Women Writers Of Plays And Gothic Novels
There were many british women that influenced the course of history. Many of them are not even known today because their aim was not to get famous. Instead, they did everything in their power to change something, even if their powers were limited. Even if the society did not gave them many opportunities, they succeded in their life journey. Fortunately, some of them chose the most sublime way to make a statement: through writing. Some of these remarkable women are: Aphra Behn, Ann Radcliffe and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. One of the most obvious evidence of their success is the fact that their work survived through time and most of them are very popular even nowadays.
'All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.'
She is one of the most known woman writer in literature mainly because she was one of the first women that made a living through writing. She is one of the first professional woman writer in English literature. Of course, her writing style and unic stories contributed to her popularity. The truth is that very little is known about Aphra Behn. Her birthday is not known for sure. Aphra Behn was born some time before or during the Civil War and died in 1689. Beside her work, there are no many things known for certain: "What is securely known about Aphra Behn outside her works could be summed up in a page." Supposedly, around 1660 she was traveling to Surinam, a British plantation colony on the Atlantic coast of South America. Later, she had a special job and maybe a strange one: she was a spy in the Netherlands for King Charles II. She returned penniless to London because the government refused to pay her for her services. In this situation, Aphra Behn began to write many plays just to pay her debts. Fortunately, her plays had great success on the London stage.
One of the best known play she ever wrote is The Rover. Aphra Behn also wrote poetry, but she was always remembered for the novel Oroonoko. Oroonoko was written in 1688, at the end of her life, and it is believed that this novel illustrates some events from her youth mainly because she writes in the first-person narrative, insisting through the all novel that she was a witness to all that happened. She produced 17 plays and wrote 30 works of fiction and poetry. Behn's work raised questions about women's nature and women's function in society, but even ideas about the Church of England and economic and legal ideology
The main ideology during the period when she wrote was that of the Church of England. In her work churches appear as places where people discover their lovers, but her characters often use blasphemy. Most of the work published by her contemporaries was religios. Also, most women learned about their role from the Church's interpretation of the Bible. This is how they learned that marriage was created for the benefit of mankind and that the wife's duty is to love and obey her husband and daughters and sons have the obligation of obeying their parents.
The Church of England had ecclesiastical courts that exercised some jurisdiction over matters of marriage. Church courts granted separations to husbands or wives who could demonstrate that their partner was guilty of adultery or cruelty. To such courts Bellmour and Diana in the Town-Fopp would have to go to get an annulment. Behn's disapproval of the Church's Law system is best emphasized in The Adventure of the Black Lady. Bellamora has to flee to London after she becomes pregnant. She just hopes that will deliver the child secretly but the Poor Law system just makes things more difficult. The Act of Settlement allowed Justices of the Peace to remove any poor newcomers if there was a complaint. The main concern was about poor people that were coming to London and were considered a burden. Charges were the expenses for medical care of the poor woman that had children and long-term expense of the parish to provide for an illegitimate child. When Bellamora prepares to deliver her child, the neighbours report it to the authorities:
'the Vermin of the Parish (I mean, the Overseers of the poor, who eat the Bread from 'em) to search for a young Black-hair'd Lady (for so was Bellamora) which was either brought to bed, or just ready to lie down'.
Happily for Bellamora her fiance rescues her and agrees to marry her when he finds out that she is about to have his child.
Economic and legal
Marriage was, of course, a spiritual union of God's plan, but at the same time it was also a contract between two parts in which women were just intruments for the increase of family property. It was crucial for the eldest son to inherite the family's fortune. This was important because this way the family was mantaining their distinction from the lower social ranks. If the family fortune would have been divided equally among the children it would have become spread into small amounts. This amounts would have been considered to small to constitute an aristocractic estate. Even if the younger sons and daughters were provided with small shares, there was a clear distinction between the heir and "the rest". But there was a simple way to gain a large fortune even if you were not the oldest son: marying a heiress. In the absence of sons, a daughter became the family's heiress. Such situation happens in The City-Heiress. The protagonist is disinherit by Sir Timothy Treat-all after he scatters a lot of money. Becoming poor, his plan is to escape with Charlot, heiress with a fortune of ??3,000 a year.
In Behn's work there are attempts of forced marriage in which relatives, usually the parents, insist that their child must marry somenone specific. The parents insisted just for financial reasons and the child was usually against it because there was no love. A character that finds herself in a similar situation is Florinda in The Rover. Don Pedron, her brother, tells her that she sould be happy to marry Don Vincention, an old man, but rich enough to overlook this aspect. Of course, she is against such marriage and says "such a Wedlock would be worse than Adultery" . Althought most comedy supposes that love would overcome the practical economic considerations, historical evidence suggests something else. Women were most likely to look first for economic advantages and then for love. Behn showed up through her work that she is against forced marriages but she shows how the legal and economic system influences women's desires. Leticia Bredwell in The Luckey Chance marries Sir Feeble Fainwould, an oldman. She does not love him or even like him, but that does not matter to much because he is rich. When Bellmour, her former suitor, proves to be alive, she asks to be understood: 'remember I was poor and helpless. / And much reduc'd, and much impos'd upon'. But there are situations in which her characters refuse to marry just for the sake of comfort and money. In The Wandring Beauty the main character is a virtuous woman. Arabella Fairname chooses to walk away from her family rather than being forced to marry old Sir Robert Richland. Even it is clearly not a easy path to follow, she works as a servant for several years. She is rewarded for her courage to leave all behind and pursue her believes by marrying the virtuous and rich Sir Lucius Lovewell. But reading Behn's work it is obvious that even if she is against arranged marriages, she suggests that women might be forgiven for choosing the easiest way to avoid a tough life.
Aphra Behn was very interested in a particular subject: the true value of women and what society things of this. Just like nowadays, money were back then the most important thing and maybe the only thing that would make anything possible. Virginia Wolf writes in A rooms of one's one something very interesting regarding this aspect:
'Aphra Behn proved that money could be made by writing at the sacrifice, perhaps, of certain agreeable qualities; and so by degrees writing became not merely a sign of folly and a distracted mind, but was of practical importance. A husband might die, or some disaster overtake the family. Hundreds of women began as the eighteenth century drew on to add to their pin money, or to come to the rescue of their families by making translations or writing the innumerable had novels which have ceased to be recorded even in text-books, but are to be picked up in the fourpenny boxes in the Charing Cross Road. The extreme activity of mind which showed itself in the later eighteenth century among women ' the talking, and the meeting, the writing of essays on Shakespeare, the translating of the classics ' was founded on the solid fact that women could make money by writing.'
