Mary Mary Quite Contrary

The Frankenstein Monster's REAL creator wasn't a mad doctor, but a delicate young flower named Mary Shelley (pictured above). How did a teenage girl come to create the worlds most famous monster?

In 1814, 16-year-old Mary ran off to Europe with her married lover, Romantic poet Percy Shelley. According to Radu Florescu’s In Search of Frankenstein, the illicit lovers' grand tour included the ruins of a l3th century castle near what is now Darmstadt, Germany. But there is scant evidence for this claim. It does not appear in Mary's diary. But even if it is pure speculation on the part of Florescu, and Mary and Percy never actually visited the castle, it is still possible that they heard about it. It is certain that they were within hours of its location.

Constructed of rocks from an ancient Frankish quarry nearby, the castle's name — Castle Frankenstein — means, literally, "Stone of the Franks." Reader, this is the secret origin of the name FRANKENSTEIN! Here are the remains of the castle, which still stand today...



Quite the tourist attraction, the storied Castle Frankenstein was supposedly the birthplace of Johann Conrad Dipple, an eccentric alchemist who claimed to possess the secrets of life and death. Dipple was said to have reanimated a corpse using electricity, and he was supposedly an inspiration for Faust, the man who made a deal with the devil to gain eternal life.

Two years after their trip near the castle, Percy's wife committed suicide, freeing Percy to wed Mary. Their first child, a baby girl, died a heartbreaking 15 days after its premature birth. Mary's own mother, the daughter of a drunken wife-beating farmer who became a pioneering feminist, had died at age 38 just 11 days after giving birth to Mary.

Her father, perhaps subconsciously blaming Mary, remained aloof from his daughter throughout their lives. Young Mary took to voluminous reading and writing, all done under a willow tree at St. Pancras church, which stood near the cemetery that contained her mother's grave. Mary was so traumatized by the loss of her child, she began having a reoccurring nightmare where her baby was revived from the chill of the grave by the warmth of a fire.

Poor Mary was quickly amassing enough scandals and tragedies to make a whole season of Dr. Phil shows, but as time passed, her dreams subsided and she buried herself in voracious reading. She was particularly fond of Ovid's Metamorphosis, a compilation of ancient Greek myths.


in the summer of 1816 in Lake Geneva, Switzerland, Mary, her future husband, her stepsister, Lord Byron, and Dr. John Polidori, Byron's physician, held a small dinner party. Inspired by reading Fantasmagoriana, a German ghost story collection, Lord Byron proposed that each person at the gathering tell a ghost story for the general amusement. The scene was loosely recreated in the prologue to Bride of Frankenstein...

Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley and Lord Byron in "Bride of Frankenstein."

Renowned authors Byron and Shelley spun their scary stories fairly easily. Byron told a story of a man who's wife is transformed into the corpse of a woman he had previously deserted. Dr. Polidori's story, inspired by an idea from Byron, was about an immortal being who sucked his victim's blood. He was called a Vampyre.

Now it was Mary's turn. But she was only a teenager, and she had great difficulty envisioning a suitably chilling tale. While she pondered, Byron and Shelley had a bizarre discussion concerning the possibility of reanimating deceased tissue through electrical stimulation, as Johann Dipple had supposedly done in Castle Frankenstein. At Eton College, Percy had learned of Luigi Galvani's experiments, which used electric shocks to make the muscles of a dead frog twitch.

Mary listened silently to this bizarre and fantastic conversation, then went to bed. But there was to be no rest for Mary that night.


As she lay awake, a sudden vision of unspeakable terror filled Mary's mind. Memories of Castle Frankenstein and its eerie occupants combined with the tales of Faust, Prometheus. and the recent ponderings of Percy and Shelley to reawaken scarcely-forgotten anxieties caused by the loss of her first child. She called the result "a waking dream."

"l saw a pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together," Mary wrote. "l saw the hideous phantasm of a man, stretched out — and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion, looking at [his creator] with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world ... The thrill of fear ran through me."

In the prologue to "Bride of Frankenstein," Mary (Elsa Lanchester) explains to Percy and Lord Byron why she wrote about monsters. It's a 42-second clip. I suggest you click it. NOW.


Mary's "waking dream" was expanded to a novel published anonymously in l8I8, titled "FRANKENSTEIN, or THE MODERN PROMETHEUS" (first edition title page pictured below).

