Edited by Peter Iver Kaufman and Kristin M.S. Bezio
Chapter 4: Mary Shelley’s Mathilda: gender and the limits of authorial leadership
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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