Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus is a novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. First published in London in 1818 (but more often read in the revised third edition of 1831), it is considered to be an antecedent of the steampunk subgenre of science fiction and some (led by Brian Aldiss) claim that it is the very first science fiction novel of any type.
The name Frankenstein is often used incorrectly to refer to Frankenstein's Monster rather than to its fictional creator.
- "It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs."
The novel opens with Captain Walton on a ship sailing north of the Arctic Circle. Walton's ship becomes ice-bound, and as he contemplates his isolation and paralysis, he spots a figure traveling across the ice on a dog sledge. This is Victor Frankenstein's creature. Soon after he sees Victor Frankenstein himself and invites him onto his boat. The narrative of Walton is a frame narrative that allows for the story of Victor to be related. At the same time, Walton's predicament is symbolically appropriate for Victor's tale of displaced passion and brutalism.
Victor takes over telling the story here. Curious and intelligent from a young age, he leaves his beloved family in Geneva, Switzerland to study science in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, Germany. In a moment of inspiration, Victor discovers the means by which inanimate matter can be imbued with life. (When the book was written, science had a very imperfect understanding of the difference between living and dead matter.) With great drive and fervor, he sets about constructing a creature — perhaps intended as a companion — from various materials, including cadavers.
He intends the creature to be beautiful, but when the creature awakens, Victor is disgusted. It has yellow eyes, rough stitching, and large size. Victor finds this revolting and although the creature expressed him no harm (in fact it grins at him), Victor runs out of the room in terror whereupon the creature disappears. Overwork causes Victor to take ill for several months. After recovering, he receives a letter from home informing him of the murder of his youngest brother William. He departs for Switzerland at once. Near Geneva, Victor sees the creature and is convinced it killed William. Upon arriving home he finds Justine, the family's beloved maid, framed for the murder. She is convicted and executed. To recover from the ordeal, Victor goes hiking into the mountains. He meets his creation atop a glacier.
The creature is strikingly eloquent, and describes his feelings first of confusion, then rejection and hate. He explains how he learned to talk by studying a family through a crack in the wall. He performs in secret many kind deeds for this family, but in the end, they drive him away when they see his appearance. He gets the same response from any human who sees him. The creature confesses that it was indeed he who killed William and framed Justine, and that he did so out of revenge. But now, the creature only wants one thing; he begs Victor to create a female companion for him.
At first, Victor agrees, but later, he tears up the half-made companion in disgust. In retribution, the creature kills Clerval, Victor's best friend. On Victor's wedding night, the creature kills his wife. Victor now becomes the hunter: he pursues the creature into the arctic ice, though in vain. Near exhaustion, he is stranded when an iceberg breaks away, carrying him out into the ocean. At that moment, Captain Walton's ship arrives and he is rescued.
Walton assumes the narration again, describing a temporary recovery in Victor's health, allowing him to relate his extraordinary story. However Victor's health soon fails, and he dies. Unable to convince his shipmates to continue north and bereft the charismatic Frankenstein, Walton is forced to turn back towards England under the threat of mutiny. Finally, the creature boards the ship and finds Victor dead, and greatly laments what he has done to his maker. He vows to commit suicide, and leaves.
- "How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?"
During the snowy summer of 1816, the "Year Without A Summer," the world was locked in a long cold volcanic winter responsible for the deaths of millions, caused by the eruption of Tambora in 1815. In this terrible year, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and her husband-to-be Percy Bysshe Shelley visited Lord Byron at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva in Switzerland. After reading Fantasmagoriana, an anthology of German ghost stories, Byron challenged the Shelleys and his personal physician John William Polidori to each compose a story of their own. Mary conceived an idea, and this was the germ of Frankenstein. Byron managed to write just a fragment based on the vampire legends he heard while travelling the Balkans and from this Polidori created The Vampyre (1819), the progenitor of the romantic vampire literary genre. Thus, the Frankenstein and vampire themes were created from that single circumstance.
Mary Shelley completed her writing in May 1817, and Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus was first published on 1 January 1818 by the small London publishing house of Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones. It was issued anonymously, with a Preface written for Mary by Percy Bysshe Shelley and with a dedication to philosopher William Godwin, her father. It was published in an edition of just 500 copies in three volumes, the standard "triple-decker" format for 19th century first editions. The novel had been previously rejected by Percy Bysshe Shelley's publisher Charles Ollier and by Byron's publisher John Murray.
Critical reception of the book was mostly unfavourable, compounded by confused speculation as to the identity of the author, which was not well disguised. Walter Scott wrote that "Upon the whole, the work impresses us with a high idea of the author's original genius and happy power of expression", but most reviewers thought it "a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity" (Quarterly Review).