When Petronella tries to convince the courtesan La Nuche in The Second Part of The Rover not to give her love away for free, she emphasize a real but overlooked fact: money is more important than beauty.
But Petronella does not really believe in the power of opulent wealth alone because she steals La Nuche's jewels in hopes of setting herself up as a courtesan, but she also wants to restore her youth and beauty by buying a magic elixir. Behn tries to separate the concept of female beauty from female wealth. Regarding this aspect, in The Second Part of The Rover she present two female "monsters" from Mexico, a Giant and a Dwarf. The most important thing is that they both are rich. Even if men find both women disgusting, their perspective change in time. Four male characters plane to marry them just for their fortune, and two ultimately do. So even if a woman's beauty was very important, her fortune was much more important. Besides these two things, nothing really mattered.
The Rover- female characters
The female characters from The Rover are not so common. Each one of them seems to behave differently from who they appear to be at first. The female characters have a hidden desire for independence, something not really possible for a woman in those times. However, the three main female characters are capable of expressing their desires. Hellena plans to act as she wants and 'not as my wise brother imagines' . Florinda and Angellica Bianca have a similar view upon their independence. They do not baheve like they have no competence and need to rely on a man. Moreover, they have strong personalities that allows them to express their feelings. Each of them has a fate presented at the begining of the play. Florinda is bound to marriage, Hellena to nunnery and Angellica Bianca to prostitution.
During the Carnival, these three characters have the chance to abandon thei position and become who they desire. They want to "be mad as the rest, and take all innocent freedoms ". Beside this rare possibility ofered by this event, The Carnival has other functions. One of them is the dissapearence of class distinctions. The ladies become lost in the festivities and behave just as they seem fair. The most important thing that Thee Carnival emphasizes is that women should be free to choose for themselves and to seek and live the life they want. At a certain point, Hellena and Angellica dress as men. This fact shows that woman can take the men's place anytime because they are not only beautiful, but also very inteligent. Their costumes permit them also to play with their lovers. Dressed in man's clothes, Hellena tris to punish Willmore for his infidelity. When Angellica Bainca threatens Willmore she uses a pistol, a weapon used in those times almost exclusively by men. This suggest that there is an attempt of taking control over the all situations. Using masqs, these female characters prove that women can take ownership of their rights at any time.
The end reveals an unfair truth for that time: that a woman was fit into society either as a prostitute or as a wife. Florinda and Hellena meet succes in their attempts. Florinda maries her lover and Hellena escapes becoming a "handmaid to lazars and cripples " in the nunnery. However, they do not have many chooses. Even if they fight for their rights, they end up having the same duties of most women. Through these characters, Aphra Behn is able to show that the libertine female had no place in that society if she tried to push the limit of tradition. Writing this play, Behn encourages a reevalution of women's roles and rights.
Oroonoko: or, the Royal Slave
Another famous novel is Oroonkono which it was published in 1688 and tells the story of an enslaved African in Surinam. What is really interesting about this novel is the fact that the author claims that she was a witness to most of the events that from this work:
'I was myself an eye-witness to a great part of what you will find here set down.'
The novels deals with complex issues that concern even modern days: race and gender. What is even more amazing is the author's gender. She was able to write in an age when few women wrote professionally. Oroonoko's physical beauty is the most visible manifestation of his nobility. He is described as a man with European-looking features. His appearence is the only thing that sets him apart from the other black men. The note of modernity comes from the way that races are treated: both black and white people can be heroic.
Events in history at the time that influenced the novel
' Plantation settlements
Spain dominated European colonization of the New World. Great Britain entered this competition only at the end of the sixteenth century, but her attempts failed. Only during the seventeenth century Britain succeded to establish colonies in the America. These colonies were in fact plantation settlements. Britain at first grew cotton and tobacco. British settlers began to colonize the coast of South America from the island Barbados, led by the governor Lord Willoughby of Parham. The governor's name appears in the second part of the novel Oroonoko, which is setat Parham, Willoughby's sugar plantation in Surinam.
' Rise of the Atlantic slave trade
Europeans came to Africa coast in search of a sea route to Asia. Soon, they began traiding with the Africans. Gradually, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British builded their own forts here. Elmina, a Portuguese fort, fell to the Dutch in 1638. A few years earlier, the British established a fort named Cormantine. This is the Coramantien in the novel, presented as a country ruled by Oroonkono's gradfather. The Cormantees were slaves that were taken from the Gold Coast. In the early 1670s some english colonists in Barbados executed 30 of them just because they were afraid that these slaves would revolt. Oroonoko has the same destiny as these slaves: all are reported to have died calmly in belief that death would return them to their homelands.
' The nature of royalty
In the seventeenth century Britain began to rise mainly because of the dominance of slave trade. With this expansion of British commerce came great benefits, but also some social tensions arised. Not all the profits would go into the hand of men like Lord Willoughby,the aristocratic proprietor of the sugar plantation in Surinam. This way, the middle class rised being formed from people that made their money rather than inherited them. But the political demands of the middle class was many times behind some important conflicts in British society. These conflicts concerned the nature of royalty, as the full title suggests : Oroonoko, or The Royal Slave: A True History. The royalist believed that the right to govern as a king was given by God and not by society.
This novel is one of the earliest work of literature that approaches the slavery problem.
In the preface Behn writes a dedicatory letter to Richard Maitland, a catholic supporter of James II. She claims that she is writing a true story and this fact is repeated often through the novel. Behn even claims that she have seen many of the events in Surinam herself heard the rest from 'the Mouth of the chief Actor in this History, the Hero himself,' who also informed her about his youth in Africa.
