Science Fiction Studies

#67 = Volume 22, Part 3 = November 1995


Frankenstein: The Source of a Name? Twenty years ago Radu Florescu argued that Mary Shelley took the name “Frankenstein” from Castle Frankenstein atop Magnet mountain near Darmstadt. It does seem likely that she would at least have glimpsed the castle while travelling with Percy Shelley and her step-sister Claire Clairmont down the Rhine between Mannheim and Mainz in September 1814. The castle was named for the German feudal family which inhabited it from the early Middle Ages until 1662 when it was sold. In 1670 the head of the family was granted the title of Baron (Florescu, In Search of Frankenstein [Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1975], 76). Unfortunately there is no mention of Castle Frankenstein or of any members of the Frankenstein family in the letters and journals of Mary, Claire, or Percy.      

Florescu does not deal with any nineteenth-century descendants of this Frankenstein family beyond mentioning that there were two German branches (the main one in Franken and another in Munich, Bavaria), an English branch, a Turkish branch, and American descendants in Minnesota, Connecticut, and California.  It seems that there were a large number of Frankensteins and that “The family served Germany with distinction, as soldiers, politicians, diplomats, jurists, bishops, abbots, artists and writers” (77). And according to Taki Theodoracopulos, the Greek shipping heir and columnist, a Baron Frankenstein was the German consul in Geneva in 1816, where and when Mary Shelley conceived and began her famous novel. In his “Atticus” column in The Sunday Times for 30 October 1994, Theodoracopulos includes an item relating to Kenneth Branagh's recent film of the novel entitled “No Frankensteins at the monster bash.” After pointing out that Philippe Washer, “one of my closest friends,” now owns the Villa Diodati (where Byron stayed and where the ghost-story contest was proposed), Theodoracopulos records that Mary Shelley

decided to name the scientist Frankenstein after the nicest man she knew, Baron Frankenstein, the German consul in Geneva.  The Frankensteins and Schoenburgs are first cousins, the latter being the mother of my children. 

The Frankensteins, then, are Theodoracopulos's “cousins by marriage” (section 1, page 13). In spite of the Shelley and Byron parties' total silence on the matter, one might still hope to uncover some documentary evidence that would substantiate what seems to have come down to Theodoracopulos as his wife's family lore.      

However, my own efforts have been unsuccessful. I was advised to write to the Geheimes Staatsarchiv, Preussischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin.  In a response dated 15 May 1995 from its director, S. Reinhardt, I was informed that intensive search in the most likely files had failed to turn up any relevant documents. For the benefit of Radu Florescu or any other investigator who may wish to further the search, Reinhardt's actual words are as follows:

trotz intensiver Nachforschungen in den Beständen
           I. HA Rep, 81 Gesandtschaft Bern
           I. HA Rep.  89 (2.2.1.) Geheimes Zivilkabinett
           I. HA Rep. 90 Staatsministerium
           I. HA Rep. 151 Finanzministerium
           III. HA (2.4.1.) Ministerium der auswärtigen Angelegenheiten
konnten leider keine Unterlagen über einen Konsul Frankenstein ermittelt werden.

On the basis of these files it would appear that there is no evidence of a Consul Frankenstein in Geneva in 1816; equally there is apparently no conclusive evidence to the contrary. So the question remains open. Several of the names in Frankenstein are traceable to real people. It is surely possible that that of Frankenstein is too.—David Ketterer, Concordia University.


On Anatomy of Wonder 4. I appreciated the detailed review by Arthur B. Evans of AOW4 that appeared in the July issue of SFS. He began by saying that the new edition is “very different” from the previous ones, but that was neither my intention nor my sense as the manuscript took shape. I included everything I could think of to make it as useful as possible to its various audiences. But in spite of many new contributors and the absence of coverage of sf not translated into English, my feeling was far more of continuity than of change.      

