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The Presence and Absence of Feminism in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Adaptations: An Annotated Bibliography

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Dan Chapman.  That Not Impossible She.  Concept: United Kingdom, 2012.  Print.

Chapman’s book serves as an extensive commentary on the aspect of gender in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.  Chapman discusses gender in relation to Shelley’s characters, as well as Shelley’s critique of the social construct of her time within her novel.  In his book, Chapman first highlights the lack of female perspective in Shelley’s novel and dispels the idea that the absence of a strong female voice means the absence of the female altogether.  Instead, he says that it is the absence of the female voice making Shelley’s novel a strong commentary and critique of the male dominated society of her time.  Though Shelley makes allusions to Milton’s Paradise Lost, Chapman argues, Shelley’s “recreation story” contains one difference: the absence of Eve.  Chapman’s second assertion is that Shelley’s idea of individuality in her novel directly contradicts John Locke’s idea of individualism, which claims that man is the owner of himself property gained through labor, and has no responsibility towards society.  He argues that the individual characters of Frankenstein, Walton, and the creature are actually different aspects of the same individual.  Chapman then introduces sexuality, gender, and their symbolism according to Shelley.  He claims that it is Shelley’s purpose to “put on trial” the strict social constructs of the time, ideas of justice, as well as tradition through her minor, but carefully placed female characters, and the male characters that dominate her novel.  Chapman states in his conclusion, “In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, woman is shown destroyed in her creation, and created in her destruction.  Chapman’s book is threaded with various scholarly perspectives and is an interesting commentary of gender and feminism in Shelley’s novel.

Vanessa D. Dickerson. "The Ghost Of A Self: Female Identity In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." Journal Of Popular Culture 27.3 (1993): 79-91. MLA  International Bibliography. University of Arkansas Library, Fayetteville. Web. 3  Apr. 2015.

In her essay, Dickerson discusses the literary use of absenting oneself in order to highlight and expose the opposite half of society in Shelley’s novel.  Specifically, she lays forth the purpose of Shelley exposing a problematic male dominated society by including very few female characters, thus criticizing the social constructs of her time.  Dickerson argues that Shelley’s novel is, in some regard, a “ghost story” in which women are the ghosts and absurd parodies of societal ideas of women: “present but absent, morally animate angels, but physically and politically inanimate mortals” (80).  Dickerson asserts that the “monstrous” men in Shelley’s novel represent the male dominated society in contrast to the absence of strong female characters.  In her essay, Dickerson discusses each of the female characters and the ways in which they enter and exit Shelley’s novel.  She highlights that all of the female characters, except for Safie, end up being systematically killed or silenced.  Dickerson’s essay is proficient in her knowledge of the social constructs of the period in which Shelley’s novel was written, but does not move to a deeper commentary on Shelley’s absence of the female and it’s observations of society.  She tends to stay on the surface of Shelley’s commentary on gender inequality without discussing the male characters and their contribution on the same subject.  Dickerson’s article is useful, however, for a reader’s basic understanding of gender and femininity in Shelley’s novel and nineteenth century society.

Linda Gill. "Women Beware! The Appropriation Of Women In Hollywood's Revisioning Of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." Journal Of American &  Comparative Cultures 24.3-4 (2001): 93-98. MLA International Bibliography.University of Arkansas Library, Fayetteville. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.

