Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, the story of a scientist and the creation that results in his downfall, has endured in Western culture for nearly two decades and created a lasting impact on stage and screen. There are several aspects of the Frankenstein story that have modified in these adaptations and differ from the tale that Shelley originally created, such as the intelligence and capability of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, but to me the most interesting change is the representation of the doctor himself.
Before I read the novel, the image I had of Dr. Frankenstein was through the film versions of the novel, and the references made in popular culture to those versions. The modern Frankenstein is portrayed as the quintessential “mad scientist”, a person bent on proving societies misconceptions about his work wrong at any cost. Films such as 1931’s Frankenstein, a picture from which is shown here, enforce this image of madness through the creation of a new character, Igor, the deformed henchman that assists Victor Frankenstein in giving the monster life. No such image is given in the Shelley novel, and the doctor is presented not as an insane, vengeful lunatic, but as a deeply rational and selfless scientist that attempts to conquer death in order to cure disease and pave the way to immortality. The film Frankenstein is also oblivious to the horror he created until killings start to occur by the creature’s hands, while the literary Frankenstein regrets his endeavor almost instantaneously upon animating it.
Perhaps Frankenstein has been transformed into a relatively one-dimensional character in order to give more attention to the creature he creates, a figure that is undoubtedly both enthralling and repulsing. Between the intended and the modern stories of Frankenstein a great degree of change has taken place. Despite being a 19th century tale of fear, one might proclaim that “It’s Alive!”