The new edition is about 6% longer than the 1987 third edition, if the omission of foreign-language sf is allowed for, although the larger type face disguises this fact. It is perfectly reasonable, and very understandable, that the only magazine consistently devoted to an international perspective on sf would find this omission regrettable. I regret it myself. But would scholars— a relatively small portion of the total audience— be better served by a 1200-page book retailing for $75? I judged not, since the guide lies at the intersection of scholarship and commerce. I'm old-fashioned enough to believe that contributors should be paid—not nearly enough, of course—and that I should net a few thousand from five years of royalties. The third edition is still available for those wanting a copy—$44, ISBN 0-8352-2312-4, 800-521-8110—and the coverage of the 13 languages is through about 1986.      

The list of translations in chapter 15 refers only to the annotated fiction and is complete on those terms. It is not a list of what's in print, nor is an attempt made to recommend other non-English sf, aside from the relatively small number of annotated books. I don't “appear” to suggest readers use other tools for coverage of foreign sf—I explicitly state it without any apology whatsoever. Coverage of translated sf would have been more detailed if it existed, i.e., if there was a market for it in the US or the UK. Don Wollheim, who read French and had a collection of French sf, was unusual in publishing some translations in his DAW  paperback line. None of them sold well. The unhappy fact is that few scholars in sf read a foreign language fluently, and published scholarship in English—if Hal Hall's secondary bibliographies are an adequate measure—is meager. SFS, commendably, does what it can to rectify this.      

A final factor has little to do with high cost and lack of an audience. Evans referred to the guide as “highly labor-intensive,” a very accurate description. It's one thing to deal with a manuscript by a native speaker of English whose work can be independently checked to some degree. But dealing with “minor” languages requires another magnitude of effort, and I simply had to rely on the judgments of the contributors, since I could not locate anyone to referee the submissions (selection of some contributors was equally difficult). I frankly don't want to go through that ordeal again.      

Because Anatomy of Wonder has always been a non-trade book, sold mostly through wholesalers to libraries, I've always assumed that at least 80% of the copies went to libraries, the balance to individuals. I still think that's roughly correct, but Michael Klossner provided recent figures that gave me pause. The third (1987) edition has sold about 4100 copies. But only about 971 libraries reported to the OCLC database that they owned at least one copy. Some of these 971 are metropolitan public libraries with many branches, some of which also have copies, although that is reflected in the OCLC figures. Perhaps my 80/20 guess is very inadequate. Unfortunately, there's no way to know the correct figures. I would like to believe all subscribers to SFS were among the buyers, as of course they would have been, in the best of all alternative worlds.—Neil Barron, Vista.


Correction. To participate in the Literary Science Fiction & Fantasy Discussion Forum, send the message SUBSCRIBE SF-LIT [FULL NAME] to LISTPROC@LOC.GOV rather than to LISTPROCESS as indicated in #66.


SOL: Speculation On-Line. SOL is a peer-reviewed electronic journal focusing on the critical analysis and theory of speculative cultural productions, from narrative fiction and other kinds of textualities to film, television, performance art, and any other cultural form which explores our diverse ways of being in the world.      

In addition to occasional reprints of paper-based essays and reviews of contemporary theory, history, and commentary about speculative productions, SOL will publish essays (and more radical expressions) concerned with “the fantastic” and “science fiction” (from ancient to contemporary), as well as with the most immediate of cultural productions tagged with terms like “cyborg,” “cyberculture,” “post-industrial culture,” “technology,” “futurist experimentation,” “virtual reality,” “slipstream,” “postmodern,” “cyberspace,” and the like. We are looking for essays, articles, interviews, reviews, and notes on speculative fiction (in any form), relevant contemporary theory, and the experiences of contemporary techno-culture. All submissions will be peer-reviewed.                

Deadline for submissions for the first issue of SOL (to be disseminated electronically via e-mail and World Wide Web) is 1 January 1996. Send all inquiries and submissions to Len Hatfield at the following electronic address: SOL@EBBS.ENGLISH.VT.EDU. SOL will begin dissemination on 15 March 1996.

moonbut.gif (4466 bytes)Back to Home