Elizabeth’s Objectification and Lack of Autonomy

(This is a week late! It was written from the first part of our Frankenstein reading)

Going into any book, I always can’t help but notice how female characters are represented and written. Especially when it comes to older fiction, I usually find that the women are nothing more than side characters or pawns that don’t have much personality on their own. Even though I knew that this story was centered around a man and a monster, I was a tiny bit more hopeful for female representation on the side because I knew that the author was a woman and a feminist. But within the first few descriptions of Elizabeth, I was disappointed but not surprised to find the stereotype of “submissive and pretty and innocent” girl present right off the bat. 

Elizabeth Lavenza became the inmate of my parents’ house—my more than sister—the beautiful and adored companion of all my occupations and my pleasures… On the evening previous to her being brought to my home, my mother had said playfully, “I have a pretty present for my Victor—tomorrow he shall have it.” And when, on the morrow, she presented Elizabeth to me as her promised gift, I, with childish seriousness, interpreted her words literally and looked upon Elizabeth as mine—mine to protect, love, and cherish. All praises bestowed on her I received as made to a possession of my own. We called each other familiarly by the name of cousin. No word, no expression could body forth the kind of relation in which she stood to me—my more than sister, since till death she was to be mine only.

The way Victor writes about Elizabeth in these opening lines is pretty weird. Victor talking about how his mother “presented Elizabeth as a gift” certainly stood out to me. He says “mine” a lot, that she is his to love and cherish and have to himself and one day marry and all that jazz. Victor implies heavily through this section that he has always seen Elizabeth as a sort of possession of his own. We don’t actually learn about her as a person or as a human being, but as if she is an object. The language in this could be picked apart forever but the bottom line is that it is not really a normal way to be talking about a person, let alone someone you were raised with, as if they have no autonomy and are simply there for you to love.

The saintly soul of Elizabeth shone like a shrine-dedicated lamp in our peaceful home. Her sympathy was ours; her smile, her soft voice, the sweet glance of her celestial eyes, were ever there to bless and animate us. She was the living spirit of love to soften and attract; I might have become sullen in my study, rough through the ardour of my nature, but that she was there to subdue me to a semblance of her own gentleness.

When Victor starts actually describing who Elizabeth is, it is again with these themes of possession. Her smile, her eyes, her soft voice, her sympathy, it was all “there to bless and animate” Victor and others. All of these adjectives describing her as gentle and soft might be fine on their own, but in this context, they only feed into the archetypes of submissive women that she is falling into. The type of woman that is there for others’ attraction while simultaneously there to be protected and cherished, like she is a doll or something and nothing more.

She appeared of a different stock. The four others were dark-eyed, hardy little vagrants; this child was thin and very fair. Her hair was the brightest living gold, and despite the poverty of her clothing, seemed to set a crown of distinction on her head. Her brow was clear and ample, her blue eyes cloudless, and her lips and the moulding of her face so expressive of sensibility and sweetness that none could behold her without looking on her as of a distinct species, a being heaven-sent, and bearing a celestial stamp in all her features.

Finally, there are these descriptions of her appearance that is just the icing on the objectification cake. Victor writes about how his mother picked her out and the euro-centric beauty standards are exaggerated a lot. Being fair and golden and thin makes her look “angelic” and “heaven sent” and “celestial” next to the others. It’s such an uncomfortable paragraph to read because Elizabeth is literally a child here and Victor describes everything from her eyes to her lips to her body to her hair. Again with the “sweetness” of her too, a common description paired with a gentleness that goes into being wanted for being innocent and pure.

It’s a bummer that that’s all Elizabeth is really painted as. The relationship between Victor and her already sounds bizarre and grooming-esque, but his possessive attitude towards her, wanting her to be sweet and gentle and submissive, is gross. I’m not sure if Shelly is writing her that way so far because she wants to show how much of a disturbing guy Victor is or because she wants to purposely show the ridiculousness of these tropes. For now, I’m holding out hope that there is at least one woman with some depth in this book?