The new element that this novel brings is the plot that takes place in the New World, but the most interesting thing in the novel is the relationship between two members that are from two different worlds: a black male slave and the white girl who is also the narrator. The narrator never criticizes slavery directly, but it can be said that the hero's perspective promotes a world without slavery. On the other hand, the narrator claims that she has some authority in the colonial society of Surinam. Despite this, she seems unable to save Oroonoko. Having some authority in the colonial society of Surinam would mean that she participated in the racist ideology, but the narrator seems to not identify herself with the rest. The pronouns used emphasize this fact. Often, when it is discused the abuse of the slaves, the narrator refers to the colonists as "they", but when she discusses about a peaceful coexistance the pronoun "we" is used.
'But before I give you the story of this gallant slave, it is fit I tell you the manner of bringing them to these new colonies; those they make use of there, not being natives of the place: for those we live with in perfect amity, without daring to command them.'
However, when there is a real threat to the colony, the narrator uses "we". This constant shift between "we" and "they" may suggest that the narrator wishes for a different situation regarding the slaves. By choosing "we" the narrator does not have to be held responsible for all the cruel actions that take place. But in this situation appears a contradition to her previous statment that underlined her influential position. So, her struggle to save him is in van. The novel Oroonoko has plenty of contradictions. The readers can not really tell if the sotry is true or not, if it was written indeed as a travel result and the narrator seems to have a so sort of authority, but she fails in her atempt to save the person she cares about. The true function of these constradictions is to create the illusion that the narrator is really disturbed by all these cruel events.
Aphra Benh was known to her contemporaries for the poor plays and erotic poems she wrote, that were considered to be acceptable to English society only when written by men. The reception of Oroonoko was different. Thomas Southerne, a playwright, adapted the book for the stage in 1696. He said that Behn "had a great Command of the Stage; and I have always wonder'd that she would bury her Favorite Hero in a Novel, when she might have revived him in the Scene." Even if Behn's works were seen by many people as improper, Oroonoko had a different impact on people.
Ann Radcliffe is another important writer that made a statement and changed some of the perceptions upon the role of women. She was one of the most recognized female Gothic writers of her time.
'It May be true, that Mrs. Radcliffe rather walks in fairy-land than in the region of realities, and that she has neither displayed the command of the human passions, nor the insight into the human heart, nor the observation of life and manners, which recommended others authors in the same line. But she has taken the lead in a line of composition, appealing to those powerful and general sourcs of interest, a latent sense of supernatural awe, and curiosity concerning whatever is hidden and mysterious; and if she has been ever nearly approached in this walk, which we should hesitate to affirm, it is at least certain that she has never been excelled or even equaled.'
She is considered to be one of the most important writers of the English Gothic tradition not only because she had an incredible ability to write, but more important because her style was never surpassed. She managed to transform the gothic novel from a terror tool to one that explores the psychology of fear. Her uniqueness lies in the way she brings curiosty by presenting events that are apparently supernatural but which are proven to have logical explinations in the end.
In 1787 she married William Radcliffe, a journalist-publisher. Within a few years, she begun writing. In 1789 she published The Castle of Athlin and Dunbayne followed by The Sicilian Romance in 1790. She established her reputation as a gothic novelist when her third novel The Romance of The Forest which was published in 1791, but the most successful novel was The Mysteries of Udolphpo written in 1794. A carrer was a difficult path to follow for a woman in those days. Usually, once married, a woman began to worry more for her family and less for her carrer. This was not the case of Ann Radcliffe. She was even encouraged by her husband to write.
But at the age of thirty-two she stopped writing. Except for some poems, she did not write anything else and nobody knows why. Some believed that the cause for this was the amount of unfavorable comments on The Italian. Others thought that she was just disappointed by the many productions that tried to imitate her.
Maybe her success is also the result to the air of mistery that surrounds her life. Her determination to keep her life private made her a difficult subject for biography. Despite the fact that Ann Radcliffe was a famous English novelist of her generation, very little is known about her life. Somehow, she managed to keep herself away from public life. Christina Rossetti, a English poet, wanted to write her biography in 1883, but she had to give up just because there was not much information about her life. There were many rumors regarding her withdrew like: she died or suffered because of her imitators.
There is no certainty about her education. It is possible that she attended a school run by Sophia Lee, one of the earliest writers of gothic novels. So, about her education very little is known. Her biographers pointed out that it was an ordinary education of that day, taking into consideration that she was a girl, but not complete for these days. Julia Kavanagh speaks about her education as being not sufficient:
'Had Ann Radcliffe been Jonh Radcliffe, and received the vigorous and polished education which marks the man and the gentleman, we might have a few noveles less, but we would assuredly have some fine pages more in that language where, spite their merit, her works will leave no individual trace.'
But reading her work one may incline the opposite. At least, the quatations she uses as headings to her chapters suggest a variat line of reading. She was also very loved in her days, her work being popular especially among young women.
'But this was Mrs. Radcliffe's way. She delighted in descriptions of scenery, the more romantic the better, and usually drawn entirely from her inner consciousness.'
What brought Ann Radcliffe popularity was her ability to introduce suspense in her work. There are many such scenes in The Mysteries of Udolpho that full of suspense and mistery. One of these mysteries is presented even from the beginning of the story: when they leave home, Emily sees her father looking at woman's picture who is not her mother. Also, just before he dies he asks her to burn some papers but without looking at them. She listens to him, but while burning them she involuntarily sees some lines that disturb her. What is more disturbing is that the reader does not know what those lines were about. Another mistery is that of the black veil. She finds out about a picture concealed behind a black veil. Coming across it, she sees the picture and faints. Only at the end the reader can find out what she has seen. When Emily and Dorothee visit the room of the dead marchioness and the black pall on the bed begins slowly to rise Ann Radlicffe introduces another mistery. Moreover, Ludovico disappears from exact this room. The logical explination is given after many pages: a band of smugglers used the wing of the chateau for stone goods and they carried off Ludovico to let the impression that the rooms are haunted. Scenes full of suspense cand be observed in The Italian too. On his way to Ellena's villa, Vivaldi meets a monk who warns him no to go on. What stirs even more our curiosity is the appearances and disappearances of this misterious monk.
All these scenes full of suspense are created in such way that the reader can not leave a story unfinished because inevitabily curiosity appears, making the reader unable to put the book aside until he finds out what each mistery means. 'Mrs. Radcliffe keeps the many entangled threads of her complex web well in hand, and incidents which puzzle you at the beginning fall naturally into place before the end.'