Despite the reviews, Frankenstein achieved an almost immediate popular success. It became widely known especially through melodramatic theatrical adaptations – Mary Shelley saw a production of Presumption; or The Fate of Frankenstein, a play by Richard Brinsley Peake in 1823. A French translation appeared as early as 1821 (Frankenstein: ou le Prométhée Moderne, translated by Jules Saladin).
On 31 October 1831 the first "popular" edition in one volume appeared, published by Henry Colburn & Richard Bentley. This edition was quite heavily revised by Mary Shelley, and included a new longer Preface by her, presenting a somewhat embellished version of the genesis of the story. This edition tends to be the one most widely read now.
The name of the creature
The creature – "my hideous progeny" – was not given a name by Mary Shelley, and is only referred to as "The Monster", "The Creature" and "Frankenstein's Monster", or as Victor Frankenstein called his creation more commonly, "The Fiend." As mentioned above, in popular use the monster itself is often mistakenly called Frankenstein, particularly in film titles such as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, although in one film featuring the creature, 2004's Van Helsing, the Monster is directly referred to by the name Frankenstein on screen.
The name Frankenstein is the former name of Ząbkowice Śląskie, a city in Silesia and the historical home of the Frankenstein family. One of the members of that family met with Mary Shelley during her European trip and obviously made a deep impression on the young writer, so she decided to name a character in her novel after him.
The novel is subtitled "The Modern Prometheus," and this suggests the book's major inspiration. Byron was particularly attached to the play Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, and Percy Shelley would soon write Prometheus Unbound. In addition, Shelley's portrayal of the monster owes much to the character of Satan in John Milton's Paradise Lost. This poem was one of the most popular among young poets of the time, and Shelley even allows the monster himself to read it.
Frankenstein is in some ways allegorical, and was conceived and written during an early phase of the Industrial Revolution, at a time of dramatic change. Behind Frankenstein's experiments is the search for ultimate power or godhood: what greater power could there be than the act of creation of life? Frankenstein and his utter disregard for the human and animal remains gathered in his pursuit of power can be taken as symbolic of the rampant forces of laissez-faire capitalism extant at the time and their basic disregard for human dignity. Moreover, the creation rebels against its creator: a clear message that irresponsible uses of technologies can have unconsidered consequences.
The name was probably taken from the German name of a village called Frankenstein (nowadays Ząbkowice Śląskie in Poland), where silver and gold used to be mined and tremendous killing reek was around due to chemicals used. According to another theory the name was taken from Castle Frankenstein near Darmstadt, where a notorious alchemist named Konrad Dippel made experiments with human bodies. On her journey to Switzerland Mary Shelley stayed nearby.
In the 1931 film "Frankenstein," Boris Karloff plays the part of the Fiend, and the scientist is called Henry. Since this film, the horror culture has confused modern audiences into replacing the scientist's name with its freakish creation. This event has stimulated much conversation in the literary criticism of Shelley's work. Attributing the name of the scientist to its creation reveals a deeper connection between the two, especially when the scientist realizes the great danger that the creation presents to himself and to the world.
One popular feminist critique of the novel Frankenstein, views the tale as a journey of pregnancy and the common fears of women in Shelley's day of frequent stillborn births and maternal deaths due to complications in delivery. Mary Shelley had recently experienced the horrors of a stillborn birth, and subsequently became pregnant again soon after. Victor Frankenstein is often fearful of the release of the Monster from his control, when it is free to act independently in the world and affect it for better or worse. Also, Victor Frankenstein, during much of the novel, fears the creature's desire to destroy him by killing everyone and everything most dear to him.
Victor Frankenstein studied in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt. The medical department was famous up to the year 1800 when it was closed.
Alchemy was a very popular topic in Shelley's world. In fact, it was becoming an acceptable idea that humanity could infuse the spark of life onto a non-living thing. The scientific world just after the Industrial Revolution was delving into the unknown, and limitless possibilities also caused fear and apprehension for many as to the consequences of such horrific possibilities.
The first film adaptation of the tale, Frankenstein, was made in 1910 and produced by Thomas Edison. For many years this film was believed lost until a print was discovered in the 1980s. This was followed soon after by another adaptation (now lost) entitled Life Without Soul and at least one European film version.
The most famous adaptation of the story, 1931's Frankenstein, was produced by Universal Pictures, directed by James Whale, and starred Boris Karloff as the monster. The film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Its first sequel, Bride of Frankenstein (1935), was also directed by Whale and is considered by many to contain the most spectacular laboratory scene of any of the series. Son Of Frankenstein followed in 1939. Later efforts by Universal rapidly degenerated into farce, culminating in the outright comedy Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein.
The Universal films in which The Monster appears (and the actor who played him) are:
- Frankenstein (1931 - Boris Karloff)
- Bride of Frankenstein (1935 - Karloff)
- Son of Frankenstein (1939 - Karloff)
- Ghost of Frankenstein (1942 - Lon Chaney Jr.)
- Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943 - Bela Lugosi with stuntman Eddie Parker in some scenes including a close-up)
- House of Frankenstein (1944 - Glenn Strange)
- House of Dracula (1945 - Strange)
- Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948 - Strange). This film is usually referred to as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein but the title given above is its official title according to the Internet Movie Database.
In 2004, Universal released Van Helsing. This film was a reinvention and reinvigoration of the famous Universal stable of monsters of the 1930s and 1940s. Shuler Hensley plays the Monster who, contrary to usual practice, is directly referred to by the name Frankenstein.
Universal also produced a televison sitcom in the 1960s for CBS entitled The Munsters with Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster, a Frankenstein's Monster-like character who was the patriarch of a family of kindly monsters including a Dracula-like grandfather (who may actually be Dracula), a vampire wife, and a werewolf son. The Munsters' home at 1313 Mockingbird Lane can still be seen on the Universal Studios' backlot tour at Universal Studios in Universal City, California.
In Great Britain, a long-running series by Hammer Films focused on the character of Dr. Frankenstein (usually played by Peter Cushing) rather than his monsters. The Hammer Films series (and the actor playing The Monster) consisted of:
- The Curse of Frankenstein (1957 - Christopher Lee)
- The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958 - two Monsters: Michael Gwynn and Peter Cushing)
- The Evil of Frankenstein (1964 - Kiwi Kingston )
- Frankenstein Created Woman (1967 - Susan Denberg )
- Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969 - Freddie Jones)
- The Horror of Frankenstein (1970 - David Prowse)
- Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974 - Prowse)
Peter Cushing played Dr. Frankenstein in all of the above films except for Horror of Frankenstein in which the character was played by Ralph Bates. Cushing also played a Frankenstein creation in Revenge of Frankenstein. David Prowse played two different Monsters.
Depictions of The Monster have varied widely, from mindless killing machines (as in many of the Hammer films) to the depiction of The Monster as a noble and heroic creature (closest to the Shelley version in behavior) in the recent Van Helsing.
The films have been parodied, as in Mel Brooks' comedy Young Frankenstein (1974), which borrows heavily from the first three Universal Frankenstein films, including the use of Whale's original laboratory set pieces and the technical contributions of their original creator, Kenneth Strickfaden .
Three films have depicted the genesis of the Frankenstein story in 1816: Gothic directed by Ken Russell (1986), Haunted Summer directed by Ivan Passer (1988) and Remando al viento (English title: Rowing with the Wind) directed by Gonzalo Suárez (1988).
2004 Television Adaptations
In the fall of 2004, two separate adaptations of the Frankenstein story were broadcast on American television, one on the Hallmark Entertainment Network and another which could possibly lead to a television series on the USA Network.
In the TV show Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Frankenstein's monster is a recurring character in the segment Frankenstein Wastes A Minute of Our Time. As played by Phil Hartman, The Monster was also a popular recurring comedic character on Saturday Night Live in the early 1990s.
In 1938, George Edwards produced a 13-part, 3-hour series for radio. It follows the structure and spirit of novel closely.
The story of Frankenstein, or to be precise, "Frankenstein's Monster", has formed the basis of many original novels over the years, some of which were considered sequels to Shelley's original work, and some of which were based more upon the character as portrayed in the Universal films. The Monster has also been the subject of many comic book adaptations, ranging from the ridiculous (a 1960s series portraying The Monster as a superhero), to more straightforward interpretations of Shelley's work, such as the early 1970s Marvel Comics series, The Monster of Frankenstein, which started out as a faithful (in spirit at least) retelling of Shelley's tale, before transferring The Monster into the present day and pitting him against James Bond-inspired evil organizations.
Frankenstein's monster also appears in the Konami video game series Castlevania, numerous times, with its name being "The Monster" or "The Creature", often as a major boss, but sometimes as a regular enemy.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer has also faced Frankenstein-like creations; once in season two (a supposedly deceased high-school jock), and most notably in season four, wherein the monster was a stitched-together mass of robot, human, and demon parts named Adam, which turned out to be the main villain for the twenty-two episode season's story arc.
The 2000 anime television series Argento Soma draws a large amount of inspiration from Frankenstein. The show's plotline revolves around the event of an ambitious scientist assembling a giant silver creature from scattered components. The giant (aptly nicknamed "Frank") possesses a tender and compassionate nature but has a bizarre and hideous exterior and the potential to inflict death and destruction.
- William H. Lylys - Mary Shelley, an Annotated Bibliography, 1975.
- Muriel Spark - Mary Shelley
- Martin Garrett - Mary Shelley, 2002.
- (omits the prefaces)
- Online Literature Library (w/ the prefaces)
- Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Chronology & Resource Site
- RSS Version RSS Version of the Text
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