Frankenstein and the Eradication of Women

Andrew Klavan’s "The Truth and Beauty"

What’s the connection between Frankenstein and today’s erasure of women? More than you might expect, as Andrew Klavan explains in his excellent new book, The Truth and Beauty: How the Lives and Works of England’s Greatest Poets Point the Way to a Deeper Understanding of Jesus.

Klavan points out that in the distant past, women’s role was distinct from that of men and yet equally important. He cites Proverbs 31 to summarize the “greater than rubies” worth of pre-industrial, pre-technological woman, noting, “She is not only a font of wisdom, goodness, and charity, she is a powerful economic engine as well.”

But then came the Industrial Revolution—the economic and demographic shift from rural, family-centered life to urban, factory-centered life (a transition dating from 1760 to about 1820). Klavan writes:

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-eighteenth century, much of the practical and economical usefulness of women began to be stripped away. Factories destroyed many of the home industries that gave women their rubies-plus economic standing....

Men, without babies at their breasts, could leave their farmland for the cities to work in the new mills, but over time, to become a wife, a homemaker, meant to “leave the workforce” and become an economic “dependent,” rather than a central part of an in-house economic system of mutual sustenance and wealth creation.

Even woman’s role as child-bearer declined in importance. Children, who were once called “the poor man’s riches,” became instead economic burdens destined to leave the family and work elsewhere, rather than contributing to the family wellbeing within its own economy.

Enter Frankenstein, which Mary Shelley (common-law wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and daughter of the feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft) wrote in 1816. Klavan says:

To me, the greatness of the story, the horror of the story, and the threat to humanity the story portrays lie in the fact that Frankenstein has usurped the power not of God but of women. He has made a man without a mother. His science has eliminated the principle of femininity from the creation of human life.

Lest you think Klavan is reading contemporary issues into an old text, consider this: Dr. Victor Frankenstein essentially goes out of his mind with grief over the death of his beloved mother. Once he has created the monster, he falls asleep and has a nightmare of singular gruesomeness:

I thought I saw Elizabeth [his fiancée], in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her, but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel.

“In making a man without a woman,” Klavan writes, “he has usurped Elizabeth’s purpose and power and transformed her into the dead, rotten ruin of a mother.” The rest of the novel plays out the horror of a world devoid of motherly love and femininity in general.

No doubt you can connect the dots between Frankenstein and what we’re seeing today—men who rent women’s wombs and buy their eggs but have no use for women themselves; men who pretend to be women and wear fake bellies to pretend to be pregnant; men who compete and triumph in women’s athletic events; men who are declared “Woman of the Year.” In such ways women are erased, so much so that our newest Supreme Court justice claims to not know the answer to “What is a woman?”

There’s even a push to try uterine transplants for men. That’s Frankensteinian indeed.

Klavan points out that oftentimes women are complicit in the “unhallowed arts” that erase womanhood, making themselves as much like men as possible, as if they “can imagine women’s ‘empowerment’ only in traditionally male terms...” They take sterilizing medications; they abort their children. Some cut off their breasts, the better to mimic men.

Early feminists (including Mary Shelley’s mother) warned that the war against woman’s nature—against maternity—could only result in the degradation of women; they argued that abortion turned women not only into the most unnatural sort of killer, but made them less than human. They became objects, convenient receptacles for man’s irresponsible lust, their full humanity erased. This does not lead to happiness for either sex.

As Klavan points out, by the time Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, she had lost a baby, and Percy found her grief tedious; later, when their two-year-old child died, he dallied with other women, irritated that Mary wasn’t sufficiently focused on him (he actually wrote a poem saying as much). Mary should, perhaps, have been able to predict this: Percy had already abandoned his first wife and their children.

Their friend Lord Byron was equally impatient with mothers and their needs; when his lover, Claire, couldn’t support their baby alone, Byron cut her out of their daughter’s life and stuck the girl in a children’s home, where she soon died. Claire wrote, “Under the influence of the doctrine and belief of free love I saw the two first poets of England... become monsters of lying, meanness, cruelty and treachery.”

“By 1816,” Klavan writes, “there was already evidence that science, technology, and the materialism that comes with them could one day make women extraneous and men turn into monsters.”

Klavan has much more to say on this topic, noting among other things that the horror movies of the 1960s and ’70s were “based on a fear of female biological processes” and that both Psycho (1960) and Silence of the Lambs (1991) were “horrific depictions of murderous transgenderism inspired by the real-life killer Ed Gein.” Klavan writes:

It was very much as if our collective unconscious had finally caught on to what Mary Shelley was brooding over more than two centuries before: the only thing standing between us and our perfect but soulless materialist destiny is the inconvenient fertility of the female body and the humanity-producing power of motherly love.

Fighting God’s law and the congruous laws of biology can only bring monstrosities and pain. Looking at Christ and living into his understanding of male and female as distinct biological realities both created in the image of God—that makes us best and fully human.

As Klavan says, “Because God’s reality is reality, there is no way to escape it. Because it is goodness itself, there is no way to defy it with anything but evil.”

Recommended Reading

PhD, is an editor for the Discovery Institute and the author of four dystopian novels and many shorter works, both fiction and non-fiction. Before turning to editing, she taught as an adjunct English and humanities professor. She and her husband homeschooled their three children.

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