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Literature: Frankenstein

Frankenstein (full title: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus) is a novel by Mary Shelley, originally published in 1818, with a 1823 reprint without Shelley's involvement and a third edition in 1831, this time with significant edits from the author. It is often considered the very first Science Fiction novel, projecting what was cutting edge science of its day (electricity causes muscle to move) to a logical extreme.

The novel tells the story of a scientist named Victor Frankenstein who unlocks the secrets to Creating Life, and uses this knowledge to create an artificial man, larger and stronger than most mortals, by means that he declines to describe in his narrative. While he is initially triumphant with his success, a few moments of observing the flailing and moaning patchwork being leaves Victor disgusted by and fearful of his creation. He suddenly realizes the full ramifications of his success and is horrified; he abandons the creature in the castle and flees to his family's estate.

In his absence, the Creature is forced to come to grips with suddenly finding itself alive and alone without explanation or guidance. He learns about humanity by watching a family cottage from afar, but is again driven off when he attempts to offer his friendship- one of many bad run-ins with humanity which leave the monster bitter and cynical. Eventually, the Creature comes to resent his creator, whom he views as his father, for abandoning the Creature to a life of torment, and decides to come home to seek vengeance against Frankenstein...

The subtitle, A Modern Prometheus, compares Victor Frankenstein to the Greek titan Prometheus, who brought the secret of fire from Mount Olympus to mortal men, reflecting on Frankenstein's spiritual would-be theft of the secret to creating life - but like Prometheus, Frankenstein also came to regret his transgression note  . Many would say that Frankenstein was the ultimate warning of Science Is Bad, though similar stories were common throughout the industrial revolution. More feminist interpretations point to the attempt to remove feminine influence from the act of creating life, exemplified when Frankenstein destroys the mate that he had agreed to make for the Creature, and the subsequent death of his own fiancee by the Creature's hand. Finally, some point to it as the Ur Example of the entire genre of Science Fiction.

This novel has been adapted into a minor subgenre of movies and sequels, as well as a stageplay, which was somewhat more faithful to the book then the movies were. It was also adapted into a manga by Junji Ito. For a list of the films, see Frankenstein.


The novel provides examples of:

