Who is ultimately responsibility for the actions of Frankenstein’s monster? Although it is easy to attach blame to Victor, his complete responsibility for the actions of his monster is somewhat problematic. Much like the human population, the monster was given free will. In other words, it is entirely his choice to respond with evil to his unfortunate situation. Victor Frankenstein is certainly cruel to his creation; however, the monster further contributed to his creator’s disapproval when he murders many of the people for whom Victor cares deeply. The monster does not approach his maker with civility, but he murders his younger brother instead. As a result, Victor’s refusal to create a partner for this “devil” is not difficult to understand. The monster chooses the path violence to achieve his goal, rather than civilly requesting Victor’s audience. While Victor does not represent an overwhelmingly sympathetic character, his scientific advances present his with an exceptionally difficult situation. He does attempt to end the lineage of the “devil” he created by not allowing the monster to have a mate. As a result, Victor was taking a small amount of responsibility for the monster because he was willing to endure the monster’s vengeance for his disobedience. Nonetheless, the responsibility ultimately falls solely on the monster. As a creature independent of his maker, he chooses a life of evil and destruction rather than redemption. Consequently, the monster should alone be held responsible for his decisions. If the creator is held responsible for the actions of his or her creation, then it stands to reason that parents should be held responsible for the decisions of their children.
In Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, Lucy spends much of the novel going to great extents to protect her secret. The reader is prompted to the truth behind Lucy’s façade early on in the investigation. Consequently, the reader must consider – how bad is Lucy? How much should the reader see her as merely an opportunistic gold digger? While it seems that these terms would apply quite well to Lucy, is it really Lucy’s fault? In other words, beyond marriage what other recourse of upward social mobility does Lucy have? Throughout the novel, Lucy is defined by marriage. At the beginning of the work, she is getting married. Furthermore, throughout the novel George is investigating her past and suspects a hidden past and marriage. The most telling example of Lucy’s complete reliance on marriage to the point of almost trusting it as a career occurs in the chapter entitled “My Lady Tells the Truth”. She remembers, “I had learnt that which in some indefinite manner every other schoolgirl learns sooner or later- I learned that my ultimate faith in life depended upon my marriage, and I concluded that if I was indeed prettier than my schoolfellows, I ought to marry better than any of them” (298). So, despite the desperate fury Lady Audley exhibits (256), Lucy was ambitious. This quality certainly would not have been faulted in a man. In fact, it was not faulted in George for his ambition to find Lady Audley’s secret nor was ambition faulted in his gold prospecting in Australia. Ultimately, what other option does Lucy have? Could it not be that she is simply ambitious, and marriage is her only means by which to climb socially?
A theme that seems to occur with relative frequency throughout Jane Eyre is that of pragmatic marriages. From the reasons Mr. Rochester gives for his union with Bertha Mason to St. John’s refusal of Rosamond, the reader is frequently reminded of the idea of pragmatism in marriage.
Mr. Rochester explains in chapter 32 that his family situation and politics required his union with Bertha Mason due to her wealth. The results of which he describes, “I have lived with that woman upstairs four years, and before that time she had me indeed: her character ripened and developed with frightful rapidity; her vices sprang up fast and rank: they were so strong, only cruelty could check them; and I would not use cruelty” (261). Ultimately, this troubling account of the result of his union to Bertha instills a sense of horror.
The reader’s next encounter with the idea of pragmatic marriage comes when St. John dismisses the thought of marrying Rosaline. He admits to Jane, “While something in me is acutely sensible to her charm, something else is deeply impressed with her defects; they are such that she could sympathize in nothing I aspired to – co-operate in nothing I undertook. Rosamond a sufferer, a labourer, a female apostle? Rosamond a missionary’s wife? No!” (318). His decision not to marry Rosamond because she would not make an adequate missionary’s wife is understandable, but it also somehow seems shallow and judgmental. However, when St. John begins pursuing Jane and trying to “train” her to be his missionary wife by asking her to cease her studies of German and begin studying Hindostanee, all of his sincerity is immediately lost. St. John, then, immediately reveals himself as not looking for an individual to be his wife, but attempting to create the idea of the perfect missionary wife in Jane. She even describes his kiss as “an experiment” (339). Such technical language reveals that rather than loving a woman, he sees a potential wife as a means to an end.
While to the modern mind, a marriage rooted purely in pragmatism seems both cold and somehow not modern, is this possibly too rash of a judgment? Obviously, Mr. Rochester’s pragmatic marriage fails miserably; however, I believe it would be unfair to say that his marriage to Jane creates a clear dichotomy between pragmatic unions and love matches. Instead, I believe it would be immensely easier to argue that Jane and Mr. Rochester’s union exhibits both elements of passion and pragmatism.
Ultimately, the question remains – is the union between Jane and Mr. Rochester only pragmatic, only passionate, or a mixture of the two?
How should the reader respond to the competition between Lucy and Elinor over Edward? In other words, Elinor is obviously favored by the narrator; however, should the reader be more suspect of Elinor in this situation?
