1 an agency that escapes control and destroys its creator
2 the monster created by Frankenstein in a gothic novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (the creator's name is commonly used to refer to his creation) [syn: Frankenstein's monster]
3 the fictional Swiss scientist who was the protagonist in a gothic novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley; he created a monster from parts of corpses
- (3): (properly) Frankenstein's monster
- This article is about the 1818 novel. For other uses, see Frankenstein (disambiguation).
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus' is a novel written by the British author Mary Shelley. Shelley wrote the novel when she was 19-20 years old. The first edition was published anonymously in London in 1818. Shelley's name appears on the revised third edition, published in 1831. The title of the novel refers to a scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who learns how to create life and creates a being in the likeness of man, but larger than average and more powerful. In modern popular culture, people have tended to refer to the Creature as "Frankenstein" (especially in films since 1931), despite this being the name of the scientist. Frankenstein is a novel infused with some elements of the Gothic novel and the Romantic movement. It was also a warning against the "over-reaching" of modern man and the Industrial Revolution, alluded to in the novel's subtitle, The Modern Prometheus. The story has had an influence across literature and popular culture and spawned a complete genre of horror stories and films. It is arguably considered the first fully realized science fiction novel. The novel raises many issues that can be linked to today's society.
PlotIn a series of letters, Robert Walton, the captain of a ship bound for the North Pole, recounts to his sister back in England the progress of his dangerous mission. Successful early on, the mission is soon interrupted by seas full of impassable ice. Trapped, Walton encounters Victor Frankenstein, who has been traveling by dog-drawn sledge across the ice and is weakened by the cold. Walton takes him aboard ship, helps nurse him back to health, and hears the fantastic tale of the monster that Frankenstein created.
Victor firstly describes his early life in Geneva. At the end of a blissful childhood spent in the company of Elizabeth Lavenza (his cousin in the 1818 edition, his adopted sister in the 1831 edition) and friend Henry Clerval, Victor enters the university of Ingolstadt to study natural philosophy and chemistry. There, he is consumed by the desire to discover the secret of life and, after several years of research, becomes convinced that he has found it.
Armed with the knowledge he has long been seeking, Victor spends months feverishly fashioning a creature out of old body parts. One climactic night, in the secrecy of his apartment, he brings his creation to life. When he looks at the monstrosity that he has created, however, the sight horrifies him. After a fitful night of sleep, interrupted by the specter of the monster looming over him, he runs into the streets, eventually wandering in remorse. Victor runs into Henry, who has come to study at the university, and he takes his friend back to his apartment. Though the monster is gone, Victor falls into a feverish illness.
Sickened by his horrific deed, Victor prepares to return to Geneva, to his family, and to health. Just before departing Ingolstadt, however, he receives a letter from his father informing him that his youngest brother, William, has been murdered. Grief-stricken, Victor hurries home. While passing through the woods where William was strangled, he catches sight of the monster and becomes convinced that the monster is his brother’s murderer. Arriving in Geneva, Victor finds that Justine Moritz, a kind, gentle girl who had been adopted by the Frankenstein household, has been accused. She is tried, condemned, and executed, despite her assertions of innocence. Her name, Justine, is a direct effect of irony as her name means justice and her condemnation was not done in justice. Victor grows despondent, guilty with the knowledge that the monster he has created bears responsibility for the death of two innocent loved ones.
Hoping to ease his grief, Victor takes a vacation to the mountains. While he is alone one day, crossing an enormous glacier, the monster approaches him. The monster admits the murder of William but begs for understanding. Lonely, shunned, and forlorn, he says that he struck out at William in a desperate attempt to injure Victor, his cruel creator. The monster begs Victor to create a mate for him, a monster equally grotesque to serve as his sole companion.
Victor refuses at first, horrified by the prospect of creating a second monster. The monster is eloquent and persuasive, however, and he eventually convinces Victor. After returning to Geneva, Victor heads for England, accompanied by Henry, to gather information for the creation of a female monster. Leaving Henry in Scotland, he secludes himself on a desolate island in the Orkneys and works reluctantly at repeating his first success. One night, struck by doubts about the morality of his actions, Victor glances out the window to see the monster glaring in at him with a frightening grin. Horrified by the possible consequences of his work, Victor destroys his new creation. The monster, enraged, vows revenge, swearing that he will be with Victor on Victor’s wedding night.
