Tag Archive: reflections on the revolution in france


False Confessions

It is evident that Justine’s death in Frankenstein was a tragic and unjust one. Despite her innocence, shortly after her conviction, she confessed to have murdered William knowing that it would end in her execution. During her last encounter with Elizabeth, Justine admits to have lied about being responsible for Williams murder when saying, “Dear lady, I had no one to support me; all looked on me as a wretch doomed to ignominy and perdition. What could I do? In an evil hour I subscribed to a lie; and now only am I truly miserable” (83). Here, she makes it clear that she felt alone during her moments of conviction because although there really was no solid evidence that proved her guilty, once blamed, Justine was labeled the murder by the entire town without any hesitation. In addition to this, Justine also voices how from the moment she was condemned, “[her] confessor besieged [her]”, as well as “threatened and menaced, until [she] almost began to think [she] was the monster he said [she] was”(83). It was during her time of weakness that the law took advantage of her in order to obtain a confession; even if it meant manipulating her into believing she truly was a demented murderer.
See the source image

Now, taking into consideration Justine’s death in Frankenstein, a lot of the way it was handled can be interpreted through Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France 1790. As described in Burke’s writing, death was a prominent occurrence due to the ongoing revolution; including executions as well as the suffering of many. In one instance, Burke confesses, “that much allowance out to be made for the Society, and that the temptation was too strong for common discretion” (72). Returning once again to Justine’s death, she felt isolated from her homes community after she was accused of murder and because of it she saw no other option but to untruthfully confess. As one can see, society played a big role in a persons downfall and although some may have thought it to be unjust, the “temptation” or inclination to be on the side the majority thought to be right, was so powerful it caused individuals to loose their “common discretion”. Another point brought up by Burke describes how he began to think, “such treatment of any human creatures must be shocking to any but those who are made for accomplishing Revolutions” (74). By this he means the suffering that was allowed to go on during the revolution in France would be surprising to those who would normally be opposed to violence and an uprising. In the same manner, Justine’s confessor threatened and pressured her into a false confession; something no one in their right mind would take part in. Yet, this individual tortured Justine because they needed an murder and would stop at nothing spill their blood in an execution; even if that person was innocent.

– Juanita Espinoza

By ~ Amber Loper

In Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France”, he talks briefly about the importance of beauty in the role of natural order. Should anything disturb the natural order of things, justice, and therefor beauty, die. A minor character in Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, plays a crucial role in advancing this rhetoric. Justine, a servant to the Frankenstein household, favorite to the late Mrs. Frankenstein, and serving the family for most of her life, ends up tragically accused for the murder of their youngest boy, William. The family claims to love her dearly, but at the appearance of the smallest amount of evidence, they all turn their backs on her, except Victor who knows for a fact she is innocent. She is a pretty young woman, death_of_the_justice_by_quadraro-d6sapo4.pngobedient and humble in her ways, which makes her death all the more poignant. Burke examines the effects of the French Revolution, saying, “never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience…”(p.70). He believes the French Revolution was the end to such niceties and never again would society prosper as well as it had. Such is the way that Justine accepts her fate. She is well aware of her rank in society as a servant, and she is a woman. Being the epitome of her sex and class, she obediently confesses to a murder she did not commit. In her final moments with friends, she says, “learn from me, dear lady, to submit in patience to the will of Heaven”(FRANKENSTEIN p.83). Justine believes her death is not the failings of society, but an act of God’s will, something far beyond anyone’s control and it is not to be tampered with and only met with patience. Her death, as is the French Revolution, is the end of Justice in Frankenstein’s world.

Burke would admire Justine’s actions, thinking her an exemplary woman. Maybe even comparable to Marie Antoinette. He briefly mentions Antoinette’s death, saying, “in the last extremity she will save herself from the last disgrace, and that if she must fall, she will fall by no ignoble hand”(BURKE p.75). That is to say, a woman in the face of death, no matter what ranking, must go down gracefully, not fighting or begging, that is not the way of life. To fight back is disgraceful, piteous, and frankly, ugly. The French Revolution is a wart on society in Burke’s eyes. Similar, everything in Frankenstein after Justine’s death goes against the dignified, obedient world Burke believes in. Dr. Frankenstein descends into madness, tries to fight back against his monster and all sense of justice becomes lost on him.

