Frankenstein Still Haunts Us 200 Years Later

American actor Charles Stanton Ogle portraying the “monster” in Edison Studios’ short film version of Frankenstein (1910), written and directed by J. Searle Dawley.

Two centuries after its original publication in London in 1818, “Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus” novel, written by 20-year-old English author Mary Shelley, is still being held up as the yardstick by which art, society, science, and technology are judged. Mary Shelley’s novel narrates the fascinating story of “Victor Frankenstein,” a young and wealthy Genevan scientist who, in his effort to improve human existence, gives life to a nightmarishly ugly creature using cadavers.

“It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils… It was already one [o’clock] in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs,” Victor Frankenstein explains in Shelley’s novel. “I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this, I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardor that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart,” he confides expressing his disgust towards the ”daemon” he created.

Because of his gruesome appearance, the “creature” is abandoned by his creator and mistreated by all humans he encounters finally becoming a tragic villain. The “anonymous androdaemon” as some reviewers call him, decides to take revenge on Frankenstein by attacking his loved ones; first his little brother, then his best friend, and, finally, his future wife.

Shelley’s brilliant work has become a lens for investigating the unintended consequences of animal experimentation, artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, social networking, and other pressing matters. “The remorse Victor expresses is reminiscent of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s sentiments when he witnessed the unspeakable power of the atomic bomb… Scientists’ responsibility must be engaged before their creations are unleashed,” M.I.T.’s footnote reads about all contemporary “Frankensteinian figures” that amplify their creations’ monstrosity by neglecting their practical needs.

The fictional characters of Frankenstein and his “daemon” were born of a fevered nightmare the young English writer had while vacationing with her lover and future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and John Polidori in Geneva, Switzerland, during the long, volcanic winter of 1818. “Frankenstein, the Modern Prometheus,” is infused with elements of the Gothic novel and the Romantic Movement.