Gill’s article discusses the woman’s role in film adaptations of Frankenstein, specifically Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Gill first explains the idea that the reason for Frankenstein’s continual imagining and reimagining in film and other forms of media are a direct reflection of the female fear of continual or repetitive suffering, or domination in a patriarchal society.  Additionally, Gill discusses the female in the form of the monster.  She asserts that the female presence is represented in the creature.  Gill states: “the creature is “where” the woman is as she masquerades idealized femininity even as the creature is also man’s construction” (96).  Her statement alludes to the idea that the anger and pain endured by the creature is a manifestation of the female’s rejection at being objectified.  Gill argues that in Branagh’s re-imagined ending of Shelley’s novel, in which the character of Elizabeth actually becomes a monster in addition to the original creature, is a direct attack on a woman’s ability to choose her own fate and be the author of her own life.  Gill sees Branagh’s rewriting of Elizabeth as an expression of the female’s fear, once again, of patriarchal domination.  She asserts that Elizabeth’s ability to be a powerful woman is directly taken from her, manipulated by man, and leaves her as a voiceless outcast, unable to articulate herself in a male dominated society.  Thus, Branagh’s film, and in turn Gill’s essay, succeeds in highlighting Shelley’s commentary on women in society.

Susan Tyler Hitchcock.  Frankenstein: A Cultural History.  W. W. Norton & Company: New York, 2007.  Print.

While Hitchcock’s book is not a direct commentary on gender or feminism in Shelley’s novel, it does discuss at length the various re-imaginings of Frankenstein.  The majority of Hitchcock’s book is spent describing the various forms of media through which Shelley’s novel had been told and retold through different adaptations.  However, parts of Hitchcock’s book describe the rise of popularity for Shelley’s novel and its direct relationship with the feminist movement.  During the 1960’s, a rise in the feminist movement directly correlates with a rise in the popularity in literature written by women.  Previous to that time period, literature programs at universities did not include works by female authors.  With the rise of feminism, a society found itself in need of the female perspective that had been missing, or at least hushed, from society.  Women studying literature were not interested in reading the patriarchal perspective, which dominated society since the beginning of time.  Hitchcock says of Shelley and her impact on contemporary society: “For the feminist critic, Mary Shelley presented rich material: a single woman who had experienced the pain of childbirth in many ways, and the early-nineteenth-century author of a novel with lasting influence on world culture” (282).  Overall, Hitchcock’s book is an interesting glimpse into various mediums through which Frankenstein has been created and recreated, as well as its lasting effects on society.  It is not a direct commentary on feminism or gender in Mary Shelley’s novel, but does contain interesting information about the feminist movement as it was influenced by novels such as Shelley’s.

Jackson’s Patchwork Girl and the Limits and Possibilities of Donna Haraway’s Cyborg.”  MFS Modern Fiction Studies 57.2 (2011): 318-335.  Project MUSE.  University of Arkansas Library, Fayetteville.  Web.  21 Apr. 2015.

In her essay, Latimer discusses Shelley Jackson’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in her hypertext novel, Patchwork Girl.  Jackson’s writing brings to the forefront the discarded bride of Frankenstein’s creature and makes her the heroine, being put back together by Mary Shelley, herself, nurtured, and sent off to a new future in America.  Central to Latimer’s argument is the idea that technological advancements in our society has lead to concerns about the nature of what is appropriate concerning the social constructs of motherhood, and the fetus as it interrupts the identity of the woman carrying it.  In her article, Latimer brings forth the idea of technology and what she calls “byproducts” of that technology, the fetus, which she refers to as a cyborg.  She argues that because of these scientific advancements, the woman in society has become hidden behind pregnancy.  Therefore, when a woman is pregnant, she is no longer seen, but is a carrier only of the fetus.  Latimer writes, “The fetus can therefore be said to act as a limit to how posthuman theories affect reproduction technologies in that it actually reinscribes stable meanings to the human/machine dualism the cyborg is said to disrupt” (319).  Latimer claims that through Jackson’s re-imagining of Shelley’s novel, the female power and right to control of her own reproduction is brought to the forefront.  The male creator no longer hides the female character, and motherhood is chosen rather than forced upon.  Latimer’s essay offers a very interesting and original perspective on feminism in Jackson’s adaptation of Shelley’s novel.

Caroline Joan (“Kay”) S. Picart.  “Visualizing the Monstrous in Frankenstein Films.” Pacific Coast Philology 35.1 (2000): 17-34.  Penn State University Press. JSTOR.  University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.  Web. 21 Apr. 2015.

