Volume I, first edition
|Genre||Gothic novel, horror fiction, science fiction|
|Set in||England, Italy, France, Scotland, the Alps, Russia; late 18th century|
|Published||1 January 1818 (Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones)|
|LC Class||PR5397 .F7|
or, The Modern Prometheus at Wikisource
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is a novel written by English author Mary Shelley (1797–1851) that tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a hideous sapient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. Shelley started writing the story when she was 18, and the first edition was published anonymously in London on 1 January 1818, when she was 20. Her name first appeared on the second edition, published in 1823.
Shelley travelled through Europe in 1815, journeying along the river Rhine in Germany with a stop in Gernsheim, 17 kilometres (11 mi) away from Frankenstein Castle, where, two centuries before, an alchemist engaged in experiments. Later, she travelled in the region of Geneva, Switzerland, where much of the story takes place. The topic of galvanism and occult ideas were themes of conversation among her companions, particularly her lover and future husband Percy B. Shelley. Mary, Percy and Lord Byron had a competition to see who could write the best horror story. After thinking for days, Shelley dreamt about a scientist who created life and was horrified by what he had made, inspiring the novel.
Frankenstein is infused with elements of the Gothic novel and the Romantic movement. Brian Aldiss has argued that it should be considered the first true science fiction story because, in contrast to previous stories with fantastical elements resembling those of later science fiction, the central character "makes a deliberate decision" and "turns to modern experiments in the laboratory" to achieve fantastic results. It has had a considerable influence in literature and popular culture and spawned a complete genre of horror stories, films and plays.
Since the novel's publication, the name "Frankenstein" has often been used to refer to the monster itself. In the novel, Frankenstein's creation is identified by words such as "creature", "monster", "daemon", "wretch", "abortion", "fiend" and "it". Speaking to Victor Frankenstein, the monster says "I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel" (which ties to Lucifer in Paradise Lost, which the monster reads, and which relates to the disobedience of Prometheus in the book's subtitle).
- 1 Summary
- 2 Author's background
- 3 Characters
- 4 Composition
- 5 Publication
- 6 Frankenstein and the Monster
- 7 Shelley's sources
- 8 Reception
- 9 Derivative works
- 10 Films, plays, and television
- 11 See also
- 12 Notes
- 13 References
- 14 Further reading
- 15 External links
Frankenstein is written in the form of a frame story that starts with Captain Robert Walton writing letters to his sister. It takes place at an unspecified time in the 18th century, as the letters' dates are given as "17—". In the story following the letters by Walton, the readers find that Victor Frankenstein creates a monster that brings tragedy to his life.
Captain Walton's introductory frame narrative
The novel Frankenstein is written in epistolary form, documenting a fictional correspondence between Captain Robert Walton and his sister, Margaret Walton Saville. Walton is a failed writer and captain who sets out to explore the North Pole and expand his scientific knowledge in hopes of achieving fame. During the voyage, the crew spots a dog sled driven by a gigantic figure. A few hours later, the crew rescues a nearly frozen and emaciated man named Victor Frankenstein. Frankenstein has been in pursuit of the gigantic man observed by Walton's crew. Frankenstein starts to recover from his exertion; he sees in Walton the same obsession that has destroyed him and recounts a story of his life's miseries to Walton as a warning. The recounted story serves as the frame for Frankenstein's narrative.
Victor Frankenstein's narrative
Victor begins by telling of his childhood. Born in Naples, Italy, into a wealthy Genevan family, Victor and his brothers, Ernest and William, all three being sons of Alphonse Frankenstein by the former Caroline Beaufort, are encouraged to seek a greater understanding of the world through chemistry. As a young boy, Victor is obsessed with studying outdated theories that focus on simulating natural wonders. When Victor is five years old, his parents adopt Elizabeth Lavenza, the orphaned daughter of an expropriated Italian nobleman, with whom Victor (allegedly) later falls in love. During this period, Victor's parents, Alphonse and Caroline, take in yet another orphan, Justine Moritz, who becomes William's nanny.
Weeks before he leaves for the University of Ingolstadt in Germany, his mother dies of scarlet fever; Victor buries himself in his experiments to deal with the grief. At the university, he excels at chemistry and other sciences, soon developing a secret technique to impart life to non-living matter. Eventually, he undertakes the creation of a humanoid, but due to the difficulty in replicating the minute parts of the human body, Victor makes the Creature tall, about 8 feet (2.4 m) in height and proportionally large. Despite Victor's selecting its features as beautiful, upon animation the creature is instead hideous, with watery white eyes and yellow skin that barely conceals the muscles and blood vessels underneath. Repulsed by his work, Victor flees when it awakens. While wandering the streets, he meets his childhood friend, Henry Clerval, and takes Henry back to his apartment, fearful of Henry's reaction if he sees the monster. However, the Creature has escaped.
