Cultural Icons and Cultural Leadership
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Cultural Icons and Cultural Leadership

Edited by Peter Iver Kaufman and Kristin M.S. Bezio

Contributions to this book probe the contexts–both social and spiritual–from which select iconic figures emerge and discover how to present themselves as innovators and cultural leaders as well as draw material into forms that subsequent generations consider innovative or emblematic. The overall import of the book is to locate producers of culture such as authors, poets, singers, and artists as leaders both in their respective genres and of culture and society more broadly through the influence exerted by their works.
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Chapter 4: Mary Shelley’s Mathilda: gender and the limits of authorial leadership

Jennifer L. Airey


Chapter 4 presents the argument that Mary Shelley—author of Frankenstein—was skeptical about an author’s ability to engage in leadership in spite of her own iconic status. In Mathilda, written just after Shelley published Frankenstein, Shelley presents literature as both dangerous and banal, simultaneously able to corrupt and unable to effect change. The chapter suggests that Shelley deliberately inverts the traditional paradigm that women are more subject to authorial influence than men, suggesting that the male reader is susceptible to literature’s moral sway in a way that the female reader is not. By extension, the male author claims a position of literary authority from which the female author is entirely excluded, bespeaking the irrelevance of Romantic philosophy to the lived female experience.

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