The Mysteris of Udolpho
'A pedantic censor may remark that, while the date of the story is 1580, all the virtuous people live in an idyllic fashion, like creatures of Rousseau, existing solely for landscape and the affections, writing poetry on Nature, animate and inanimate, including the common Bat, and drawing in water colours.'
Sources and literary context
Sophia Lee was one of the first female gothic writers who is believed to have strongly influenced Ann's writing. Ann Radcliffe managed to give new energy to the gothic novel and make the gothic romance the most popular literary genre of the 1790's. Her type of gothic novel has some particularities as it's purpose is not horror, but terror. The difference is that terror does not just insinuated terrible circumstances and various dangers, usually based on unseen or unknown threats. Instead, terror is expansive. Many of her description and landscape of France or Italy were borrowed from various books. One of these is William Coxe's Travel in Switzerland (1789), which mentions the nuns of St. Claire. Also her own travels to England's Isle of Wight (the famous Carisbrooke Castel and Netley Abbeey) maybe influenced her description of the Castle of Udolpho.
There were some facts and events in history at the time the novel was written that influenced the content of it. Some of them are important and can not be overlooked.
William Blackstone said in his Commentaries on the Laws of England that 'the husband and the wife are one person in law; that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose total protection and cover, she performs everything.' It is well known that in the 18th century women had no so many rights. For example, they could not sue or sign contracts without the consent of their husbands. That is why when Ann Radcliffe signed the publisher contracts for her novels, her husband had to sign them as well. If she could have signed the contracts without William Radcliffe's consent, the contracts would have had no legal validity. A husband could not take away his wife's property but he had the right to take all the income that her property generated. Men realized quickly that they could easily gain a fortune throught marriage. So, many men seduced wealthy heiresses without taking into consideration the family's consent. This became a problem so Parliament passed the Hardwicke Marriage Act, which made the parental consent obligatory for everyone under the age of 21. The plot encounters such situation when Valancourt asks Emily to 'quit Madame Montoni's house, and be conduceted by him to the church of the Augustines, where a friar should wait to unit them.' Even if Valancourt had Emiliy's heart, his intentions were not honorable. When he asked her such thing his only wish was a clandestine marriage. Emily's answear was the right one because or 'her repugnance to a clandestine mariagge, her fear of emerging on the world with embarrassments.' With her answear, the innocent female character triumphs over the villain.
Around 1350 Italy was in a constant state of war. Local conflicts began to spread, but the city-states of Italy were successful in comerce so they did not want to send their citizens to war. Instead, they chose to hire condottieri, outsiders who would fight for them. In time this profession became crucial for military and political landscape. By employing such soldiers, Italian city-states didn't have to pay the costs of maintaining an army enjoing at he same time the benefits of having one. But this grop of condottieri was a danger to the stability of the city-states. After the peace was restored some of the condottieries would have launched their own raids. A similar situation is presented in The Mysteries of Udolpho when Montoni, the principal villain raises his own band of codottieri. He meets them at the gambling tables and conceives 'a desire to emulate their characters, before his ruined fortunes tempted him to adopt their practices.' He quicly gathers an army deciding to use the castle of Udolpho as a base of operations.
Pirates and banditti
In the 16th century English and Dutch pirates took advantage of Mediterranean ships which were poorly constructed and not well armed. Banditry was becoming more intense in northern Italy. The economy was weak so landlords increased taxes. The rising was the principal cause of unprecedented banditry. Such situations are encountered in the novel. The servant Ludovico is kidnapped by pirates. They need the cellars below one of the homes, Chateau-le Blanc, to store their plunder. Early in the novel, Monsieur St. Aubert and Emily are worried about encountering bandits in the isolated mountain passes of the Pyrenees. Later in the novel a count's family is almost murdered when it meets a group of bandits (while traveling). The conversation between the bandits is overheard by a member of the family. They are debating whether to rob them or not: 'While we run the chance of the wheel'shall we let such a prize as this go'?
Daughters were once powerfull assets, but in the 16th century they became financial burdens if they had little financial means. In such situation many women had a difficult choice to make: either they marry a man social beneath them or they remain unmarried. Also the freedom of working-class men was restricted because of the rise of urban centers. Apprentices stayed unmarried until they have found a mastership. Sometimes they had to wait years. Taking all these into consideration, convents became a natural solution. Usually families paid to have their daughters accepted into a convent. So convents would have all kinds of women: nuns coming from upper-class families, reformed prostitutes, widows. Many women entered convent life because they did not have a chance for education or employment, not because of religious reasons. The convent became their only option. Emily lives for a short while in a convent near Chateau- Blanc. Even if she enjoys the tranquility of the convent, this is not the real reason for her staying. She receives a letter from La Vallee from which she finds out that 'her circumstances would by no means allow her to reside there and earnestly advising her to remain, for the present, in the convent of St. Clair.' The nuns of St. Clair spend much of their spare time gossiping, but their living conditions were not so great. Emily's room has only a bed of straw. She seems content to remain at the convent only because she has no other options, but once she becomes a wealthy heiress she forgets about St. Clair.
Ann Radcliffe's female characters lack power. Instead, they have the necessary streangth to survive and overcome different situations. In all of her novels the heroine is told she is to marry, without having something to say regarding this aspect. Her novels reflect the reality of those times because these kind of situations were very common in those days.
