Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Feminism

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2001

10 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The role of women in Frankenstein
2.1. Margaret Saville
2.2. Caroline Beaufort
2.3. Elizabeth Lavenza
2.4. Justine Moritz
2.5. Agatha De Lacey
2.6. Safie

3. The importance of a mother for a child
3.1. The development of the monster

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Mary W. Shelley wrote her novel Frankenstein in a time in which women were expected to stay at home, care fore the children and do the household. Men normally worked outside the home in the public sphere, the division of roles was very strict[1] and men were valued over women[2].

Science and research were domains exclusively for men. Although she was no scientist, her husband and several other scientists, e.g. Erasmus Darwin, influenced Mary Shelley. She has however somehow entered a male sphere, which was normally forbidden for her.

This could perhaps be one of the reasons why she did not publish her novel herself but her husband Percy.

Another reason for this could be that women writer had a bad reputation. Their works were normally regarded as bad because they did not have a good education[3]. A woman writer was regarded as “unladylike”[4], she was expected to be “modest, chaste and docile”[5] and an “angel”[6]. The only duty of a woman was to be a good wife and especially a good mother, she was normally the only responsible for the education of the children because the men went to work and never participated in nurture.

This essay will examine the role of each woman in Frankenstein in the 19th century, the importance of a mother for a child and the failure of Victor Frankenstein to create and nurture a child without a woman.

2. The role of women in Frankenstein

2.1. Margaret Saville

The first woman the reader gets to know in Frankenstein is Margaret Saville, the sister of Robert Walton. Margaret and Robert write letters to each other while Robert is on his way to the North Pole. His sister stays at home, which is typical for those times. The women were supposed to be at home, occupied with the household and nurture of the children while the men went to work. In Robert’s case, he is a “real” man risking dangers on his way to his aim. In his letters, he tells his sister about his thoughts, sorrows and adventures and the story about Frankenstein and his monster. He needs her letters; they support him in hard times (“I need them most to support my spirits”[7]) and in one of those letters, he thanks her for her “love and kindness”[8] and her “gentle and feminine fosterage”[9]. So he is probably Margaret’s younger brother and as his elder sister, it is her duty to care for him and to take part in his education. In the 19th century, women were expected to help in the household and to look after their younger brothers and sisters. They have a mother role, like Margaret who worries about her brother and who tries to encourage him whenever she can.

2.2. Caroline Beaufort

Caroline Beaufort is the next woman introduced in the novel. She is the daughter of a merchant who is the best friends of Alphonse Frankenstein. After her father has lost a lot of money, Caroline starts working in order to earn money to survive. There is no mother and when her father becomes ill, she cares for him until his death, being the perfect daughter. His death makes her “an orphan and a beggar”[10]. Alphones Frankenstein, “a protecting spirit”[11], rescues her and marries her two years later. She is an “ideal of female devotion”[12], at first, she is devoted to her ill and poor father, then she marries his best friend and is devoted to him[13]. But Alphonse treats her as an equal; he is thankful, does everything for her and wants to recompense her “for the sorrows she had endured”[14]. He stops working after their marriage in order to be able to travel a lot with his wife for whom the climate changes are good because of her ill health. When their first son Victor is born, he helps her with his nurture, which is quite untypical for a man in those times. Caroline is “the perfect daughter, wife and mother”[15]. There is also a kind of indebtedness[16] in her actions. Alphonse has rescued her and now she has to fulfil certain duties for him. She is a good wife, housewife and childcare provider[17]. Also as part of her indebtedness, she visits the poor in order to help them like a “guardian angel”[18]. On one of her visits, she finds Elizabeth whom she takes with her.


[1] Cf. Anne Kostelanetz Mellor, Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters (New York & London: Routledge, 1988), p. 115.

[2] Cf. Ibid.

[3] Cf. Johanna M. Smith, “‘Cooped Up with ‘Sad Trash’: Domesticity and the Sciences in Frankenstein”, in Frankenstein: Complete Authoritative Text with Biographical, Historical and Cultural Contexts, Critical History and Essays from Contemporary Critical Perspectives, ed. Johanna M. Smith (New York: St. Martin’s, 2000) pp. 315-316.

[4] Fred Botting, Making Monstrous: Frankenstein, Criticism, Theory (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1991), p. 108.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Three Gothic Novels, ed. Peter Fairclough (London: Penguin Books, 1986), p. 276.

[8] Ibid., p. 272.

[9] Ibid., p. 274.

[10] Ibid., p. 290.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Mellor, Mary Shelley, p. 116.

[13] Cf. Ibid.

[14] Shelley, Frankenstein, p. 291.

[15] Botting, Making monstrous, p. 100.

[16] Cf. Smith, “Cooped Up”, p. 312.

[17] Cf. Mellor, Mary Shelley, p. 116.

[18] Shelley, Frankenstein, p. 292.

Excerpt out of 10 pages


Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Feminism
University of London  (English Department)
Women, Writing and Feminism
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Mary, Shelley, Frankenstein, Feminism, Women, Writing, Feminism
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Sylvia Hadjetian (Author), 2001, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Feminism, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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