June 7, 2009

Benjamin Franklin Meets Frankenstein

Based on Duplessis’ famous etching of Benjamin Franklin, with a little Karloff thrown in, artist Mikey Hester has designed a nifty Franklinstein t-shirt (image slightly cropped here), available through the Threadless online store.

The connection between the Franklin and Frankenstein has been explored extensively. The real-life Franklin and the fictional Victor Frankenstein were contemporaries, and both were electrical experimenters. Frankenstein observed a tree shattered by lightning, and Franklin apocryphally flew a kite and a key in a thunderstorm, inspiring movie Frankensteins to release kites, capture lightning and zap monsters to life.

Mary Shelley was familiar with Franklin and his experiments. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was tutored in politics by Dr. Richard Price who supported the American Revolution and corresponded with Franklin. One of her publishers, Joseph Johnson, had released Franklin’s works in London, and her lover, Gilbert Imlay, was American and a Revolutionary fighter. Mary Wollstonecraft’s husband, William Godwin, was influenced by Franklin’s politics and he was a member, as was Franklin, of the scientific Royal Society of London. Mary Shelley’s companion, Percy Bysshe Shelley, studied Franklin and was conversant with electrical experimentation.

There is frequently quoted speculation that Mary’s choice of name for her scientist was inspired by, and perhaps even an homage to Franklin, though “Frankenstein” was not a rare name and Mary had almost certainly encountered it in 1814 during her trip down the Rhine and a stopover in the vicinity of Burg Frankenstein. Nevertheless, it is said that Franklin’s electrical experiments were so widely known and notorious that the novel’s original readers, back in 1818, would have easily made the Franklin/Frankenstein connection. Many scholars have since explored the influence of Benjamin Franklin on Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Percy and Mary Shelley, and its reflection in Mary famous novel, making Founding Father Benjamin Franklin one of numerous men of science of the era who are thought of as the “real” Frankenstein.

A quick Googling reveals that images mashing Franklin and Frankenstein are fairly common. A few are sampled here: Another t-shirt, this one on Zazzle; The greenish character is Benjamin Franklinstein, "American leader in the field of undead rights", as profiled on the Uncyclopedia; The black and white image is from Young Franklinstein, a Spanish site, and the Franklinstein photograph is from Komplexify. There’s more, if you care to go looking.

Lastly, courtesy of Wonderful Wonderblog, Franklin-Stein appears on an Ohio lottery ticket from Halloween 2008.

Mary Wollstonecraft history source: Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler’s The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein (2006).

Monster Money



Who knows how close the comparisons are? In 1998 While restoring Franklin's London home about six bodies 200 year old were found in the basement.

Christopher said...

now this is cool!...
benjamin franklenstein..lol

Evan J Peterson said...

Franklin and the monster meet in Fred Saberhagen's "The Frankenstein Papers," though that book is a pretty regrettable read and eventually explains the monster as *spoiler*...

...an alien with amnesia? WTF?