George Eliot is quoted as stating: "A woman's hopes are woven of sunbeams; a shadow annihilates them" (Miner 473). To extend this notion, Jean Giraudoux in Tiger at the Gates, states "I have been a woman for fifty years, and I've never been able to discover precisely what it is I am" (474). These two statements are related to each other because they express, in large part, the dilemma facing Mary Shelley, Charlotte Brontë, and George Eliot as they set out to write fictional manuscripts. Giraudoux may not be able to define "female" even though she herself is a woman, because a "shadow has annihilated" the hopes she might have had in achieving completeness as a human. Her femaleness has been stifled by culture and history and she is left wondering who and what she is. Shelley, Brontë, and Eliot each deal with the complexity of female identity in their respective texts: Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, and The Mill on the Floss.
All three novels parallel in respect to the image of mirrors, and the obvious implications of mirrors and their ability to reflect their observer. In Frankenstein, the monster looks into a pool and in relating the incident to Victor, says "when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification" (76). Likewise, Jane Eyre views herself in a looking-glass and sees that her reflection is "colder and darker in that visionary hollow than in reality" (26). Eliot's Maggie Tulliver is so ashamed of herself that she refuses to look at who she is and inverts her mirror, thus proclaiming that her reflection, as she views it with...
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...f men and ignorant societal beliefs quickly take over and stifle, leaving shells that age and yet are never able to define themselves. It has been almost a century and eighty years since Frankenstein was first published, and literature with similar themes continues to be written. I only hope we as a society have progressed enough in our thinking so as to prevent women as defining themselves through men--or as monsters.
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Boston: St. Martin's, 1996.
Eliot, George. The Mill on the Floss. New York: Signet, 1981.
Miner, Margaret, and Hugh Rawson. The New International Dictionary of Quotations. 2nd ed. New
York: Signet, 1993. 473-4.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Norton, 1996.
Young, Arlene. "The Monster Within: The Alien Self in Jane Eyre and Frankenstein." Studies in the
Novel 23 (1991): 325-337.
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