Frankenstein and Male Reproduction
Mary Shelley's character of Dr. Victor Frankenstein in Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus, is driven to madness by his envy of women and their ability to reproduce so much so that he tries to reinvent the nature of reproduction without the female with disastrous results. Dr. Frankenstein's scientific experiment, which produces a deformed, human from spare body parts is a commentary on male reproduction and predicts the bioethical consequences of the modern practices of selective breeding and cloning.
Mary Wollenstoncraft Shelley was the only daughter born to literary greats William Godwin and Mary Wollenstoncraft. Mary Shelley was the mistress and then wife of the poet Shelley. She read widely in five languages, including Latin and Greek. Pregnant at 16, and almost constantly pregnant throughout the following years, yet not a secure mother because she lost most of her babies soon after they were born. She also was not married when she began to write Frankenstein when she was eighteen years old. (Female Gothic The Monsters Mother by Ellen Moers) Shelley was inspired by her mother's The Vindication of the Rights of Women, which portrays the consequences of a social construction of gender that values males over females. The society in which Victor Frankenstein resides is an exact replica of what will happen if a society continues to exist in this manner. The rigid nineteenth century society is founded on the division of sex roles where the male inhabits the public sphere and the female is relegated to the domestic sector. All of the men in this Gothic novel work outside the home as public servants, scientists, merchants or explorers. (Anne K. Mellor Possessing Nature: The Female in Frankenstein) Having put off his marriage to Elizabeth, Dr. Frankenstein manipulates his father into believing he must explore other parts of the world in order to repay his debt to the monster. "Alas! To me the idea of an immediate union with my cousin was one of horror and dismay. I was bound by a solemn promise, which I had not yet fulfilled and dared not to break; or if I did, what manifold miseries might not impend over me and my devoted family!" (Page 104) "I expressed a wish to visit England; but, concealing the true reasons for the request, I clothed my desires under the guise of wishing to travel and see the world before I sat down for life within the walls of my native town." (Page 105.) Dr. Frankenstein was not able to complete his work and be attached to his betrothed physically or emotionally. This separation of masculine power from private affection causes the destruction of many of the women in the novel. Caroline Beaufort dies unnecessarily through obligation to nurse Elizabeth during an epidemic, Justine Moritz is executed for the murder of William Frankenstein and the "Creature" murders Elizabeth on her wedding night. These deaths are completely attributable to Dr. Frankenstein's self-devoted concern for his own fate and his own reputation. Mary Shelley seems to suggest that the separation of feminine affection from public realm has caused much of this social evil.
Dr. Frankenstein, through his studies of the natural sciences and the occult, becomes obsessed with the stories of the philosophers stone and the elixir vitae. His research eventually leads him to pursue the meanings of life where he conducts experiments with dissecting animals to understand life and death. "Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve their's." (Page 32) His studies lead him to give birth through the collection of body parts from slaughterhouses and sticks them together in a huge form. The result is a grossly deformed...
Cited: Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
Ellen Moers "Female Gothic: The Monsters Mother." Frankenstein.by Mary Shelley A Norton Critical Edition. Paul Hunter. Place of Publication: University of Chicago, 1996. 214.
Anne K. Mellor "Possessing Nature: The Female in Frankenstein." Frankenstein.by Mary Shelley A Norton Critical Edition. Paul Hunter. Place of Publication: University of Chicago, 1996. 274.
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