Now widely known as an experimental creature that came to life through the process of putting together body parts from corpses and using electricity, Frankenstein has become an iconic character in the horror genre. In the story of Frankenstein popular today, the scientist responsible for its creation accidentally gives the creature the brain of a murderous criminal. Thus, as a result, had made a monster.
Despite being referred to as Frankenstein, the monster is actually nameless. After centuries since the publication of the original story of Frankenstein, the term, till now, is constantly misused. It is, in fact, the scientist who has Frankenstein as his surname, yet the name Frankenstein has been frequently used to refer to the monster.
Moreover, we’ll get to know more about this monster; its story; and its origin in this article. So, if you haven’t read any story or seen any play or film about this monster, or perhaps, if you already have and would just like to reminisce on the story, this would make an interesting read.
Originally From an Anonymously Published Novel
The Modern Prometheus
The character is originally from a novel that was published in London on January 1, 1818. Entitled Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, the novel’s first edition was published anonymously. The author only revealed her name when it was published in France in 1823. She is Mary Shelly, an English author who began writing the novel when she was 18 years old.
From our research, there are several influences where Shelly took inspiration from in writing her novel.
It was in one of her travels where the idea of writing the novel came about. Around 1816, Mary Shelly travelled with her lover who later became her husband, Percy Shelly to the region of Geneva in Switzerland. There, they spent the summer months in a large house, Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva with their follow writer friends: author, John Polidori and poet, Lord Byron along with his lover, Claire Clairmont. At that time, it was a cold summer due to the long volcanic winter caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora. So the group of friends stayed indoors and amused themselves with horror stories. Then Byron proposed they have a competition to see who can write the best horror story. While Polidori and Byron wrote vampire tales, it was clear to see that Mary Shelly won the contest with her extraordinary horror story.
However, it wasn’t after a few days that Shelly was able to come up with a story. It came to her during one evening when reanimating the dead and galvanism became the topic of their discussion. Later that evening, she had a horrific waking dream as she described: “I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.” And from that nightmare of hers, came about her otherworldly story.
Although initially, Shelly only intended to write a short story, she later on expanded her writing into a novel.
Another event in Shelly’s life that may have inspired her writing is the death of her first child that she gave birth to, two weeks prematurely on February 22, 1815 and shortly passed away two weeks later. Her husband, Percy Shelly did not show any concern towards the baby and left her for her stepsister, Claire with whom he had a lurid affair. In the novel, the scientist, Victor Frankenstein fled his apartment upon seeing the creature come to life, despite the attempt of the newborn creature to approach him, as how a new-born child would to a parent. Sources also state that shortly after Shelly lost her first child, she again became pregnant. And at the time that she was composing her novel, she was likely nursing her second child. But unfortunately, her second child also died upon the publication of her novel.
The Frankenstein Castle near Darmstadt where a notorious alchemist, Conrad Dippel, once experimented with human bodies may also had served as an inspiration to Shelly in writing the novel.
Shelly’s novel is a combination of gothic, horror, romance, as well as an early example of science fiction.
As the creature was considered a reject to its creator, it wasn’t given a name. Throughout the novel, the creature was referred to as “wretch”; “monster”; “creature”; “demon”; “devil”; “fiend”; and “it”. And in conversations between Frankenstein and the creature, Frankenstein would address it by “vile insect”; “abhorred monster”; “fiend”; “wretched devil”; and “abhorred devil”.
In contrast to later works that described the creature as parts of corpses put together and reanimated with electricity, in the original work of Shelly, the process of its creation involved developing a method of incorporating vitality to inanimate objects. What lead to the development of this method was Frankenstein’s discovery of a previously unknown but elemental principle of life. From that discovery of his, he was able to construct the proportionally large body of the creature with raw materials from the dissecting room and the slaughterhouse and bring it to life. Although he was hesitant at first, he actually did infuse life into the raw materials he put together into one body through his extensive procedure that took a painstaking two years, although it wasn’t particularly specified in the novel.
The characterization of the creature as a cobbled up figure made of corpses’ body parts brought to life with electricity was the product of James Whale in his film adaptation of Shelly’s novel, Frankenstein. Following film adaptations based on James Whale’s portrayal.
