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Frankenstein's monster

Frankenstein's Monster
Horror story character
Steel engraving (993 x 71mm) for frontispiece to the revised edition of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, published by Colburn and Bentley, London 1831. The novel was first published in 1818.
Created by Mary Shelley
Portrayed by Charles Stanton Ogle
Boris Karloff
Christopher Lee
Peter Boyle
Robert De Niro
Jonny Lee Miller
Benedict Cumberbatch
Rory Kinnear
Aaron Eckhart
Luke Goss
Nickname(s) "Frankenstein", "The Monster", "The Creature", "The Wretch", "Adam Frankenstein" and others
Gender Male
Family Victor Frankenstein (father/creator)

Frankenstein's monster is a fictional character that first appeared in Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. In popular culture, the creature is often referred to as "Frankenstein" after the creature's creator Victor Frankenstein, but in Shelley's novel the creature is nameless. The novel's title compares Victor Frankenstein to the mythological figure Prometheus, because of what both of those figures brought to life.

In Shelley's horror story, Victor Frankenstein builds the creature in his laboratory through an ambiguous method consisting of chemistry and alchemy. Shelley describes the monster as 8-foot-tall (2.4 m), hideously ugly, but sensitive and emotional. The monster attempts to fit into human society, but is shunned, which leads him to seek revenge against his creator. According to the scholar Joseph Carroll, the monster occupies "a border territory between the characteristics that typically define protagonists and antagonists".[1]


  • Namelessness 1
  • Shelley's plot 2
  • Appearance 3
  • Personality 4
  • Monster as metaphor 5
  • Portrayals and depictions 6
  • Appearances in other media 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


Mary Shelley's original novel never ascribes an actual name to the monster; although the monster does call himself, when speaking to his creator, Victor Frankenstein, the "Adam of your labours" (in reference to the first man created in the Bible). Victor refers to the monster as "creature", "fiend", "spectre", "the demon", "wretch", "devil", "thing", "being" and "ogre".[2]

It has become common vernacular to refer to the creature by the name "Frankenstein", though this never actually happens in the book. In addition to this, calling the monster "Frankenstein" sometimes results in confusion with his creator, Victor Frankenstein.

The actor T. P. Cooke as the monster in an 1823 stage production of Shelley's novel

As in Mary Shelley's story, the monster's namelessness became a central part of the stage adaptations in London and Paris during the decades after the novel's first appearance. In 1823, Shelley herself attended a performance of Presumption, the first successful stage adaptation of her novel. "The play bill amused me extremely, for in the list of dramatis personae came _________, by Mr T. Cooke,” she wrote to her friend Leigh Hunt. "This nameless mode of naming the unnameable is rather good."[3]

Within a decade of publication, the name of the creator—Frankenstein—was used to refer to the monster, but it did not become firmly established until much later. The story was adapted for the stage in 1927 by Peggy Webling,[4] and Webling's Victor Frankenstein does give the creature his name. However, the monster has no name in the Universal film series starring Boris Karloff during the 1930s, which was largely based upon Webling's play.[5] The 1931 Universal film treated the monster's identity in a similar way as Shelley's novel: in the opening credits, the character is referred to merely as "The Monster" (the actor's name is replaced by a question mark but Karloff is listed in the closing credits).[6] Nevertheless, the creature soon enough became best known in the popular imagination as "Frankenstein". This usage is sometimes considered erroneous, but usage commentators regard the monster sense of "Frankenstein" as well-established and not an error.[7][8]

Modern practice varies somewhat. For example, In Dean Koontz's Frankenstein, first published in 2004, the creature is named "Deucalion", after the character from Greek Mythology, who is the son of the titan Prometheus, a reference to the original novel's title. Another example is the second episode of Showtime's Penny Dreadful, which first aired in 2014; Victor Frankenstein briefly considers naming his creation "Adam", before deciding instead to let the monster "pick his own name". Thumbing through a book of the works of Shakespeare, the monster chooses "Proteus" from The Two Gentlemen of Verona. It is later revealed that Proteus is actually the second monster Frankenstein has created, with the first, abandoned creation having been named "Caliban", from The Tempest, by the theatre actor who took him in.

Shelley's plot

Charles Stanton Ogle in the 1910 film version.

As told by Mary Shelley, Victor Frankenstein builds the creature in his laboratory through an ambiguously described scientific method consisting of chemistry (from his time as a student at University of Ingolstadt) and alchemy (largely based on the writings of Paracelsus, Albertus Magnus, and Cornelius Agrippa). The creature horrifies Frankenstein who disavows the experiment. Frightened, and unaware of his own identity, the monster wanders through the wilderness. He finds brief solace beside a remote cottage inhabited by a family of peasants. Eavesdropping, the creature familiarizes himself with their lives and learns to speak, whereby he becomes eloquent, educated, and well-mannered.