  • The Aloner: The Monster, because everyone's so damn terrified of him.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Frankenstein warns Walton not to be as ambitious as he was.
  • And Some Other Stuff: Frankenstein describes his research in broad strokes, and the exact process of creating the Creature not at all. The in-story justification for that is that he doesn't want anyone else to repeat what he did.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Maybe, depending on whether you think Walton survives his expedition.
  • As You Know: The title character receives a letter from his sister which tells him his own life story in nauseating detail. As well as explaining how servants are a different form of employee in his own country to in England.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness:
    • Played straight with Elizabeth, Justine, and Henry.
    • Averted with the Creature, who started out a hideous but well-intentioned individual and only became villainous because of constant mistreatment.
  • Blank Slate: The creature starts out as one.
  • Blind and the Beast: The creature tries to befriend a blind man, and it works! Except the man's family returns and casts out the creature before he can explain himself.
  • Brain Fever: Frankenstein has two bouts in the book.
  • Byronic Hero: Both Victor Frankenstein and the Creature.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: The point of the monster's meeting with Victor is to do this.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Victor keeps the monster a secret, justifying this by saying that people wouldn't believe him anyway or call him mad. He still refuses to divulge the truth when Justine is tried for the monster's actions and eventually executed.
  • Character Filibuster: By technicality. The story is supposed to be Frankenstein narrating his story to the ship's captain. When the POV switches to the creature, it's in the form of the creature telling Frankenstein his tale, which Frankenstein repeats back in his own tale. The technical literary term for this is a hypodiegetic narrative, making the creature's monologue within Frankenstein's monologue within Walton's monologue a hypohypodiegetic narrative. There's one to impress your English teacher!
  • Character Title
  • Cycle of Revenge: The Creature seeks revenge on Victor for abandoning him, causing Victor to hate him in return. Basically, one act of hate leads to the other retaliating in kind until Victor dies a miserable man and the Monster is so horrified by what he had become that he commits suicide.
  • Downer Ending: Victor Frankenstein dies on Walton's ship without ever taking revenge on the monster for his murders of William, Justine, Henry, and Elizabeth. The monster visits Walton, expresses regret for his murders, and leaves to commit suicide.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: After Frankenstein breaks his promise to make the monster a bride, the monster tells him, "I'll be with you on your wedding night." Frankenstein thinks the monster means he'll kill him on his wedding, and after the wedding, waits outside his honeymoon cottage with a loaded shotgun, waiting for the monster to come, with Elizabeth waiting in the room. But it turns out, the monster meant he would kill Elizabeth on the night of their wedding, and does so when Frankenstein is outside waiting.
  • Either/Or Title: The entire title of the book is Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus
  • Exact Words: The Creature; upon hearing Victor say "Just go! I cannot bear to look at you any longer!", he covers Victor's eyes with his hand and says "Now you don't have to look at me."
  • Final Speech: Frankenstein at the end, in which he warns Walton not to be too ambitious and seek happiness instead.
  • For Science!: Victor's initial motivation for the Monster's creation, though mixed with personal motives due to the recent death of his mother.
  • Framing Device: Gets kind of ridiculous when you realize that you're reading Walton's letter to his sister recounting Victor's story recounting his creature's monologue. This particular form (through Walton's letters) is called an Epistolary Frame.
  • Frankenstein's Monster: Trope Namer and Maker.
  • Hubris: One of the themes of the plot.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Not really. The Monster picks up this ideal towards the end, but realizes how wrong he is. Also subverted when he was observing the family towards the beginning - especially when the blind grandfather started to warm up to him.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Frankenstein decides not to create a female mate for his creature so that they cannot multiply. He could have simply made the female infertile.
  • Instant Expert: The creature learns to speak and read French in less than a year of watching a family teach a foreigner. After just a few months he's already good enough to read Paradise Lost! May be justified by Victor having him made from the get-go with "adult hardware," so to speak, which would've made it easier to learn things quickly.
    • Further evidenced by the creature literally tracking the undeniably brilliant, well connected, and well funded Victor to the ends of the Earth while avoiding notice or winning over those frightened by his appearance.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Victor intentionally isolated himself in order to pursue his intellectual interests.
  • Jacob Marley Warning: Victor serves as a warning to Walton, who is in danger of becoming as obsessed with his exploration as Victor was with the science that led to the creation of his monster.
  • Kissing Cousins: Victor Frankenstein and his fiancee Elizabeth are cousins who were raised in the same household. In the 1831 edit of the book, Elizabeth was an orphan, originally the daughter of a Milanese merchant. She was fostered by a poor Italian family and adopted by the Frankensteins.
  • Lamarck Was Right: Frankenstein destroys the half-formed she-creature that he was building for the monster because he feared that the two would breed a race of terrifying creatures like themselves and take over the world.
  • Lightning Bruiser: unlike his movie counterpart, the Creature in the book is both superhumanly strong AND very agile.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: The introduction frame the story as a letter from a sea captain to his sister after picking up the title character in the Arctic and copies his story down.
  • Made of Iron: The monster can survive much harsher conditions than a normal human.
  • Miles to Go Before I Sleep: By the end of his narrative Victor is miserable enough to become a Death Seeker, but he promised himself and his dead family that he'd kill the monster first. Unfortunately for him the monster just happens to be really, really good at not being killed.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: The Creature frames Justine for the murder of Victor's young brother, and she's executed.
  • Mother Nature, Father Science
