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Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus is a novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. First published on March 11, 1818 (but more often read in the revised and corrected third edition, published in 1831), it is an early example of science fiction. Some (led by Brian Aldiss) claim that it is the first science fiction novel.

Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers.


Curious and intelligent from a young age, Victor Frankenstein leaves his beloved family in Geneva Switzerland to study science in Germany. In a moment of inspiration, Frankenstein 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 -- intended as a companion, perhaps -- from various materials including cadavers.

He intended the creature to be beautiful, but when the creature awoke, he was disgusted. Its yellow eyes, rough stitching, large size -- Frankenstein found this revolting and although the creature expressed him no harm (in fact it grinned at him), Frankenstein ran out of the room in terror whereupon the creature disappeared. Overwork caused Frankenstein to take ill for several months. After recovering he received a letter from home informing him of the murder of his youngest brother. He departed for Switzerland at once.

Near Geneva Frankenstein sees the creature and is convinced it killed his brother. Upon arriving home he finds Justine, the family's maid, framed for the murder. She is convicted and executed. To recover from the ordeal, Frankenstein goes to the mountains where 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 learnt how to talk by studying a family through a crack in the wall. He performs many kind deeds for this family, in secret, but in the end they drive him away when they see what he looks like. He gets the same response from any human who sees him. Wanting revenge, he seeks out Victor, kills his brother, and frames Justine. But now, the creature only wants one thing: he begs Frankenstein to create a female companion for him.

At first, Frankenstein agrees, but later, he tears up the half-made companion in disgust. In retribution, the creature kills his best friend. On Frankenstein's wedding night, the creature kills his wife. Frankenstein now becomes the hunter: he pursues the creature into the arctic ice, but in vain -- he dies without managing to catch him. Finally, the creature finds Frankenstein dead, and greatly laments what he has done to his maker. The creature vows to commit suicide and leaves.


During the snowy summer of 1816, the "Year Without A Summer", the world was locked in in a long cold volcanic winter responsible for the deaths of million caused by the eruption of Tambora in 1815. In this terrible year, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley visited Lord Byron in Switzerland. After reading 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. Of the four, only Polidori completed a story. Mary conceived an idea, and this was the germ of Frankenstein.

It is worth noting that Byron managed to write a fragment based on the vampire legends he heard while traveling the Balkans. Polidori used this fragment to create the novel The Vampyre (1819), which is the origin of all subsequent vampire literature. Thus, the Frankenstein and vampire themes were created from that single circumstance.


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.

NB. In current usage, Frankenstein is often incorrectly used to refer to Frankenstein's monster rather than to its creator.

Name probably taken from German name of a village Frankenstein (nowadays Zabkowice Slaskie in Poland), where silver and gold used to be mined and tremendous killing reek was around due to chemicals used.

Film adaptations

The first film of Frankenstein was made in 1910.

The "classic" film from 1931 stars Boris Karloff as the monster and was directed by James Whale. The film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, as has its first sequel, Bride of Frankenstein, also directed by Whale. Later efforts rapidly degenerated into farce. The films have occasionally been parodied, a notable example being Mel Brooks' comedy Young Frankenstein, which borrows heavily from Whale's two Frankenstein films, including the use of Whale's original laboratory set pieces and the technical services of their original creator, Kenneth Strickfaden.

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