Picart’s article deals with the idea of what she calls the “myth of male self-birthing” in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and its adaptations in film.  Picart seeks to follow this so-called myth to its root, which she asserts goes all the way back to Greek myths concerning the birth of Dionysus and his father, Zeus.  This myth, Picart claims, is a reflection on societal fear of technological advancements.  Another aspect to Picart’s claim is that film adaptations of Shelley’s novel, though they are wide in range, in effect continue to re-enforce the male’s attempt at self-production, and the monstrosities contained within such an attempt.  Picart states that the creature in these films is representative of the reproduction of the self and intelligence through technology and the ramifications thereof.  The resulting human reaction of such ideas is either met with fear and rejection, Picart asserts, or is sought to be dominated and harnessed for one’s own power.  Picart then discusses the introduction of the female creature, particularly as represented in James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein, who Picart states, “combines in her very body the potential for life and death, beauty and the grotesque, the promise of biological immortality, and the threat of untamed female sexuality” (20-21).  The unemotional rendering of the female creature in these films is meant to highlight the intelligence and advancement of the male creature, and in turn, re-enforce stereotypical male dominance.  Picart goes on to describe the Hammer films and their unabashed sexuality in contrast with other adaptations, as well as Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  However, Picart claims that in Branagh’s film, though it seeks an original retelling, it still anchors onto the same ideals of feminine repression.

John Reider. "The Motif Of The Fecal Child In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." Gothic Studies 3.1 (2001): 24-31. MLA International Bibliography. University of Arkansas Library, Fayetteville. Web. 3 Apr. 2015.

Among other issues discussed in Reider’s article is the idea that Victor Frankenstein is a victim of what Sigmund Freud coins the “Oedipal Complex,” and claims that while Frankenstein’s intent as he begins his experimentation is to seek to be closer to his mother and possibly find a way to defeat death and create life, ultimately, it defies the social convention of family from father-mother-child to father-child and that without the natural order of the family, the creature is created.  It is within the creature that Reider claims the authentic form of heterosexuality.  While Victor is a passive participant in his engagement to Elizabeth, Reider states that it is within the creature, born without a mother, that the normative family lies.  The creature desires a wife and family, which he believes can only be given him through Victor’s help.  His burning desire for this united family is part of what makes the creature’s narrative compelling.  In turn, the creature is able to illustrate a greater appreciation for the attributes, importance, and benefits of the feminine within the family structure, and society.  Reider discusses Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation of Frankenstein, particularly Elizabeth’s role.  He states, “When the resurrected Elizabeth chooses self-immolation over being made into the stakes of the struggle between Victor and the creature, she no doubt represents a feminist resistance to the heterosexual/homosocial economy they are enacting” (30).  Rather than having a male make decisions on her behalf as a female, Elizabeth instead chooses her own destiny, a commentary on a woman’s right to choose in a male dominated society.

Laura Shackelford. "Subject To Change: The Monstrosity Of Media In Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl; Or, A Modern Monster And Other Posthumanist Critiques Of The Instrumental." Camera Obscura: A Journal Of Feminism, Culture, And Media Studies 21.63 [3] (2006): 62-100. MLA International Bibliography. University of Arkansas Library, Fayetteville. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.