Emily is the heroine, the only daughter of Monsieur St. Aubert and Madame St. Aubert. She lives happily with her parents being loved and cherished by them. She resembles her mother. Emily is not a naive young lady. Even if she is a sensible girl, she does not lack reason. All of these are due to St. Aubert's care who tried to strengthen her mind and teach her to reject the first impulse of her feelings. He was very cautious to her, trying to teach her all he could for her proper development. His behavior towards her may be determined by the fact that he lost his two sons 'at the age when infantine simplicity is so fascinating.' St. Aubert taught her Latin, English and 'he gave her a general vierw of the sciences, and an exact acquaintance with every part of elegant literature.' Emily learns all these things with joy mainly because she and her father share the same tastes in everything. Even if the time is set in the 16th century, a period in which girls had no great access to education, St. Aubert managed to educate his daughter and to shape her personality. His views upon knowledge are clear: 'The vacant mind is ever on the watch for relief, and ready to plunge into error, to escape from the languor of idleness. Store it with ideas, teach it the pleasure of thinking.' Beside the things they share together, they also have a passion for nature. The novel is full of descriptive passages with beautiful views admired either by St. Aubert or Emily. The development of Emily is entirely determined by St. Aubert's character and moral conduct. When his brother-in-law asks him how they can live here, Quesnel being an ambitios and superficial man, St. Aubert says that he lives only for his family. In other words, St. Aubert has focused all his attention on his spiritual life aspect. Also, St. Aubert is rather concerned with the beautiful development of his daughter than with finding a rich suitor for her. Emily have the same opinion even when it comes to people. Both like Valancourt for the same reasons: 'St. Aubert was much pleased with the manly frankness,simplicity, and keen susceptibility to the grandeiur of nature, which his new acquaintance discovered.' Even if Emily likes Valancourt she does not respond immediately to his feeling, being rather reserved. Her behavoiur towards Valancourt is maybe determined by her father's words that said to reject the first impulse of her feelings. Emily is is a generous person who knows the value of the real important things in life, so when her father says to her that they are left with no money she says :
'My dear father do not grieve for me, or for yourself; we may yet be happy;- if La Vallee remains for us, we must be happy. We will retain only one servant and you shall scarcely perceive the change in your income. Be comforted, my dear sir; we shall not feel the want of those luxuries, which others value so highly, since we never had a taste for them; and poverty cannot deprive us of many consolations. It cannot rob us of the affection we have for each other.'
Emily values her spiritual legacy and knows that proverty cannot make her forget of all the things that her father taught her. She is not a superstitios person, but she is a little worried when she hears that Father Denis believes that the mysterious voice they hear sometimes announces death coming. Before he dies St. Aubert gives his beloved daughter some advice that Emily follows without doubting him. He tries somehow to prepare her for the future, knowing that he will not be near to support her:
'I would not teach you to become insensible, if I could; I would only warn you of the evils of susceptibility, and point out how you may avoid them. Beware, my love, I conjure you, of that self-delusion, which has been fatal to the peace of so many persons; beware of priding yourself on the gracefulness of sensibility; if you yield to this vanity, your happiness is lost for ever.'
She is obedient and burns the papers without looking at them. She is however tempted to look through them, but she remembers that she gave 'a somen promis'. When Valancourt declares his feelings she accepts them only with a thought in mind: even if she is confused and hesitates because everything happens fast, she trusts her father's judgement. It can be said that Emily is a shy person because when Madame Cheron sees the two talking, Emily 'felt a blush steal upon her cheek' , even if their encounter was not something to be shameful of. Of course, Madame Cheron tells Emily that she disapproves of her conduct and that she is not capable to understand how St. Aubert could have liked Valancourt only after a few days. However, Emily is bold enough to tell her aunt: 'When my conduct shall deserve this severity, madam, you will do well to exercise it; till than justice, if not tenderness, should surely restrain it.' The word 'tenderness' that Emily uses suggests that she would have desired for a different relationship between her and Madame Cheron. Such thing not being possible, she only wishes now for a fair treatment.
Emily's honest character is revealed when Valancourt asks her to marry in secret. Even if she loves Valancourt and wishes to be his wife, she can not betray her aunt and refuses Valancourt's request. Maybe any other girl would have decided for herself, not thinging twice when her feelings are obvious and there is a possible escape: a secret marriage. Even if she is aware of the fact that her situation is not fair at all, she remains honest and faithfull to her principles. Behving this was she honours her father's memory. Precisely this thing points out one of the novels's themes: virtue rewarded. Her virtue is rewarded in the end because she did everything as correct as possible.
'Mrs. Radcliffe does not always keep on her highest level, but we must remember that her last romance, 'The Italian,' is by far her best. She had been feeling her way to this pitch of excellence, and, when she had attained to it, she published no more.'
In the 1790s people were concerned with the problem of sensibility. The debate on sensibility in part is focued on how one should temper one's emotions in order to not become too self-indulgent. Mary Wollstonecraft thought that sensibility was a feeling designed to stop women's view of a future without marriage. This debate on sensibility is also one of the main theme in The Mysteries of Udolpho. For Radcliffe excessive emotion is always controlled by self-reservation. In The Italian Ellena's sensibility enables her to discern the presence of the divine and gives her the fortitude to control her feelings. Other characters lack sensibility or are unable to quiet it like Schedoni and Vivaldi. Such characters are unfortunately lost is a world of abstract ideas. Such sensibility rewards Ellena in the end with social and economic advancement.
The novel concludes unexpected revealing that Ellena is of noble birth, followed by the marriage between Ellena and Vivaldi.
One of the main themes present in the novel is love. Vincentio di Vivaldi, a noble man, falls in love with Ellena, an orphan. Because of their struggle to be together, their love story leads the entire development of the story. Their love grows slowly, helping them to overcome the difficult situations they encounter. Another theme is religion. Many events revolve this aspect. Ellena is sent to a convent where is meets her mother who is a nun at that convent. Also, Schedoni is the Marchesa di Vivaldi's personal confessor. Being the member of the church he is a very trusted person. Regarding these events, it cand be said that religion had a great influence in people's life, as it has now.
