The role of women in gothic literature is often two dimensional. They are either presented as seductive, sultry predators that lead men to their downfall or act as innocent passive domestic figures that re inferior to men. Women in Frankenstein fill both of these roles; however they are more suited to the latter as they may be a reflection of women in Shelley’s society.
One character that is presented as comforter and nurturer is Caroline. After tending to her ill father with the ‘greatest tenderness’ she was rescued by Alphonse to be his wife. Therefore Caroline is an example of the damsel in distress that gothic women are often portrayed as and in turn the males are presented as heroic and brave.
This demonstrates the nature of the relationships between men and women in Gothic. She is limited to her role as a caretaker for male figures. This portrayal forces her to be submissive and inferior.
Although Caroline describes by Victor as having ‘a mind of an uncommon mould’ which enables the reader to characterise Caroline and give her individuality and unique qualities yet her character is underdeveloped. It could it be argued that Caroline isn’t fully the stereotypical passive women in Gothic. One interpretation remains is that despite her absence she is the catalyst for the story as her death ignites the passion within Victor and motivates him to pursue science.
Elizabeth plays a pivotal role in Frankenstein. She is one of the main characters thereby dismissing the notion that she is significantly absent. Elizabeth’s main feature is that she is beautiful. Victor recollects her beauty as ‘hair…living gold…blue eyes cloudless…distinct species…celestial stamp in all her features.’ Elizabeth’s beauty is what distinguishes her from the other females in the novel.
Moreover, Caroline adopted her for her looks. Therefore this suggests to the reader that there is little substance to her. An alternative reading may suggest the misogyny of the other characters for only crediting her for her beauty rather than intellect. The relationship between Elizabeth and Victor illuminates a lot about the role of women in Gothic. Victor dismisses her interests in ‘poets…and scenery’ as childlike and shallow whereas his fascination with the causes of life are more noble and serious.
It can be seen from this that Elizabeth’s passions are belittled and deemed as superficial and secondary to Victor’s interests. In this light Elizabeth’s interests seem childlike which may make her a plot device to enhance Victor’s masculinity. Her character is underdeveloped perhaps purposefully so that she doesn’t threaten her societal norms of being the anchor but also not to threaten the protagonist Victor.
Similarly, Justine is another character that is used solely as a plot device. The false accusation of Justine forces her to cling onto her innocence, thus enhancing her vulnerability and inferiority. In spite of this, Shelley presents Justine as noble and honourable. Although Shelley’s motive may not have been to illustrate the strength of women in pressing situation, but rather to intensify Victor’s guilt and inner turmoil.
The characters in the novel however may perceive Justine as a sinister predator for the murder of William. Alphonse says ‘so much depravity and ingratitude in one I have valued so highly.’ Although the reader is aware of the creature’s treachery and Justine’s innocence the characters are unaware and begin to despise her. One interpretation could be that the Monster decided to frame Justine because she is a women and he sensed her weakness.
Safie is a character unlike the other female in the novel other fundamentally they are the same. Her beauty differs to that of the other women as well. She had ‘raven black [hair] and her eyes were dark.’
Despite her being a foreigner and being unable to speak the same language she is accepted and taken in by Felix. Similar to the fate of her other female counterparts the role of Safie is to mirror the journey of the creature. Her sole purpose is to give the creature a gateway into society by enabling him to learn how to speak.
The similarities between Safie and the creature, both have dark exotic features, lack verbal communication and this is meant to enhance the creature’s rejection when their paths diverge.
By Libin Farah