Ultimately, Elinor’s affections are directed toward a man whom she believes to be engaged to her friend, Lucy. The novel continuously justifies her affections because “he certainly loved her (Elinor)” (99). Furthermore, the narrator even takes it to the point of having Elinor pity Edward because “what had he to look forward to? Could he ever be tolerably happy with Lucy Steele; could he, were his affections for herself out of the question, with his integrity, his delicacy, and well-informed mind, be satisfied with a wife like her – illiterate, artful, and selfish?” (100). While on one hand, it would be natural for the reader to pity Edward for the awful connection he had made according to Elinor. It is also quite possible that Elinor is simply mean, jealous, and manipulative. Yes, she is kind and loving toward her sister as she tries to protect Marianne, which undoubtedly gives the reader a great deal of sympathy for Elinor. Nonetheless, she is still pining after another woman’s man. But, can anyone really blame her because what option does she really have? She believes she and Edward are in love, and she certainly needs to find a husband.
In Ann Radcliffe’s A Sicilian Romance, the narrator appears to take on an almost mother-like role with the reader and Julia. Also very Dickensian at times, the narrator often makes moral claims and gives advice to the reader regarding the positions in which Julia finds herself. The narrator says regarding Julia’s affection for the Count, “The weakness of humanity is never perceived by young minds. It is painful to know, that we are operated upon by object whose impressions are variable as they are indefinable – and that what yesterday affected us strongly…” (20). In this passage, which continues onto the next page, the narrator is describing the new feelings that Julia is experiencing due to her affection for the Count. The narrator also extends the conversation to very broad discussion on the idea of happiness throughout this description. Extremely invested in Julia’s happiness, the narrator appears concerned that Julia will suffer due to the fickleness of love.
Furthermore, sprinkled throughout the novel, the narrator offers little bits of advice or moral ideas. For example, the narrator says, “it is necessary to subject them [one’s passions] to early obedience. Passion, in its undue influence, produces weakness as well as injustice” (25). Such advice certainly points to the resolution of the novel and its significance regarding the way in which the reader and Julia ought to act.
However, in climactic moments, the narrator’s moral voice seems to give way to plot. Nonetheless, the last lines of the novel exist as an overt appeal to morality, which read, “In reviewing this story, we perceive a singular and striking instance of moral retribution. We learn, also, that those who do only THAT WHICH IS RIGHT, endure nothing in misfortune but a trial of their virtue, and from trials well endured derive the surest claim to the protection of heaven” (199). Ultimately, the narrator consistently seems to act as a mother-like figure in the text. Is this technique foreshadowing of the return of Julia’s mother at the conclusion of the novel or a means by which Radcliffe makes her didactic meaning explicit? Most certainly Radcliffe uses this role in both ways. Since Julia is a young girl without a mother giving her direction and teaching her sensibility, the narrator instructs and guides through her circumstances. Furthermore, given the elaborateness of the plot, the overt moral claims both fit the style and provide meaning beyond fantasy in the plot.
In her essay “Women and Fiction”, Virginia Woolf claims that women’s fiction is now “courageous, it is sincere; it keeps closely to what women feel. It is not bitter. It does not insist upon its femininity. But at the same time, a woman’s book is not written as a man would write it” (584). Ultimately, such a statement begs the question – is Woolf’s statement still accurate or even relevant in the twenty-first century? Are not novels like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey still showing a female protagonist whose life is entirely consumed by romantic relationships? Though Joanna Russ’s staple plots may have shifted a bit to indulge a more modern society, these prototypes of women who are entirely consumed by romantic relationships are similarly dangerous to the sex. Woolf hoped that in the future “The novel will cease to be the dumping-ground for personal emotions” (584). While there are certainly novels written by women that fulfill Woolf’s expectations, the novels that are highlighted at the front of bookstore displays seem to still be consumed with perpetuating an idea of woman as incomplete without a romantic interest to occupy her every thought and motivation. Joanna Russ charges women to find new myths from which to write at the end of her essay “What Can a Heroine Do? or Why Women Can’t Write”; however, I refuse to believe novels like the two mentioned above are a solution to the problem. Rather, plots like this perpetuate a destructive stigma.
The presence of religion in Pamela permeates the plot development. Though both virtue and religion seem to go hand in hand, there are certainly presented as two different entities. Even on the title page, Richardson writes, “In order to cultivate the Principles of Virtue and Religion in the Minds of the YOUTH of BOTH SEXES.” Virtue appears to be the means by which a woman retains her reputation and place in society. Pamela and her parents constantly seem to make comments about death being preferable to a loss of virtue. This probably can be attributed to the fact that without her virtue, Pamela’s future is destroyed more than a religious conviction. Ultimately, rather than a spiritual journey, religion plays several more practical roles in the plot. First, religion is Pamela’s protection and defense from the trouble in which she often finds herself. Also, religion plays a strong role in simultaneously reinforcing social hierarchy and questioning its assumptions.