Frankenstein by james whale
Although Shelly claimed she originally derived the name, Frankenstein from her vision, a number of other sources are argued to also may have served as inspiration to her.
One of the most probable sources of inspiration to Shelly in writing her novel may be the time she and Percy Shelly visited Frankenstein Castle in 1814 during their elopement to Switzerland. In that castle, experimentations with human bodies took place. According to an emeritus professor of history at Boston College, Radu Florescu, Mary may have suppressed the mention of her visit to maintain her claim to originality.
Another possible source of inspiration for Shelly’s character, Victor, is her husband, Percy Shelly, himself. Apart from the aforementioned event of the death of their prematurely born child to which he had no concern, Victor was actually the pen name of Percy Shelly in the collection of poetry he wrote with his sister Elizabeth, Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire. Furthermore, Percy, himself also experimented with electricity and magnetism, as well as with gunpowder and numerous chemical reactions.
Since Paradise Lost by John Milton had been a great influence to Shelly, with a quotation from Paradise Lost is on the opening page of Frankenstein, it’s possible that the name Victor may have been derived from it. In Milton’s novel, he frequently referred to God as “Victor”. Thus, Shelly sees her character, Victor Frankenstein playing God by creating life.
Shelly’s novel, considered as the first true science fiction, according to science fiction author, Brian Aldiss, has also influenced numerous writers; novelists; playwrights; scriptwriters; and filmmakers on the creation of adaptations of her novel. The very first play adaptation of the novel was in 1823 which was Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein by Richard Brinsley Peake and was actually seen by Mary Shelly, herself along with her father, William Godwin at the English Opera House. Other plays followed, and soon, the novel had its first film adaptation, Frankenstein, directed by J. Searle Dawley in 1910, followed by several others.
Shelly’s work have also been mentioned in other written works of writers such as in David Lindsay’s “The Bridal Ornament”, published in The Rover on June 12, 1844, which mentioned, “the maker of poor Frankenstein” and in the novel, The Reef, published in 1912, the author, Edith Wharton describes an unruly child as an “infant Frankenstein” to name some.
Several other films were derived from Shelly’s novel, as well as TV shows; plays; and even written works, even up till the present.
A Preview of Shelly's Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus
Victor Frankenstein was born in Naples into a wealthy family. He grew up developing a fondness of studying theories. After his mother died of scarlet fever weeks before he leaves for the University of Ingolstadt in Germany, to cope with the grief, he preoccupied himself with experiments.
Excelling at chemistry and other sciences, Victor, soon, developed a secret technique to impart life to non-living matter. He eventually proceeded to create a humanoid after his discovery. During the procedure, Victor intended for the creature to be beautiful, however, the result was, instead, horrifying. The creature was gigantic at 8 ft in height with watery white eyes and yellow skin that barely conceals the muscles and blood vessels underneath.
Because of its appearance, people were terrified of him and hated him. One day, he, himself, saw his reflection in a pool, and he, too, was terrified by his own appearance. The creature confronted Victor and demanded that he make for him a female companion like himself, explaining that he also deserved to be happy. He promised that once his request is granted, he and his mate will vanish into the South American wilderness and never to reappear again. Otherwise, if Victor refused to grant him his request, the creature threatened that it will kill every one of his loved ones and will not stop until it completely destroyed him. Out of fear, he just agreed, though reluctantly. To assure that Victor will work on his female counterpart, the creature told him that it will look over his progress.
While working on the female creature, Victor was bothered with worries that the female might hate the creature; or become more evil than him; but more particularly, it could lead to the breeding of a race that could plague mankind. He, then, destroys the unfinished female, and the creature, stalking him all along was enraged and suddenly appeared. The destruction of the female companion in progress lead to a dispute and eventually the battle between the two.
Shelly’s novel was a breakthrough in literature, as it promoted a shift from the fantastical elements found in stories to the science fiction genre, having created one of the very first examples in that genre. Though there have been changes through time in the media and even in the 1831 edition of her novel, we can’t deny that it does make an interesting story.