  • Moustache de Plume: Mary Shelley first published the book anonymously, leaving people to assume she was male. And with good reason: upon her reveal, literary critics of the time actually downplayed the book because of the author's gender.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • The monster in the end, as he realizes that, after killing all those people and his 'father', he finally became the monster everybody thought he was.
    • Victor himself, from Chapter 5 onward.
  • Nature Versus Nurture: Frankenstein believes the monster is naturally evil, but the monster believes that he became evil due to Frankenstein's immediate abandonment of him (and he's shown to be right).
  • Nested Story: At the deepest level: The family on whom the monster is spying is telling a story, within the monster's story to Frankenstein, who is in turn recounting the story to the captain of a ship in the Arctic, who is in turn telling someone else about it in a letter.
  • Never My Fault / The Unapologetic: Victor, who even on his death bed condemns himself for creating the Creature, but exonerates all of his subsequent actions.
  • No Name Given: The monster doesn't have a name, though Shelley apparently called him "Adam" in letters to friends.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished:The creature gets shot in the shoulder for saving a little girl from drowning.
  • Obliviously Evil: The Creature, at first.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Averted; when the Creature gets shot in the shoulder, he faints, and it took weeks for him to recover. And he's much stronger and tougher than the average human.
  • Orwellian Retcon: Mary Shelley revised the novel heavily between its original release and its first re-release, making it less ambiguous whether the Creature was evil by the end or not.
  • Out-of-Genre Experience: The Creature learns French by secretly observing a woman being taught the language. We get a lot more detail on her backstory than is really necessary.
  • Parental Abandonment: A symbolic example, as Frankenstein disowns his creation. Also, Justine and Elizabeth.
  • Parental Favoritism: It's directly stated by Victor that Elizabeth was his mother's favorite.
  • Platonic Cave: During the Creature's narrative.
  • Punny Name: The name 'Victor' is actually a sneaky reference to Paradise Lost (a big influence on the story), as Milton often refers to God as 'the Victor'. Then the Monster equates himself with Adam....
  • Purple Prose: Suffers from this in parts.
  • Revenge by Proxy: The Creature decides to get revenge on Frankenstein for its own wretched existence by making him suffer, so he kills Frankenstein's youngest brother, followed by his greatest friend, and then on Frankenstein's wedding day, the monster strangles his bride.
  • Rousing Speech: Victor Frankenstein gives an epic one to the soldiers on Walton's boat near the end when he wants them to continue northward.
  • Scenery Porn: It is from the Romantic period, after all
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: Homeward bound from Ingolstadt, depressed Victor walks outside into a thunderstorm one night, and screams at the sky.
  • Spell My Name with a Blank: Used in the book, but for dates instead of places and names.
  • Stern Chase: After all of Victor's family and friends are killed, he ends up in a lengthy pursuit of his creation, eventually reaching the Arctic. This is where Walton finds him.
  • Stupid Sacrifice: Justine. There was no earthly way she could have committed the murder for which she was executed, which should have been really obvious.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: The creature, after he's had enough abuse and mistreatment.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: The dark knowledge that Victor learns to use to create his monster.
  • They Called Me Mad!: What Frankenstein fears they'll do if he tells people about the monster. They do call Frankenstein mad eventually, but to their credit, Frankenstein had been delusional with Brain Fever for a time.
  • Tortured Monster: The monster is a very intelligent creature that is fully aware of how hideous and repulsive he is. Anything wrong he does is borne entirely out of bitterness from how people treat him.
  • Tragic Monster: It doesn't get more tragic than the Creature. Created and immediately abandoned by its creator for being ugly, before it even really wakes up. Made innocent, his nature is soon twisted by circumstance into something horrible and evil, alone, wretched and violent. The worst part, however, is that he knows exactly how wicked he has become but knows he cannot change. After he has succeeded in destroying his creator during a hunt in the frozen wastes of the Arctic, he mourns the doctor's death. The Creature decides to end his own existence by building a funeral pyre for himself and climbing on top of it.
  • Unbuilt Trope:
    • This was one of the first major "monster stories". But going back and reading it now, after growing up exposed to generic Frankenstein's Monster stereotypes where it wanders around aimlessly, groans, and kills people, one may be a bit surprised to find an urbane woobie of a monster who is in many ways more sympathetic than his creator and quotes liberally from literature. He also carries firearms for self-protection. The only things that make him appear inhuman are his height and his eyes, and it's decidedly ambiguous whether Frankenstein's true crime was creating the monster or a form of Parental Abandonment. And although it's up for a lot of interpretation, the monster is probably not Always Chaotic Evil.
    • Also, there's no Igor or peasants waving Torches and Pitchforks while running up to the castle—or for that matter (with occasional exceptions) any public knowledge of the thing at any point. And there is no castle; the monster is created in an upper-floor laboratory of a university.
    • The physical abilities are also subject to this: the typical view of the creature is that he is slow and inarticulate, with only physical strength that it possesses little control over. In contrast, the creature in the book is strong, agile, and quite dexterous; as noted above, he also knows how to use firearms by the end.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Victor portrays his family as the perfect happy family at first, but if you pay attention he contradicts himself in a few places and the Frankenstein family doesn't look so happy after all.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: At the end, Victor's brother Ernest is left unaccounted for; the entire rest of the Frankenstein family is dead.
  • Women Are Wiser: The women of the novel are all beautiful, religious, intelligent, gentle, and far happier than any of the men.
  • Year X: The dates in the letters are written as 17—.
  • You Need to Get Laid: The Creature requests that Victor make him a female companion, and in exchange he and his Bride will go off somewhere and never bother anyone again.

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