Mr. B, who is the epitome of wealth and social status, is directly associated with mythology when he makes advances to Pamela. Pamela wirtes, “He by force kissed my neck and lips; and said, Whoever blamed Lucretia? All the shame lay on the ravisher only and I am content to take all the blame upon me, as I have already borne too great a share for what I have not deserved” (32). This association contrasts with the other characters who employ images of Christianity (e.g. Jezebel page 127). Mr. B, therefore, comes across primitive, lustful, and unrefined to the reader despite his wealth and social prestige. Though he is wealthy, he certainly lacks the mental and physical discipline Pamela exudes.
Furthermore, religion plays a strong role in supporting the social hierarchy. In Pamela’s verses about her going away, she writes, “One thing or two I’ve more to say;/ God’s holy Will, be sure obey; / And for our Master always pray;/ As ever shall poor Pamela.” (90). The idea presented in these verses harkens back to what seems to be more feudal thinking. Pamela appears to view her place very traditionally. However, Richardson is certainly complicating the idea that God places people in their rightful roles for the reader with the extreme virtue and restraint found in Pamela and Mr. B’s complete lack thereof. Later in her verses, she prays for content and peace, with further reinforces her acceptance of her role. It is interesting that Richardson seems to be making a strong argument that the upper class of more refined individuals do not necessarily have a monopoly on virtue and Christian religion.
In her essay entitled “Professions for Women”, VIrginia Woolf tells women that they must kill the angel in the house. This ideal form of a Victorian woman was charming, unselfish, and completely sympathetic at all times. Although the stereotype and expectations are both harmful and overwhelming for women, a complete eradication of this type of woman also seems a bit drastic. Consequently, is it possible that all types of women can be accepted simultaneously? If Woolf simply means that society should stop expecting this angelic form of a woman, then her point seems reasonable. However, if she means for all women to stop valuing domesticity and being sweet, then her goal is hopeless. The domestic and loving woman is both embedded in culture and religion. As a result, instead of advocating for the eradication for an entire group of women’s identity, simply moving for the widespread respect of all women and their life decisions would be more realistic.
Thackeray uses many intriguing titles to begin his chapters. A particularly ironic title is “In which Lord Steyne shows himself in a most amiable light”, which begins chapter fifty-two. As the chapter title suggests, Steyne appears kind and philanthropic in this chapter. However, the reader soon discovers that his intentions were nowhere near pure. The chapter begins, “When Lord Steyne was benevolently disposed, he did nothing by halves, and his kindness toward the Crawley family did the greatest honor to his benevolent discrimination” (519). When the chapter’s title and these lines are revisited after Lord Steyne’s true intentions are illuminated, an entirely new understanding can be derived. The words “shows” and “amiable light” immediately become immensely more important. Rather than my initial impression, which was favorable toward Lord Steyne, be seems manipulative and selfish. It is also interesting to consider whether or not the narrator knows of Becky and Lord Steyne’s intimate relationship at this time.
Why does Amelia react so intensely when her mother attempts to give little Georgy medicine? Furthermore, why does Amelia’s reaction, which seems to be nothing more than protectiveness, cause Mrs. Sedley to respond, “may you never nourish a viper in your bosom, that’s my prayer” (388)? In a moment of panic, it seems that Amelia was simply trying to protect her child, the only remnant she has of her deceased husband, from a unfamiliar medication. As a reader, it is easy to understand her concern for her beloved son. However, her own mother is unable to give her the same grace. In fact, “till the termination of her [Mrs. Sedley’s] natural life, this breach between Mrs. Sedley and her daughter was never thoroughly mended” (388). Either Mrs. Sedley has no empathy for her daughter or she is so blinded by her pride that the motivations and concerns of other are unrecognizable to her. Just a couple pages before this scene, Thackeray writes that “Perhaps they [the Sedleys] were a little prouder in their down fall than in their prosperity” (385). Consequently, is this pride a self-protective measure or self-righteousness? Mrs. Sedley has lost her social status as a part of the upper class. As a result, her status as a successful mother is her only identity. As this scene illustrates, she will do anything to protect it.
On whose side is the narrator – George or his father? Earlier in the novel, it seems that the narrator mocks George for complaining after his father disowns him. However, in chapter thirty-five, the narrator’s tone becomes a bit more ambiguous. Either the mocking is redirected toward George’s father or the narrator is sincerely supporting the father’s actions and still picking on George. Statements like, “No father in all England could have behaved more generously to a son, who had rebelled against him wickedly”, complicate the issue greatly (357). With whom should we, as readers, sympathize? Who is more noble – George or his father? The narrator may actually be mocking the father in this section based on a later passage that describes him refusing to help Amelia because he is “a man of his word” and “he had sworn never to speak to that woman or to recognize her as his son’s wife” (358). Consequently, the reader immediately sees the father as a ridged, pompous man whose pride is so great that he is unwilling to help Amelia even when informed of her pregnancy. In this passage, the narrator may be praising George’s father for his honor even when under immense emotional pressure or he is mocking the fathers’ pride in thinking of his own interests above even those of his unborn grandchild. Ultimately, both conclusions can be rationalized.