Endings in Frankenstein, Mill on the Floss, and Tess

The endings of Frankenstein, Mill on the Floss, and Tess of the d’Urbervilles are very important because the author makes some sort of statement about the characters and passes judgement to some degree on a social issue. In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the author seems to imply that Tess’s death is not her own fault and is a tragedy, while the deaths of Frankenstein and the monster are justified, and Maggie Tulliver’s death is sympathetic.

Frankenstein ends with Walton wrapping up the story and telling us that Frankenstein is dead and that the monster is leaving to kill himself. The monster regrets his crimes, telling Walton, “You hate me; but your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself…polluted by crimes, and torn by the bitterest remorse, where can I find rest but in death?” (220)  In this ending, the reader may not be very sympathetic to either Frankenstein or the creature. Frankenstein’s death ends his misery and almost seems a justified recompense for creating the monster. The creature’s death puts an end to his murders and crimes. Shelley implies that these deaths are a good thing, and justified in the eyes of society, especially in that they serve to teach Walton. The ending of Frankenstein also sees the death of a pair: Victor and the monster. Both die, which is something seen in Mill on the Floss, but not Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

In Mill on the Floss, Maggie and Tom die together. While it is an untimely and tragic death, Eliot does write that in death they found unity with one another. “…brother and sister had gone down in an embrace never to be parted: living again in one supreme moment the days when they had clasped their little hands in love, and roamed the daisied fields together” (483). If anything, their death is one that brings peace and understanding to the reader. Maggie’s love for Tom which overarched the novel has finally come to a fruitful conclusion and death has finally freed her from her sufferings. Like Frankenstein, Maggie and Tom are the most important pair in the novel and they die together.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles also ends in the main character’s death. Although Tess seems to have to terms with death, saying “…I am almost glad—yes glad!” (395) she clarifies that she did not want to live long enough for Angel to hate her. Moreover, the moment of her actual death is hollow and somber. The appearance of the black flag signals that “justice was done” but the reader cannot help but feel that Tess suffered more injustice than anyone else in the novel. Hardy not-so-subtly implies that Tess’s death was a tragedy, unjustified, unfair, and unsettling to the readers. The imbalance is accentuated through the fact that Tess alone dies, and not the other half of the pair: Angel.

While Mill on the Floss and Frankenstein both end with the deaths of main characters and bring a sense of peace to the reader, Tess of the d’Urbervilles upsets the audience and leaves them with a sense of injustice. Hardy, like Eliot and Shelley, has passed judgement on the way society ostracizes the fallen person and forces them to be “the other” but Hardy’s novel stands out in that it impacts the injustice. Where the creature’s death was balanced out by his creators, and Maggie’s death balanced by her unity with her beloved brother, Tess’s unfair death only came to her and not Angel. One might argue that Alec is killed by Tess, which balances out her death. However, the relationship between Alec and Tess is not quite the same as those of Frankenstein and the monster or Maggie and Tom. Where those relationships are marked by obligation, familial ties, and hatred or love, Tess and Alec are only connected through Alec’s rape of Tess. Her relationship with Alec is characterized by confusion and fear. Moreover Hardy draws a sharper contrast between Angel—who voluntarily had an affair with a woman—and Tess—who was raped. Where Frankenstein and Mill on the Floss do address injustice in society, I believe Tess of the d’Urbervilles truly explored the impact of it upon the innocent.

Power Struggles between Robert and Lady Audley

The power struggle between the characters of Lady Audley’s Secret is complicated and shifts back and forth between several characters. Most notably, Lady Audley and Robert Audley are in conflict for power and both seem, at different times, to have the most. Whether or not the reader knows Lady Audley is indeed George’s killer—or at least tried to kill him—she seems to have more power in the beginning. She is secretive, powerful, and has Sir Michael Audley’s ear. She even insinuates that she will prove Robert mad. “You are mad, Mr. Robert Audley…you are mad, and your fancies are a madman’s fancies” (311). This would have ruined Robert’s social standing, which is partially the source of his power. She also control the domestic sphere, in which most of the evidence of the murder lies. In having the full story of the murder, Lady Audley also has an advantage over Robert. However, Robert seems to wrest most of the power away from her throughout the story. In societal standing, he is a rich male, so he has social standing over her. Lady Audley does not have the option to run away if Robert “wins”. She thinks, “If I were to run away and disappear…what would become of me? I have no money…what could I do?” (328). However, if Lady Audley “wins” nothing really happens to Robert.  He also only needs to uncover clues, rather than cover up the tracks of an unplanned murder, which is a slightly easier task. Moreover, he was given the choice of whether or not he really wanted to undertake the solving of George’s murder, while Lady Audley has no choice but to cover it up.

