"Boy, I really love feminist criticism." No,
really... (!). Oh dear. I've just committed some of the most major crimes in
essay writing. For example, I've started off with a quotation that is
attributable to no one (apart from myself). Then I mentioned "I" -
that little pronoun which has been banned from essay writing for many a year.
The next two sentences weren't - sentences, that is - for they had no verbs. To
compound the offence, I then began to abbreviate my words. `Thus has my
rebellion begun'. However, this rebellion is problematic: I am only copying the
style (but not the content) of Rachel Blau DuPlessis' essay, and you, the
question creator, have given me the licence to write in this way.
The question (although not a real question) addresses me; can I not then reply? One shouldn't ask oneself questions in an essay... As audacious as I was in linking feminism with Boy, I will be so again, for justifying myself by referring to Rick Rylance's introduction to feminism: his use of abbreviations and defence of the subjective response to literature (la). Like Kent in King Lear (1b), I will rebel by using the wrong pronouns. And it is a true rebellion, in regard to the fact that this essay is unlike any I've written within this institution before (apart from presentations). My main purpose is to question the traditional mode of essay composition, using specifically, ideas culled from feminist criticism of Frankenstein and Jane Eyre. This essay has mutated from my original conception of it, and I can tell that it will be a monstrous birth. Only yesterday, I went to the library in search of Frankenstein, and was forced to emerge with various other
(la) Debating Texts p.232.
(ib) Fowler p.96-101
bits and pieces relevant to my argument. Never mind, I
shall just have to stitch them together, as best I can.
Anne Mellor begins her chapter A Feminist Critique of Science by comparing literature and science. It was an idea that I first came upon as a joke, when I was preparing a talk on Frankenstein. As Mellor notes, Frankenstein says "my cheek had grown pale with study, and my person became emaciated with confinement." Victor gets so embroiled in his work, that, like me, he fails to contact his family for a long time. In trying to finish this essay, I'm putting off lunch and staying in, when really I should prefer to be out with friends enjoying May Week. `Don't work too hard,' I told my fellow students in those early days,'or you'll end up like Victor.'
It's not all that bad writing this essay. Of all the theoretical perspectives that this course has covered, I think that I have enjoyed feminism the most. It is political, bold, and radical. One might say the same thing about Marxism though. However, Marxist criticism is based upon an artificial construct (base and superstructure) which depends upon an impossible utopian society; so its literary criticism is bound blindly to dogma. Feminism is not so rigid. It can embrace a whole variety of other theoretical approaches, as Rick Rylance notes (2). I've been particularly attracted to the theoretical position of Harold Bloom, which I will endeavour to put to use in my discussion of Gilbert and Gubar's approach to Frankenstein and Jane Eyre.
Gilbert and Gubar make a fascinating comparison of Mary Shelley's novel with Milton's Paradise Lost. They see Milton as a great patriarchal figure; so his epic poem is a reflection of that patriarchy. A comparison between the two works is obvious, for allusions to Paradise Lost abound in the novel. Taking as their starting point Ellen Moers' position, they begin a search for the Eve figure in an apparently masculine narrative. As Moers wrote:"Frankenstein
(2) Debating Texts p.229.
seems to be distinctly a woman's mythmaking on the subject
of birth precisely because its emphasis is not upon what precedes birth...but
upon what follows birth: the trauma of the afterbirth" (3). In these
essays, much of Mary's life is discussed and seen as relevant - as indeed it is
in feminist criticism, where an authoress is often seen as integral to her
work. Roland Barthes, although he would agree that criticism is subjective, he
would also treat the work as an object. In my opinion, just as any criticism is
subjective, then so is any novel. I, for one, am not attracted to the
theoretical approach that would reduce a work of art into a diagram, as Barthes
does in his discussion of The Struggle with the Angel. No, instead, we should
be making works of art out of diagrams!
