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Teaching Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein raises many questions, but when I state that one of my teaching perspectives is feminism, more questions are asked. Feminism as a perspective is not only relevant to our times but provides another way to look at the past – be it at the time when Frankenstein was written, or even earlier. Students often say that the text can’t be feminist because they search for heroines, looking for strong, successful female characters. However, the presence of female role models does not mean that a text is feminist, and this is why Frankenstein is an ideal book for my class to study – it shows that in the absence of something it is still able to be something. Students just question the wrong things about feminism within the novel.

One of the absences comes from Victor Frankenstein complying with the creature’s request for a female companion. When Frankenstein begins to create this companion, his thoughts begin to wander as he thinks about what will happen once she is ‘alive’. Victor is afraid of the female companion having her own thoughts and deciding that ‘I don’t want to be a part of this, I won’t stay with this other creature.’ Victor is terrified of this female being able to think for herself. He is also afraid of what was to happen if she and the original creature were to mate and produce ‘monster offspring’. Victor’s two main fears are the companion thinking for herself or breeding, so he destroys her. After destroying her, the original creature is in despair and damages everything Victor loves.

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The events triggered by the absence of the female companion, help me talk to students about why the subject of absence is important. And then I lead to the absence of the other women in the novel. Every mother in the book is dead and Elizabeth has a very small impact on the plot. The feminism involved in Shelley’s novel is a critique of Victor Frankenstein’s decisions. He creates a male form of reproduction and proceeds to uncreate the female companion of his free will. This causes the frightfulness of the creature that torments Frankenstein.

The extension of a feminist perspective from this text to our modern world encourages students to think about issues like What happens when you take away women’s roles in reproduction? What happens when you push women to the sidelines? To question the absence of women in Frankenstein brings about a feminist perspective that is still relevant in our world.

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