleviate them from it. Like the Revolution the monster’s intentions were good, but it soon escalates into violence once the initial goals aren’t immediately met, shown in the murders of Justine, Clerval, and Elizabeth.

By looking at the monster through a scope that incorporates both Marxist philosophy and historical context, a possible symbol for the creature emerges, a symbol of good intentions gone bad and of a Revolution that shook the world.

Here’s a full pic of our completed in-class graphic idea map.  Students can use it as a study guide to help them prepare for the blog summary due next week.  The green color is for William Godwin, the red for Edmund Burke, and the blue for Mary Wollstonecraft.

We’re making steady progress in our historicist analysis of the Justine episode in Frankenstein.  Please feel free to comment on students’ impressive idea map.


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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.

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)

The wrongful execution of Justine serves as a symbolic backdrop for the corruption of good. What Justine represents is a pure, well-intentioned spirit who, when constantly pushed to a corner by negative outside forces, cannot help but cave in. She mentions to Elizabeth how she did confess to killing William, but only out of duress and fear; “ever since [she] was condemned, [her] confessor had besieged [her]; he threatened and menaced, until [she] almost began to think that [she] was the monster that he said [she] was” (Shelley 83). What we have here is a clear case of someone who, while innocent and well-intentioned, could not think ahead to see just exactly what she was sacrificing by letting the negative attacks affect her. The sheer gravity of a murder charge, with its punishment of execution, eventually became secondary to the vicious corruptive influence of her confessor, in Justine’s mind. She took his words to heart more than the truth that lay within her due to just how convincing and insistent he was. The confessor even started to “threaten excommunication and hell fire in [her] last moments, if [she] continued obdurate” (Shelley 83). Punishment in the afterlife for something she didn’t do, but something that her confessor convinced her to believe. Such compelling words, added to the fact that there was “none to support [her]; all looked on [her] as a wretch doomed to ignominy and perdition” (Shelley 83-84). This just demonstrates the sheer power of the people around you: she was swayed to conform to what everyone else believed, despite the complete falsehood of such beliefs. She, as a result, lies to herself, and her pure innocence is ruined.

This is a strong corollary to the death of justice and ideological purity during the French Revolution. Good intentions and aspirations were what fueled the start of the Revolution, with the rise and empowerment of the poor, downtrodden Third Estate and the subsequent goal of securing equality and justice under the law. William Godwin aspires to see this occur as much himself, as he states in his 1793 Enquiry Concerning Political Justice: “To the general mass of the adherents of equality… if there be any force in the arguments of this work, we seem authorized to deduce thus much from them, that truth is irresistible. Let then this axiom be the rudder of our undertakings” (Godwin 789). Note how very non-forceful and non-threatening he is with stating his personal opinions by stating how there is, above all, only one “force” in his work which calls for special attention. This tone of his indicates how he wants the reader to be eased in comfortably to his opinions. His conviction that “truth is irresistible” is undoubtedly a tenet that justice strives to uphold, and a tenet that poor Justine could not uphold herself. She was swayed by negative outside forces, and so was the Revolution itself. His hope that truth’s irresistible nature would lead to it always being championed and protected, that it would be the “rudder,” the fuel to people’s fire, sadly is not the case, due to simple human fallibility. Sure, truth as an ideal should in theory always be defended no matter what the circumstances are, but circumstances definitely do matter. Justine’s circumstances– she was lonely, with everyone around her condemning her about what she allegedly did, and with a corruptive confessor by her side, constantly feeding her lies– shook her inner core, to the point where she could not help but be swayed in the end. The same goes for what happened to the French Revolution: the noble ideals championed at the outset of the Revolution soon gave way to extremist influences, with truth and justice eventually being discarded, giving way to tyranny, with the Reign of Terror being a good example of that. Proper truth and justice, and those championing it, were drowned out by the surge of radicals. The inner core of the Revolution was thus corrupted, much like poor Justine, and Justine’s as well as Godwin’s best intentions were left unfulfilled.

            From a Marxist perspective one might expect Justine to take on the standard role of the oppressed proletariat that is unjustly and indiscriminately executed for the crimes of the monster. However, after reading The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Justine can be examined as another construct. Justine herself does not represent any specific facet of society, but rather her execution serves as the catalyst for the rise of Victor Frankenstein. Prior to Justine’s arrest, Frankenstein was still a figure of ideals, and viewed the world as black vs. white, good vs. evil. Victor embodied this well-ordered ideal and it expressed itself through his actions; the reader can clearly determine Victor’s morals, and more importantly, he sees himself as good. But Victor’s cold albeit pragmatic refusal to help Justine, simply on the basis that it would be futile. Thus, the clearly demarcated morals of Victor’s world are fuddled, and Justine’s execution leads to the rise of Victor from a naïve idealist to a vengeful pragmatist.

            In many ways the rise of Bonaparte and his bureaucracy mirrors that of Victor Frankenstein. In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Karl Marx notes that the “overthrow of parliamentary republic [led to] the victory of Bonaparte” (48). Bonaparte as a singular identity represents the proletariat triumph, but he himself could not rise without the downfall of the previous structures of state, which were all permutations of the same ideal: the government “was the instrument of the ruling class, however much it strove for power of its own” (49). Thus, Marx explicitly states that the old idealistic parliamentary government is simply not suited for the proletariat, and thus it must be completely eliminated. The old government is essentially sacrificed, which serves as the catalyst for, an otherwise mediocre form of government to assume dominance. It must be noted that the new government was still quite under the control of the elite, as the segment of government meant to control them was easily bribed, but in principle this form of bureaucracy was “completely independent”.