The creature eventually introduces himself to the family's blind father, who treats him with kindness. When the rest of the family returns, they drive him away. Hopeful but bewildered, the creature rescues a peasant girl from a river, but is shot in the shoulder by a man who claims her. He swears revenge on Frankenstein for abandoning him to such intolerance, and accordingly kills Victor's younger brother William. When Frankenstein retreats to the mountains, the monster approaches him at the summit and pleads for a female equivalent to mitigate his loneliness. Frankenstein agrees, but, aghast at the possibility of creating a race of monsters, abandons the agreement. In response, the creature kills Frankenstein's best friend, and later kills Frankenstein's bride; whereupon Frankenstein's father dies of grief. Searching for the creature in the Arctic Circle, the scientist falls into the freezing water, contracting severe pneumonia. A ship exploring the region encounters the dying Victor, who relates his story to the captain. Later, the creature boards the ship; but, upon finding his creator dead, is full of grief and pledges to incinerate himself at "the Northernmost extremity of the globe". He then departs, apparently never to be seen again.


Boris Karloff as the classic 1930s film version with an assist from makeup artist Jack Pierce

Shelley described Frankenstein's monster as an 8-foot-tall (2.4 m), hideously ugly creation, with translucent yellowish skin pulled so taut over the body that it "barely disguised the workings of the arteries and muscles underneath"; watery, glowing eyes, flowing black hair, black lips, and prominent white teeth. The monster attempts to integrate himself into human social patterns, but is shunned by all who see him. This compels him to seek revenge against his creator. A picture of the creature appeared in the 1831 edition. Early stage portrayals dressed him in a toga, shaded, along with the monster's skin, a pale blue. Throughout the 19th century, the monster's image remained variable according to the artist.

The most well-known image of Frankenstein's monster in popular culture derives from Boris Karloff's portrayal in the 1931 movie Frankenstein, with makeup created by Jack Pierce and possibly suggested by director James Whale. Karloff played the monster in two more Universal films, Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein. Lon Chaney, Jr. took over the part from Karloff in The Ghost of Frankenstein, Bela Lugosi portrayed the role in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and Glenn Strange played the monster in the last three Universal Studios films to feature the character (House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein); but their makeup replicated the iconic look first worn by Karloff. To this day, the image of Karloff's face is owned by his daughter's company, Karloff Enterprises, for which Universal replaced Karloff's features with Glenn Strange's in most of their marketing.

Since Karloff's portrayal, the creature almost always appears as a towering, undead-like figure, often with a flat-topped angular head and bolts on his neck to serve as electrical connectors or grotesque electrodes. He wears a dark suit having shortened coat sleeves and thick, heavy boots, causing him to walk with an awkward, stiff-legged gait (as opposed to the novel, in which he is described as much more flexible than a human). This image has influenced the creation of other fictional characters, such as The Hulk.[9]

In the 1973 TV mini-series Frankenstein: The True Story, a different approach was taken in depicting the monster. Michael Sarrazin appears as a strikingly handsome man who later degenerates into a grotesque monster due to a flaw in the creation process.

In the 1994 film Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the creature is played by Robert De Niro in a nearer approach to the original source, except this version gives the creature balding grey hair and a body covered in bloody stitches. He is, as in the novel, motivated by pain and loneliness. In this version, his brain is Doctor Waldman's, while his body is made from a man who killed Waldman while resisting a vaccination. He retains "trace memories" that apparently help him quickly learn to speak and read.

In the 2004 film Van Helsing, the monster is shown in a somewhat modernized version of the Karloff design. He is 8 to 9 feet (240–270 cm) tall, has square bald head, gruesome scars, and pale green skin. The electricity is emphasized with one electrified dome in the back of his head and another over his heart. It also has hydraulic pistons in its legs, essentially rendering the design as a steam-punk cyborg. Although not as eloquent as in the novel, this version of the creature is intelligent and relatively nonviolent.

In 2004 a TV mini-series adaptation of Frankenstein was made by Hallmark. Luke Goss plays The Creature. This adaptation more closely resembles the creature as described in the novel. The creature is intelligent and articulate and has flowing, dark hair and watery eyes. Being among the more accurate depictions to the novel, he does not have the 1931 design of neck electrodes or flat head.

