Tag Archive: William Godwin


Butchered Justice

In the novel Frankenstein, we readers witness the execution of Justine, the maid of the Frankenstein household, for the death of William. Although she was never guilty, she was still put on trial and found guilty for planted evidence. After reading Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Men, the connections between Justine/Justice and the writing material is very strong.

For instance, Wollstonecraft focuses the majority of her paper on the idea of beauty, and how it is treated towards Justine and all women found in Frankenstein. Wollstonecraft quotes that “littleness and weakness are the very essence of beauty” (47). With Justine being a female, this same idea of beauty collided with her, and her wretched state as she goes on trial, knowing that she herself is innocent. At this point in the novel, Justine is tear-faced and broken to hear the news of her guilt from the jury. Wollstonecraft shows us that in order to be considered beautiful by men, we must appear smaller than them, and act as if we have a necessity for males in our lives in order to survive. Justine was not able to fit in that category, since she was “guilty” of William’s murder, which led to her demise.

-Jody Omlin

– Bianca Lopez Munoz

In William Godwin’s piece, “Enquiry Concerning Political Justice”, Godwin expresses that in his opinion, a revolution shouldn’t be violent and resentful. It should be a be a peaceful event where wealth is distributed among everyone equally. An event where all social classes have a conversation, have a mutual understanding of what everyone wants, and unite. Instead of men taking advantage of each other’s distresses, and in self interest, seek momentary gratification, that they should love liberty, love equality, pursuit arts, and have a desire for knowledge. And through this men will sympathize with each other and therefore a revolution would be a tranquil and orderly phenomenon.

By definition or mutual understanding, Justice is fair behavior and treatment, it is moral righteousness. During revolutions people seek justice and do things in the name of justice, good or bad. When I went back to the parts of Frankenstein where Justine was accused, tried, and executed for the murder of William, as I was reading, I would replace Justine’s name with the word Justice and it was incredibly interesting to see how well some passages worked with the change of language. “A servant in Geneva does not mean the same thing as a servant in France or England, Justine… learned the duties of a servant; a condition which…does not include the idea of ignorance, and a sacrifice of the dignity of a human being” (66). Now replace Justine with the word Justice in this quote. Justice is a servant. Ignorance and the sacrafice of human dignity is not part of justice, like in England or France (where people were murdered and it was extremely chaotic and unjust). When Victor finally gets back to his father’s home in Geneva he tells Ernest, “You are all mistaken; I know the murderer. Justine, poor Justine, is innocent” (77). Again replace Justine with the word justice. Justice is innocent. The evil things like murder that people do in the name of justice actually have nothing to do with justice and it is just a way to defend their actions. During Justine’s trial, Elizabeth appeals for Justine and says, “when I see a fellow creature about to parish through the cowardice of her pretended friends…”(81). This again, goes back to people using justice as a tool to justify and not take responsibility for their wrong doings during revolution. I remind you that all of this is happening because Victor Frankenstein decided to bring to life, a creature, which killed his brother, which indirectly killed Justine. Victor know’s he holds some blame to the death of his brother but refuses to speak up about it since he fears people will think he is insane. Victor did what William Godwin thinks people should not do. Victor took advantage of Justine’s distress, and in letting someone else be blamed for the death of William, he found momentary gratification for his sins but it wasn’t too long before he became guilty of the death of Justine. The revolution of the creature shouldn’t be violent and resentful as are the actions of the creature and Victor. I believe these things could have been avoided if Victor hadn’t run from his creation. Had he stayed and like, Godwin stated, had a conversation and sympathyzed with the creature, things could have possibly has a more “natural and tranquil progress”(Godwin).

by Steven Gonzalez

In William Godwin’s  Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), he contends that equality and justice in a society are eminently appealing and that the people within a society should look to achieve equality, not through the use of violence, but through peaceful means. Godwin admonishes the use of violence proclaiming, “Let us anxiously refrain from violence… The cause of justice id the cause of humanity. Its advocates should be penetrated with universal good-will.”(pg.789) Godwin notes that a society can achieve this ideal notion of equality and justice among all people through the individual’s focus on reason, tranquility, and the tireless pursuit of truth. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein the character Justine personifies this idea of an “individual focus on reason, tranquility, and truth” as a manner to achieve equality and justice from the perspective of the reader. Consequently, upon Justine’s death, the ideal notions of equality and justice are eradicated within the society of Geneva along with her as a result of the lack of reason, tranquility, and truth expressed in her conviction and execution. Justine’s death, used to symbolize the death of justice in the novel, serves as a perfect exemplar for the consequences that arise from a person’s disregard for reason, tranquility, and the pursuit of truth.