Victor falls ill from the experience and is nursed back to health by Henry. After a four-month recovery, he receives a letter from his father notifying him of the murder of his brother William. Upon arriving in Geneva, Victor sees the Creature near the crime scene and climbing a mountain, leading him to believe his creation is responsible. Justine Moritz, William's nanny, is convicted of the crime after William's locket, which had contained a miniature portrait of Caroline, is found in her pocket. Victor is helpless to stop her from being hanged, as he knows no one would believe his story.
Ravaged by grief and guilt, Victor retreats into the mountains. The Creature finds him and pleads for Victor to hear his tale.
The Creature's narrative
Intelligent and articulate, the Creature relates his first days of life, living alone in the wilderness and finding that people were afraid of and hated him due to his appearance, which led him to fear and hide from them. While living in an abandoned structure connected to a cottage, he grew fond of the poor family living there, and discreetly collected firewood for them. Secretly living among the family for months, the Creature learned to speak by listening to them and he taught himself to read after discovering a lost satchel of books in the woods. When he saw his reflection in a pool, he realized his physical appearance was hideous, and it terrified him as it terrifies normal humans. Nevertheless, he approached the family in hopes of becoming their friend. Initially he was able to befriend the blind father figure of the family, but the rest of them were frightened and they all fled their home, resulting in the Creature leaving, disappointed. He traveled to Victor's family estate using details from Victor's journal, murdered William, and framed Justine.
The Creature demands that Victor create a female companion like himself. He argues that as a living being, he has a right to happiness. The Creature promises that he and his mate will vanish into the South American wilderness, never to reappear, if Victor grants his request. Should Victor refuse his request, The Creature also threatens to kill Victor's remaining friends and loved ones and not stop until he completely ruins him.
Fearing for his family, Victor reluctantly agrees. The Creature says he will watch over Victor's progress.
Victor Frankenstein's narrative resumes
Clerval accompanies him to England, but they separate at Victor's insistence at Perth, Scotland. Victor suspects that the Creature is following him. Working on the female creature on the Orkney Islands, he is plagued by premonitions of disaster, such as the female hating the Creature or becoming more evil than him, but more particularly the two creatures might lead to the breeding of a race that could plague mankind. He tears apart the unfinished female creature after he sees the Creature, who had indeed followed Victor, watching through a window. The Creature later confronts and tries to threaten Victor into working again, but Victor is convinced that the Creature is evil and that its mate would be evil as well, and the pair would threaten all humanity. Victor destroys his work and the Creature vows that he will "be with [him] on [his] wedding night". Victor interprets this as a threat upon his life, believing that the Creature will kill him after he finally becomes happy. Victor sails out to sea to dispose of his instruments, falls asleep in the boat, is unable to return to shore because of changes in the winds, and ends up being blown to the Irish coast. When Victor lands in Ireland, he is soon imprisoned for Clerval's murder, as the Creature had strangled Clerval to death and left the corpse to be found where his creator had arrived, causing the latter to suffer another mental breakdown in prison. After being acquitted, Victor returns home with his father, who has restored to Elizabeth some of her father's fortune.
In Geneva, Victor is about to marry Elizabeth and prepares to fight the Creature to the death, arming himself with pistols and a dagger. The night following their wedding, Victor asks Elizabeth to stay in her room while he looks for "the fiend". While Victor searches the house and grounds, the Creature strangles Elizabeth to death. From the window, Victor sees the Creature, who tauntingly points at Elizabeth's corpse; Victor tries to shoot him, but the Creature escapes. After Victor gets back to Geneva, Victor's father, weakened by age and by the death of his precious Elizabeth, dies a few days later. Seeking revenge, Victor pursues the Creature to the North Pole, but collapses from exhaustion and hypothermia before he can find his quarry.
Captain Walton's conclusion
At the end of Victor's narrative, Captain Walton resumes the telling of the story, closing the frame around Victor's recounting. A few days after the Creature vanished, the ship becomes trapped in pack ice and multiple crewmen die in the cold, before the rest of Walton's crew insists on returning south once it is freed. Upon hearing and angered by the crew's pleas to their captain, Victor lectures them with a powerful speech: it is hardship, not comfort and easiness, that defines a glorious undertaking such as theirs; he urges them to be men, not cowards. The ship is freed and Walton, owing it to the will of his men, albeit regretfully, decides to return South. Victor, even though in very weak condition, states that he will go on by himself.
Victor dies shortly thereafter, telling Walton, with his last words, to seek "happiness in tranquillity and avoid ambition". Walton discovers the Creature on his ship, mourning over Victor's body. The Creature tells Walton that Victor's death has not brought him peace; rather, his crimes have left him completely alone. The Creature vows to kill himself so that no others will ever know of his existence. Walton watches as the Creature drifts away on an ice raft that is soon "lost in darkness and distance", never to be seen again.
