Evolution of Women: From Frankenstein to Present-Day

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In the early 1800s, a well-known piece of literature was formulated: Frankenstein, by English author Mary Shelly. This novel details a young Victor Frankenstein, a curious scientist who creates a massive creature in a scientific experiment. This story has been sent down generation after generation, with the term, “Frankenstein”, clearly meaning a “monstrous creature” (in modern times). As typical for a book made during the 1800s, the roles of women and men differ severely from the roles we see those two characters play in today. Women, in Frankenstein, are perceived as “soft” and “inferior” towards men. They lie under the control of men, the reality of the time period this novel was developed in.

We can see this in Elizabeth’s interests: “Elizabeth loved Switzerland. She loved the mountains and the lakes. She was always interested in art and beauty.” (page 13). This implies that women are the “soft” type, with major interests lying in art, nature and beauty. This implication that women are tied heavily with nature is also confirmed in page 55, where nature takes a feminine role: “while, with unrelaxed and breathless eagerness, I pursued nature to her hiding-places.”. Elizabeth’s interests differed drastically from her brother, Victor: “Even as a child, I was becoming a man of science.” (page 14). Evidently from the quote, we can see that Victor’s interests lay in science and ground-breaking discoveries (a more “male-dominant” stance) while Elizabeth’s interests lay in art and nature (a “passive-female” stance).

We can also see the drastic gender roles in the occupation of Elizabeth and Victor. Elizabeth’s job while Victor was confined to his house in Ingolstadt was a nurse for Victor’s father in their house in Geneva: “I figure to myself that the task of attending on your sickbed has devolved to some mercenary old nurse,” (page 67). This differed greatly from Victor’s occupation as a scientist, as seen from him studying in a university abroad: “attained the age of seventeen my parents resolved that I should become a student at the university of Ingolstadt“ (page 39). Do we see any mentions of Elizabeth going abroad and studying in a university?

Present-day, we would see the role of Elizabeth be about equal to Victor’s. Her interests would not change, as she still might remain as an avid observer of art and nature (we do not have any concrete proof to show that Elizabeth’s interests will change). But, instead of tending to her father as a nurse (in a private atmosphere), we would see Elizabeth studying art-related (Art History) or nature-related (Earth Science) fields in a university - or she might even match Victor’s dedication and go abroad herself, defying the “private atmosphere” role that females play in Frankenstein. We would not witness Elizabeth taking the role of a nurse (something that she has not indicated any interest in whatsoever in the novel), but rather an archeologist. We wouldn’t see any changes in Victor’s behaviour, except for maybe using a gender-neutral noun when referring to nature (“I pursued nature to their hiding-places.”” instead of “I pursued nature to her hiding-places.” (page 55)).