Frankenstein's Monster
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Biography for
Frankenstein's Monster (Character)
from Frankenstein (1931)

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Universal Studios took ancient legend and created, with movies, 8 classic images of horror. This is the biography of one of them:

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, generally known as Frankenstein, is a novel written by the British author Mary Shelley. Shelley started writing the novel when she was 18 and finished when she was 19. The first edition was published anonymously in London in 1818. Shelley's name appears on the revised third edition, published in 1831. The title of the novel refers to a scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who learns how to create life and creates a being in the likeness of man, but larger than average and more powerful. In popular culture, people have tended to refer to the Creature as "Frankenstein", despite this being the name of the scientist. Frankenstein is infused with some elements of the Gothic novel and the Romantic movement. It was also a warning against the "over-reaching" of modern man and the Industrial Revolution, alluded to in the novel's subtitle, The Modern Prometheus. The story has had an influence across literature and popular culture and spawned a complete genre of horror stories and films. It is arguably considered the first fully-realized science fiction novel.

The novel opens with a series of four letters from Captain Robert Walton to his sister in England, describing his Arctic voyage. Walton's ship becomes stuck in the ice and he spots a figure traveling across the ice on a dog sled. Soon after, he and his crew find an ill stranger in another sledge and invite him onto the ship. The stranger, Victor Frankenstein, is reluctant to tell his story at first but he becomes friends with Walton and agrees to share his tale. He takes over narration of the story at this point, which Walton records.

Curious and intelligent from a young age, he learns from the works of the masters of medieval alchemy, reading such authors as Albertus Magnus, Cornelius Agrippa and Paracelsus and shunning modern Enlightenment teachings of natural science. He leaves his beloved family in Geneva, Switzerland to study in Ingolstadt, Germany, where he is first introduced to modern science. In a moment of inspiration, combining his new-found knowledge of natural science with the alchemic ideas of his old masters, Victor perceives the means by which inanimate materials can be imbued with life. He sets about constructing a man from corpses which he procures from charnel houses.

Victor intended the creature to be beautiful, but when it awakens he is disgusted. As Victor used corpses as material for his creation, it has yellow, watery eyes, translucent skin, black lips, long black hair and is around 8 feet (2.4 m) in height. Victor finds this revolting and runs out of the room in terror. That night he wakes up with the creature at his bedside facing him with an outstretched arm, and flees again, whereupon the creature disappears. Shock and overwork cause Victor to become ill for several months. After recovering, in about a years time, he receives a letter from home informing him of the murder of his youngest brother. He departs for Switzerland at once.

Near Geneva, Victor catches a glimpse of the creature in a thunderstorm among the boulders of the mountains, and is convinced that it killed his younger brother, William. Upon arriving home he finds Justine Moritz, the family's beloved maid, framed for the murder. To Victor's surprise, Justine makes a false confession because she believes she will gain salvation. Despite Victor's feelings of overwhelming guilt, he does not tell anyone about his horrid creation and Justine is convicted and executed. To recover from the ordeal, Victor goes hiking into the mountains where he encounters his "cursed creation" again, this time on the Mer de Glace, a glacier above Chamonix.

The creature converses with Victor and tells him his story, speaking in strikingly eloquent and detailed language. He describes his feelings first of confusion, then rejection and hate. He explains how he learned to talk by studying a poor peasant family through a chink in the wall. He secretly performed many kind deeds for this family, but in the end, they drove him away when they saw his appearance. He gets the same response from any human who sees him. The creature confesses that it was indeed he who killed William (by strangling) and framed Justine, and that he did so out of revenge. But now, the creature only wants companionship. He begs Victor to create a synthetic woman (counterpart to the synthetic man), with whom the creature can live, sequestered from all humanity but happy with his mate.

At first, Victor agrees, but later, he tears up the half-made companion in disgust and madness at the thought that the Female Creature might be just as evil as his original creation. In retribution, the creature kills Henry Clerval, Victor's best friend, and later, on Victor's wedding night, his wife Elizabeth. Soon after, Victor's father dies of grief. Victor now becomes the hunter: he pursues the creature into the Arctic ice, though in vain. Near exhaustion, he is stranded when an iceberg breaks away, carrying him out into the ocean. Before death takes him, Captain Walton's ship arrives and he is rescued.

