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Frankenstein's Monster
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus character
Frontispiece to Frankenstein 1831
Created by

Mary Shelley
Portrayed by

Charles Stanton Ogle, Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Peter Boyle, Robert De Niro and others
Nickname(s) "The Monster", "The Creature", "The Wretch", "The Devil" and others
Gender Male
Family Victor Frankenstein (creator)

Frankenstein's monster (also called the Frankenstein monster or Frankenstein's creature) is a fictional character that first appeared in Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. The creature is often erroneously referred to as "Frankenstein", but in the novel the creature gives himself a name He calls himself, when speaking to his creator, Victor Frankenstein, the "Adam of your labours". He is also variously referred to as a "creature", "fiend", "the demon", "wretch", "devil", "thing", "being" and "ogre" in the novel.[1]

The monster's namelessness became part of the stage tradition as Mary Shelley's story was adapted into serious and comic plays in London and Paris during the decades after the novel's first appearance. Mary Shelley herself attended a performance of Presumption, the first successful stage adaptation of her novel. "The play bill amused me extremely, for in the list of dramatic personae came _________, by Mr T. Cooke,” she wrote to her friend Leigh Hunt. "This nameless mode of naming the unnameable is rather good."[2]

The name of the creator—Frankenstein—soon came to be used to name the creation as Victor made his monster in his own creation they gave his monster his last name. That happened within the first decade after the novel was published, but it became cast in concrete after the story was popularized in the famous 1930s Universal film series starring Boris Karloff. The film was based largely on a play by Peggy Webling, performed in London in 1927.[3] Webling's Frankenstein actually does give his creature his name. The Universal film treated the Monster's identity in a manner that reflects its resemblance to Mary Shelley's novel: the name of the actor, not the character, is hidden by a question mark. Nevertheless, the creature soon enough became best known in the popular imagination as "Frankenstein".

In Shelley's novel[]

Victor Frankenstein, eldest son of Alphonse and Caroline Beaufort Frankenstein, builds the creature in his laboratory through methods of science (he was a chemistry student at University of Ingolstadt) and alchemy (largely based on the writings of Paracelsus, Albertus Magnus, and Cornelius Agrippa) which are not clearly described. Immediately upon bringing the creature to life, Frankenstein flees from it in horror and disavows his experiment. Abandoned, frightened, and completely unaware of his own identity, the monster wanders through the wilderness searching for someone who would understand and shelter him.

He finds brief solace by hiding out in the woodshed of a remote cottage inhabited by the DeLaceys, a family of peasants. While they are unaware of his existence, he learns every part of their lives by eavesdropping on their conversations and comes to think of them as his own family, calling them his 'protectors'. He develops the power of speech from listening to the family teach their language (French) to an Arabian daughter-in-law, and very quickly becomes eloquent, educated, and well-mannered.

One day, the creature musters the courage to finally make his presence known. He introduces himself to the family's patriarch, their blind father, and experiences kindness and acceptance for the first (and last) time. The blind man can not see his "accursed ugliness" and so treats him as a friend. When the rest of the family returns, they are terrified of the creature and drive him away. Bewildered but still hopeful, he rescues a peasant girl from a river, but shot in the shoulder by a man who claims her. Heartbroken, the creature renounces all of humankind and swears revenge on his creator, Frankenstein, for bringing him into the world.

Adam searches for Frankenstein relentlessly, guided by some papers which were in the pocket of the clothing he took from his creator's rooms. From these he discovers Frankenstein's whereabouts, but also discovers the horrific details of his own birth. Upon arriving near Frankenstein's village, he meets and tries to befriend a small boy, William, hoping that the innocent youth will not be prejudiced against him. The boy is instantly frightened and threatens to call for his father, Monsieur Frankenstein, revealing to the creature that the boy is related to his enemy. The creature kills him, and, in a further gesture of hatred against humanity, frames for the murder a girl named Justine Mouritz, who is the Frankensteins' maid servant. Justine Moritz is sent to the gallows because Frankenstein decides it would be futile to confess his experiment, as no one would believe him.

Full of grief and despair, Frankenstein retreats to the mountains to find peace within himself. Adam then approaches Frankenstein on top of the mountain and insists that Frankenstein hear his plight. Here, the monster tells Frankenstein his story and pleads with him to create a female equivalent to himself so that he can hide from humanity with one of his own kind. Frankenstein agrees, but relents just before finishing the mate, aghast at the possibility of creating a race of monsters. Enraged, the creature threatens to destroy everything Frankenstein holds dear. Before fleeing into the night, the creature swears to Frankenstein that "I will be with you on your wedding night!"

