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A Mother's Legacy In Mary Shelley's "Mathilda"

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Katedralskolan Uppsala Katedralskolan, Uppsala IB School Code: 1291 Session: May 2008 The Extended Essay: English Supervisor: Christina Cullhed A Mother's Legacy in Mary Shelley's Mathilda Author's name: Zack Lindahl Session number: 1291-037 Word count: 3868 Date: 2007-11-16 Abstract Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley are two writers whose ideas are likely to be similar. Shelley admits that she is influenced by her mother. Therefore, the purpose of this essay is to find out and to identify the ideas presented in Wollstonecraft's essay on women's rights A Vindication for the Rights of Woman (1792) and see if they are incorporated into Shelley's novella Mathilda (1819). My analysis of A Vindication for the Rights of Woman shows that Wollstonecraft's main ideas are that limited education, the subjugation of women by the family, female dependency on men and romantic thinking are the source for women's inferiority. This essay identifies and examines these ideas in the light of some secondary material and tries to suggest that they are visible as themes in Shelley's Mathilda. In Mathilda, these ideas are visible as themes throughout the novel. The tragedy that befalls the characters illustrates the immoral and self-destructive tendencies which women obtain when being subject to these conditions. On the other hand, Shelley does not emphasize a lack of education and offers an additional point of view where Wollstonecraft's views on motherhood are criticized. The conclusion drawn is that Wollstonecraft's ideas must have had an influence on Shelley as the fate of the characters is an illustration of the society that is criticized in A Vindication for the Rights of Woman and its destruction. However, Shelley does not agree on ideas with the subject of upbringing and goes against a few of her mother's main points, namely the role of mothers and the pre-eminence of education. They mostly have a consensus as most ideas that are present in one work are present in the other but Shelley has rebelled against some of her mother's notions. ...read more.


Some scholars advocate its validity as a biographical work, such as Rosaria Champagne who claims that the typical motif of incest in Mathilda is portrayed in such an accurate manner that she claims that Shelley did have a physical encounter with Godwin. However, Champagne does not have any scholarly evidence for her auto-biographical thesis. She is not alone in her interpretation, as similar conclusions have been made through a mixture of psychoanalytical reading of the text and biographical assertions by other scholars. If Shelley's novella would be an auto-biographical work, it would mean that it would not lend itself as well to a comparison to A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, as the text would be aimed towards the depiction of Shelley's own experience, rather than a treatment of her articulation and the idea of a woman's place in society and relationships. Of course, there is room for the two ideas to coexist to some extent. Other critics, such as Margaret Davenport Garrett and Pamela Clemit, notice the many changes made to The Fields of Fancy and Mathilda and claim that its revision shows that Shelley is merely exploring the themes of male-female relationships and womanhood. My own interpretation rejects the auto-biographical theory, and my analysis is made with the focus on the themes as part of a work of fiction. Short Synopsis of Mathilda Mathilda is the progeny of a passionate nobleman and his angelical wife, who dies in childbirth. Devastated by the death of his lover and childhood friend he leaves England and puts his new-born daughter in the care of his sister. Mathilda is raised by her aunt in the Scottish highlands with few friends and dreams of the days she will be reunited with her father. Her fantasy comes true on her sixteenth birthday, and father and daughter share a blissful existence together. As they travel around England Mathilda's father grow more distant and harsh towards her. ...read more.


Mathilda's isolated self-pity does not refine civilization and is due to her own choice, which was made not with reason, but with her heart. Subsequently, Shelley's idea of the consequences of romantic thought converges with Wollstonecraft's condemning philosophy towards it. Conclusion Shelley seems to actively rebel against some of the ideas visible in Wollstonecraft' A Vindication for the Rights of Woman, namely education and the role of motherhood, nevertheless seemingly to be heavily influenced by her mother's idea of women's dependency on men, and the negative properties of romantic thinking. Education is not mentioned often in Shelley's novella, and even though Mathilda's educational situation is similar to what is written in Wollstonecraft's treatise, it is tied with other themes which as more focus. As Wollstonecraft main argument is education, it can be said that Shelley does not take after her mother in this respect. Shelley rebels fully against her Wollstonecraft's idea that a perfect mother and tries to show through her characterization that such parenting only creates distress in daughters. On the other hand, Shelley seems to use Mathilda to depict the helpless situation of women as being wholly dependent on men that Wollstonecraft describes in A Vindication for the Rights of Woman. All female character's has this relationship with the male characters, and the theme is re-occurring throughout the novella. For that reason, Shelley must have been influenced by her mother when writing Mathilda, as Wollstonecraft's ideas are present as allegories. The idea that romantic thinking degenerates character is also present in both works. Shelley shows that Mathilda has a romantic temperament and how it affects her life in a negative way. To my original question "are Mary Wollstonecraft's ideas, as they are presented in A Vindication for the Rights of Woman, portrayed by Mary Shelley in her novella Mathilda, and where do they converge or diverge?" I answer that: Yes, ideas about society relative to women are clearly and accurately emulated by Shelley in Mathilda, but ideas about how to properly raise daughters are either criticised or not focused on. ...read more.

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