The Italian tells the story of Vincentio di Vivaldi, son of nobleman the Matchese de Vivaldi, who falls in love with Ellena Rosalba. Ellena is presented as a very beautiful girl full of grace and delicacy. He was first charmed by her voice and then by her beauty: "The sweetness and fine expression of her voice attracted his attention to her figure". Ellena behaves properly and gives Vicentio no hope, at first. He tries to talk to her, but her replies are short and concise. All he could succed was to be a allowed to enquire after her aunt's health. Vincentio visits their house until he 'exhausted every topic of conversation. ' He finds out that she is an orphan, that her only realtive was Signora Bianchi and that she spend her days embroidering silks. Of couse, he did not know that the beatuiful robe that his mother wear was worked by Elena. Just like Emily, Ellena is a sensible, modest and cautious person. She is able to endure poverty, but not contempt. Even is she is not at all ashemed of her work, she can not stand 'the senseless smile and humiliating condescension, which prosperity sometimes gives to indigence '. Unlike Emily, she is not strong enough and her views are not sufficiently enlarged. Emily had the constant support of her father who taught her everything, but Ellena is an orphan who never knew her mother. She is rather innocent. But all these things are not of great importance for Vincentio . 'The beauty of her countenance haunting his imagination, and the touching accents of her voice still vibrating on his heart.' The problem of status in society was always a concern for people regardless their fortune. The lives of the poor and the rich being different, it was like an unspoken rule for a nobel man to marry a woman who was as rich as him. But Vincentio is different. Even if he is 'the only son of the Marchese di Vivaldi, a nobleman of one of the most ancient families of the kingdom of Naples ', his character is a remarkable one. He inherited his fahter's character and 'very little of his mother'. 'His pride was as noble and generous as that of the Marchese; but he had somewhat of the fiery passions of the Marchesa, without any of her craft, her duplicity '. The novel shows how difficult was for two people that belonged to different worlds to be together. The main issue for them was the acceptance of society. In this case, their love seems impossible exactly because of this. However, Vincention does not give up even if he encounters many strange or scary obstacles. First of them is the sudden appearance of a man who looked like a monk. He warns Vincention clearly: 'Signor! your steps are watched; beware how you revisit Altieri! ' At that time, being tourmented by the incedent, Vincention thought that the strange man was a rival. Later, the monk appears again and says to him 'Go not to the villa Altieri!'. Despite these strange encounters with the monk that scares his friend Bonarmo, Vicention is brave enough to not give up.
The two main characters manage to overcome all the obstacles. The Marchese is one of them. Her description from the first pages anticipates her future behavior and attitudes. Being described as a 'crafty and deceitful' person and 'patient in stratagem, and indefatigable in pursuit of vengeance', her behavior is no surprise for the reader. From the very start she is against her son's love. In those times there were blended three opposite things: money, happiness and honour. The first time when this thing is emphasize is when his father tries to talk to his son about Ellena. 'I have wished to speak with you, upon a subject of the utmost importance to your honour and happiness .' He is convinced that marring a poor person would dishonor everyone and would bring unhappines upon the person who decides to do so. This is the main idea that was deep rooted on people's mind in those days. Marrying a person that did not belonged to your social class would bring many complications and, apparently, no happiness. A rich family would have never wanted for his son to marry a poor girl. However, if such situation occurred and the son was really willing to marry a poor girl, it was possible. In a situation where the roles changed, the perspective would have changed too. It was impossible for a rich girl to marry a poor man. The reason was obvious: a young woman needed financial and social support. She was not complete without a man that fulfilled these requirements.
Ellena has a self-control that helps her to overcome difficult situations and seems to be a sort of antidote to the excesses of Gothic horror. The novel pusts Ellena in situations where she could react as a terriefied young girl that is afraid for her life. Instead, she refuses to give in negative feelings. Even when she is abducted by people working for Schedoni, she keeps her positivity by looking out at the scenery. This seems to be the antitode to danger. In fact, Ellena looks for the nature's beauty anywhere. When she is incarcerated in a convent, she gains access to a room from which she sees a sublime landscape:
"Here, gazing upon the stupendous imagery around her, looking, as it were, beyond the awful veil which obscures the features of the Deity, and conceals Him from the eyes of his creatures, dwelling as with a present God in the midst of his sublime works; with a mind thus elevated, how insignificantwould appear to her the transactions, and the sufferings of the world!"
Even if Ellena and Vincention go through many unpleased situations, they are capable of reunite in the end. Exactly these kind of situations are meant to demonstrate that loving an unsuitable person in those days was not something easy to do. Moreover, the end seems like a fairy-tale taking into consideration that his parents agreed with the marriage even if at first they were vehemently against it. The novel presents a real situation (the forbitten love between a rich boy and a poor girl), but adds a fairy-tale end. Most similar situations did not have a happy ending in real life. This novel presents a very encounted problem in those days. If the ending would have been an unfortunate one, it would have been just an increase of the whole bitterness of the situation.
Mary Shelley was born in 1797. Her parents were also writers: William Godwin and Mary Wollestonecraft. Moreover, her parents were revolutionaries also known for their radical ideas. Mary Shelley was able to grow up in an intellectual environment where certain ideas and knowedge shaped her personality. Unfortunately, her life was not happy at all. Many unfortunated events marked her for ever: her mother died eleven days after Mary was born, so she and Fanny Imlay, her older half sister were raised by William Godwin; her first child, born in 1815, died shortly after; Fanny Imlay, her half-sister, committed suicide; her second son died as a young boy. Mary lost her third child as well, but then she gave birth to Percy Florence, the only child that survives. Later in 1822, her husband dies drowned in the Gulf of Spezia. All these happened when Mary was not yet 25. However, she spend her rest of the life living modestly. Becomin a widow at the early age of 24, she worked to support herself. She wrote novels, including Valperga and Tha Last Man. Moreover, she was very concerned with promoting her husband's poetry. Mary Shelley died on February1, 1885 of brain cancer. She was buried at St. Peter's Church in Bounemouth.
Mary Shelley's parental heritage had an important role in her literary career. The radical ideas of her parents significantly influenced Mary Shelley. Her father, William Godwin, was very interested in Mary's education, so he kept records of her activities and general development. He insisted in the importance of reading, telling Mary that reading was a necesarry condition for the development of imagination.
'Without imagination there can be no genuine ardour in any pursuit, or any acquisition, and without imagination there can be no genuine morality, no profound feeling of other men's sorrow.'
In 1801 her father married Mary Jane Clairmont, a widow and mother of two children. The relationship between Mary and her stepmother was not the ideal one. Even if her stepmother was an educated women, she had a difficult duty: managing a family with sons and daughters from multiple relationships while their financial problems were increasing. In this situation, Mary Shelley concentrated her energy in writing. Her greatest succes is Frankenstein, written when she was 19. Frankenstein was written after a series of telling ghost stories in the Alps with the poet Lord Byron and other persons. On March 11, 1818, Frankentein; or, The Modern Prometheus was published anonymously in three volumes and accompanied by a preface written by her husband. Walter Scott wrote a review about this novel, praising the author's "uncommon powers of poetic " He also observed other things: the "ideas are always clearly as well as forcibly expressed" and the "the descriptions of landscape have in them the choice of requisites of truth, freshness, precision, and beauty." The novel was republished in 1831, but this thim it included Mary Shelley's own preface. This way, Frankenstein became one of the greatest horror stories and it continues to be popular even nowadays.