Mary Shelley had a tragic life from the beginning. Shelley's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died from infection shortly after giving birth to her. Shelley grew a close attachment to her father having never known her mother. Her father, William Godwin, hired a nurse briefly to care for her and her half sister before he ended up remarrying. Shelley's stepmother did not like the close bond she had with her father, which caused friction and Godwin to then favor his other two daughters and sons.
Her father was a famous author of the time and her education was of great importance, though not formal. Shelley grew up surrounded by her father's friends, writers and persons of political importance, that gathered often at the family home. This inspired her authorship at an early age. Shelley met Percy Bysshe Shelley, who later became her husband, at the age of sixteen while he was visiting with her father. Godwin did not agree with the relationship of his daughter to an older, married but separated man, so they fled to France along with her stepsister, Claire Clairmont. Later, Shelley gave birth and lost their first child. Over eight years she would endure a similar pattern of pregnancy and loss, one hemorrhaging occurring until Percy placed her upon ice to cease the bleeding.
Mary and Percy's trip with Claire to visit her lover Lord Byron, in Geneva during the summer of 1816, began the friendship amongst the two couples in which Byron suggested they have a competition of writing the best ghost story. Historians suggest an affair occurred too, even that paternity of one Shelley child may have been a Byron. Mary was eighteen years old when she won the contest with her creation of Frankenstein.
Shelley was heavily influenced by both of her parents' works. Her father was famous for Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and her mother famous for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Her father's novels also influenced her writing of Frankenstein. These novels included Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, St. Leon, and Fleetwood. All of these books were set in Switzerland, similar to the setting in Frankenstein. Some major themes of social affections and the renewal of life that appear in Shelley's novel stem from these works she had in her possession. Other literary influences that appear in Frankenstein are Pygmalion et Galatée by Mme de Genlis and Ovid with the use of an individual lacking intelligence and those individuals identifying the problems with society. Ovid also inspires the use of Prometheus in Shelley's title.
Percy and Byron's discussion on life and death surrounded many scientific geniuses of the time. They discussed ideas from Erasmus Darwin and the experiments from Luigi Galvani. Mary joined these conversations and the ideas of Darwin and Galvani were both present in her novel. The horrors of not being able to write a story for the contest and her hard life also influenced the themes within Frankenstein. The themes of loss, guilt, and the consequences of defying nature present in the novel all developed from Mary Shelley's own life. The loss of her mother, the relationship with her father, and the death of her first child created the monster and his separation from parental guidance. In a 1965 issue of The Journal of Religion and Health a psychologist proposed guilt stemmed from her not feeling good enough for Percy because of the loss of their child.
- Victor Frankenstein – Protagonist and narrator of most of the story. Creates the monster.
- The creature (Frankenstein's monster) – The hideous creature created by Victor Frankenstein.
- Captain Robert Walton – Captain of the boat which picked up Victor. Brother of Mrs. Margaret Saville, and writer of letters addressed to her.
- Mrs. Margaret Saville – Resident of England. Sister of Robert Walton. Addressee of letters written by him.
- Beaufort – A Merchant. Caroline Beaufort's father. One of the most intimate friends of Victor's father.
- Caroline Beaufort – Beaufort's daughter, Victor's mother.
- Ernest – Victor's brother. Seven years younger than Victor.
- Henry Clerval – Victor's best friend from childhood. The son of a merchant of Geneva.
- Justine Moritz – Daughter of Madame Moritz. Moved in with the Frankenstein family at age of 12, and hanged for the murder of William.
- Elizabeth Lavenza – Victor's wife and adopted sister, sometimes referred to as his cousin.
- William – Victor's youngest brother.
- M. Krempe – professor of natural philosophy at university of Ingolstadt. He was an uncouth man, but deeply imbued in the secrets of his science. Influenced Victor.
- M. Waldman – A professor, at Ingolstadt. Influenced Victor.
- De Lacey – Blind old man descended from a good family in France. Father of Agatha and Felix. His family was observed by the monster, and unbeknownst to them, taught him to speak and read.
- Agatha – Daughter of De Lacey.
- Felix – Son of De Lacey.
- Safie – Daughter of a Turkish Merchant and a Christian Arab. Felix's girlfriend.
- Mr. Kirwin – A magistrate.
- Daniel Nugent – A witness against Victor in his murder trial.
How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?— Mary Shelley
During the rainy summer of 1816, the "Year Without a Summer", the world was locked in a long cold volcanic winter caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. Mary Shelley, aged 18, and her lover (and later husband) Percy Bysshe Shelley visited Lord Byron at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The weather was consistently too cold and dreary that summer to enjoy the outdoor holiday activities they had planned, so the group retired indoors until dawn.
Sitting around a log fire at Byron's villa, the company amused themselves by reading German ghost stories translated into French from the book Fantasmagoriana, then Byron proposed that they "each write a ghost story". Unable to think of a story, young Mary became anxious: "Have you thought of a story? I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative." During one evening in the middle of summer, the discussions turned to the nature of the principle of life. "Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated", Mary noted, "galvanism had given token of such things". It was after midnight before they retired, and unable to sleep, she became possessed by her imagination as she beheld the "grim terrors" of her "waking dream".