The 2014 TV series Penny Dreadful also rejects the Karloff design in favor of Shelley's description. This version of the creature has the flowing dark hair described by Shelley, although he departs from her description by having pale grey (opaque) skin and obvious scars along the right side of his face. Otherwise, the well-spoken creature can easily pass for a human, being only slightly taller than average. In the series, Frankenstein makes a second creature, this one indistinguishable from a normal person apart from a few scars.


Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's monster with Boris Karloff, this time playing another character, in the 1944 film House of Frankenstein

As depicted by Shelley, the monster is a sensitive, emotional creature whose only aim is to share his life with another sentient being like himself. The novel and film versions portrayed him as versed in Paradise Lost, Plutarch's Lives, and The Sorrows of Young Werther.

From the beginning the monster is rejected by everyone he meets. He realizes from the moment of his "birth" that even his own creator cannot stand being around him; this is obvious when Frankenstein says "…one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped…"[10]:Ch.5 Upon seeing his own reflection, he realizes that he too cannot stand to see himself. His greatest desire is to find love and acceptance; but when that desire is denied, he swears revenge on his creator.

Contrary to many film versions, the creature in the novel is very articulate and eloquent in his way of speaking. He can speak quickly and he can enunciate well. Almost immediately after his creation, he dresses himself; and within eleven months, he can speak and read German and French. By the end of the novel, the creature appears able to speak English fluently as well. The Van Helsing and Penny Dreadful interpretations of the character have similar personalities to the literary original, although the latter version is the only one to retain the character's violent reactions to rejection.

In the 1931 film adaptation, the creature is depicted as mute and almost infantile. In the subsequent sequel, Bride of Frankenstein, the creature learns to speak, albeit in short, stunted sentences. In the second sequel, Son of Frankenstein, the creature is again rendered inarticulate. Following a brain transplant in the third sequel, The Ghost of Frankenstein, the Monster speaks with the voice and personality of the brain donor. This was continued after a fashion in the scripting for the fourth sequel, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, but the dialogue was excised before release. The monster was effectively mute in later sequels, though he is heard to refer to Count Dracula as his 'Master' in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The creature is often pyrophobic (afraid of fire). Also the brain used to create Frankenstein's monster is either from the mind of a criminal or is abnormal and deformed, though Dr. Frankenstein originally intended to use a developed, intelligent brain.

Monster as metaphor

Frankenstein's monster's bust in the National Museum of Cinema of Turin, Italy.

Scholars sometimes look for deeper meaning in Shelley’s story, and have analogized the monster to a motherless child; Shelley’s own mother died while giving birth to her.[11] The monster has also been analogized to an oppressed class; Shelley wrote that the monster recognized "the division of property, of immense wealth and squalid poverty".[11] Others see in the monster the tragic results of uncontrolled technology.[12]

Another proposal is that the character of Dr. Frankenstein was based upon a real scientist who had a similar name, and who had been called a modern Prometheus: Benjamin Franklin. Accordingly, the monster would represent the new nation that Franklin helped to create out of remnants left by England.[13]