Gilbert and Gubar say that Mary Shelley reacted to her readings: that, indeed, what she read defined her. The power of these critics' imaginations strike you when you read how Mary may have considered herself in relation with her mother:"she may have speculated, perhaps her own monstrosity... consisted in her being - like... Frankenstein's creation - a reanimation of the dead" (4). They note that the focal point of crime and guilt in the novel is the picture of Victor's mother. Similar imagery was used in David Lynch's The Elephant Man. Whenever I read Gilbert and Gubar, that is my greatest reaction - I would like to steal all their ideas and make a Lynchian movie. They also show their love of literature and language in the phrases they use; for example "angry, Angrian" and the depiction of Victor and the monster as "two insane figure-skaters."
I will now employ Gilbert and Gubar's techniques in my discussion of Jane Eyre. At one point, Rochester says that "a fearful voyage I had with such a monster in the vessel" (p.336). This sounds very much like Frankenstein, and there
(3) Moers p.81
(4) Gilbert and Gubar p.242
are other echoes in Jane Eyre and in Gilbert and Gubar's
criticism. For instance, they say that there are monsters beneath the female
characters at Lowood. An explicit comparison is made between the novels in the
discussion of Jane's Gothic pictures. When they said that "Bronte
consistently uses the opposed properties of fire and ice to characterize Jane's
experiences," (5) it stuck in my mind, and made me notice Andrew Griffin's
essay:Fire and Ice in Frankenstein. Griffin makes a comparison of the blind De
Lacey and blinded Rochester. Each novel have references to slavery and the
East. Clerval plans to become a colonial imperialist by joining the East India
Company. Rochester and Jane's uncle have fortunes founded on slavery, and
Eastern allusions in Jane Eyre are pronounced.
Both novels make use of similar imagery: lightning striking a tree, and moonlight. As Gilbert and Gubar wrote,"at major moments in Jane's life, the room is filled with moonlight" (6). Peter Bellis, in his very good feminist account of the text, wrote that "it is a maternal moon goddess that appears, a figure like that in Jane's picture of the Evening Star" (7). Maddeningly, Victor can only see the monster in moonlight. So it may be argued that Bronte has used elements of Shelley's novel, along Bloom's (and Gilbert and Gubar's) theoretical position of enabling `misreadings'.
"When Francis Bacon announced,'I am come in very truth leading to you Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave,' he identified the pursuit of modern science with the practice of sexual politics: the aggressive, virile male scientist legitimately captures and enslaves a fertile but passive female nature." So wrote Anne Mellor (8) of the man who created the normative, rational essay discourse - the very thing that I am rebelling against. Rochester would disagree, as Nancy Pell
(5) Gilbert and Gubar p.339
(6) Gilbert and Gubar p.367
(7) Bellis p.646
(8) Mellor p.89
noted:"Hiring a mistress is the next worse thing to buying a slave, both are often by nature... inferior; and to live familiarly with inferiors is degrading" (9). Jane respects Nature as Mary does, and it guides and comforts her. Anne Mellor mentions the work of Evelyn Fox Keller, who, from her work on physicists at Harvard University, argues that "the professional scientific demand for objectivity often masks a prior psychological alienation from the mother, an alienation that can lead scientists to feel uncomfortable with their emotions and sexuality" (10). Perhaps this is why I dislike St.John Rivers in Jane Eyre. Like many scientists, he's a dogmatist. As Gilbert and Gubar note, he isn't hypocritical - he just relates his life around one set off beliefs. I believe that we need theory, to make it easier for us to debate and progress. Feminism allows for a whole variety of approaches, and, in not having a single model, allows a much more complex and rich view of life.
(9) Pell p.409
(10) Mellor p.108.
For the Etruscans by Rachel Blau DuPlessis in Debating Texts edited by Rick Rylance.
The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar.
Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters by Anne K. Mellor.
Fire and Ice in Frankenstein by Andrew Griffin, and
The Female Gothic by Ellen Moers in The Endurance of
Frankenstein edited by George Levine and U.C.Knoepflmacher.
Linguistic Criticism by Roger Fowler.
Resistance, Rebellion, and Marriage: The Economics of Jane Eyre by Nancy Pell in Nineteenth Century Fiction 1976-77 vol.
In the Window-Seat: Vision and Power in Jane Eyre by
Peter J.Bellis in E.L.H. vol. 54 no.3. Fall 1987.