The novel addresses different kinds of issues like: the nature of knowledge, the power of imagination, the function of the creator and the creature and the relationship with nature. Mary Shelley in interested in the self-destrucitve side of human soul. Mary Shelley demystifies many Romantic myths like the faith in nature. In the final edition of Frankenstein nature is not netheir gentle or benevolent. Instead, the nature is presented as a machine that acts blindly. Victor is the victim of his selfish side, wanting only to overcome the limits of human's condition and to obtain a power never seen before. Frankenstein is not only a novel that discuses most of the doctrines established by Romantic ideology, but also anticipates the existential questions about human existence.
Events in history at the time of the novel
It can be said that one of the factors that contributed to Frankenstein's popularity is the way this novel approached different issues of its age in which religion was the most important thing. Even if religion had a very high place in society in the past, science continued to evolve. The novel suggests that anything can be possible manly because the novel was written in a time that was going through Scientific Revolution. People started to become more and more aware of the science's development . In that period of time many scientific publications and textbooks appeared. The use of mathematics grew in scientific studies. The most popular scientist of the early nineteenth century was Erasmus Darwin, Charles's grandfather. Erasmus Darwin that the water covered once the whole earth and that life must have evolved from the sea. He also believed that the most advanced method of creation was the sexual reproduction. This idea is presented also in the novel, but in a reversed way.
Victor's walk in "unhallowed damps of the grave," where he "disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame", might seems a fictive thing that characterizes a classic horror story. The truth is that in Mary Shelley's time bodysnatching was spread. Before this time, scientist's legal acces to corpses was limited to the gallows, from which the bodies of executed murderers would be turned over to science. This was considered an extenstion of the criminal's punichment. Execution was a very common punishment in those days, so the promise of dissecting the body was considered a much more severe punishment. The demand for corpses increased in the eighteenth century when there was a rise in the interest of human anatomy. This interest had an inevitably consequence: the rise of black market in corpses. When the novel was written all medical education was private. It was each surgeon's job to procure corpses for their instruction. Such people paid good money for stolen corpses. In the eighteenth century there was a clause for surgeon trainees at the Edinburgh College of Surgeons that forbited them to get involved in grave exhumation. Around the time of Shelley buried corpses were not secure from the bodysnatchers. These people worked in small groups. They were punished for their acts, but anatomists were punished too for their participation.
In 1831 the Anatomy Act was introduced to Parliament. This Act recomended that the bodies for scientific use would be procure by the government itself. The Anatomy Act ended the bodysnatching era.
Sources and literary context
Frankenstein's origin is both special and famous. During 1816 Mary Shelley was in a vacation to the Alps with the Shelleys and their friends, including Lord Byron. Each of them agreed to write a story of his own. Mary took this task seriously and struggled to find a great story that would "rival those which had excited us to this task". At first, she could not think of anything, but when she heard a discusion between Byron and Shelley about Erasmus Darwin, she could not think of anything else.
'My imagination unbidden, possessed and
guided me.. . . I saw'with shut eyes, but acute
mental vision'I saw the pale student of
unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he
had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm
of a man stretched out, and then, on the
working of some powerful engine, show signs
of life and stir with an easy, half-vital motion.
Frightful must it be, for supremely frightful
would be the effect of any human endeavour to
mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator
of the world. . . . The idea so possessed my
mind that a thrill of fear ran through me. . . .
On the morrow I announced that I had thought
of a story. I began that day with the words:It
was a dreary night of November.'
Her husband encouraged her to develop the story. Unfortunately, her work was disrupted by Mary's half-sister. She continued to work again in 1817 and finished the book by April. This novel had many literary influences. It's original titlue was Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. Thiis fact shows the influence of Greek myths abut Prometheus who was a god in Greek mytholosy that created human beings from clay. There is a clear similarity between this myth and Frankenstein that created a monster. Another important influence was the work of writers like Ann Radcliffe. Before writing Frankenstein, Mary read The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian, but also other Gothic novels. Their influence is clear. Even if this novel does not have castles, evil aristocrats or suggestions of the supernatural, Frankenstein shares the known characteristic of terror and the thrilling darkness.
The novel opens in a special way by a series of letters written by Robert Walton. He was an explorer in a polar expedition sailing Arctic water. Robert hoped to find a passage to the North Pole or the secret of the magnet. He is enthusiastic and ambitious: "what can stop the
determined heart and resolved will of man?". His only regret is that in his journey he was unable to find a friend. Later, he finds one: Victor Frankenstein. One day, the sailors are forced to wait for the ice surrounding them to break. In the distance they see a shape that disappears. After this moment the sailors meet Victor Frankenstein in a not so well state. The stranger is nursed and ends up by telling Robert his story.