In this essay, Shackelford addresses the various introductions of different types of media and technology introduced in modern adaptations of Frankenstein, particularly Shelley Jackson’s adaptation, Patchwork Girl.  Rather than focusing on gender within the actual adaptation, Shackelford instead focuses on the appropriation of technology for the novel from a female standpoint.  As technology is often thought of as a tool of man, and not usually associated with the female, Shackelford insists that Jackson’s use of technology in her adaptation seeks to rewrite Shelley’s narrative from a more directly feminine standpoint.  In essence, Jackson re-appropriates technology as a strictly male instrument, and turns it into a feministic tool.  Shackelford writes, “Patchwork Girl exploits digital hypertext as a means to critique and rework the textual and sexual grammars naturalized in print narrative” (75).  In this way, Jackson’s attempt at taking back the power a woman has over her own body.  No longer subject to societal pressures and norms of Shelley’s day, Jackson’s use of technology puts motherhood and the ways in which it is seen, into the hands of the feminine and away from male dominated constructs.  A true understanding of this article can be seen when Shackelford states, “I would suggest that the work’s insistence on the resistance of a dynamic, multiple category of the feminine provides a potential means of engaging a dynamic, reconfigurable conception of material bodies without simply capitulating to a further instrumentalization of women and of material bodies at the hands of global capitalist practices of flexible accumulation” (94).  Though Shackelford’s article is sometimes a bit difficult to understand, it is well worth reading for a better understanding of the way technology reinstates feminine power in Jackson’s hypertext.

Nancy Yousef. "The Monster In A Dark Room: Frankenstein, Feminism, And Philosophy." Modern Language Quarterly: A Journal Of Literary History 63.2 (2002): 197-226. MLA International Bibliography. University of Arkansas Library, Fayetteville. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.

Yousef’s article discusses feminist interpretations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, particularly as a reaction to the absence of the female in the birth of Frankenstein’s creature, when childbirth is in reality only possible as a female act.  Yousef comments on the fact that the entire life of the creature, from his conception to his birth to his “childhood” is glaringly absent of female perspective.  Yousef claims that the possible feminine aspect that Shelley was attempting to bring out in her narrative is the monumental importance of the feminine in society, despite its male domination.  Her article also highlights the male ego, through the character of Frankenstein, and his attempt at creating life without a maternal influence.  In order to illustrate her ideas, Yousef takes account of the various philosophies of Shelley’s time, including those of Rousseau and Locke.  Yousef exposes these narratives as being in part, and not whole.  While the conventions of Locke and Rousseau contain some aspects of truth, they are problematic in that they are only part of the picture.  The female aspect is absent.  In closing Yousef writes, “Shelley makes use of empiricist theory in this novel, but in a way that redounds on the source, exhibiting what it leaves out… and reminding us that theoretical constructions are not only partial in what they describe but sometimes more limited in their representational force than forms we recognize as fictions” (226).  Rather than combating the essential messages in the male dominated philosophies, Shelley instead focuses on what they leave out: the female perspective.

Elizabeth Young.  “Here Comes the Bride: Wedding Gender and Race in “Bride of Frankenstein.”  Feminist Studies 17.3 (1991): 403-437.  JSTOR.  JSTOR.  University of Arkansas Library, Fayetteville.  Web. 21 Apr. 2015.

The focus of Young’s article is upon James Whale’s film entitled Bride of Frankenstein.  Young exposes serious underlying issues in society that are highlighted in a film that would otherwise be looked at as a fantasy film, and which has been parodied throughout its history.  These societal narratives include comments on race, gender, and what Young argues is a major commentary on the civil rights issues at the time of the film’s release during Jim Crow and the lynching of African Americans in the south.  Young claims that though an interpretation including feminine narrative is relevant, so too is the aspect of racial “otherness.”  In her article, Young writes that part of the dialogue with race and gender in Bride of Frankenstein is the fear that society geared toward African American males at the time, but also re-animates the male “fear of castration” and loss of control over the feminine society.  Through this process, Young asserts that Bride of Frankenstein attempts to validate dominant ideals of American culture and is a product of it’s time.  Young’s article is a helpful commentary on U.S. society and the ways in which male dominance and white supremacy are illustrated in Whale’s adaptation of Shelley’s novel.  Young finalizes by claiming that the narrative provided by Whale’s film is incomplete, and is therefore being systematically re-written with each additional adaptation of Shelley’s work.  Though a modern reworking of it’s day, The Bride of Frankenstein is an adaptation that falls short of Shelley’s own commentary on race and femininity in her novel.

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