XPrometheus was a mythical Titan who supposedly formed Man from inanimate clay. Lord Zeus had decreed that fire would never be given to humanity, but Prometheus smuggled some to earth, providing a "spark" that helped humans rise above the animals. Prometheus was punished by being chained to a rock, where birds could peck at his self-regenerating liver eternally.

The novel tells the story of Dr. Victor Frankenstein's creation, and subsequent rejection, of a Monster made by reanimating the stitched-together parts of stolen corpses. The novel, in like manner, stitches together its author's deepest, darkest fears and fantasies.

The novel is, as its sub-title indicates, a modernized version of the story of Prometheus. Its central idea, the reanimation of the dead, is a literary expression of Mary's fantasies of bringing her dead child back to life. The novel's major theme, the dire consequences of "parental" abandonment, echoes Mary's own neglectful upbringing.

The novel's secondary theme, the equally dire consequences of "female" abandonment, stems from Mary's proto-typical feminism. The creation of the Monster violates God's natural order -- not in and of itself, but because it is accomplished without a woman. This theme reaches its climax when the Monster murders Victor's fiancee, Elizabeth, on the night of her wedding!

Thus the story, which begins with Victor symbolically "murdering" the Monster's "woman" by excluding a female from his birth process, climaxes with the Monster murdering Victor's woman. The Monster's icy suicide represents the final abandonment -- from life itself.

BELOW: A page of the original Frankenstein manuscript, the start of chapter seven, hand-written by Mary Shelley and edited by her husband, Percy.


As detailed in "The Original Frankenstein by Mary Shelley," Mary's original manuscript was edited by her husband, Percy, who changed or added almost 5,000 words in a 70,000-word novel. Some edits were minor. For example, Mary originally wrote of "the fangs of the monster already grasping [Doctor Frankenstein's] neck," and Percy substituted "fingers" for "fangs." A small change.

But Percy also made bigger changes which altered the story. He softened religion themes, and played up the story's scientific and political aspects. Mary's Xmonster was inhuman, and almost inherently evil. Percy made him more human, and more sympathetic.

Percy speaks of the Monster's childlike "wonder" and "emotions he is unable to bear." Reflecting on his wretched situation, the Monster speaks of "the agony of my grief." All Percy's phrases.

And most importantly, Percy's monster says he "learned to work mischief" from the way he was treated. In Percy's version, Doctor Frankenstein still creates the creature, but it is SOCIETY that makes him truly monstrous.

"I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend," the Monster says in the novel as edited by Percy Shelly.

But don't worry, fans of MARY Shelley! Percy contributed just 5,000 words to a 70,000-word, which is only about seven percent. That means Mary wrote the other 93 percent, completely unedited. Clearly, Percy only EDITED the work of his wife, who is rightfully credited as the author of FRANKENSTEIN.

BELOW: Elsa Lanchester as Mary Shelley in Bride of Frankenstein.

The novel was an instant sensation, and the first medium to dramatize it was theater. Numerous productions were staged to wide-spread acclaim, and many of them took liberties with the original story. There are also numerous audio productions of the story, including THIS ONE.

As time passed, the story took on the dimensions of a legend, and many details never found in the original novel became fixtures of the story. For example, while the novel spoke only briefly of X"galvanic" experiments, adaptations delighted in staging dramatic displays of pulsating electrical lab equipment.

The first MOVIE adaptation of Shelley's Frankenstein was a Kinetoscope produced by Thomas Edison in 1910 (see program right). Filmed in just three days, this brief silent flick portrays the Monster as a kind of dream-like figure who is a product of Dr. Frankenstein's inner emotional turmoils. When these are resolved, the Monster literally vanishes.

The film is black and w hite, with some scenes tinted. There's very little action, and the Monster comes across as an annoying rag man who gestures a lot. Still, he was first.

The 30-second clip below shows Edison's Monster confronting his creator. Click play to watch it! Well? What are you WAITING for? CLICK NOW.

Characters in a story from Vault of Horror #22 noted how different the ending of Mary Shelley's NOVEL was from the way the first Frankenstein MOVIE ended...
In Shelley's novel, the Monster meets his end when he commits suicide in the frozen arctic, "polluted by crimes, and torn by the bitterest remorse." Here's the climactic scene as portrayed in Classics Illustrated #26 (June 1949) adaptation by Ruth A. Roche, art by Robert Hayward Webb and Ann Brewster...