(Spoiler alert: there are not…)

/home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/html-layout.php on line 19
" data-author-type="
Warning: Undefined array key "type" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/html-layout.php on line 20
" data-author-archived="
Warning: Undefined array key "archived" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/html-layout.php on line 21
/home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/html-layout.php on line 41

Warning: Undefined array key "id" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/html-layout.php on line 41
Warning: Undefined array key "archive" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/html-layout.php on line 42
itemscope itemid="" itemtype="https://schema.org/Person" >

Warning: Undefined array key "img" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/parts/html-avatar.php on line 4

Warning: Undefined array key "show_social_web" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/parts/html-socialmedia.php on line 6

Warning: Undefined array key "show_social_mail" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/parts/html-socialmedia.php on line 7

Warning: Undefined array key "show_social_phone" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/parts/html-socialmedia.php on line 8

Warning: Undefined array key "type" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/parts/html-name.php on line 15

Warning: Undefined array key "type" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/parts/html-name.php on line 17

Warning: Undefined array key "type" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/parts/html-name.php on line 19

Warning: Undefined array key "archive" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/parts/html-name.php on line 31

Warning: Undefined array key "name" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/parts/html-name.php on line 34

Warning: Undefined array key "job" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/parts/html-meta.php on line 10

Warning: Undefined array key "job" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/parts/html-meta.php on line 15

Warning: Undefined array key "company" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/parts/html-meta.php on line 17

Warning: Undefined array key "phone" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/parts/html-meta.php on line 26

Warning: Undefined array key "mail" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/parts/html-meta.php on line 36

Warning: Undefined array key "web" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/parts/html-meta.php on line 46
/home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/parts/html-meta.php on line 80

Warning: Undefined array key "id" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/parts/html-meta.php on line 80
-')" class="m-a-box-data-toggle" > + posts

Warning: Undefined array key "bio" in /home/nrhelmsp/public_html/brit.lit/wp-content/plugins/molongui-authorship/views/author-box/parts/html-bio.php on line 8

5 thoughts on “Elizabeth’s Objectification and Lack of Autonomy

  1. I believe these passages are from the 1831 edition, which Percy Shelley edited. If you’re interested in the topic, you might consider finding the 1818 edition and comparing these passages for your First Project. Does Mary Shelley presents a better representation of women without Percy’s meddling? Or is it still pretty two dimensional?

  2. Women really get a tough time in this text. Elizabeth is only seen by an object, a gift that was given to Victor, a plaything that he can marry once he gets older. We also see how the monster wants Victor to make him a woman. The woman is a literal object that can be created and gifted at will.

  3. What we know of the relationship between Safie and Felix seems pretty yikes to me too. Felix was helping Safie’s father escape his imprisonment and was offered money/rewards in exchange for his help. And… “Felix rejected his offers with contempt, yet when he saw the lovely Safie, who was allowed to visit her father and who by her gestures expressed her lively gratitude, the youth could not help owning to his own mind that the captive possessed a treasure which would fully reward his toil and hazard (chapter 14).”

    Here Safie is reduced to an object too – a mere reward that would repay Felix for his help. It’s a “Pretty Present” part 2.

  4. I think the professor comment above is interesting. I wonder what Mary Shelley’s reason was for writing her females this way? Was she influenced by her husband, her era, something else? Even the female monster was literally going to be brought to life solely for the male creatures happiness. Thats pretty messed up.

  5. Yes. This is brilliant. The objectification of Elizabeth is unfortunate and a true revelation about gender roles in this story. She is absolutely viewed as a “gift” transferrable with no other value other than the fact that she might serve Victor. It also grosses me out that she has to beg Victor to believe her for Justine’s trial of the murder of William. I hate to say it because I hate Freud’s take on psychology, but I also get weird feelings about how Elizabeth was expected to fulfill the role of Victor’s mother and the other various “duties” Victor’s mother fulfilled. For some reason, that dynamic just sits weird with me.

Leave a Reply