Walton assumes the narration again, describing a temporary recovery in Victor's health, allowing him to relate his extraordinary story. Victor's health soon fails, however, and he dies. Unable to persuade his shipmates to continue north and bereft of the charismatic Frankenstein, Walton is forced to turn back towards England under the threat of mutiny. Finally, the creature boards the ship and finds Victor dead, and greatly laments what he has done to his maker. He swears to commit suicide by burning himself alive. He then leaves the ship upon an ice-raft and disappears into the distance.

Shelley's Frankenstein has been called the first novel of the now-popular mad scientist genre. However, popular culture has changed the naive, well-meaning Victor Frankenstein into more and more of a corrupt character. It has also changed the creature into a more sensational, dehumanized being than was originally portrayed. In the original story, the worst thing that Victor does is to neglect the creature out of fear. He does not intend to create a horror. The creature, even, begins as an innocent, loving being. Not until the world inflicts violence on him does he develop his hatred. Scientific knowledge is highlighted at the end by Victor as potentially evil and dangerously alluring.

Soon after the book was published, however, stage directors began to see the difficulty of bringing the story into a more visual form. In performances beginning in 1823, playwrights began to recognize that to visualize the play, the internal reasonings of the scientist and the creature would have to be cut. The creature became the star of the show, with his more visual and sensational violence. Victor was portrayed as a fool for delving into nature's mysteries. Despite the changes, though, the play was much closer to the original than later films would be. Comic versions also abounded, and a musical burlesque version was produced in London in 1887 called Frankenstein, or The Vampire's Victim. More recent literary adaptations include Scottish novelist's Alasdair Gray's 1992 novel Poor Things (ISBN: 978-0747562283), which won the Whitbread Prize that year. The novel's story centres on the adventures of Victorian Glaswegian trainee doctor, Archibald McCandless, his deranged fellow medical student Gordon Baxter, and Gordon's monstrous female creation Bella Baxter.

Silent films continued the struggle to bring the story alive. Early versions such as the Edison Company's Frankenstein, (1910) managed to stick somewhat close to the plot. In 1931, however, James Whale created a film that drastically altered the story. Working at Universal Pictures, Whale introduced to the plot several elements now familiar to a modern audience: the image of "Dr." Frankenstein, whereas earlier he was merely a naive, young student, an Igor-like character (called Fritz in this film) who makes the mistake of bringing his master a criminal's brain while gathering body parts, and a sensational creation scene focusing on electric power rather than chemical processes. In this film, the scientist is an arrogant, intelligent, grown man, rather than a unknowing youngster. Another scientist volunteers to destroy the creature for him, the film never forcing him to take responsibility for his acts. Whale's sequel Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and later sequels Son of Frankenstein (1939), and Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) all continued the general theme of sensationalism, horror, and exaggeration, with Dr. Frankenstein and other similar characters growing more and more sinister.

Later films diverted even more from the story, portraying the doctor as a sexual pervert and using his new persona to ask contemporary questions about science. Andy Warhol's Frankenstein (1973) portrayed him as a necrophiliac, and in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) Dr. Frank-N-Furter a parody of Frankenstein creates a creature as a blond adonis for use as a sexual plaything. In Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Baron Frankenstein transplants a man's soul into a woman's body, joining the transsexual debate. And in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) he transplants a fellow-scientist's brain into another body in order to keep him alive, introducing moral questions into how far science should go to save a life. Although these films managed to bring the audience's attention back to the scientist, rather than the monster, they continue to show him as more depraved than the original. Overall, the story of Frankenstein that most people know today is more the product of movie studios than of Mary Shelley. Still, these films have provided valuable insights into the nature of film, the evolution of the general populace's view of science, and several interesting interpretations of a classic story.

Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein (1974) is a spoof of Frankenstein in which Victor Frankenstein's grandson, Frederick Frankenstein (with a pronunciation the character insists is "Franken-steen") returns to settle his grandfather's affairs and ends up creating a new creature. The film is set in Transylvania, a region of Romania that was the original setting of Dracula. Van Helsing, a 2004 film written and directed by Stephen Sommers, is also set in Transylvania and features such characters as Dracula and The Wolf Man. In this film, Victor Frankenstein's creation is simply referred to as "the monster", preserving Mary Shelley's intent to keep the dreaded monster from having a name. "The monster" also speaks eloquently, and upon the death of his creator it is more cowardly and less inclined to violence.

Although the morals of Shelley's story may not have been passed down along with the rest of her tale, Frankenstein has claimed a firm place as a well-known story in Western society. Frankenstein's monster, albeit in the classic movie version, is an iconic figure, appearing in movies, music, television programs, and on Halloween costumes. Though the story's details have been changed as it has moved from generation to generation, the overall concept of Mary Shelley's story remains.












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