Portrayals and depictions

Actor Year Production
Charles Stanton Ogle 1910 Frankenstein
Percy Standing 1915 Life Without Soul
Boris Karloff 1931 Frankenstein
1935 Bride of Frankenstein
1939 Son of Frankenstein
Ed Payson 1941 Third Dimensional Murder (short)
Lon Chaney, Jr. 1942 The Ghost of Frankenstein
Bela Lugosi 1943 Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
Glenn Strange 1944 House of Frankenstein
1945 House of Dracula
1948 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
Gary Conway 1957 I Was a Teenage Frankenstein
Christopher Lee The Curse of Frankenstein
Gary Conway 1958 How to Make a Monster
Michael Gwynn The Revenge of Frankenstein
Mike Lane Frankenstein 1970
Harry Wilson Frankenstein's Daughter
Don Megowan Tales of Frankenstein (TV pilot)
Danny Dayton 1963 Mack and Myer for Hire: Monstrous Merriment (TV series episode)
Kiwi Kingston 1964 The Evil of Frankenstein
Fred Gwynne 1964 The Munsters (as "Herman Munster")
Koji Furuhata 1965 Frankenstein Conquers the World
Allen Swift 1967 Mad Monster Party?
Susan Denberg Frankenstein Created Woman
Robert Rodan Dark Shadows
Freddie Jones 1969 Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
David Prowse 1970 The Horror of Frankenstein
John Bloom 1971 Dracula vs. Frankenstein
Allen Swift 1972 Mad Mad Mad Monsters
Xiro Papas Frankenstein 80
Bo Svenson 1973 The Wide World of Mystery "Frankenstein" (TV)
José Villasante The Spirit of the Beehive
Michael Sarrazin Frankenstein: The True Story
Srdjan Zelenovic 1974 Andy Warhol's Frankenstein
David Prowse Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell
Peter Boyle Young Frankenstein
Per Oscarsson 1976 Terror of Frankenstein
Clancy Brown 1985 The Bride
Tom Noonan 1987 The Monster Squad
Paul Naschy El Aullido del Diablo
Chris Sarandon Frankenstein (TV movie)
Phil Hartman 1987-1996 Saturday Night Live[14][15]
Jim Cummings 1988 Scooby-Doo! and the Reluctant Werewolf
Nick Brimble 1990 Frankenstein Unbound
Randy Quaid 1992 Frankenstein
Robert De Niro 1994 Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Frank Welker The Pagemaster
Deron McBee 1995 Monster Mash: The Movie
Peter Crombie 1997 House of Frankenstein
Frank Welker 1999 Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein
Shuler Hensley 2004 Van Helsing
Luke Goss Frankenstein
Vincent Perez Frankenstein
Joel Hebner 2005 Frankenstein Reborn
Julian Bleach 2007 Frankenstein
Shuler Hensley Young Frankenstein
Benedict Cumberbatch 2011 Frankenstein
Jonny Lee Miller
Tim Krueger Frankenstein: Day of the Beast
Kevin James 2012 Hotel Transylvania
David Gest A Nightmare on Lime Street[16]
Chad Michael Collins 2013 Once Upon a Time
Roger Morrissey The Frankenstein Theory
Aaron Eckhart 2014 I, Frankenstein
Rory Kinnear Penny Dreadful [17]
Dee Bradley Baker Winx Club
Paul McGuigan 2015 Victor Frankenstein

Appearances in other media

  • The eponymous creature in Stephen King's It takes the form of the Boris Karloff incarnation of Frankenstein's monster at one point.
  • Lego has its adaptations of Frankenstein's Monsters.
    • Frankenstein's Monster appears in Series 4 of Lego Minifigures as "The Monster" where he was created by the Crazy Scientist (who was also in the same Minifigure series). The Monster was also playable in Lego City Undercover. Series 14 will feature the "Horror Rocker" who is a rock music version of Frankenstein's Monster.
    • In Lego Monster Fighters, another adaptation of Frankenstein's Monster appeared as the "Crazy Scientist's Monster" where he was built by a Crazy Scientist that was associated with the same Lego theme. There is also a related monster in this theme called the "Monster Butler" who works for Lord Vampyre at his haunted house.

See also


  1. ^ Caroll, Joseph et al. Graphing Jane Austen: The Evolutionary Basis of Literary Meaning, p. 30 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).
  2. ^ Baldick, Chris (1987). In Frankenstein's shadow: myth, monstrosity, and nineteenth-century writing. Oxford: Clarendon Press.  
  3. ^ Haggerty, George E. (1989). Gothic Fiction/Gothic Form. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 37.  
  4. ^ Hitchcock, Susan Tyler (2007). Frankenstein: a cultural history. New York: W. W. Norton.  
  5. ^ Young, William and Young, Nancy. The 1930s, p. 199 (Greenwood Publishing Group 2002).
  6. ^ Schor, Esther. The Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley, p. 82 (Cambridge U. Press 2003).
  7. ^ Evans, Bergen (1962). Comfortable Words. Random House: New York. 
  8. ^ Garner, Bryan A. (1998). A dictionary of modern American usage. New York: Oxford University Press.  
  9. ^ Weinstein, Simcha (2006). Up, Up, and Oy Vey!: how Jewish history, culture, and values shaped the comic book superhero. Baltimore, Maryland: Leviathan Press. pp. 82–97.  
  10. ^ Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. "Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 3 November 2012. 
  11. ^ a b Milner, Andrew. Literature, Culture and Society, 227, 230 (Psychology Press, 2005).
  12. ^ Coghill, Jeff. CliffsNotes on Shelley's Frankenstein, p. 30 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011).
  13. ^ Young, Elizabeth. Black Frankenstein: The Making of an American Metaphor, p. 34 (NYU Press, 2008).
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ A Nightmare On Lime Street - Royal Court Theatre Liverpool
  17. ^

External links

  • - Comprehensive site on Frankenstein movies, comic books, theatre plays and the original novel
  • 13 Ways of Looking at Frankenstein - slideshow by Life magazine
  • FrankensteinLiterary discussion of the argument of
  • articleIrish Examiner2014
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