He later makes good on his threat by killing Frankenstein's best friend, Henry Clerval, and his bride, Elizabeth Lavenza. Victor Frankenstein's father, Alphonse, then dies of grief. With nothing left to live for, Frankenstein dedicates his life to hunting his creation down and destroying him. The search ends in the Arctic Circle when Frankenstein loses control of his dogsled and falls into ice-cold water, contracting severe pneumonia. He is rescued by a ship exploring the region and relates the entire story to its captain, Robert Walton, before succumbing to his illness and dying. The creature later boards the ship, intent on taking his final revenge, but is overcome with grief upon finding Frankenstein dead, having lost the only family he has ever known. He pledges to travel to "the Northernmost extremity of the globe" and there burn his body to ashes, so that no man can ever create another like him. He leaps from the boat and is never seen again.



Charles Stanton Ogle in the 1910 film version.

Frankenstein's monster (Boris Karloff)

Boris Karloff as the classic film version and Jack Pierce's interpretation of Frankenstein's monster

Shelley described Frankenstein's monster as an 8-foot-tall (2.4 m), hideously ugly creation, with translucent yellowish skin pulled so taut over the body that it "barely disguised the workings of the vessels and muscles underneath"; watery, glowing eyes, flowing black hair, black lips, and prominent white teeth. The monster attempts to integrate himself into human social patterns, but is shunned by all that see him. This feeling of abandonment compels him to seek revenge against his creator. A picture of the creature appeared in the 1831 edition. By the time the 1831 edition came out, however, several stage renditions of the story had popularized the monster. Early stage portrayals dressed him in a toga, shaded, along with the monster's skin, a pale blue. Throughout the 19th century, the monster's image remained variable according to the artist.

In 1910, Thomas Edison's silent film company created a 20-minute adaptation of the story of Frankenstein. His monster was played by Charles Stanton Ogle. He was wrapped in rags, had exaggeratedly pointed feet and fingers, a wild wig of hair, and boldly open eyes and eyebrows painted in lines reminiscent of a kabuki actor. This Monster is shown being created in a vat of chemicals.

The most well-known image of Frankenstein's monster in popular culture derives from Boris Karloff's portrayal in the 1931 movie Frankenstein, with makeup created by Jack Pierce from possibly crucial sketched suggestions by director James Whale (credit for Karloff's look remains controversial). Karloff played the monster in two more Universal films, Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein. Lon Chaney, Jr. took over the part from Karloff in The Ghost of Frankenstein, Bela Lugosi portrayed the role in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and Glenn Strange played the monster in the last three Universal Studios films to feature the character (House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein); but their makeup replicated the iconic look first worn by Karloff. To this day, the image of Karloff's face is owned by his daughter's company, Karloff Enterprises, which is the reason Universal replaced Karloff's features with Glenn Strange's in most of their marketing.

Since Karloff's portrayal, the creature almost always appears as a towering, gruesome figure, often with a flat square-shaped head and bolts to serve as electrical connectors or grotesque electrodes on his neck. He wears a dark suit having shortened coat sleeves and thick, heavy boots, causing him to walk with an awkward, stiff-legged, crude gait (as opposed to the novel, in which he is described as very flexible and much faster than a mortal). This image has been used as the basis for several other fictional characters.

In the 2004 film Van Helsing, the monster is shown in a rather somewhat modernized version of the Karloff design. He is 8 to 9 feet (240–270 cm) tall, has square bald head, gruesome scars, and pale blue skin. The electricity is emphasised with one electrified crystal in the back of his head and another over his heart.


As depicted by Shelley, the creature is a sensitive, emotional creature whose only aim is to share his life with another sentient being like himself. The novel portrays him as intelligent and literate, having read Paradise Lost, Plutarch's Lives, and The Sorrows of Young Werther. He is driven by despair and loneliness to acts of cruelty and murder.

From the beginning the monster is rejected by everyone he meets. He realizes from the moment of his "birth" that even his own creator could not be around him; this is obvious when Frankenstein says "…one hand was stretched out, seeming to detain me, but I escaped…"[4] Upon seeing his own reflection, he realizes that he too cannot stand to see himself.