Robert’s power seems to come from solid evidence and the intimidation of Lady Audley, as well as higher social standing. On the other hand, Lady Audley’s power comes from domestic control and simply knowing a bit more than Robert does. When Lady Audley appears to have the most power, she is influencing Sir Michael Audley, manipulating her servants, or going to wild lengths to hide the murder. When Robert has more power, he is using evidence and social pressure to frighten Lady Audley.

Interestingly, Lady Audley seems to have the final say. When Robert finally uncovers her murder of George and her real identity as Helen Talboys, he cannot act on this information, for fear of destroying Michael Audley. After Helen confesses, she tells him, “You see I do not fear to make my confession to you…for two reasons. The first is that…it would kill your uncle to see me in a criminal dock” (399).  Lady Audley once again uses her influence over Sir Michael Audley to her advantage. I would argue that power shifts between the two of them, but ultimately, Lady Audley gets to keep her secret, mainly because of the power she derives from her emotional hold over her husband.

Maggie as a Destructive Force

Eliot seems to associate destruction with Maggie Tulliver throughout Mill on the Floss. From the beginning, Maggie unintentionally breaks things or treats them with violence. She accidentally kills Tom’s rabbits and knocks over his house of cards. She pushes Lucy into the mud and impulsively cuts off her own hair. As a child, her anger is taken out on a Fetish, which “was now entirely defaced by a long career of vicarious suffering” (27). She later internalizes this anger and suffering, which is destructive to herself. When she hugs Tom, Eliot writes that, “Maggie hung on his neck in a rather strangling fashion” (31). At the very least, her relationship with Tom is characterized by violence and destruction. However, because Eliot focuses on Maggie’s point of view in the novel, her acts of destruction come through as accidental acts of love. This destructive and unruly tendency puts her almost as an “other” and as an outcast.

Later, as she begins to internalize such destruction, she begins to deny herself. When she is unable to deny herself, her relationships suffer. Although it was possible that, because Mill on the Floss is focused on Maggie’s point of view, we do not know much about the relationships of other characters, it seems as if Maggie’s relationships are the most tumultuous. Aside from the massive quarrel she has with Tom over Philip, she does not appear very close to her other relatives. She tears apart the relationship between Lucy and Stephen—albeit not in a malicious way—and then her own relationship with Stephen disintegrates. This of course causes a rift between herself and Lucy and, of course, Philip. Although Maggie did not act destructively intentionally, she still manages to destroy relationships around her. This obviously leads to the downfall of her reputation and her ostracism from society again.

In the very end, Maggie has mended nearly all of her relationships except for arguably the most important one—her relationship with her brother. In trying to fix this relationship—the one most characterized by violence–she dies an untimely and almost violent death. Before she dies, Eliot describes her as having, “eyes of intense life” (482), which points to the extremes of emotion that lead to multiple instances of destruction. Even though she is reunited with Tom and Eliot seems to imply it was good for them to be united in death, I feel that her untimely death was characteristic of her destructive force.

Female Virtue

Mary Barton contains a motif of female virtue, which is reflected in Mary and her aunt Esther. As discussed in class, during Gaskell’s time, women were seen as the moral guard of men. Therefore, Esther’s status as a street walker was most likely looked down upon or even condemned. Her failure to uphold this standard for women has tragic repercussions in the novel.  In fact, Esther’s plight is a worst-case scenario of what could happen to Mary. She becomes destitute, is rejected by society, and comes to see herself as repulsive and fallen as well. “How can I keep her from being such a one as I am; such a wretched, loathsome creature” (125). She blames herself for Jem’s incarceration and believes that she is responsible for Mary’s infatuation with being rich. The idea of females as moral guards also explains why  the violent treatment towards Esther is overlooked. John “gripped her arm….and dragged her, faintly resisting, to the nearest lamppost” before passionately shaking her and then pushing her to the ground (124-5). Esther is then arrested for disorderly vagrancy. It is clear that morally fallen women are judged much more harshly than men. In fact, the men who provide demand for prostitutes are not mentioned at all. She also functions as a voiceless character who gets no redemption. John Carson and John Barton are both redeemed in the end: John confesses to murdering Harry and Carson forgives him, having come to an understanding of the losses the poorer classes suffer constantly. However Esther, dies without any sort of redemption or happy ending.

