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Frankenstein: The Creation Scene

Sutured body parts, flashing electrodes, bubbling chemicals–they’re some of the best-known elements of the Frankenstein creation scene. And none are in the novel.

For over 200 years, playwrights, screenwriters, comic artists, and (more recently) game designers have endeavored to fill in the blanks of a process that Mary Shelley’s narrative covers in fewer than 100 words at the beginning of Chapter V.

Above: The creation scene as presented in the graphic novel Doc Frankenstein, created by Geof Darrow and Steve Skroce, written and published by the Wachowskis.

In the book, instruments are mentioned but not described; the word spark appears but only metaphorically; and although a lifeless thing awaits animation, there is no indication that it is a patchwork of ordinary body parts.

And herein lies one of the reasons the novel has endured. By leaving the process to our imaginations and focusing on Victor Frankenstein’s reaction to an experiment gone wrong, Shelley delivers a scene that seems timeless. It could have happened in 1818 … or it could happen today … or tomorrow.

The passage below is from Chapter V, presented here with illustrations from the Classics Illustrated comic adaptation of Frankenstein (one of the most literal adaptations of Shelley’s text that I’ve seen). And, if you’d like to hear my reading of the passage, simply click here or on the player at the bottom of the page. Along the way, you may find your imagination filling in sights and sounds that no detailed description can deliver.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1831 edition)
excerpted from Chapter V:

It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of that half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!—Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.

The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health.

I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room, and continued a long time traversing my bedchamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep. At length lassitude succeeded to the tumult I had before endured; and I threw myself on the bed in my clothes, endeavouring to seek a few moments of forgetfulness.

But it was in vain: I slept, indeed, but I was disturbed by the wildest dreams.

I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her; but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel.

I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed: when, by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks.

He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped, and rushed down stairs. I took refuge in the courtyard belonging to the house which I inhabited; where I remained during the rest of the night, walking up and down in the greatest agitation, listening attentively, catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life.

Oh! no mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch. I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then; but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.

And here’s the audio:

Want more? The entire book is readily available for free from a variety of online sources, including Project Gutenberg. Or if you prefer a deluxe reading experience, I might recommend the Lynd Ward edition from Dover Press. It’s a beauty.

And of course, if you’d like to see the scene come to life before your eyes, I hope you’ll join me this November when Frankenstein comes alive in an all-new production from Prime Stage, presented in Pittsburgh’s historic New Hazlett Theatre.

Click here for tickets and information.

Left: Concept art of the laboratory set design by Tucker Topel for Prime Stage Theatre’s upcoming production of Frankenstein.

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  1. The cinematography alone draws me in. Thanks for the heads-up on this one, Larry. And best of luck as your…