Object: Frankenstein Model
Found: Donated by owner
The Frankenstein monster is well known, especially in the guise of actor Boris Karloff, as represented in this statuette. Countless horror films and theatres, sideshows and theme parks have evoked this tortured figure, who is misunderstood and driven to insanity.
As a literary invention, he was the brainchild of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, whose mother died giving birth to her, a stone’s throw from here, in the Polygon, Somers Town, on 30 August 1797.
Mary Shelley published her short novel Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus in 1818. She begun it while on holiday on Lake Geneva with friends, including her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley, the poet Lord Byron and the physician John William Polidori – who would publish his own vampire story in 1819 and who died aged 25, likely by his own hand, depressed and in debt, in 1821. He is buried in Old Saint Pancras Churchyard.
Cooped up against rain and damp in Switzerland, the friends read horror stories to each other and began to write their own for amusement. They continued with their work when back in London.
The Frankenstein monster provides an enduring image of biomedical experimentation – the name persists for science perceived as scary or off-limits. When a vast biomedical research building landed in Somers Town in 2016, spectres of Frankenstein science appeared to some all too close for comfort.