Frankenstein is the name of a fictional scientist , the creation of Mary Shelley, who published her first and most enduring work of Gothic horror on January First 1818 Not unlike Dracula, the original story of the novel has been buried under numerous adaptations, parodies and shallow references built atop one another. For example: The scientist is called Viktor Frankenstein – his creature is never named in the original novel and only ever referred to by circumlocutions or metaphors such as "The Adam of his creation".
When Shelley wrote the book, she was only 18 years old, so she can be excused for some research slip-ups (also the book being set vaguely in the past could excuse at least some of them). For example, Frankenstein's alma mater, the erstwhile University of Ingolstadt no longer existed in that town by the time the novel was published. The university had been moved to Landshut in 1800 and would further move to Munich in 1826 – becoming what is now known as LMU, one of Germany's leading colleges. Regardless, the town of Ingolstadt "milks" the Frankenstein history for all it's worth.
Tantalizingly, we both know more and less about the way Shelley got her idea than for many other works of fiction. Shelley and friends, including Lord Byron, had planned a summer vacation near Lake Geneva with many outdoor activities, alas (unbeknownst to them) a volcanic eruption half a world away would make those impossible. In the dreary weather, the party retreated indoors, reading a French translation of a German book on "ghost stories" with Byron suggesting each write their own. According to Shelley's account, she came up with the idea that would morph into the novel one sleepless night during that involuntary "writer's retreat", and some astronomers think they can even pinpoint the time to between 2 and 3 a.m. on 16 June 1816, based on Shelley's description of moon and stars that night. However, despite Shelley's claims to the contrary, literary historians ever since have tried to find real world people or places from where Shelley drew the name "Frankenstein" or other aspects of the story.
The name "Frankenstein" while now indelibly linked to the novel for English speakers, is a not entirely uncommon German place (and by extension family) name consisting of the parts "Franken" (which can refer both to modern Franconia and the historic Franks) and "stein" which can mean "stone" or "rock". So the name means something like "rock of the Franks" or "stone of Franconia", and as such is the place name of several sites which predate the novel by centuries and where – if one is inclined to dig it up – one can find reports of untoward goings-on regarding the local cemetery or alchemists of ill repute. Even if none of them are actually where Mary Shelley got the idea, it's still fun to try and trace her inspiration to possible sources. Another attendant of the holiday that turned into a "writer's retreat" also wrote a story that would become consequential for literary history, a tale called "The Vampyre" which is said to have introduced the vampire genre in Western contemporary literature.
Frankenstein is arguably the first work of science fiction, and introduced many stock tropes of the genre. The "mad scientist" character can be interpreted as a Romantic criticism against the Enlightenment ideals, where human reason and progress had priority over natural order and tradition. Similar characters appear in recent works, such as Marvel comics, DC Comics, James Bond films, The Terminator, and Back to the Future.
Shelley's book has been adapted in scores of motion pictures. The first to have sound and feature length and to reach a worldwide audience was James Whale's Frankenstein from 1931, starring Colin Clive as Dr Frankenstein, and Boris Karloff as the nameless monster. The film establishes many characters and events absent in the book as part of later works and posterity's image of the story; such as the protagonist's "doctor" title, the hunchbacked assistant named Igor, and the monster being animated by sparks from a lightning rod on a stormy night.
Frankenstein was released the same year as the famous Dracula adaptation with Bela Lugosi, linking the two stories in the popular imagination.
The 1994 film Mary Shelley's Frankenstein directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also plays the scientist, with Helena Bonham-Carter as his fiancée and Robert De Niro as the monster, is commonly held as the most faithful cinematic adaptation of the original novel.
- 1 Villa Diodati, Cologny, Switzerland (near Lake Geneva). The place where Shelley came up with the story during a summer retreat whose planned outdoor activities had to be cancelled in the "year without a summer" of 1816. The villa is privately owned and cannot be visited. It sits behind a large security fence.
- 2 Frankenstein Castle (on the outskirts of Darmstadt, Germany). This castle may or may not have (subconsciously perhaps?) influenced Mary Shelley in the choice of the name Frankenstein. We do know that Shelley took a Rhine river cruise which may or may not have made her aware of this place a few years before the famous writer's retreat. At any rate, the castle milks the connection for all it can and there are tours, themed tours, special Halloween events and the likes.
- 3 Frankenstein Castle, Palatinate (in the village of the same name near Kaiserslautern, Germany). Not laying claim to being the inspiration of Mary Shelley, but then, maybe that is just a ruse by the real mad Doctor to better hide his trail.
- 4 Little Europe (Universal City, California, United States). The set for most exteriors of the 1931 film.