The same duties of female virtue are pushed onto Mary. Jem says that Mary may hear he has become a criminal, but she will have no right to blame him because, “it’s your cruelty that will have made me what I feel I shall become.” While this was not necessarily approved of in the nineteenth century, Glaskell again shows the audience that women are socially obligated to “save” men. The idea of women keeping men out of trouble is also seen when Jane Wilson faults Mary at first when Jem is arrested, although Mary had no idea what was happening. She blames Mary for the suspicion placed on Jem. “Folk say…that for the sake of such as you, my precious child shot yon chap” (226). Despite Mary having turned Jem down, Jane Wilson still believes she is a “vile, flirting quean” who caused Jem’s arrest (227). This reinforces the idea that women have the power to cause men to go astray. However, Glaskell does invert this trope by having Mary eventually save Jem through providing an alibi, rather than by being his moral safeguard.

I believe Glaskell was attempting to question the idea that women must save men morally. Through Esther, she showed how the standards for women caused Esther’s unhappy demise while providing a happier ending for Mary, who subverted the trope of women guarding men.

 

Storytelling in Frankenstein

Frankenstein involves many instances of storytelling and reading, most of which instigate a chain reaction of misfortunes within the story. One of the most obvious examples of reading influencing actions is Victor’s initial obsession with the works of Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Albertus Magnus, which eventually leads to the creation of the monster. The monster’s reading of the literature he discovers gives him identity. He identifies with the protagonist of Sorrows of Werter and with Satan in Paradise Lost, saying “many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition; for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter fall of envy rose within me” (Vol 2, ch 7, p.144). This strengthens his sense of being an outcast, which eventually leads to his anger against humankind. The monster engages in storytelling as well, when he begs Victor to show pity for his state of isolation and create him a mate. Although Victor initially complies, his misgivings about the morality of the mate later stop him from going through with the creation—an incident which leads to the death of Victor’s wife.  Many of the terrible things that happen throughout the book result from poor reaction to stories.

There are two instances where the action as a result of a story is unclear.  The bulk of the narrative is Victor’s story to Walton, which builds up to Walton’s eventual confrontation of the monster and the ambiguity of what action Walton would take after hearing the tale. It is clear though that Frankenstein attempted to dissuade Walton from attempting another creation, “would you also create for yourself and the world a demoniacal enemy?…Peace, peace! Learn my miseries, and do not seek to increase your own” (Vol 3 ch 7, p. 209).  The novel is bookended by Walton’s letters to his sister. While we as the readers obviously do not know what Margaret’s actions will be, we do choose how we will respond to the story, outside the narrative.

Each instance of reading or storytelling provokes or is meant to provoke a specific reaction. The ancient philosophers provoke curiosity ambition in Victor, much like his story to Walton and the monster’s story provoke curiosity. Paradise Lost and Sorrows of Werter provide the monster with insight and identity. Nearly all of the stories provoke some feeling of compassion or identification. However, many of them also drive the characters to make choices they regret, like the creation of the monster, his mate, or the death of Frankenstein.

Walton is not necessarily driven to make choices he later regrets, though it is interesting that his response to Victor—that is, compassion and sympathy—are what the monster hoped to gain from Victor. Walton says of Victor, “I have longed for a friend; I have sought one who would sympathize with and love me” (vol 3 chapter 7, p.211). Because both the monster and Victor are, in some ways, to be pitied and both have done terrible things yet receive such different responses to their stories, Shelley may be trying to identify some issue of prejudice or flawed justice. However, she could also be pointing to how similar the man is to the monster in their choice of action.

The readers are audiences not just to Walton’s letters but to the entire narrative, so they have the choice not just to react to the letters, but to the stories of Frankenstein and the monster as well. Shelley allows us to determine our response to the characters, and to decide how we will be influenced by stories.