 

Initially, Elizabeth introduces Justine into the novel in a letter to Victor by describing Justine’s past and her upbringing. Then, Elizabeth compares the republican institutions between France/England and Switzerland: she does this to convey the smaller distinction between people of different classes. She emphasizes this difference noting that “there is less distinction between the several classes of its inhabitants; and the lower orders, being neither so poor nor so despised, their manners are more refined and moral.”(Shelley 65). Additionally, Elizabeth further goes on to describe how Justine isn’t seen or treated as an inferior to the rest of Geneva because of her lower socio-economic status stating, “Justine… learned the duties of a servant, a condition which, in our fortunate country, does not include the idea of ignorance, and a sacrifice of the dignity of a human being.”(Shelley 65). Next, Elizabeth describes the righteousness of Justine’s character calling her the “most grateful little creature in the world”. Observing this through the lens of William Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice allows us to see the direct correlation between the benevolence of Justine’s character and the equality she experiences within her society. Following William’s death, we see a shift in Justine’s character and consequently, a shift in how society views Justine just like Godwin would predict. Justine begins to abandon her dedication to reason in her studies, tranquility in her demeanor, and truth in her statements and so society begins to see her as a wretched below human individual accusing her of murdering William. This is most evidently depicted in the lines, ” I did confess, but I confessed a lie. I confessed, that I might obtain absolution; but now that falsehood lies heavier at my heart than all my other sins… In an evil hour I subscribed to a lie; and now only am I truly miserable.”(Shelley 82). It seems that even Victor Frankenstein at this point seems to see her as being inferior referring her to her constantly as “poor victim” with a pitiful almost patronizing tone. It seems incredibly ironic that Victor, with the power to stop Justine’s death through truth, decides to let her die a violent death while simultaneously grieving and lamenting, ” I, the true murderer, felt the never-dying worm alive in my bosom, which allowed of no hope or consolation … Anguish and despair penetrated into the core of my heart, I bore hell within me which nothing could extinguish.”(Shelley 83). Finally, Justine dies because of Victor’s deviation from reason, tranquility, and truth and Victor Frankenstein acknowledges this lamenting, ” I beheld those I loved spend vain sorrow upon the graves of William and Justine, the first hapless victims to my unhallowed arts.”(Shelley 84).

Ultimately, Godwin’s solution for achieving equality through the individual’s pursuit of reason, tranquility, and truth was evident as being correlative but not necessarily causative: There happened to be equality and justice when Justine expressed a pursuit of reason, tranquility, and truth but not necessarily because of her expression. One idea I found interesting  was Elizabeth’s introduction of Justine in her letter because even though she describes how Justine is not seen as inferior, she herself uses patronizing and condescending language to refer to her, often calling her “little creature”, and “poor girl” perhaps indicating the inevitable lack of equality in a seemingly perfectly equal society. On this point is where I ultimately disagree with Godwin, not on his methods of achieving an equal society but simply whether an “equal” society is eminently desirable in the first place. In a truly equal society, there is no variance in class, in politics, in character, and most importantly in ideas. Godwin even mentions this idea and even champions it stating, ” Each man will find his sentiment of justice and rectitude echoed by the sentiments of his neighbors.”(Godwin 794) This seemingly homogenous authoritarian society is not ideal in any definition of the word. Moreover, we should seek to achieve the highest order of equality of opportunity and to preserve the dignity of all human beings, but we as a society should not expect nor desire the homogenous equality of outcome which Godwin seems to idealize as his final goal. Ultimately, the idea that subscribing to an easy to follow, simple ideology in order to solve nuanced inequalities within a society is reckless, irrational, and untenable.

 

 

Samantha Shapiro

Within Frankenstein, a large focus within the novel revolves around Victor, which cannot be avoided due to the nature of Victor being a primary speaker and self-centered perspective.

We see this through the approach of Justine’s seemingly unfair trial and later execution, in which she doesn’t receive any justice from a justice system. As the focus with Justine’s death is how it relates to Victor, the reader sees how Victor’s inner processes centralize his guilt, creating a situation that he can’t get out of. Victor victimizes himself through Justine’s situation, and we see this through the overall focus of the text. Due to this nature of the excerpt, as well as the nature and connection to William Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, much of the passage appears to respond to core ideals found within Godwin’s work, especially in relation to suffering and the pursuit of humanity.

A primary focus to Godwin is that we have two major duties in order to perpetuate justice for humanity’s happiness: to focus attention to reason and communicate, or bring to light a way to “do justice to our principles,” and to do so peacefully (ECPJ 789-790). Justine, in giving a false confession to murder, did to to “obtain absolution,” but instead entered the courtroom knowing to have lied, but also now in the presence of a system, where “all looked on [her] as a wretch doomed to ignominy and perdition” (F 83). Her suffering in falsely communicating her reason correlates with Godwin’s view of a “tendency towards the equalization of conditions” through the eyes of Victor (ECPJ 791). Victor takes it upon himself and identifies with Justine’s feelings of “ignominy and perdition,” or even feelings of being dishonored due to his pursuits of science. Godwin notes that the followers in the pursuit of knowledge submitted to “servile dedications” and could only escape from this slavery with the “gradual revolution of opinion,” knowing that independence and ease are in reach, but he fails to look onward to other emotions, such as guilt and negative views of being brought to light (ECPJ 792, 793). Frankenstein is a “obsequious” and “servile” follower in character, to both science and his loved ones, and would “spend each vital drop of blood for [their sakes],…spend his life in serv[itude]” (ECPJ 792, F 85). However, the guilt of his pursuit of science and a fear of rejection leads to his guilt in creating, what he sees, as a violent monster. He loses a part of himself, and gains hopelessness when he feels like he isn’t even belonging to other humans, but a creator of a demon-like murderer. Victor sees himself as lost due to having a “never-dying worm alive in [his] bosom, which allowed of no hope or consolation,” or guilt—while Justine can have resignation from suffering in death, his suffering of guilt, a metaphorical “never-dying worm” ate at him constantly due to his regrets in his pursuits (84).

