Frankenstein was a real person

Mystery series: Who was Frankenstein really?

A gruesome monster that a scientist has put together from body parts takes terrible revenge on him: That is the story of Frankenstein's monster. But did the creature really live - possibly in a castle in Hesse?

A high forehead, a large head, a stud in the neck, a huge body and drooping eyelids: most people immediately think of this image of the artificial human being when they think of "Frankenstein". It comes from a film adaptation from 1831, when Boris Karloff embodied the creature.

The artificial human is terrifying to look at, with its huge eight feet and mismatched body parts that come from several corpses.
This is the story of one of the most famous horror novels of all time: "Frankenstein or the modern Prometheus".

The name "Frankenstein" stands for a monster with a tragic fate - the creature is actually nameless. In the literary source of Mary Shelley it is only called "creature" or "demon". The title of the book refers to the creator of the being. There are many legends surrounding its creation.

"Frankenstein" and a writing competition

Curious: the novel is actually the result of a competition. Mary Shelley and her husband Percy visited their friend Lord Byron in Geneva in 1816. But the summer was rainy and Lord Byron had a bizarre idea.
The three British friends, all of whom are poets, could pass the time with a horror story competition. Mary Shelley, then just 18 years old, created the later world-famous Frankenstein. Two years later, the novel was initially published anonymously.

The creature was a vegetarian

As scary as it looks: In the book, the being is naive and innocent at the beginning. It feels and thinks like a real person. Even if it has extraordinary powers, its nature is rather gentle. Animals would never eat it because it says: "My food is different from that of humans; I don't kill lamb or kid to satisfy my hunger. Acorns and berries are enough for me."

But the creature does not remain so harmless, it turns into a monster - and takes terrible revenge on its creator Dr. Victor Frankenstein.
The young Swiss scientist had previously secretly assembled the monster from body parts. Then he brought it to life in his laboratory in Ingolstadt. But his own work frightens Dr. Frankenstein so much that he simply abandoned the artificial human.

The artificial human flees and seeks refuge in other people. But again and again he is pushed back and disappointed.

The change to the monster

Out of desperation, he returns to his creator and asks him to create a woman for him. Dr. Frankenstein feels sorry and begins to create a female creature from further body parts. But he fears that the two creatures could father children, and therefore destroys the almost perfect woman.
Only after this betrayal does the lonely and confused creature develop into a monster and kill the scientist's newly wedded wife on their wedding night. After that he hunts down all people who are close to his Creator. In the end, creator and creature rush each other - right into the icy expanses of Antarctica.

Experiments on dead animals and people

The creepy story about a person made from body parts was created against the background of new scientific discoveries. Mary Shelley was obviously influenced by numerous reports of experiments with the then newly discovered electricity.

The electric battery was invented in 1800, and many scientists are experimenting with voltages, often on dead bodies.
The Italian Giovanni Aldini had shocked the body of an executed murderer around 1803. As a result, the muscles and limbs moved so violently that the audience was horrified - and one of them allegedly even fell dead out of sheer shock.

Mary Shelley's husband Percy may also have contributed a few stories: As a teenager, he was often a guest of the Scottish doctor James Lind. He was known for his research on electricity and dead frogs.

Frankenstein Castle near Darmstadt

But where did the name Frankenstein come from? Is it just a strange coincidence that a castle and a noble family in Hesse are also called Frankenstein? The Shelleys didn’t just stop in Geneva during their European tour.

Some historians suspect that they also visited Frankenstein Castle near Darmstadt. Allegedly a lost diary of Mary Shelley is said to report about this stay. But why is there never any mention of a castle in the novel?

A legend that takes place around 1531 is entwined around the walls: According to this, the knight Georg von Frankenstein had defeated a lindworm. The beast not only terrorized a nearby village, but also ate the flesh of young girls. Knight Georg killed the dragon after a long fight, but was poisoned by it, so that he also died.

An alchemist experimenting with corpses?

The alchemist Konrad Dippel was also born in the castle in 1673. For his many experiments he is said to have dug up corpses, just like Victor Frankenstein. So was Dippel the model for the Frankenstein story? The experts disagree. While a few are certain that Dippel is the real Dr. Was Frankenstein, most historians assume that it is a myth.

Several writings that were discovered in the castle only tell of Dippel's attempts to produce gold and an elixir of life that he wanted to invent. He wanted to save people from death. But there is never any talk of experiments with corpses.
But there are other alleged connections between Mary Shelley, Frankenstein Castle and the characters in the novel. The fact is that Mary Shelley's mother-in-law, Mary Jane Clairmont, translated the Grimm Brothers' fairy tales into English.

In a letter to Clairmont, Jacob Grimm mentioned a magician who lived at Frankenstein Castle and created artificial people from body parts. Did he mean Dippel?

The letter and diary are probably just inventions

This possible connection electrified experts - until it turned out that Jacob Grimm's letter did not even exist. Further research showed that the Shelleys stayed near the castle in Gernsheim, Hesse, but never visited it. There is no evidence that they learned of his story. The alleged diary of Mary Shelley has also not emerged to this day.
Another strange theory about the castle belongs in the realm of the imagination: Not only did Frankenstein originate there, but the German rocket researcher Werner von Braun researched the walls.
Scientists consider it completely out of the question that a monster actually once lived that was sewn together from body parts. Mary Shelley didn't just create a tragic, creepy character. Your novel "Frankenstein" is now widely regarded as the first science fiction novel in the world.