Victor Frankenstein begins by telling a few things about his childhood. His dearest friends were Elizabeth, his adopted sister, and Henry Clerval. While his friends were interested in different things, Victor's only interest was to investigate the causes of things: 'the world was to me a secret which I desired to divine' . His passion leads him eventually to German university. Victor admits that he is very 'engaged, heart and soul, in the pursuit of discoveries which I hoped to make '. A question hauts him often: 'Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed'? Later, he discovers the secret of 'bestowing animation on lifeless matter'. He studies a lot in dissecting rooms and slaughterhouses and gathers all the necesarry information. Then he proceds with creating something unheared before: a living man. After a lot of work, he sees the 'yellow eye of the creature open' . His reaction is not the expected one. Now, filled with life, his creature seems monstrous to look upon. 'Now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart'. He can not believe what he hoes done and leaves the room. He goes to his friend Henry Clerval, but does not reveal to him the reason of his concern even if his friend saw how tired and thin he was. When he returns to his chamber, Victor discovers that the creature vanished. In that moment a felling of relief overtakes him. After all these shocked events, he gets sick for several month. He only returns home when he finds out that William, his younger brother was murdered. Justine Moritz, the suspect, is punished even if everybody knew that she was a kind woman. The only thing that decides her end is the fact that William's necklace was in her possesion. Victor is the only persons that is convinced of her inocence mainly because he catched sight of a figure running through the trees which he believes to be the creature he created. Unfortunately, Victor does not speak up because he is sure that nobody would believe him. Victor does not speak up even when Justine is convicted and executed, but blames himself for both death. He is turned by remorse and guilt, refusing to admit to anyone the monster that he created, even if his silence is the cause of many unfortunate events. One day, the creature approaces Victor at the base of Mount Blanc. Victor is furious and full of hate, but the creature insists to talk to his creator. This way, the creature tells his sad story. He tells Victor that he had no language or knowledge of the world and retreated into the woods, searching for food and warmth. At some point, he took shelter in a shack alongside a little cottage. He realised that his appearance provokes only hatred, so he hided in this place, obseving the family who lived in the cottage. This way, he was able to learn their language. He revealed himself to the family after one year, hoping that he will be loved by this family. Unfortunately, he is rejected once again. The son atacks the creature and the whole family flees. The only thing that the creature ever wanted was for someone to love him. Once he realized that nobody will ever accept him, he decides to search for his creator and make a request for a female companion just like him. He was able to find Victor's family because he founded some papers in his clothing. While he travels grows a 'a deep and deadly revenge' because all those he encounters reject him. With these feelings in his heart, the creature encounters little William. He kills him and frames the innocent Justine for his murder. The crature claims that now the only thing he wants is a companion with whom he can flee away society. Surprisingly, Victor agrees and the creature leaves. However, Victor does not begin his new project immediately. He goes to England and takes a long tour of the country with his friend before going to Scotland to begin his project. When he almost complets the construction of the female companion, he stops being terrified at the simple tought that he might make a mistake again.
Victor destroy his own work. The consequence is foreseeable: the creature promises revenge. He says: 'Your hours will pass in dread and misey.' He also warns his creator: ' I shall be with you on your wedding-night.' Even if Victor finds out later that the creature killed his friend, Henry Clerval, he does not take his words very seriously enough to cancel his marriage with Elizabeth. Victor returns to Geneva to make the arrangements. Unfortunately, despite his precautions, Elizabeth is murdered on the night of their wedding. Being hurt, Victor promises to fulfill his own revenge. This way, starts a cat-and-mouse game between the creator and the creature. Chasing his creature, Victor get to the North Pole. Here he is rescued by Robert Walton. After finishing his long and sad story Victor dies. Walton leave for a moment because he heared a noise, but when he returns he finds the creature standing over the body of his creator sad an filled with remorse. He says:
'Once, I falsely hoped to meet with beings who, pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of unfolding. But now crime has degraded me beneath the meanest animal. . . . It is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone.'
Then the creature jumps from the ship, soon to be 'borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance '.
Over the course of the novel Victor changes from an innocent youg boy who is fascinated by science into a man drive by shame and guilt and determined to destroy his own creation. His whole decisions suggest that he is a person that lacks humanness. This fact has as cause maybe his desire to obtain a god-power. At the end of the novel he dies, but not before he gets to tell his story to Robert. On the whole, analysing all the events that he has been through, it can be said that Victor is a brave aventurier who overcomes the nature's boundaries and becomes a mad scientist who does not understand what he has done. All his misery could have been avoided if he would have tried to understand his creature and would have take responsibility for his creation. The way in which the creature evolves as a personality is Victor's fault entirely . Being abandoned by his creator, he is confused and tris to understand the world just as Victor tried the same thing in his youth when he was fascinated by science. The creature's kind nature is covered by his physical grotesqueness. After realizing all these things, the creature seeks revenge and kills Victor's younger brother. Later, Victor tell him that he will create a female version for him just to ease his solitude, but Victor destroys his own work, a not very wise decision. Victor's last mistake determines the creature to kill his best friend and then his wife. However, the creature is not a really evil being. His bad behaviour comes from the feeling of being abandonated and not accepted by anyone. Even if tries to be kind and gentle, he is rewarded with disgust for his appearance. But even if his creator dies, he is not reliefed or happy because Victor was the only person that he had any sort of relationship with.
Victor's unhappyness is the result of the depth desire of accumulating special knowledge. This much desired knowledge turn out to be dangerous for his life and the lifes of those he cares about. He exceeds the huma limits and this costs him too much. Everyone dear to him dies because of his obsession. The only good thing of his life journey is that he teahces Walton a lesson.
One of the themes of this novel is monstrosity. Of course, the first observed monster is the creature that Victor creates. He has all the characteristic of a monster being eight feet tall and ugly. He does not fit anywhere in society mainly because the manner of his creation is unnatural. He is just a product of Victor's desires and not a real human being. Another monster presented in the novel is definetly Victor Frankenstein. His monstrosity comes up from his decisions: he does not speak up in order to save Justine, he abandons his creature and then he blames him for his cruel acts even if it was his responsibility to teach him how the world works. Instead, Victor is selfish and does not want to face the consequences.
The female characters are not developed at all. Taking into consideration that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's parents were important feminists, one would have expected a different view upon women in this novel. The women are not presented as remarcable characters. Instead, they are passive and who are in a constant state of harship. Their only virtue seems to be self-sacrificing. Caroline Beaufort dies taking care of her adopted daughter. Justine makes even a bigger sacrifice. She is executed for murder, even if she is innocent. So, it can be said that their characters do not get the chance to devop properly because they have a short destiny. The female monster does not even get the fortune of becoming alive because Victor seems afraid of not being able of controling her. Even Elizabeth has a tragic end just because she is the one that Victor loves. All women have a tragic end and there is not a real reason for this. They are not punished for what they might have done. They simply represent collateral damage. Maybe Shelley constructed the female characters this way intentionally to make a clear differentiation between a man that can become a monster by not taking responsibility for his creation and all the women in his life that sacraficed themselvs for the benefits of others.
The first edition of the novel was published anonymously. This first edition received a mixed reception. Nine jounals evalueted the novel in 1818. Four of them gave the novel negative reviews. Despite the severity of the criticism, the book had great succes. Only five years later the novel inspired its first stage adaptation with the title The Fate of Frankenstein. Fourteen more dramatizations had been later based on Mary Shelley's novel. In 1931 Universal Studios'film version of Frankenstein shaped the imagine of a mad scientist.
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