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I will also consider a third highly noted discussion of Mary Shelley in Mary Jacobus's essay, "Is there a woman in this text? a vague enough phenomenon, doubtless the result mainly of social conditioning, but an outlook sufficiently distinct to be recognizable through the centuries" (pp. Spacks's subject, then, is "the female imagination"; her goal, "to find the themes that have absorbed female minds during the past three centuries as recorded in literature written in English.
The most salient of these failings has been viewing Mary Shelley's works through a single prism and without reliance on a factually evidenced context of her own works and era.
Inherent in these deficiencies is the ongoing literary problem of the construction of an authoritative foundation of factual research as the operative rationale for all texts.
At any rate, for readily discernible historical reasons women have characteristically concerned themselves with matters more or less peripheral to male concerns, or at least slightly skewed from them.
The differences between traditional female preoccupations and roles and male ones make a difference in female writing" (pp. There are two controlling premises in Spacks's study: there exists a specifically female mind; and there exists a commonality of subject matter "peripheral to male concerns." Spacks apparently does not find Mary Shelley, however important Frankenstein, to be among the "female minds" of the past three centuries since she entirely omits her from consideration. Akin to Spacks, Moers limits those great writers to an activity of creation in which they "have always chosen brilliantly, individually, imaginatively among the varying feminine facets of the human condition; and transformed this material, along with all the other materials a writer uses, into literature" (p. From this perspective, Moers considers Mary Shelley within the "female Gothic" tradition, crediting Frankenstein as the work that "made the Gothic novel over into what today we call science fiction" (p. Moers grants Mary Shelley's remarkable family heritage, her "easy access to the writings and conversation of some of the most original minds of her age,' and her own intellect and talent (p. According to Moers, "Mary Shelley was a unique case, in literature as in life" (p. But Moers appears to ignore these very attributes in confining her discussion of Frankenstein entirely in terms of birth myth.
As a consequence, Mary Shelley for the most part has been reduced to an author with a single book and a single theme, her particular, complex voice located outside of the larger literary discourse of our civilization.
The thesis of such feminist critics seems to emanate from an insistence that gender as a category is more important than any biographical or individual distinctions.4-5), that is, that refuses the difference of the female.If the Anglo-Americans are rooted in bourgeois realism, the French take their cue from, and add to, Derridian deconstructivist theory, which argues language "is structured as an endless deferral of meaning, and any search for an essential, absolutely stable meaning must therefore be considered metaphysical" (p. Thus, traditional, largely male-constructed and dominated literary theory and writing may be reconstructed and reviewed to include the context of female literary theory and writing, the two to form one continuing cycle of deferral and multiplicity.The limitations of current feminist literary theory in dealing with Mary Shelley reflect its drift from the ideas that inspired that theory and that I believe remain its foundation: the sociopolitical agenda of feminism. Her concern that all of feminist theory was unified within this one reductionist school of thought would find little alleviation in the agendas of the feminist factions of the 1990s.Cynthia Ozick, in two essays she prefaces as "at odds with their times" and "against the grain of academic expectation," offers a definition of "classical feminism": "Classical feminism-i.e., feminism at its origin, when it saw itself as justice and aspiration made universal, as mankind widened to humankind -- rejected anatomy not only as destiny, but as any sort of governing force. But she is not now alone in questioning the "Ovarian" premise or the battalions entrenched on both sides of that dispute. The need for a probing and reflective analysis of divisive issues in feminism today has come to assume urgent proportions." They appear to be clustered around two schools: the Anglo-Americans and the French.As much because of her actual accomplishments as because she has received extensive theoretical attention without the benefit of her entire corpus edited and available, Mary Shelley, taken as a "case study," provides a revealing example of the need for feminist critics to redefine the role of feminist editors in the establishment of a feminist canon, both past and future.Without doubt, feminist theorists have stimulated great interest in Mary Shelley, concentrating primarily on Frankenstein with occasional reference to some of Mary Shelley's other works.To consider the relationship between literary theory and editorial theory in terms of the connection between feminist theory and the editing of Mary Shelley broaches, at best, an incipient topic.Outside of relatively recent essays and isolated examples of applied theory in editions of women's work, literary theory has had to date remarkably little influence on editorial theory, particularly regarding female authors.Ellen Moers begins her discussion by indicating that she will explore the works of "the major women writers, writers we read and shall always read whether interested or not in the fact that they happened to be women. She argues that "nothing so sets her apart from the generality of writers of her own time, and before, and for long afterward, [as] her early and chaotic experience, at the very time she became an author, with motherhood. That Mary Shelley was pregnant for most of her years with Shelley is true.But the fact of their sex is, frankly, fascinating -- one of those facts which raise questions, open perspectives, illuminate and explain" (p. Her basic, guiding questions are: "What did it matter that so many of the great writers of modern times have been women? Pregnant at sixteen, and almost constantly pregnant throughout the following five years; yet not a secure mother for she lost most of her babies soon after they were born; and not a lawful mother, for she was not married -- not at least when, at the age of eighteen, Mary Godwin began to write Frankenstein. But this is to assume in Moers's context that Mary Shelley was unhappy about those pregnancies, while Mary Shelley's Journal and Letters suggest otherwise.