Making the Monster: The Science of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Making the Monster: The Science of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

The year 1818 saw the publication of one of the most influential science-fiction stories of all time. Frankenstein: Or, Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley had a huge impact on gothic horror and science-fiction genres, and her creation has become part of our everyday culture, from cartoons to Hallowe’en costumes. Even the name ‘Frankenstein’ has become a by-word for evil scientists and dangerous experiments. How did a teenager with no formal education come up with the idea for an extraordinary novel such as Frankenstein?

Clues are dotted throughout Georgian science and popular culture. The years before the book’s publication saw huge advances in our understanding of the natural sciences, in areas such as electricity and physiology, for example. Sensational science demonstrations caught the imagination of the general public, while the newspapers were full of lurid tales of murderers and resurrectionists.

Making the Monster explores the scientific background behind Mary Shelley’s book. Is there any science fact behind the science fiction? And how might a real-life Victor Frankenstein have gone about creating his monster? From tales of volcanic eruptions, artificial life and chemical revolutions, to experimental surgery, ‘monsters’ and electrical experiments on human cadavers, Kathryn Harkup examines the science and scientists that influenced Shelley, and inspired her most famous creation.


I wrote about Frankenstein and I also give talks about making your own monster. For more information click here.


Lucidly illuminates Shelley’s investment in the rapidly expanding knowledge of chemistry, biology and electricity of her times, and reminds us of how Frankenstein helped inspire technological developments, such as the pacemaker.” –  Wall Street Journal

Making the Monster reassembles the intellectual toolkit Shelley had at her disposal … everything she could have known about alchemy, spontaneous generation, phlogiston, physical decomposition, anatomy, transplant surgery, galvanism and human reanimation, digested for the 21st-century reader.” –  Literary Review

“An engaging account of the facts and fears of the 19th century that lay behind the composition of Mark Shelley’s Frankenstein. A telling reminder that although science has moved on, fears about what it might soon do have scarcely changed.” –  Steve Jones FRS, Emeritus Professor of Genetics at UCL, author and broadcaster

“A fascinating and educational journey through the shadowy twists and turns of medical history. The odours of the dissection rooms and the sounds of the public executions are brought to life just as vividly as the monster himself.” –  Carla Valentine, Mortician and Pathology Museum Curator

LA Public Library


Studium Generale Delft – Mary’s Shelley’s Frankenstein

BYU Radio – Frankenstein Science

Vox – The Real Experiments that Inspired Frankenstein

The Mind’s Eye Podcast – The Untold Story of Frankenstein

Science(ish) – Frankenstein

LA Public Library – Making the Monster