Yet, in the 1931 film adaptation, the creature is depicted as mute and bestial, unlike Shelly's original character which is very intelligent. In the subsequent sequel, Bride of Frankenstein, the creature learns to speak and discover his feelings, although his intelligence and capacity of speech remains limited. In the second sequel, Son of Frankenstein, the creature is again rendered inarticulate. Following a brain transplant in the third sequel The Ghost of Frankenstein, the Monster speaks with the voice and personality of the brain donor. This was continued after a fashion in the scripting for the fourth sequel Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, but the dialogue was excised before release. The monster was effectively mute in later sequels, though he is heard to refer to Count Dracula as his 'Master' in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

In Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein he is first depicted as mute, clumsy, childish, and nothing more than a servant of the 'evil' Dr. Frankenstein until he befriends the Chipmunks. They teach him how to be a friend and how to be kind to people. At the end of the film, Alvin mentions that they taught him how to talk, and after almost being run over by a tourist bus, Simon says "Too bad you also taught him how to drive."

The creature's name[]

Mary Shelley's original novel never ascribed an actual name to the monster; although he does call himself, when speaking to his creator, Victor Frankenstein, the "Adam of your labours". It has become common vernacular to refer to the creature by the actual name "Frankenstein", though this actually happens only rarely on screen. One example in which the monster is actually referred to by the name Frankenstein is the 2004 film Van Helsing.

A joke about the name became the subject of a sketch on Conan. On his various shows over the years, Conan O'Brien has featured a character named "Frankenstein", played by Brian Stack, who is a genial version of the classic Universal appearance of the character. In the March 23, 2011, of O'Brien's TBS show, a viewer criticized O'Brien for calling the character "Frankenstein", when in the original book the creature had no name and Frankenstein was the name of the creator. In response, O'Brien showed a clip of the monster coming to America through Ellis Island in the 1920s. An immigration official reviewing the creature's paperwork tells him that "Frankenstein's Monster" is too cumbersome a name, so he shortens it to Frankenstein. Thus, Conan declares that referring to the monster simply as "Frankenstein" is correct.

In Dean Koontz's Frankenstein series, the monster goes by the name "Deucalion", which he presumably chose sometime in his 200 year existence. The name is a reference to the son of Prometheus in Greek mythology, as his "father", Victor Frankenstein, is presumably the being whom the novel referred to as "The Modern Prometheus".

Universal Monster Reboot[]


Person Year Production Notes
Charles Stanton Ogle 1910 Frankenstein
Percy Standing 1915 Life Without Soul
Boris Karloff 1931 Frankenstein
Boris Karloff 1935 Bride of Frankenstein
Boris Karloff 1939 Son of Frankenstein
Lon Chaney, Jr. 1942 The Ghost of Frankenstein
Bela Lugosi 1943 Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
Glenn Strange 1944 House of Frankenstein
Glenn Strange 1945 House of Dracula
Glenn Strange 1948 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
Gary Conway 1957 I Was a Teenage Frankenstein
Christopher Lee 1957 The Curse of Frankenstein
Gary Conway 1958 How to Make a Monster
Michael Gwynn 1958 The Revenge of Frankenstein
Mike Lane 1958 Frankenstein 1970
Harry Wilson 1958 Frankenstein's Daughter
Kiwi Kingston 1963 The Evil of Frankenstein
Koji Furuhata 1965 Frankenstein Conquers the World
Susan Denberg 1967 Frankenstein Created Woman
Robert Rodan 1967 Dark Shadows
Freddie Jones 1969 Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
David Prowse 1970 The Horror of Frankenstein
John Bloom 1971 Dracula vs. Frankenstein
Joe De Sue 1973 Blackenstein
Michael Sarrazin 1973 Frankenstein: The True Story
David Prowse 1974 Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell
Peter Boyle 1974 Young Frankenstein
Clancy Brown 1985 The Bride
Tom Noonan 1987 The Monster Squad
Nick Brimble 1990 Frankenstein Unbound
Randy Quaid 1992 Frankenstein
Robert De Niro 1994 Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Peter Crombie 1997 House of Frankenstein 1997
Frank Welker 1999 Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein voice
Shuler Hensley 2004 Van Helsing
Luke Goss 2004 Frankenstein
Vincent Perez 2004 Frankenstein
Julian Bleach 2007 Frankenstein
Shuler Hensley 2007 Young Frankenstin
David Harewood 2011 Frankenstein's Wedding
Aaron Eckhart 2014 I, Frankenstein


  1. Chris Baldick, In Frankenstein's Shadow, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987.
  2. To Leigh Hunt, 9 September [1823]
  3. Susan Tyler Hitchcock, Frankenstein: A Cultural History, NY: WWNorton, 2007
  4. Shelley, 43

External links[]