Thomas Edison’s 1910 Frankenstein movie
Johann Conrad Dipple was born at Castle Frankenstein in 1673. After University, he returned to Castle Frankenstein to practice alchemy, anatomy, and possibly much worse. He claimed to have developed a technique to transfer the soul from one corpse to another. He also claimed to have produced an Elixir of Life from the boiled flesh and bones of dead animals, which he modestly called Dipple’s Oil. At one point Dipple offered to buy Castle Frankenstein in exchange for the formula. He was turned down.
In his old age it was said he had sold his soul to the Devil in return for occult knowledge. It is likely Dipple himself perpetuated the rumour to attract students and those willing to pay for his elixir of life. A year before his death, at the age of 61, he published a pamphlet claiming the elixir would keep him alive for 135 years.
It is likely Mary Wollstonecroft called her scientist Victor Frankenstein after hearing about Dipple during a visit to the Castle Frankenstein region in 1814 with her future husband, the poet Shelley. They record meeting students from Dipple’s old university and it is more than likely the notorious old boy’s experimental attempts to create life in cadavers, lost nothing in the telling. Soon afterwards, Mary speaks of “gods making new men” in her journal.
Mary Shelley wrote ‘Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus’ at the age of 18 and published it anonymously when she was 20.
Mary added the subtitle “the Modern Prometheus because in Greek mythology Prometheus created mankind on behalf of Zeus. When he later stole fire from heaven to give to man, Zeus was so furious he consigned Prometheus to hideous eternal punishment. Bound to a rock, an eagle came each day to tear out Prometheus’ liver which grew back during the night as he was immortal.
The story goes that during 1816 Mary and Shelley stayed with fellow poet Lord Byron, and his personal physician John Polidori, in the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva in Switzerland. 1816 was called ‘the year without a summer’ due to the huge volcanic explosion of Mount Tambora the year before. Sheltering from the cold dreary weather, bored, drunk and probably on opium, they amused themselves by reading ghost and horror stories from the Fantasmagoriana.
Byron proposed they each write a ghost story. Byron managed a few fragments on vampire legends he learned while travelling around Greece. John Polidori later embellished these into a novella which gave rise to the vampire genre; resulting in Stoker’s Dracula via the immensely popular penny-dreadful serial ‘Varney the Vampyre’.
Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre’ was about a suave aristocratic, amoral, Englishman; a thinly disguised portrait of his boss, Byron… famously called mad, bad and dangerous to know. With the encouragement of Shelly, Mary developed her short story into a novel.
Unlike Karloff’s monosyllabic, broody film version of the monster, in the James Whale 1931 movie, Mary’s creature can barely keep his mouth shut for five minutes. Articulate and eloquent he constantly muses on the world of mankind and his place in it. He seeks only acceptance and love. Unable to find it in humanity he asks Frankenstein to create another like him: a female companion. Frankenstein refuses; terrified of compounding his mistake by creating a race of monsters. The creature takes revenge on his creator murdering everyone he loves.
The creature is not called Frankenstein in the book. That is his creator’s name.
A blue plaque commemorates Polidori’s residence in Great Poultney Street in Soho in London.
For a modern twist try Peter Ackroyd’s disturbing gothic homage ‘The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein.’ Highly recommended!