Later that night, Victor takes a boat out onto a lake and dumps the remains of the second creature in the water. The wind picks up and prevents him from returning to the island. In the morning, he finds himself ashore near an unknown town. Upon landing, he is arrested and informed that he will be tried for a murder discovered the previous night. Victor denies any knowledge of the murder, but when shown the body, he is shocked to behold his friend Henry Clerval, with the mark of the monster’s fingers on his neck. Victor falls ill, raving and feverish, and is kept in prison until his recovery, after which he is acquitted of the crime. Shortly after returning to Geneva with his father, Victor marries Elizabeth. He fears the monster’s warning and suspects that he will be murdered on his wedding night. To be cautious, he sends Elizabeth away to wait for him. While he awaits the monster, he hears Elizabeth scream and realizes that the monster had been hinting at killing his new bride, not himself. Victor returns home to his father, who dies of grief a short time later. Victor vows to devote the rest of his life to finding the monster and exacting his revenge, and he soon departs to begin his quest.
Victor tracks the monster ever northward into the ice. In a dogsled chase, Victor almost catches up with the monster, but the sea beneath them swells and the ice breaks, leaving an unbridgeable gap between them. At this point, Walton encounters Victor, and the narrative catches up to the time of Walton’s fourth letter to his sister.
Walton tells the remainder of the story in another series of letters to his sister. Victor, already ill when the two men meet, worsens and dies shortly thereafter. When Walton returns, several days later, to the room in which the body lies, he is startled to see the monster weeping over Victor. The monster tells Walton of his immense solitude, suffering, hatred, and remorse. He asserts that now that his creator has died, he too can end his suffering. The monster then departs for the northernmost ice to run until he dies.
Shelley's inspirationthe first draft of Frankenstein, along with Percy Shelley's emendations; page begins "It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld my man completed..." During the rainy summer of 1816, the "Year Without a Summer," the world was locked in a long cold volcanic winter caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, age 19, and her lover (and later husband) Percy Bysshe Shelley, visited Lord Byron at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The weather was consistently too cold and dreary that summer to enjoy the outdoor holiday activities they had planned, so the group retired indoors until almost dawn talking about science and the supernatural. After reading Fantasmagoriana, an anthology of German ghost stories, they challenged one another to each compose a story of their own, the contest being won by whoever wrote the scariest tale. Mary conceived an idea after she fell into a waking dream or nightmare during which she saw "the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together." Byron managed to write just a fragment based on the vampire legends he heard while travelling the Balkans, and from this Polidori created The Vampyre (1819), the progenitor of the romantic vampire literary genre. Two legendary horror tales originated from this one circumstance.
Mary Shelley completed her writing in May 1817, and Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus was first published on 1 January 1818 by the small London publishing house of Harding, Mavor & Jones. It was issued anonymously, with a preface written for Mary by Percy Bysshe Shelley and with a dedication to philosopher William Godwin, her father. It was published in an edition of just 500 copies in three volumes, the standard "triple-decker" format for 19th century first editions. The novel had been previously rejected by Percy Bysshe Shelley's publisher, Charles Ollier and by Byron's publisher John Murray.
Critical reception of the book was mostly unfavourable, compounded by confused speculation as to the identity of the author. Sir Walter Scott wrote that "upon the whole, the work impresses us with a high idea of the author's original genius and happy power of expression", but most reviewers thought it "a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity" (Quarterly Review).
Despite the reviews, Frankenstein achieved an almost immediate popular success. It became widely known especially through melodramatic theatrical adaptations — Mary Shelley saw a production of Presumption; or The Fate of Frankenstein, a play by Richard Brinsley Peake, in 1823. A French translation appeared as early as 1821 (Frankenstein: ou le Prométhée Moderne, translated by Jules Saladin).
The second edition of Frankenstein was published on 11 August 1823 in two volumes (by G. and W. B. Whittaker), and this time credited Mary Shelley as the author.
