Victor Frankenstein is the main character in Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. He is an Italian-Swiss scientist who, after studying chemical processes and the decay of living beings, gains an insight into the creation of life and gives life to his own creature, often referred to as Frankenstein's monster, or often colloquially referred to as simply "Frankenstein". Victor later regrets meddling with nature through his creation, as he inadvertently endangers his own life, as well as the lives of his family and friends, when the creature seeks revenge against him. Some aspects of the character are believed to have been inspired by 17th century alchemist Johann Conrad Dippel.
While many subsequent film adaptations (notably the 1931 movie Frankenstein and the Hammer Films series starring Peter Cushing) have portrayed Frankenstein as the prototypical "mad scientist", the novel portrayed him as a tragic figure. Obsession plays a major role in the development of Frankenstein's character. First, as a child, he is obsessed with reading books on alchemy, astrology, and many pseudo-sciences. Later, as a young man, he becomes enthralled with the study of life sciences - mainly dealing with death and the reanimation of corpses. Finally, after the monster is created, Frankenstein is consumed with guilt, despair, and regret, leading him to obsess over the nature of his creation.
Percy Shelley, Mary's husband, served as a major influence for the character. Victor was a pen name of Percy Shelley's, as in the collection of poetry he wrote with his sister Elizabeth, Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire. There is speculation that Percy was one of Mary Shelley's models for Victor Frankenstein; while a student at Eton College, he had "experimented with electricity and magnetism as well as with gunpowder and numerous chemical reactions", and his rooms at Oxford University were filled with scientific equipment. Percy Shelley was the first-born son of a wealthy, politically connected country squire, and a descendant of Sir Bysshe Shelley, 1st Baronet of Castle Goring, and Richard Fitzalan, 10th Earl of Arundel. As stated in the novel, Frankenstein's family is one of the most distinguished of the Genevese republic and his ancestors were counselors and syndics. Percy had a sister named Elizabeth; Frankenstein had an adopted sister, named Elizabeth. On 22 February 1815, Mary Shelley delivered a baby two months premature; the child died two weeks later. The question of Frankenstein's responsibility to the creature – in some ways like that of a parent to a child – is one of the main themes of the book.
In Shelley's 1831 novel edition, the character of Victor Frankenstein was born in Naples, Italy and raised in Geneva with his German-Swiss family. He was the son of Alphonse Frankenstein and Caroline Beaufort, who died of scarlet fever when Victor was 17. He describes his ancestry thus: "I am by birth a Genevese; and my family is one of the most distinguished of that republic. My ancestors had been for many years counsellors and syndics; and my father had filled several public situations with honour and reputation." Frankenstein has two younger brothers—William, the youngest, and Ernest, the middle child. Frankenstein falls in love with Elizabeth Lavenza, who became his adoptive sister (his blood cousin in the 1818 edition) and, eventually, his fiancée.
As a boy, Frankenstein is interested in the works of alchemists such as Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Albertus Magnus, and he longs to discover the fabled elixir of life. He loses interest in both these pursuits and in science as a whole after seeing the remains of a tree struck by lightning; however, at the University of Ingolstadt in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, Frankenstein develops a fondness for chemistry, and becomes obsessed with the idea of creating life in inanimate matter through artificial means, pursuing this goal for two years.
Assembling a humanoid creature through ambiguous means, Frankenstein successfully brings it to life, but he is horrified by the creature's ugliness. He flees his creation, who disappears and swears revenge on his creator. When William is found murdered, Frankenstein knows instantly that his creation is the killer, but says nothing. The Frankensteins' housekeeper, Justine, is blamed for the boy's death and executed; Frankenstein is wracked with guilt, but does not come forward with the truth because he thinks no one will believe his story, and he is afraid of the reactions such a story would provoke.
The creature approaches Frankenstein and begs him to create a female companion for him. Frankenstein agrees, but ultimately destroys this creation, aghast at the idea of a race of monsters. Enraged, the creature swears revenge; he kills Henry Clerval, Frankenstein's best friend, and promises Frankenstein, "You have denied me my wedding night - I will be with you on yours!" The creature keeps his promise by strangling Elizabeth on her matrimonial bed. That same night, Frankenstein's father dies of grief. With nothing else left to live for, Frankenstein dedicates his life to destroying the creature.
Frankenstein pursues the "fiend" or "Demon" (as he calls his creation) to the Arctic, intending to destroy it. He ultimately fails in his mission, as he falls through an ice floe and contracts severe pneumonia. Although he is rescued by a ship attempting an expedition to the North Pole, he dies after relating his tale to the ship's captain, Robert Walton. His creature, upon discovering the death of his creator, is overcome by sorrow and vows to commit suicide by burning himself alive in "the Northernmost extremity of the globe"; he then disappears, never to be seen or heard from again.
- One of the characters of François-Félix Nogaret's novella Le Miroir des événemens actuels ou la Belle au plus offrant, published in 1790, is an inventor named « Yote-Wak-wik-Yeet-vauk-an-son-frankésteïn or (Pinga Percy) », then abridged as « Frankésteïn », but there is no proof Shelley had read it.
- ↑ Sandy, Mark (2002-09-20). "Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire". The Literary Encyclopedia. The Literary Dictionary Company. Archived from the original on 2006-11-08. https://web.archive.org/web/20061108135507/http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=3010. Retrieved 2007-01-02.
- ↑ "Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)". Romantic Natural History. Department of English, Dickinson College. Archived from the original on 2006-08-16. https://web.archive.org/web/20060816015001/http://www.dickinson.edu/~nicholsa/Romnat/pbshelley.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-02.
- ↑ Percy Shelley#Ancestry
- ↑ "Journal 6 December – Very Unwell. Shelley & Clary walk out, as usual, to heaps of places...A letter from Hookham to say that Harriet has been brought to bed of a son and heir. Shelley writes a number of circular letters on this event, which ought to be ushered in with ringing of bells, etc., for it is the son of his wife." Quoted in Spark, 39.
- ↑ Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus Chapter 1 (first sentence)
- ↑ Original text Template:Webarchive on Gallica.
- ↑ Douthwaite, Julia V.; Richter, Daniel. "The Frankenstein of the French Revolution: Nogaret’s automaton tale of 1790". European Romantic Review 20. Archived from the original on 2018-05-11. https://web.archive.org/web/20180511184346/http://www.academia.edu/9512220/_The_Frankenstein_of_the_French_Revolution_Nogaret_s_Automaton_Tale_of_1790_European_Romantic_Review_20_3_2009_381-411._Award_for_the_best_article_of_the_year_by_ERR_and_NASSR.