The wrongful execution of Justine for a murder that Frankenstein’s monster actually commits is an unusual part of Dr. Frankenstein’s narrative; the character of Justine is not mentioned before Victor hears of the murder accusations, yet the man expresses deep feelings upon her imprisonment and passing. If we take Justine to be the symbol of Justice, then Mary Shelley’s ideas on the subject would have undoubtedly been shaped by those of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft.

Wollstonecraft wrote “A Vindication on the Rights of Men” in response to Edmund Burke’s ideas on the sublime and beautiful and his opinions on the French Revolution. Justine goes against Burke’s vision of the “beautiful” woman, a view that Wollstonecraft vehemently attacks, “Never, they might repeat after you, was any man, much less a woman, rendered amiable by the force of those exalted qualities, fortitude, justice, wisdom, and truth; and thus forewarned of the sacrifice they must make to those austere, unnatural virtues, they would be authorized to turn all their attention to their persons, systematically neglecting morals to secure beauty…”. Wollstonecraft attacks Burke’s notion that beauty can only exist in man if it is separate from strength and courage – only the weaker emotions highlight beauty. Justine is an exact contradiction to this ideal, she is described as beautiful by Dr. Frankenstein, yet she is “a girl of merit” and despite the harrowing circumstances she, “did not tremble” (both quotes on 79). Justine displays courage in facing the fate that awaits her, even if it is an unjust one, a trait that Burke would not have found “beautiful”, but one that Wollstonecraft would have admired in its genuineness.

Another aspect of Wollstonecraft’s influence on Shelley’s character of Justine is the way society treats her (and therefore Justice) with a callous air. Wollstonecraft criticizes Burke’s assertion that veneration of civil institutions is a product of Nature and the natural order. If Justine is Justice personified, then the illegitimacy of her death must be viewed not as an act of civil institution – in this case law – that should be venerated, but as a problem in the system: a problem that Burke implies is not there in a civil society. Interpreting Justine’s death with Mary Wollstonecraft in mind creates the character to be a direct counter to the ideals that Burke had in terms of beauty and the role of Nature.

If Justine is to be considered the anthropomorphism of Justice, then her unfair trial and death is as ironic as irony can get. Her conflict with the jury is a classic example of the conflict between the actual and the assumed interpretation of the concept. Justice is “all benignity” as Godwin puts it (p. 790), and not “brutishness and inflexibility” as the adherents to the cause of Justice believe. And so Justine remains loyal to the Godwin-ian view of fairness, in all its inevitability and reliance on the “private conviction of individuals” (p. 790), until the very end. When Justine is being tried, she relies on the “great instrument of justice, reason” (Godwin, p.790) and rests her innocence on a “simple explanation of the facts” (Frankenstein,p.80). She lends support for her defense from her past (p.81) by calling character witnesses, in analogy to Godwin’s proposition that history eventually manifests as a fundamental, reformative truth that gives way to Justice.

It can be concluded that Justine embodies the Utopian view of fairness that is a gradual but a voluntary endeavor, as opposed to a violent shift in the social paradigm. That being said, we see that Justine is an isolated character. She has suffered the loss of family, a mentor, and a ward and the hatred of a mother and her society. She has no support. Victor is silent. Even Elizabeth’s support is fickle (p.83, para 2). Justine refuses Elizabeth’s offer to “melt the stony hearts of [Justine’s] enemies” (p.84) and instead resigns herself to her sentence. Her passiveness makes her seem almost like an instrument of fate; like Justice embodied offered to the masses: an ephemeral shortcut to social equilibrium, as Godwin thinks of fairness, just ripe for the taking.

Justine’s exit so early in the novel signifies that true Justice based on logic and reason will play no part in resolving the novel’s conflict. Victor’s inaction despite his knowledge of Justine’s innocence perhaps foreshadows the balancing injustice of the Creature’s survival. In all cases, Justine’s death is a result of “a mistake of [justice’s] adherents” in understanding the true meaning of fairness. And just like this “mistake” is a wrinkle, an anomaly, in the grand scheme of justice, so perhaps will be the resolution of Frankenstein’s conflict.


In all honesty, I was throughly confused in trying to apply Mary Wollstencraft to Justine’s death. I’m confused as I write this and I will probably be confused when we discuss these blog posts in class. My confusion stems from Justine’s representation. Yes, Justine stands for Justice but what kind of Justice? Is it the Justice System or the moral concept? Taking Mary Wollstencraft’s ides on the French revolution and monarchy we see that she would approve of the hanging of the system of justice but not the hanging of concept of justice.

The System: If we use the justice system to represent a larger sector of 19th century power, Justine no longer stands only for the prisons and judicial parts of government, but the monarchy as a whole. An ardent believer in republican government calls the French Revolution a “glorious chance” to “more virtue and happiness than has hitherto blessed our globe.” Here Wollstencraft is rejoicing in the upheaval of the French monarchy  and lend the same enthusiasm to the hanging of Justine as a representation of and unjust justice system. But what if Justine represents Justice as a moral concept? If this is the case then Wollstencraft would not approve of the hanging of Justine because in her eyes real justice is always possible.

But wait….there’s more

What if Justine represents both? If this is true she is a (no longer walking) contradiction and I just got a lot more confused.