On 31 October 1831, the first "popular" edition in one volume appeared, published by Henry Colburn & Richard Bentley. This edition was quite heavily revised by Mary Shelley, and included a new, longer preface by her, presenting a somewhat embellished version of the genesis of the story. This edition tends to be the one most widely read now, although editions containing the original 1818 text are still being published. In fact, many scholars prefer the 1818 edition. They argue that it preserves the spirit of Shelley's original publication (see Anne K. Mellor's "Choosing a Text of Frankenstein to Teach" in the W. W. Norton Critical edition).
Frankenstein's creaturePart of Frankenstein's rejection of his creation is the fact that he does not give it a name, which gives it a lack of identity. Instead it is referred to by words such as "monster", "creature", "demon", "daemon", "fiend","demonic corpse" and "wretch". When Frankenstein converses with the monster in Chapter 10, he addresses it as "Devil", "Vile insect", "Abhorred monster", "fiend", "wretched devil", and "abhorred devil".
During a telling Shelley did of Frankenstein, she referred to the creature as "Adam". It is likely that Shelley was referring to the first man in the Garden of Eden, as in her epigraph:
The monster has often been mistakenly called "Frankenstein". In 1908 one author said "It is strange to note how well-nigh universally the term "Frankenstein" is misused, even by intelligent persons, as describing some hideous monster...". Edith Wharton's The Reef (1916) describes an unruly child as an "infant Frankenstein." David Lindsay's "The Bridal Ornament," published in The Rover, 12 June 1844, mentioned "the maker of poor Frankenstein". After the release of James Whale's popular 1931 film Frankenstein, the public at large began speaking of the monster itself as "Frankenstein". A reference to this occurs in Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and in several subsequent films in the series, as well as in film titles such as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
Some justify referring to the Creature as "Frankenstein" by pointing out that the Creature is, so to speak, Victor Frankenstein's offspring. Also, one might say that the monster is the invention of Doctor Frankenstein, and inventions are often named after the person who invented them, and if one is to consider the creature his son (for he did give it life) 'Frankenstein' is his familial name, and thus would also rightly belong to the creation.
Mary Shelley maintained that she derived the name "Frankenstein" from a dream-vision. Despite her public claims of originality, the significance of the name has been a source of speculation. Literally, in German, the name Frankenstein means "stone of the Franks". The name is associated with various places such as Castle Frankenstein (Burg Frankenstein), which Mary Shelley had seen whilst on a boat before writing the novel. Frankenstein is also a town in the region of Palatinate; and before 1946, Ząbkowice Śląskie, a city in Silesia, Poland, was known as Frankenstein in Schlesien. Moreover Frankenstein is a common family name in Germany.
More recently, Radu Florescu, in his book In Search of Frankenstein, argued that Mary and Percy Shelley visited Castle Frankenstein on their way to Switzerland, near Darmstadt along the Rhine, where a notorious alchemist named Konrad Dippel had experimented with human bodies, but that Mary suppressed mentioning this visit, to maintain her public claim of originality. A recent literary essay by A.J. Day supports Florescu's position that Mary Shelley knew of, and visited Castle Frankenstein before writing her debut novel. Day includes details of an alleged description of the Frankenstein castle that exists in Mary Shelley's 'lost' journals. However, this theory is not without critics; Frankenstein expert Leonard Wolf calls it an "unconvincing...conspiracy theory".
A possible interpretation of the name Victor derives from Paradise Lost by John Milton, a great influence on Shelley (a quotation from Paradise Lost is on the opening page of Frankenstein and Shelley even allows the monster himself to read it). Milton frequently refers to God as "the Victor" in Paradise Lost, and Shelley sees Victor as playing God by creating life. In addition to this, Shelley's portrayal of the monster owes much to the character of Satan in Paradise Lost; indeed, the monster says, after reading the epic poem, that he sympathizes with Satan's role in the story.
Victor was also a pen name of Percy Shelley's, as in the collection of poetry he wrote with his sister Elizabeth, Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire. There is speculation that one of Mary Shelley's models for Victor Frankenstein was Percy, who at Eton had "experimented with electricity and magnetism as well as with gunpowder and numerous chemical reactions," and whose rooms at Oxford were filled with scientific equipment.
