The Original Frankenstein

Caroline Gonda writes:

Strongly fancied at the start of 1833 to win the Great Doncaster St Leger, Mr Gully’s bay colt Frankenstein (by Young Phantom, out of My Lady) failed to live up to expectations. Beaten into fourth place at the York Spring Meeting by Muley Moloch, Satan and Lot, in October Frankenstein, by now renamed Deceiver, finished last but two in the worst St Leger the Sporting Magazine’s correspondent had ever seen: ‘There was no necessity to re-name Frankenstein Deceiver; I think his abilities are so bad that he never could possibly deceive any one.’ It’s not clear whether Mr Gully’s Frankenstein was called after Mary Shelley’s novel, its over-reaching protagonist, or his monstrous creation. By the early 1830s, the tendency to confuse Frankenstein and his creature was already well established. Letters to the Times on the 1832 Reform Bill used ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Frankenstein’s monster’ almost interchangeably as shorthand for an unwieldy and dangerous entity created from ill-assorted bits and pieces. As Charles Robinson notes in his new edition of the novel, such confusion set in soon after the book’s first publication in 1818. In October 1823, at a masked ball in Liverpool, a local newspaper reported: ‘Mr Harris, of Preston, personated (we are told) Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. His appearance was most singular. His dress was of variegated colours, one half dark, the other light. His face was of different hues, the colours running insensibly into each other, and producing an effect at once singular and curious.’

(LRB 28 January 2010)