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Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus is a novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. First published on March 11, 1818 (but more often read in the revised and corrected third edition, published in 1831), it is an early example of science fiction. Some (led by Brian Aldiss) claim that it is the first science fiction novel.

Plot Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers

Curious and intelligent from a young age, Victor Frankenstein leaves his beloved family in Switzerland to study science in Germany. (When the book was written, science had a very imperfect understanding of the difference between living and dead matter). In a moment of inspiration, Frankenstein discovers the means by which inanimate matter can be imbued with life. With great drive and fervor, he sets about constructing a creature -- intended as a companion, perhaps -- from various materials including cadavers.

He intended the creature to be beautiful, but when the creature awoke, he was disgusted. Its yellow eyes, rough stitching, large size -- Frankenstein found this revolting and although the creature expressed him no harm (in fact it grinned at him), Frankenstein ran out of the room in terror. He returned home to his family.

Back home in Switzerland, all is quiet for six months, and then something terrible happens: Frankenstein's brother is killed. Justine, the family's maid, is framed for the murder. Then, Frankenstein meets with his creation, while walking through the mountains.

The creature is strikingly eloquent, and describes his feelings first of confusion, then rejection and hate. He explains how he learnt how to talk by studying a family through a crack in the wall. He performs many kind deeds for this family, in secret, but in the end they drive him away when they see what he looks like. He gets the same response from any human who sees him. Wanting revenge, he seeks out Victor, kills his brother, and frames Justine. But now, the creature only wants one thing: he begs Frankenstein to create a female companion for him.

At first, Frankenstein agrees, but later, he tears up the half-made companion in disgust. In retribution, the creature kills the remainder of his family and his best friend. Frankenstein now becomes the hunter: he pursues the creature into the arctic ice, but in vain -- he dies without managing to catch him. Finally, the creature finds Frankenstein dead, and greatly laments what he has done to his maker. The creature vows to commit suicide and leaves.

During the rainy summer of 1816, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley visited Lord Byron in Switzerland. The three, together with Byron's physician John William Polidori, decided that each of them should write a ghost story to pass the time. Only Polidori and Mary Shelley finished their stories. He produced The Vampyre[?] (1819) and she created Frankenstein.

The book is largely allegorical, and was conceived and written during the Industrial Revolution, at a time of dramatic change. Behind Frankenstein's experiments is the search for ultimate power or godhood: what greater power could there be than the act of creation of life? Frankenstein and his utter disregard for the human and animal remains gathered in his pursuit of power are symbolic of the rampant forces of laissez-faire capitalism extant at the time and their basic disregard for human dignity. Moreover, the creation rebels against its creator: a clear message that irresponsible uses of technologies can have unconsidered consequences.

NB. In current usage, Frankenstein is often incorrectly used to refer to Frankenstein's monster rather than to its creator.

Film adaptations

The first film of Frankenstein was made in 1910. The "classic" film from 1931 stars Boris Karloff as the monster and was directed by James Whale. The film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, as has its first sequel, Bride of Frankenstein, also directed by Whale. Later efforts rapidly degenerated into farce. The films have occasionally been parodied, a notable example being Mel Brooks' comedy Young Frankenstein[?], which borrows heavily from Whale's two Frankenstein films.

External Link the e-text of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's work:

  • Frankenstein (http://www.abacci.com/books/book.asp?bookID=722)

Name probably taken from German name of a village Frankenstein (nowadays Zabkowice Slaskie (http://www.zabkowice.com.pl/) in Poland), where silver and gold used to be mined and tremendous killing reek was around due to chemicals used.

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