"Modern Prometheus"The Modern Prometheus is the novel's subtitle (though some modern publishings of the work now drop the subtitle, mentioning it only in an introduction). Prometheus, in some versions of Greek mythology, was the Titan who created mankind. It was also Prometheus who took fire from heaven and gave it to man. Zeus eternally punished Prometheus by fixing him to a rock where each day a predatory bird came to devour his liver, only for the liver to regrow the next day; ready for the bird to come again.
Prometheus was also a myth told in Latin but was a very different story. In this version Prometheus makes man from clay and water, again a very relevant theme to Frankenstein as Victor rebels against the laws of nature and as a result is punished by his creation.
Prometheus' relation to the novel can be interpreted in a number of ways. The Titan in the Greek mythology of Prometheus parallels Victor Frankenstein. Victor's work by creating man by new means reflects the same innovative work of the Titan in creating humans. Victor, in a way, stole the secret of creation from God just as the Titan stole fire from heaven to give to man. Both the Titan and Victor get punished for their actions. Victor is reprimanded by suffering the loss of those close to him and having the dread of himself getting killed by his creation.
For Mary Shelley, Prometheus was not a hero but a devil, whom she blamed for bringing fire to man and thereby seducing the human race to the vice of eating meat (fire brought cooking which brought hunting and killing). Support for this claim may be reflected in Chapter 17 of the novel, where the monster speaks to Victor Frankenstein: "My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and the kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment." For Romance era artists in general, Prometheus' gift to man compared with the two great utopian promises of the 18th century: the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution, containing both great promise and potentially unknown horrors.
Byron was particularly attached to the play Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, and Percy Shelley would soon write Prometheus Unbound. The term "Modern Prometheus" was actually coined by Immanuel Kant, referring to Benjamin Franklin and his then recent experiments with electricity.
AnalysisFrankenstein is in some ways allegorical. The novel was conceived and written during an early phase of the Industrial Revolution, at a time of dramatic advances in science and technology. That the creation rebels against its creator can be seen as a warning that the application of science can lead to unintended consequences.
Another interpretation was alluded to by Shelley herself, in her account of the radical politics of William Godwin, her father:
A common critique views the story as a journey of pregnancy. The novel taps into the widespread fears of stillbirth and maternal deaths due to complications in delivery. Shelley had a stillborn child the previous year, and her mother had died due to complications from her birth. Frankenstein, the monster's parent, in a sense, is fearful of the release of the monster from his control, when it is free to act independently in the world and affect it for better or worse. Also, during much of the novel Victor fears the creature's desire to destroy him by killing everyone and everything most dear to him. However, it must be noted that the creature was not born evil, but only wanted to be loved by its creator, by other humans, and to love a sentient creature like itself. It was mankind who taught it evil: Victor rejected it, and the creature's poor treatment by villagers taught it how to be evil. In this reading, the creature represents the natural fears of bringing a new innocent life into the world and raising it properly so that it does not become a monster.
The book can be seen as a criticism of scientists who are unconcerned by the potential consequences of their work. Victor was heedless of those dangers, and irresponsible with his invention. Instead of immediately destroying the evil he had created, he was overcome by fear and fell psychologically ill. During Justine's trial for murder, he had the chance to perhaps save the young girl by revealing that a violent man had recently declared a vendetta against him and his loved ones. Instead, Frankenstein indulges in his own self-centered grief. The day before Justine is executed and thus resigns herself to her fate and departure from the "sad and bitter world", his sentiments are as such:
It is noteworthy, however, that Frankenstein, despite his colossal folly at creating his monster, did realize the foolishness of his actions. In Chapter 24 he warns Walton of the danger inherent in tampering with such evil. These are the words he uses to potentially redeem some part of himself, as well as prevent further evil from occurring.
Representing a minority opinion, Arthur Belefant in his book, Frankenstein, the Man and the Monster (1999, ISBN 0-9629555-8-2) contends that Mary Shelley's intent was for the reader to understand that the Creature never existed, and Victor Frankenstein committed the three murders. In this interpretation, the story is a study of the moral degradation of Victor, and the science fiction aspects of the story are Victor's imagination.