Sabrina Vazquez

William Godwin in the excerpt from his book Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, writes about the common and basic axiom of embracing the good and bad in life. He states, “The cause of justice is the cause of humanity. Its advocates should be penetrated with universal good will.” (789). Justine through her trial and conviction seems to embrace her decision. Even after tried guilty states that she is prepared and has accepted that she will leave the “sad and bitter world”, because she has submitted to the will of heaven (Shelley, 83). She is innocent of a highly serious crime and sentenced to death, yet she does not let that taint her convictions. Even though her death is not just, she remains true to herself and her true sentiments. This very much compliments Godwin’s thoughts of who we should remain when tested in face of fairness.

William Godwin expresses his advocation for peaceful, nonviolent revolution through reason and honest communication of sentiment, in order to obtain justice, as explained in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, “Let us anxiously refrain from violence” (789), and “communicate our sentiments with the utmost frankness” (790). In addition, he encourages to “press them upon the attention of others” and “sharpen our intellectual weapons” (790) which will work to end injustice.

Godwin’s ideologies fail to be seen through Justine as she claims, “I did confess; but I confessed a lie that I might obtain absolution” (83), because she had admitted to the false accusation and did not communicate with the utmost frankness, which then contributed to the eventual death of Justine/justice. Ultimately, it is Victor Frankenstein’s dishonesty and failure to communicate his true sentiments of anguish and guilt that lead to the death of Justine/justice. This is seen when he confesses, “I beheld those I loved spend vain sorrow upon the graves of William and Justine, the first hapless victims to my unhallowed arts” (85). Victor’s lack of truthful communication and complete failure to bring attention of his sentiments to others therefore lead to further injustices, including the deaths of all his loved ones. However, we see Godwin’s faith in reason and sentiment through Elizabeth, who explains that she will obtain justice for Justine, saying, “I will proclaim, I will prove your innocence” (83) with the knowledge that Justine truly was innocent regardless of the evidence that proved her to be guilty. In Godwin’s eyes, Elizabeth is his only hope to restore and save Justine/justice. Unfortunately, any of these efforts fail because of the pervasive absence of nonviolent revolution through frank reason and sentiment. We can further draw parallels from the French Revolution and Justine’s death because of humanity’s failure to communicate and refrain from violence, which then brings an even more constant stream of injustice, deaths, and barbarity.

-Serena Ya

Although Wollstonecraft and Burke pose startling arguments on the French Revolution that remain on separate ends of the spectrum, Godwin speaks of sentiment and knowledge being humanity’s gateway to equality and prosperity. His philosophy is subtly etched into the passage of Justine’s death in the forms of communication and reason, or rather, the lack of it.

Godwin says in a sort of hopeful demeanor, exuding optimism with the words, “We should communicate our sentiments with the utmost frankness.” Justine has no problem doing so as she earnestly wishes for Elizabeth to have faith in her innocence. Elizabeth and Victor work to reason and communicate with the jury responsible for deciding Justine’s fate as they stand before them offering their perspectives and assurances. They do exactly as Godwin says to do as their sentiments are expressed vocally and vulnerably in a manner that is “of utmost frankness”. However, their efforts prove to be of no avail as Justine proceeded to face punishment for a crime she wouldn’t ever dream of committing. Thus, showing the jury’s lack of sentiment and regard. Their stance on the philosophy of Godwin remains on a completely different scale than that of Elizabeth and Victor’s as they seem to be blinded by what they believe to be the right knowledge rather than what they should see to be the efforts of communication and reason.

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.

 

117 photo (3)

 

117 photo (1)

 

117 photo (2)

Legal Justice in Frankenstein

William Godwin was a firm supporter of justice. He states in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice that “the cuase of justice is humanity. Its advocates should be penetrated with universal good-will,” taking a clear stance on the issue of justice and its importance. Justine’s death in Frankenstein demonstrates injustice on multiple levels. First, Frankenstein betrays justice by betraying Justine, both literally and symbolically. He knows that she is innocent and that William’s death is his own fault, yet he fails to take the blame, which is an unjust act. Symbolically, Justine serves as a symbol for justice. Therefore, by betraying Justine on a general level, Frankenstein is betraying justice.

            The second example of injustice found in Justine’s death is the failure of the criminal justice system, a system that Godwin heavily critiques. Frankenstein describes the reasoning of the court ruling as “ harsh” and “unfeeling,” (Shelley 85). Shelley is here making a critique of the criminal justice system. This is shown through the fact that she dedicates her novel to “William Godwin, author of Political Justice, (Shelley 19). This dedication implies that Shelley shared views of political justice with Godwin. 

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.