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.
In September 2011, astronomer Donald Olson, after a visit to the Lake Geneva villa the previous year and inspecting data about the motion of the moon and stars, concluded that her "waking dream" took place "between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m." on 16 June 1816, several days after the initial idea by Lord Byron that they each write a ghost story.
She began writing what she assumed would be a short story. With Percy Shelley's encouragement, she expanded the tale into a full-fledged novel. She later described that summer in Switzerland as the moment "when I first stepped out from childhood into life". Shelley wrote the first four chapters in the weeks following the suicide of her half-sister Fanny. This was one of many personal tragedies that impacted Shelley's work. Shelley's first child died in infancy, and when she began composing Frankenstein in 1816, she was likely nursing her second child, who would also be dead at Frankenstein's publication.
Byron managed to write just a fragment based on the vampire legends he heard while travelling the Balkans, and from this John Polidori created The Vampyre (1819), the progenitor of the romantic vampire literary genre. Thus two seminal horror tales originated from the conclave.
The group talked about Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment ideas as well. Shelley believed the Enlightenment idea that society could progress and grow if political leaders used their powers responsibly; however, she also believed the Romantic ideal that misused power could destroy society (Bennett 36–42).
Shelley's manuscripts for the first three-volume edition in 1818 (written 1816–1817), as well as the fair copy for her publisher, are now housed in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The Bodleian acquired the papers in 2004, and they belong now to the Abinger Collection. In 2008, the Bodleian published a new edition of Frankenstein, edited by Charles E. Robinson, that contains comparisons of Mary Shelley's original text with Percy Shelley's additions and interventions alongside.
Shelley completed her writing in April/May 1817, and Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was published on 1 January 1818 by the small London publishing house 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 second edition of Frankenstein was published on 11 August 1823 in two volumes (by G. and W. B. Whittaker) following the success of the stage play Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein by Richard Brinsley Peake. This edition credited Mary Shelley as the book's author on its title page.
On 31 October 1831, the first "popular" edition in one-volume appeared, published by Henry Colburn & Richard Bentley. This edition was heavily revised by Mary Shelley, partially to make the story less radical. It included a lengthy new preface by the author, presenting a somewhat embellished version of the genesis of the story. This edition is the one most widely published and read now, although a few editions follow the 1818 text. Some scholars prefer the original version, arguing that it preserves the spirit of Mary Shelley's vision (see Anne K. Mellor's "Choosing a Text of Frankenstein to Teach" in the W. W. Norton Critical edition).
Frankenstein and the Monster
Part of Frankenstein's rejection of his creation is the fact that he does not give it a name, which causes a lack of identity. Instead it is referred to by words such as "wretch", "monster", "creature", "demon", "devil", "fiend", and "it". When Frankenstein converses with the creature in Chapter 10, he addresses it as "vile insect", "abhorred monster", "fiend", "wretched devil", and "abhorred devil".
- Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
- To mould Me man? Did I solicit thee
- From darkness to promote me?
Although the creature would be described in later works as a composite of whole body parts grafted together from cadavers and reanimated by the use of electricity, this description is not consistent with Shelley's work; both the use of electricity and the cobbled-together image of Frankenstein's monster were more the result of James Whale's popular 1931 film adaptation of the story, and other early motion-picture works based upon the creature. In Shelley's original work, Dr. Frankenstein discovers a previously unknown but elemental principle of life, and that insight allows him to develop a method to imbue vitality into inanimate matter, though the exact nature of the process is left largely ambiguous. After a great deal of hesitation in exercising this power, Frankenstein spends two years painstakingly constructing the creature's proportionally large body (one anatomical feature at a time, from raw materials supplied by "the dissecting room and the slaughter-house"), which he then brings to life using his unspecified process.
The creature has often been mistakenly called "Frankenstein". In 1908 one author said "It is strange to note how well-nigh universally the term "Frankenstein" is misused, even by intelligent people, as describing some hideous monster". Edith Wharton's The Reef (1916) describes an unruly child as an "infant Frankenstein." David Lindsay's "The Bridal Ornament", published in The Rover, 12 June 1844, mentioned "the maker of poor Frankenstein." After the release of Whale's cinematic Frankenstein, the public at large began speaking of the creature itself as "Frankenstein". This also occurs in Frankenstein films, including Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and several subsequent films, as well as in film titles such as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Furthermore, the 1939 film Son of Frankenstein introduced an evil laboratory assistant, Ygor (Bela Lugosi), who never existed in the original narrative.