Alchemy was a very popular topic in Shelley's world. In fact, it was becoming an acceptable idea that humanity could infuse the spark of life into a non-living thing (Luigi Galvani's experiments, for example). The scientific world just after the Industrial Revolution was delving into the unknown, and limitless possibilities also caused fear and apprehension for many as to the consequences of such horrific possibilities.
The book also considers the ethics of creating life and contains innumerable biblical allusions in this context. As well it shows Shelly's world view that man is basically good and that society corrupts him, and expresses the view that the creator is at fault, not the creation. The role of the parent as a creator and teacher is also important to Shelley's creature. She led a life that was burdened with high expectations that her father set for her. Without a mother she often felt lost and uncertain of her role as a woman. This is the strife the monster experiences in his development.
In the 1931 film Frankenstein, Boris Karloff plays the part of the Creature, and the scientist, played by Colin Clive, is renamed Henry Frankenstein. Shelley's character Henry Clerval does not appear in the film at all, which eliminates Victor's foil altogether. However, there is a character called Victor who is after Elizabeth, Frankenstein's fiancee. Changing the doctor's name from Victor also eliminates some original irony, inasmuch as the novel ends after exposing the doctor's utter failure and destruction. Since this film, the horror culture has confused modern audiences into placing the scientist's name to his freakish creation. This event has stimulated much conversation in the literary criticism of Shelley's work. Attributing the name of the scientist to his creation reveals a deeper connection between the two, especially when the scientist realizes the great danger that the creation presents to himself and to the world.
Another common interpretation of the novel concerns Rousseau's concept of original innocence developed prior to the French Revolution. It can be noted that the monster is gentle and virtuous when still in isolation but becomes violent and appears irrational upon confronting others. This correlates to Rousseau's idea that humans are intrinsically pure and innocent in the state of nature but become corrupted by aristocratic society's commonly feigned personal interactions and masked personalities. Frankenstein's monster represents the psychological and spiritual dangers facing France and invites revolution that would break from traditional norms back to the natural order as a much needed and necessary remedy to current cultural trends.
Yet another point or moral of the book is the rejection by society. Throughout the book the monster is faced with constant threat of rejection and violence. His experience with human beings shows how physical appearance is important to humans and how the first perception will impact human interactions. On multiple occasions the monster is faced with outright violence, even if his acts were benevolent or even helpful. This is further underlined by the contrast between Victor and the monster, Victor is hailed as a scholar almost everywhere. It is easy for him to befriend another human being, while the monster is rejected out of hand.
Mary Shelley seems to depict the monster in a sorrowful light. The creature was created out of a selfish act, and then forced to live alone. Victor Frankenstein wanted to be famous within his scientific community, and chose to create an abomination. His thoughts went against nature, but his greed was too powerful. The monster is the tragic figure in Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. He was left alone by his creator, eventually becoming insane, killing his fellow man.
Mary Shelley's sourcesMary incorporated a number of different sources into her work, not the least of which was the Promethean myth from Ovid. The influence of John Milton's Paradise Lost, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the books the Creature finds in the cabin, are also clearly evident within the novel. Also, both Shelleys had read William Thomas Beckford's Gothic novel Vathek. Frankenstein also contains multiple references to her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, and her major work A Vindication of the Rights of Woman which discusses the lack of equal education for males and females. The inclusion of her mother's ideas in her work is also related to the theme of creation and motherhood in the novel. Mary is likely to have acquired some ideas for Frankenstein’s character from Humphry Davy's book Elements of Chemical Philosophy in which he had written that "science has…bestowed upon man powers which may be called creative; which have enabled him to change and modify the beings around him…".
Frankenstein in popular culturesee Frankenstein in popular culture Shelley's Frankenstein has been called the first novel of the now-popular mad scientist genre. However, popular culture has changed the naive, well-meaning Victor Frankenstein into more and more of a corrupt character. It has also changed the creature into a more sensational, dehumanized being than was originally portrayed. In the original story, the worst thing that Victor does is to neglect the creature out of fear. He does not intend to create a horror. The creature, even, begins as an innocent, loving being. Not until the world inflicts violence on him does he develop his hatred. Scientific knowledge is highlighted at the end by Victor as potentially evil and dangerously alluring.
