When eighteen-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley first saw her novel Frankenstein in print, there is no way that she could have foreseen the impact it would have on literature, the stage, and eventually, motion pictures. Frankenstein has been referenced in everything from politics to television, but there is very little of Shelley’s intelligent, self-educated, articulate Creature in any of it. In fact, of most modern representations, the closest to Shelley’s original depiction of her Creature wasn’t on either stage or film, but a television sitcom. That being said, it is doubtful that Herman Munster is quite what Shelley had in mind when she was writing her novel. While physically unattractive according to the standards of Mary Shelley’s society, her Creature was not the monstrous, dumb brute depicted on stage and screen. He was a lonely, abandoned, unhappy Being that had been rejected by anyone who saw him, including his creator. As time passed, this part of Shelley’s novel was ignored in favor of simplicity, and the Creature of her imagination was twisted, and is now completely misrepresented as an almost cartoonish figure, little more than a Halloween decoration or costume to scare trick-or-treaters.
Several years after Frankenstein’s publication, the novel was adapted into a stage play. Mary Shelley attended a performance, and was quoted as saying “ ‘…I was much amused and it appeared to excite a breathless eagerness in the audience…’ “. (Shelley and Wolfson/Levao)
One can only presume that this early adaptation, in 1823, was fairly accurate to the original book for Shelley to be so pleased with the outcome. Subsequent adaptations, especially once motion pictures came into being, slowly stripped away the layers of her Creature, leaving behind the mute, lumbering brute immortalized by Boris Karloff. It is a testament to Karloff’s talent that, despite the handicaps he had to overcome as the...