Victor Frankenstein's name
Mary Shelley maintained that she derived the name Frankenstein from a dream-vision. Despite her public claims of originality, however, a number of other sources have been suggested as Shelley's actual inspiration. The German name Frankenstein means "stone of the Franks", and is associated with various places in Germany, including Frankenstein Castle (Burg Frankenstein) in Darmstadt, Hesse, and Frankenstein Castle in Frankenstein, a town in the Palatinate. There is also a castle called Frankenstein in Bad Salzungen, Thuringia, and a municipality called Frankenstein in Saxony. Until 1945, Ząbkowice Śląskie, now a city in Lower Silesian Voivodeship, Poland, but was mainly populated by Germans and was the site of a scandal involving gravediggers in 1606, which has been suggested as an inspiration to the author. Finally, the name is borne by the aristocratic House of Franckenstein from Franconia.
Radu Florescu argues that Mary and Percy Shelley visited Frankenstein Castle near Darmstadt in 1814 during their return to England from their elopement to Switzerland. It was at this castle that a notorious alchemist, Conrad Dippel, had experimented with human bodies, and Florescu reasons that Mary suppressed mention of her visit in order to maintain her public claim of originality. A literary essay by A. J. Day supports Florescu's position that Mary Shelley knew of and visited Frankenstein Castle before writing her debut novel. Day includes details of an alleged description of the Frankenstein castle that exists in Mary Shelley's 'lost' journals. According to Jörg Heléne, the 'lost journals', as well as Florescu's claims, cannot be verified.
A possible interpretation of the name Victor is derived from Paradise Lost by John Milton, a great influence on Shelley (a quotation from Paradise Lost is on the opening page of Frankenstein and Shelley even has the monster himself read it). Milton frequently refers to God as "the Victor" in Paradise Lost, and Shelley sees Victor as playing God by creating life. In addition, Shelley's portrayal of the monster owes much to the character of Satan in Paradise Lost; indeed, the monster says, after reading the epic poem, that he empathizes with Satan's role in the story.
There are many similarities between Victor and Percy Shelley, Mary's husband. Victor was a pen name of Percy Shelley's, as in the collection of poetry he wrote with his sister Elizabeth, Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire. There is speculation that one of Mary Shelley's models for Victor Frankenstein was Percy, who at Eton had "experimented with electricity and magnetism as well as with gunpowder and numerous chemical reactions", and whose rooms at Oxford were filled with scientific equipment.
Percy Shelley was the first-born son of a wealthy country squire with strong political connections and a descendant of Sir Bysshe Shelley, 1st Baronet of Castle Goring, and Richard Fitzalan, 10th Earl of Arundel. Victor's family is one of the most distinguished of that republic and his ancestors were counselors and syndics. Percy had a sister named Elizabeth; Victor had an adopted sister named Elizabeth.
On 22 February 1815, Mary Shelley gave birth to a baby two months prematurely, and the baby died two weeks later. Percy did not care about the condition of this premature infant and left with Claire, Mary's stepsister, for a lurid affair. "When Victor saw the creature come to life he fled the apartment, though the newborn creature approached him, as a child would a parent." The question of Victor's responsibility to the creature is one of the main themes of Shelley's book.
The Modern Prometheus is the novel's subtitle (though modern editions now drop it, only mentioning it in introduction). Prometheus, in versions of Greek mythology, was the Titan who created mankind in the image of the gods that could have a spirit breathed into it at the behest of Zeus. Prometheus then taught man to hunt, but after he tricked Zeus into accepting "poor-quality offerings" from humans, Zeus kept fire from mankind. Prometheus took back the fire from Zeus to give to man. When Zeus discovered this, he sentenced Prometheus to be eternally punished by fixing him to a rock of Caucasus, where each day an eagle would peck out his liver, only for the liver to regrow the next day because of his immortality as a god.
As a Pythagorean, or believer in Abstinence of Animal Food as a Moral Duty by Joseph Ritsons, Mary Shelley saw Prometheus not as a hero but rather as something of a devil, and blamed him for bringing fire to man and thereby seducing the human race to the vice of eating meat. Percy wrote several essays on what would become known as vegetarianism including The Vindication of the Natural Diet.
The Titan in the Greek mythology of Prometheus parallels Victor Frankenstein. Victor's work by creating man by new means reflects the same innovative work of the Titan in creating humans.
Byron was particularly attached to the play Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, and Percy Shelley would soon write his own Prometheus Unbound (1820). The term "Modern Prometheus" was actually coined by Immanuel Kant in reference to Benjamin Franklin and his experiments with electricity.
Shelley incorporated a number of different sources into her work, one of which was the Promethean myth from Ovid. The influence of John Milton's Paradise Lost, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, are also clearly evident within the novel. Mary is likely to have acquired some ideas for Frankenstein's character from Humphry Davy's book Elements of Chemical Philosophy, in which he had written that "science has ... bestowed upon man powers which may be called creative; which have enabled him to change and modify the beings around him ...". References to the French Revolution run through the novel; a possible source may lie in François-Félix Nogaret's Le Miroir des événemens actuels, ou la Belle au plus offrant (1790): a political parable about scientific progress featuring an inventor named Frankésteïn who creates a life-sized automaton.