Soon after the book was published, however, stage managers began to see the difficulty of bringing the story into a more visual form. In performances beginning in 1823, playwrights began to recognize that to visualize the play, the internal reasonings of the scientist and the creature would have to be cut. The creature became the star of the show, with his more visual and sensational violence. Victor was portrayed as a fool for delving into nature's mysteries. Despite the changes, though, the play was much closer to the original than later films would be. Comic versions also abounded, and a musical burlesque version was produced in London in 1887 called Frankenstein, or The Vampire's Victim. Silent films continued the struggle to bring the story alive. Early versions such as the Edison Company's Frankenstein, managed to stick somewhat close to the plot. In 1931, however, James Whale created a film that drastically changed the story. Working under Universal Studios, Whale introduced to the plot several elements now familiar to a modern audience: the image of "Dr." Frankenstein, whereas earlier he was merely a naive, young student, an Igor-like character (called Fritz in this film) who makes the mistake of bringing his master a criminal's brain while gathering body parts, and a sensational creation scene focusing on electric power rather than chemical processes. In this film, the scientist is an arrogant, intelligent, grown man, rather than a unknowing youngster. Another scientist volunteers to destroy the creature for him, the film never forcing him to take responsibility for his acts. Whale's sequel Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and later sequels Son of Frankenstein (1939), and Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) all continued the general theme of sensationalism, horror, and exaggeration, with the newly-dubbed Dr. Frankenstein and his parallels growing more and more sinister.
Later films diverted even more from the story, portraying the doctor as a sexual pervert and using his new persona to ask contemporary questions about science. Andy Warhol's Frankenstein portrayed him as a necrophiliac, and in The Rocky Horror Picture Show Dr. Frank-N-Furter (a parody of Frankenstein) creates a creature as a muscular twink of a sexual plaything. In Frankenstein Created Woman, he transplants a man's soul into a woman's body, joining the transsexual debate. And in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed he transplants a fellow-scientist's brain into another body in order to keep him alive, introducing moral questions into how far science should go to save a life. Although these films managed to bring the audience's attention back to the scientist, rather than the monster, they continue to show him as more depraved than the original. Overall, the story of Frankenstein that most people know today is more the product of movie studios than of Mary Shelley. Still, these films have provided valuable insights into the nature of film, the evolution of the general populace's view of science, and several interesting interpretations of a classic story.
Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein is a spoof of Frankenstein in which Victor Frankenstein's grandson, Frederick Frankenstein returns to Romania to settle his grandfather's affairs and ends up creating a new creature.
Although the morals of Shelley’s story may not have been passed down along with the rest of her tale, Frankenstein has become a very popular story being told in today’s society. It is often common to see Frankenstein’s monster appear in movies, music, readings, and even at your door step on Halloween. Though the tale’s details have been slightly changed as it’s passed from generation to generation, the overall concept of her story remains and continues being carried and passed throughout history.
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- Frankenstein, The Pennsylvania Electronic Edition, annotated edition containing critical articles and other resources.
- Frankenstein, 1831 illustrated edition, scanned book via Internet Archive, includes prefaces.
- , omits the prefaces, edition unknown.
- Frankenstein audibook from LibriVox, no prefaces and no edition information.
- Frankenstein, Online Literature Library, includes the prefaces, no edition information.
- Frankenstein RSS version, edition and prefaces unknown.
- Frankenstein free downloads in pdf, pdb and lit formats
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Frankenstein in Sicilian: Frankenstein (rumanzu)
Frankenstein in Simple English: Frankenstein
Frankenstein in Slovenian: Frankenstein
Frankenstein in Finnish: Frankenstein
Frankenstein in Swedish: Frankenstein
Frankenstein in Thai: แฟรงเกนสไตน์
Frankenstein in Turkish: Frankenstein (kitap)
Frankenstein in Chinese: 科學怪人