The architecture of Frankenstein – Mary Shelley’s novel and its adaptions and their potential of interpretation

Anna Marie Fisker, Anna Eva Utke Heilmann, Nini Camilla Bagger

Research output: Contribution to book/anthology/report/conference proceedingArticle in proceedingResearch


The weather is terribly bad in “Frankenstein”. A lot of fog, heavy rain, strong winds and extreme windy weather. Accounts of nature that can be read as a designed backdrop for the story. However, Mary Shelley wrote the novel after the violent volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815 which sourced a drastic climatic change and its aftermath caused prevalent deaths. Because of the catastrophe, 1816 was “the year without summer”, and it was the year where the young Mary Shelley and her lover Percy Shelley took a vacation at Lake Genève in Switzerland at the friend Lord Byron’s place. And - it was because of the summers special weather conditions that they had to keep indoors, and took departure in telling trilling stories.

Many assign the birth of the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to be inspired by the Italian doctor Luigi Galvani’s electro-experiments on animals; the human intervention into nature. Our paper deals with how Frankenstein’s creation of his unnatural monster touches on the fears of the time it was written: the fear and uncertainty of a “new” world characterised by a rationale of technical, economic and industrial determinism, and of a deep-seated sense of change in the grand narratives of scientific, social and philosophical levels.
The monster escapes the horror he is “born” into, and discovers that nature has the power of bestowing. Throughout the story, the contemplation of sublime nature counters the horrors of experimenting with nature. A similar view can be found in the writings of the architectural critic John Ruskin, who in the mid nineteenth-century distrusted the scientific pursuit of nature.
The assumption about a link between creation and monstrosity is implicit in Ruskin’s celebrated distinction between true and false “Griffins” referring to architectural details and ornaments in Venice, a representation of details from the classical period, but also the monster as a representation of the “truth” of architecture. Ruskin was obsessed with Venice, and we analyse the project Villa Frankenstein exhibited at the Architectural Biennale in 2010.
Referring to this kind of horror and “catastrophes”, much less dramatic is the food that nurtures Frankenstein’s monster: simple vegetable soups, berries, nuts and roots, an oaten cake and now and again a shepherd’s breakfast: bread, cheese, milk and wine - all simple, plain ingredients. However, today the concept of “Frankenstein food” denotes genetically modified foodstuff, i.e. in earlier times also irradiated food, concepts that remains problematic today with its rationality and even horror.

It can be rather difficult to read Frankenstein without getting sympatric with the monster. Especially when – as the story unfolds – the monster begins to show a sensitive side, it only wants to have a sweetheart, and it only kills because it is lonely and expelled. A fact that can make us read the novel as an allegory of the society. The monster is created by society, so one can ask, who is the actual monster?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInklings Yearbook for Literature and Aesthetics
Publication statusSubmitted - 1 Oct 2018
EventInternationales Symposion der Inklings-Gesellschaft: FRANKENSTEIN – PARABEL DER MODERNE 1818 • 2018 - German Medical History Museum. , Ingolstadt, Germany
Duration: 28 Sep 201829 Sep 2018
Conference number: 5


ConferenceInternationales Symposion der Inklings-Gesellschaft
LocationGerman Medical History Museum.
Internet address

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