Percy Bysshe Shelley's 1816 poem "Mutability" is also quoted and its theme of the role of the subconscious is discussed in prose. The Creature also quotes a passage of the poem. His name has never appeared as the author of the poem although other poets are cited by name in the novel, implying that Mary wrote the poem and developed the psychological ideas. Another potential reason is to conceal his contributions to the novel.
Many writers and historians have attempted to associate several then popular natural philosophers (now called physical scientists) with Shelley's work on account of several notable similarities. Two of the most noted natural philosophers among Shelley's contemporaries were Giovanni Aldini, who made many public attempts at human reanimation through bio-electric Galvanism in London and Johann Konrad Dippel, who was supposed to have developed chemical means to extend the life span of humans. While Shelley was aware of both these men and their activities, she makes no mention of or reference to them or their experiments in any of her published or released notes.
Frankenstein has been both well received and disregarded since its anonymous publication in 1818. Critical reviews of that time demonstrate these two views, along with confused speculation as to the identity of the author. The Belle Assemblée described the novel as "very bold fiction" (139). The Quarterly Review stated that "the author has the power of both conception and language" (185). Sir Walter Scott, writing in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, congratulated "the author's original genius and happy power of expression" (620), although he is less convinced about the way in which the monster gains knowledge about the world and language. The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany hoped to see "more productions from this author" (253). On the other hand, the Quarterly Review described it "a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity".
In two other reviews where the author is known as the daughter of William Godwin, the criticism of the novel makes reference to the feminine nature of Mary Shelley. The British Critic attacks the novel's flaws as the fault of the author: "The writer of it is, we understand, a female; this is an aggravation of that which is the prevailing fault of the novel; but if our authoress can forget the gentleness of her sex, it is no reason why we should; and we shall therefore dismiss the novel without further comment" (438). The Literary Panorama and National Register attacks the novel as a "feeble imitation of Mr. Godwin's novels" produced by the "daughter of a celebrated living novelist" (414). 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).
Critical reception of Frankenstein has been largely positive since the mid-20th century. Major critics such as M. A. Goldberg and Harold Bloom have praised the "aesthetic and moral" relevance of the novel, although there are also critics such as Germaine Greer, who criticized the novel as terrible due to technical and narrative defects (such as it featuring three narrators that speak in the same way). In more recent years the novel has become a popular subject for psychoanalytic and feminist criticism: Lawrence Lipking states: "[E]ven the Lacanian subgroup of psychoanalytic criticism, for instance, has produced at least half a dozen discrete readings of the novel". Frankenstein is one of Five Books most recommended books with literary scholars, psychologists, novelists and historians citing it as an influential text. The novel today is generally considered to be a landmark work of romantic and gothic literature, as well as science fiction.
Film director Guillermo del Toro describes Frankenstein as "the quintessential teenage book", adding "You don't belong. You were brought to this world by people that don't care for you and you are thrown into a world of pain and suffering, and tears and hunger. It's an amazing book written by a teenage girl. It's mind-blowing." Professor of philosophy Patricia MacCormack says the creature, brought to life by Victor Frankenstein, addresses the most fundamental human questions: "It's the idea of asking your maker what your purpose is. Why are we here, what can we do?"
There are numerous novels retelling or continuing the story of Frankenstein and his monster.
Films, plays, and television
- 1823: Richard Brinsley Peake's adaptation, Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein, was seen by Mary Shelley and her father William Godwin at the English Opera House.
- 1826: Henry M. Milner's adaptation, The Man and The Monster; or The Fate of Frankenstein opened on 3 July at the Royal Coburg Theatre, London.
- 1887: Frankenstein, or The Vampire's Victim was a musical burlesque written by Richard Henry (a pseudonym of Richard Butler and Henry Chance Newton).
- 1910: Edison Studios produced the first Frankenstein film, directed by J. Searle Dawley.
- 1915: Life Without Soul, the second film adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel, was released. No known print of the film has survived.
- 1920: The Monster of Frankenstein, directed by Eugenio Testa, starring Luciano Albertini and Umberto Guarracino.
- 1931: Universal Studios' Frankenstein, directed by James Whale, starring Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles, Edward Van Sloan, Dwight Frye, and Boris Karloff as the monster.
- 1935: James Whale directed the sequel to the 1931 film, Bride of Frankenstein, starring Colin Clive as Frankenstein, and Boris Karloff as the monster once more. This incorporated the novel's plot motif of Frankenstein creating a bride for the monster omitted from Whale's earlier film. There were two more sequels, prior to the Universal "monster rally" films combining multiple monsters from various movie series or film franchises.
- 1939: Son of Frankenstein was another Universal monster movie with Boris Karloff as the Creature. Also in the film were Basil Rathbone as the title character and Bela Lugosi as the sinister assistant Ygor. Karloff ended playing the Frankenstein monster with this film.