Tania De Lira-Miranda

justine_in_prison

In his political pamphlet, Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke wrote against the French Revolution. He specifically talks about how because of the revolution, the age of chivalry, “the sum of the ideal qualifications of a [person], including courtesy, generosity, valor, and dexterity in arm (dictionary.com)” would come to end. He explains this in his pamphlet that before the revolution, when he saw the queen of France, she “hardly seemed touched, a more delightful vision…glittering like the morning-star. full of life, and splendor, and joy” (75) but that now because of the revolution “disasters [falls] upon her in a nation of fallen men” (76) which shows that the age of chivalry is gone.

The idea that the age of values such as bravery, honor and great gallantry toward women were held in high esteem is no over can be seen in Frankenstein. In the novel, Justine Moritz is being accused of murdering William Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein’s brother. While mostly everyone in the town believes that she is guilty, only two people other than herself think otherwise: Elisabeth and Victor. But of those two, the only one who truly knows that Justin is innocent is Victor. He knows that the actual killer is the creature as when he saw the creature in the Alps, Victor realized that “Nothing in human shape could have destroyed the fair child. He was the murderer! I could not doubt it. The mere presence of the idea was an irresistible proof of the fact.” (75) But even though Victor knew that Justine was not the murderer, he did not tell anyone of the creature’s existence or of the fact that it was the creature, not Justine who killed William. Instead of coming forward to defend Justine’s honor, Victor just let the town kill Justine. It is only to himself at the graves of William and Justine that he admits that they are “the first hapless victims to [his] unhallowed arts.” (85) By staying quiet, Victor is cowardly in the fact that he did nothing to stop Justine’s unjustly death. His actions were not chivalrous thus proving Burke’s points that the age of chivalry is gone.

Justine Moritz’s trial and execution are explored carefully over several pages in Frankenstein, commanding the reader’s attention to the treatment of justice in this scene, even as it involves a seemingly minor character. In a particularly powerful moment, Justine finishes testifying before the court and seems almost immediately to acknowledge and accept the direction of the trial: “I commit my cause to the justice of my judges, yet I see no room for hope. I beg permission to have a few witnesses examined concerning my character; and if their testimony shall not overweigh my supposed guilt, I must be condemned, although I would pledge my salvation on my innocence.” (Shelley 81)

What we see here is a sort of self-abandonment in the acceptance of the law – To Justine, it represents something that is absolute, and in a way, faultless. Although she knows she is innocent, she believes in the certainty of the law, and this belief is manifested in her decision to confess to the crime she did not commit. We can gather from Justine’s confession and her trial as a whole, that enforcing the law and enacting justice are separate to such a degree that judges act solely on their own “harsh unfeeling reasoning” (Shelley 85) in accordance with the law – so powerful is this separation that it even soaks through to the individual level, where it compromises freedom from personal guilt and responsibility.

Based on Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France 1790, it seems he would have a mouthful to say about this as well. In particular, he makes the point that the core values of the revolution undermined sentiment, and lacked an element of humanity. On pages 76-77, Burke states that “This mixed system of opinion and sentiment had its origin in the antient chivalry…if it should ever be totally extinguished, the loss I fear will be great… All the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle, and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason.”  Through the lens of this particular quote, we can see that Burke would identify Justine/justice as a tool of the law, rather than a guiding light, to be molded according to reason over human sentiment – and since, as Burke says, the “reason which banishes the affections is incapable of filling their place”, what we observe is that law has an unnatural and absolute power, and “we have no compass to govern us.” (Burke 78). Placed in the context of his entire argument in Reflections, the implication of such a philosophy is a regression of humanity and society into total anarchy.