Identity of Women in Shelley's Frankenstein, Bronte's Jane Eyre, and Eliot's The Mill on the Floss
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 within her mind, does not exist (312).
Although Shelley describes her monster as a male, the dilemmas [he] deals with are the product of a female's alienation (specifically through the female reality of the author). He is created by Shelley to bear the weight of her personal feelings of loss in a male world and of being defined by men; thus the monster is defined as a male. His "despondency" is the result of Shelley realizing the molding of a male culture on her female uniqueness, and in result sees herself not as a unique female individual, but a formed, boxed-in creature; she realizes "the monster that I am."
Jane, speaking for Charlotte, looks at herself in a mirror, rather than through a screen of definitions men have created in regard to her. She ignores the limiting stories, and sees how cold and dark it is to be true to the female qualities within her body. Being true to the qualities means "coldness" and "darkness"; words reminiscent of aloneness, and these are harsher than dealing with viewing herself within the portrait of reality: in a male-dominated society, containing males who create the role she must live.
Lastly, Maggie looks at an inverted mirror, described as a "square looking-glass" [emphasis my...