- 1942: The Ghost of Frankenstein featured brain transplanting and a new monster, played by Lon Chaney Jr. The film also starred Evelyn Ankers and Bela Lugosi.
- 1942–1948: Universal did "monster rally" films featuring Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula and the Wolf Man. Included would be Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The last three films introduced Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's monster.
- 1957–1974: Hammer Films in England did a string of Frankenstein films starring Peter Cushing, including The Curse of Frankenstein, The Revenge of Frankenstein and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. Co-starring in these films were Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Veronica Carlson and Simon Ward. Another Hammer film, The Horror of Frankenstein, starred Ralph Bates as the main character, Victor Frankenstein.
- 1965: Toho Studios created the film Frankenstein Conquers the World or Frankenstein vs. Baragon, followed by The War of the Gargantuas.
- 1972: A comedic stage adaptation, Frankenstein's Monster, was written by Sally Netzel and produced by the Dallas Theater Center.
- 1973: The TV film Frankenstein: The True Story appeared on NBC. The movie starred Leonard Whiting, Michael Sarrazin, James Mason, and Jane Seymour.
- 1981: A Broadway adaptation by Victor Gialanella played for one performance (after 29 previews) and was considered the most expensive flop ever produced to that date.
- 1984: The flop Broadway production yielded a TV film starring Robert Powell, Carrie Fisher, David Warner, and John Gielgud.
- 1992: Frankenstein became a Turner Network Television film directed by David Wickes, starring Patrick Bergin and Randy Quaid. John Mills played the blind man.
- 1994: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein appeared in theatres, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, with Robert De Niro and Helena Bonham Carter. Its all-star cast also included John Cleese, Ian Holm, and Tom Hulce.
- 2004: Frankenstein, a two-episode mini-series starring Alec Newman, with Luke Goss and Donald Sutherland.
- 2006: Frankenstein, A New Musical, composed by Mark Baron, book by Jeffrey Jackson, and based on an adaptation by Gary P. Cohen.
- 2007: Frankenstein, an award-winning musical adaptation by Jonathan Christenson with set, lighting, and costume design by Bretta Gerecke for Catalyst Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta.
- 2011: In March, BBC3 broadcast Colin Teague's live production from Kirkstall Abbey, Leeds, billed as Frankenstein's Wedding, Live in Leeds. About the same time, the National Theatre, London presented a stage version of Frankenstein, which ran until 2 May 2011. The play was written by Nick Dear and directed by Danny Boyle. Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternated the roles of Frankenstein and the Creature. The National Theatre broadcast live performances of the play worldwide on 17 March.
- 2012: An interactive ebook app created by Inkle and Profile Books that retells the story with added interactive elements.
- 2014: Penny Dreadful is a horror TV series that airs on Showtime, that features Victor Frankenstein as well as his creature.
- 2015: Frankenstein, a modern-day adaptation written and directed by Bernard Rose.
- 2015: Victor Frankenstein is an American film directed by Paul McGuigan.
- 2016: Frankenstein, a full length ballet production by Liam Scarlett. Some performances were also live simulcasts worldwide.
- 1967: I'm Sorry the Bridge Is Out, You'll Have to Spend the Night and its sequel, Frankenstein Unbound (Another Monster Musical), are a pair of musical comedies written by Bobby Pickett and Sheldon Allman. The casts of both feature several classic horror characters including Dr. Frankenstein and his monster.
- 1971: Lady Frankenstein is an Italian horror film directed by Mel Welles and written by Edward di Lorenzo. The strory begins when Dr. Frankenstein is killed by the monster he created, his daughter and his lab assistant Marshall continue with his experiments.
- 1973: The Rocky Horror Show, is a British horror comedy stage musical written by Richard O'Brian in which Dr. Frank N. Furter has created a creature (Rocky), to satisfy his (pro)creative drives. Elements are similar to I'm Sorry the Bridge Is Out, You'll Have to Spend the Night.
- 1973: Andy Warhol's Frankenstein. Usually, Frankenstein is a man whose dedication to science takes him too far, but here his interest is to rule the world by creating a new species that will obey him and do his bidding.
- 1974: Young Frankenstein. Directed by Mel Brooks, this sequel-spoof has been listed as one of the best movie comedies of any comedy genre ever made, even prompting an American film preservation program to include it on its listings. It reuses many props from James Whale's 1931 Frankenstein and is shot in black-and-white with 1930s-style credits. Gene Wilder portrayed the descendant of Dr. Frankenstein (who insists on pronouncing it "Fronkonsteen"), with Peter Boyle as the Monster.
- 1975: The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the 1975 film adaptation of the British rock musical stageplay, The Rocky Horror Show (1973), written by Richard O'Brien.
- 1984: Frankenweenie is a parody short film directed by Tim Burton, starring Barrett Oliver, Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern.
- 1985: The Bride starring Sting as Baron Charles Frankenstein and Jennifer Beals as Eva, a woman he creates in the same fashion as his infamous monster.
