Last year, we featured Dracula by Bram Stoker and the Francis Ford Coppola-directed film Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which went back to the source material instead of using the tropes that had been established by the Universal and Hammer versions of Dracula
This Hallowe’en, we’re talking about that other great monster, created by a man called Victor Frankenstein, and the book by an unknown female author that sparked a franchise. Look out for our review of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the novel that sought to distance the monster from its portrayals in popular culture.
The story of how Mary Shelley was inspired to write her great Gothic novel Frankenstein (subtitle: Or, the Modern Prometheus) is almost as fascinating as Frankenstein’s own creation. In 1814, Mary Shelley (then Mary Godwin) was on holiday at the Villa Diodati in Switzerland with Lord Byron, his personal physician John Polidori (who would write the first modern vampire novel) and her future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley. The rainy weather forced the group to remain inside, and they decided they would each write a ghost story. After several days of failing to produce anything, Mary had a nightmare in which a doctor brought a monster to life with electricity. Electricity was a new and exciting development at the time, and in 1780, Luigi Galvani had shocked the world (so to speak) when he caused a dead frog’s legs to twitch by passing an electric current through them.
Mary was inspired to write a short story that would be the starting point for her novel, Frankenstein, about a doctor who steals corpses from graves and stitches them together into a monster, which he brings to life. The story has since become one of the most enduring Gothic novels of all time, though many people believe the monster is called Frankenstein – in fact, it is never given a name in the book.
The novel begins when an expedition to the North Pole discovers Victor Frankenstein dying on the ice, and he tells his life story to the crew, from his childhood to his horrific experiments with electricity and human bodies.
Frankenstein is very different from the Hollywood version we’ve all been brought up with. The monster, rather than the brutish, grunting character played so memorably by Boris Karloff, is articulate and reads philosophy to try and understand his own nature. For all that he is called a monster, Victor is the one to treat him cruelly. Victor is not some mad scientist with an assistant called Igor – he seeks knowledge, but he isn’t willing to take responsibility for his actions.
When Victor first sees his creation come to life, he is disturbed and frightened by it, and so the monster escapes his laboratory and tries to make its way in the world, rejected by everyone it meets. Its cruel treatment at the hands of its creator makes it bitter and angry, and when Victor fails to provide it with a second creation to be its bride, it promises Victor it will return on his wedding day. Victor prepares to marry his beloved foster sister Elizabeth, but with every day he grows more and more concerned that the monster will exact revenge upon him by hurting those he loves most.
Shelley’s novel is atmospheric and frightening, and well worth a read. Try Frankenstein for a Gothic masterpiece born of a nightmare this Hallowe’en (BOOK ZONE at 823.7).
If you liked this…
Read the graphic novel adaptation which goes back to the original novel for inspiration (QUICK READS/GRAPHIC NOVELS 791.5941).
Learn more about that fateful night at the Villa Diodati in the BBC series Nightmare: the Birth of Horror (BOOK ZONE 823.7).
Check out our post on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, where we’ll talk about cinematic adaptations of the novel.
Robertgrassi (2008) Villa diodati 2008.07.27 rg 5 Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Villa_Diodati (downloaded 15/10/2015)
Rothwell, Richard (date unknown) Mary Shelley Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rothwell_-_Mary_Shelley_(Enanced_Crop).jpg