To What Extent And In What Ways Does Romantic Writing Engage With Gender Politics?

2455 words - 10 pages

5. To what extent and in what ways does Romantic writing engage with gender politics?

The study of Literature is inherently involved with a deconstruction of the complex and textured manner in which author’s attempt to express what it is to be human. To be human is a diverging experience between the sexes, both biological and socially, and consequently the extent of gender equitability within society has always been a prevalent and contended concern. An engagement with this contention will define gender politics for this essay. Jane Austen and Mary Shelley, writing at the beginning of the nineteenth-century, joined their female contemporaries in a growing generation of authoresses who ...view middle of the document...

However, Catherine is left disillusioned; her stay absent of gothic excitement. Mary Oliphant comments that Austen makes ‘the innocent ridiculous’ (Austen 209) in a parody of the gothic heroine. This is a qualified reading, however, another reading can be drawn; it is not the fact Austen makes the ‘innocent’ Catherine ‘ridiculous’ but rather, it is the men of her novel which make her seem ‘ridiculous’. The male dialogue and actions signify not Austen’s own voice but those of her male contemporaries who were quick to discredit the female status; it is this which she wished to satirize.

There are two incidents where Catherine is silenced by men. The first, by John Thorpe who leaves ‘Catherine...agreeing...with all the civility and deference of the youthful female mind, fearful of hazarding an opinion of its own in opposition to that of a self-assured man and the reader’ (Austen 33). This initially invites the reader to perceive Catherine’s naivety against Oxford educated Thorpe. However, on reflection it is the force of Thorpe’s intellectual superiority which move Catherine to silence any intelligent comment she may have to rebuke him. On a further occasion, Henry turns conversation, as soon as Catherine seems ‘so hopeful a scholar’, to politics as ‘from politics, it was an easy step to silence’ (Austen 87). These are incidences where women are denied vocalization of any gumption or intuition they might possess. The injustice of this is most evident at the novel’s climax, with revelation that ‘the General had had nothing to accuse her of’ (Austen 193); Catherine’s instincts were correct. The protagonist’s intuition leads her to see beyond a matter which Captain Tilney, pertinently male, thought concealed. This undermines male hubris; it was ‘his pride [which he] could not pardon‘ (Austen 193). Austen leaves the extent to which Catherine is an heroine up to her ‘reader’s sagacity’ (Austen 195), however, through Catherine’s subjectivity to the silence of men and in proving herself more intelligent than Captain Tilney expects, Catherine can be read as Austen’s vehicle to glorify the intelligence of women, suppressed by the authority of men.

Frankenstein follows with the absence or passivity of women set against the intellectual ambition of man. Where Shelley presents women, they serve for a purpose. This purpose, as Stephanie Haddad puts it, is ‘to serve a very specific function and impact a man’s life’ (Haddad). Drawing on examples from the novel, Elizabeth and Justine are described as ‘the beautiful and adored companion’ (Shelley 24) and a ‘most grateful little creature’ (Shelley 53), respectively. Describing Justine as a creature reflects passivity and a self-effacing view of women. These women, in turn, take the blame for the actions of men; Elizabeth, after William’s murder, ‘weeps continually and accuses herself unjustly as the cause of his death’ (Shelley 61) whilst Justine ‘do[es] not pretend that...[her] protestations should acquit...

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