Master of Arts
Mary Shelley composed Mathilda between 1819 and 1820, but the novel was published posthumously in 1959. Since then, most scholarship has addressed the text’s position in the Godwinian tradition and Romanticism-era suicide debate. I have opted to diverge from these readings and examine Mathilda from a feminist and trauma studies perspectives. My thesis argues that the novella makes an argument about everyday sexual trauma in women’s lives with particular regard to deaths related to childbirth; I ultimately argue that these deaths are akin to a form of sexual violence. I begin by tracing the text’s connection to the Proserpine myth and how the absence of a clear Ceres figure to protect Mathilda underscores the impact of lacking a maternal figure. I examine textual allusions and depictions which connect Mathilda and, in turn, her deceased mother Diana to contemporary depictions of rape survivors, indicating that, even if they have not suffered literal rape, their trauma is real. I trace the various ways in which men silence women through trauma, indicating that, if women could more truly speak of their pain, violence, including maternal death, would cease. Finally, I uncover a deeper statement about maternal death in the text by comparing the demeaning depictions of maternal and other trauma-related deaths of women with more standard, dignified deaths. Ultimately, I conclude that in a world with more agency, sexual and otherwise, for women, violent deaths for women, including those related to childbirth, would be rarer.
Hurlock, Kathleen Emily, "“I Have Compared Myself to Proserpine”: Agency, Trauma, and Maternal Death in Mary Shelley’s Mathilda" (2018). Theses and Dissertations. 5666.
Available for download on Saturday, February 26, 2022