Frankenstein and the Domestic Ideal

Frankenstein - Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

I love Frankenstein. It’s such a polyvalent book. But the interpretation that I like the most is that it represents the failure of the 19th-century domestic ideal. It’s a middle-class ideal, and it goes as follows: a woman gets married, gives up all power to her husband, stays at home, and raises children. In exchange, her husband supports and protects her. Well, Mary Shelley, along with many other people, saw how severely flawed this ideal was, but only Shelley, in her brilliance, came up with Frankenstein.


In Shelley’s novel, a middle-class dude, Victor Frankenstein, promises to marry his childhood sweetheart Elizabeth Lavenza. However, before getting hitched, he goes off to Ingolstadt to receive an education befitting his gender and social status. And oh, the fun to be had. Fascinating classes, engrossing experiments, good-looking professors. All in all, after four or so years of this fun, Victor really does not want to go home to fulfill his role of a husband and protector. But Elizabeth is aging, and since a woman’s shelf-life is so short at that time, Victor’s dad writes him a strong-worded letter, saying that Victor ought to come home or there’ll be consequences.


That’s when Victor makes his monster.


Then he makes the monster angry.


Then the monster goes to Victor’s hometown of Geneva and kills Elizabeth, so Victor does not have to marry anymore. A celebration, I mean an oath of a life-long vengeance while staying single ensues.


So, yes, between men not wanting to get married and women not knowing what their future spouses might bring home from the outside world (STDs? Crippling debts? Monsters?), the 19th-century domestic ideal was of questionable value to men and deadly for women.


What do you like about Frankenstein?