- 1986: Gothic, directed by Ken Russell, is the story of the night that Mary Shelley gave birth to Frankenstein. Starring Gabriel Byrne, Julian Sands, Natasha Richardson.
- 1988: Frankenstein (フランケンシュタイン) is a manga adaptation of Shelley's novel by Junji Ito.
- 1989: Frankenstein the Panto. A pantomime script by David Swan, combining elements of Frankenstein, Dracula, and traditional British panto.
- 1990: Frankenstein Unbound. Combines a time-travel story with the story of Shelley's novel. Scientist Joe Buchanan accidentally creates a time-rift which takes him back to the events of the novel. Filmed as a low-budget independent film by Roger Corman in 1990, based on a novel published in 1973 by Brian Aldiss. This novel bears no relation to the 1967 stage musical with the same name listed above.
- 1991: Khatra (film) is a Hindi movie of Bollywood made by director H. N. Singh loosely based on the story, Frankenstein.
- 1995: Monster Mash is a film adaptation of I'm Sorry the Bridge Is Out, You'll Have to Spend the Night starring Bobby Pickett as Dr. Frankenstein. The film also features Candace Cameron Bure, Anthony Crivello and Mink Stole.
- 1998: Billy Frankenstein is a very loose adaptation about a boy who moves into a mansion with his family and brings the Frankenstein monster to life. The film was directed by Fred Olen Ray.
- 2004: Frankenstein made-for-TV film based on Dean Koontz's Frankenstein.
- 2005: Frankenstein vs. the Creature from Blood Cove, a 90-minute feature film homage of classic monsters and Atomic Age creature features, shot in black and white, and directed by William Winckler. The Frankenstein Monster design and make-up was based on the character descriptions in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's novel.
- 2009: The Diary of Anne Frankenstein, a short film from Chillerrama.
- 2011: Frankenstein: Day of the Beast is an independent horror film based loosely on the original book.
- 2011: Victor Frankenstein appears in the ABC show Once Upon a Time, a fantasy series on ABC that features multiple characters from fairy tales and classic literature trapped in the real world.
- 2012: Frankenweenie, Tim Burton's feature film remake of his 1984 short film of the same name.
- 2012: In the Adventure Time episode "Princess Monster Wife", the Ice King removes body parts from all the princesses that rejected him and creates a jigsaw wife to love him.
- 2012: A Nightmare on Lime Street, Fred Lawless's comedy play starring David Gest staged at the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool.
- 2014: I, Frankenstein is a 2014 fantasy action film. The film stars Aaron Eckhart as Adam Frankenstein and Bill Nighy. The film is based on the graphic novel.
- 2014: Frankenstein, MD, A web show by Pemberly Digital starring Victoria, a female adaptation of Victor.
- 2015: The Supernatural season 10 episodes Book of the Damned, Dark Dynasty and The Prisoner feature the Styne Family which member Eldon Styne identifies as the descendants of the house of Frankenstein. According to Eldon, Mary Shelley had learned their secrets while on a visit to Castle Frankenstein and wrote a book based on her experiences, forcing the Frankensteins underground as the Stynes. The Stynes, through bioengineering and surgical enhancements, feature many of the superhuman features of Frankenstein's monster.
- 2015: The Frankenstein Chronicles is a British television drama series, starring Sean Bean as John Marlott and Anna Maxwell Martin as Mary Shelley.
- 2016: Second Chance, a TV series known at one point as Frankenstein, was inspired by the classic.
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This day is published, in 3 vols., price 16s. 6d., a Work of Imagination, to be entitled Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.
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- Richard Holmes, "Out of Control" (review of Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus: Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds, edited by David H. Guston, Ed Finn, and Jason Scott Robert, MIT Press, 277 pp.; and Mary Shelley, The New Annotated Frankenstein, edited and with a foreword and notes by Leslie S. Klinger, Liveright, 352 pp.), The New York Review of Books, vol. LXIV, no. 20 (21 December 2017), pp. 38, 40–41.
- Shelley, Mary Frankenstein: 1818 text (Oxford University Press, 2009). Edited with an introduction and notes by Marilyn Butler.
- Fairclough, Peter (ed.) Three Gothic Novels: Walpole / Castle of Otranto, Beckford / Vathek, Mary Shelley / Frankenstein (Penguin English Library, 1968). With an introductory essay by Mario Praz.
- Shelley, Mary Frankenstein (Oxford University Press, 2008). Edited with an introduction and notes by M. K. Joseph.
- Frankenstein 1818 edition at Project Gutenberg
- Frankenstein public domain audiobook at LibriVox
- Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Chronology and Resource Site
- "On Frankenstein", review by Percy Bysshe Shelley
- Inside look at the "Read original Frankenstein by Mary Shelley"
- Frankenbook, "a collaborative reading experiment with Mary Shelley’s classic novel". Based on Frankenstein: Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds, The MIT Press, 2017. Published through PubPub.