The Most Tragically Underused Character in Literature

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is a staple of modern literature, a prime example of Gothic Horror, the precursor to Science Fiction as a genre, and frequent assigned reading.

Many know it by the horribly inaccurate movies.

These people would be surprised by many aspects of the novel itself. Victor Frankenstein is not the stereotypical, wild-haired “Mad Scientist,” but rather a tragic figure meant to represent the folly of hubris and, to perhaps a more logical if less intended degree, child abandonment. Little detail is given of the process of creation. The creature is extremely articulate and intelligent even from “birth,” and is in fact faster and more nimble than a man, completely defying the moaning, lumbering brute seen in popular culture. The entire Frankenstein family is featured prominently in the novel, namely Victor’s parents, brothers, and wife/adoptive sister/biological first cousin (depending on the edition). The whole family is Swiss, rather than British or American or Transylvanian or whatever they are in those films. Hunchbacked assistants are nowhere to be seen.

Some modern adaptations incorporate these oft forgotten qualities. The TV show Penny Dreadful‘s depiction of the creature is extremely loyal to the novel in terms of personality, for instance.

But there is one distinct aspect that goes entirely ignored in every adaptation I know of: Ernest.

Victor Frankenstein’s younger brother Ernest is mentioned only briefly in the novel, described in a letter as being not so studious as his brother, preferring physical activity and desiring to enter the Swiss foreign service. It’s fairly easy to forget about him, in fact one could almost assume Shelley herself did. But there’s something very important about him:

He survived.

Throughout the book, Victor laments his slowly dwindling family: His mother dies of Scarlet fever early on, then his creation murders his youngest brother William in rage and frames a family friend for it. When Victor destroys the Bride he’d agreed to make for the creature, he murders his best friend and his wife/adoptive sister/cousin (can’t emphasize that bit enough), driving his elderly father into a depression which kills him, spurning Victor so hunt the creature down, leading to his death by exposure near the North Pole. [Spoilers, I guess, for a famous two-hundred year old novel]

Notice anyone missing?

If you look even a little below the surface, Ernest becomes an extremely interesting character. He no doubt blamed himself for at lest some of the deaths in his family, certainly for William, who was a child and died while they were out playing together. And if you look what few dates there are in the novel, Victor left at most a couple years before Napoleon invaded Switzerland, so Ernie probably got the chance to be a soldier. (Also interesting, Victor was building his creature at the University of Ingolstadt at the same time the actual Illuminati was active there) And while he’s described as less suited to academia than Victor, thats not exactly saying much since Victor actually discovered the secrets of life itself. It’s not unreasonable to assume Ernest just hasn’t found what interests him yet.

So what we have here is the sole heir to a significant fortune, complete with diplomatic and aristocratic connections, traumatized by the death of his entire family at a young age, possibly of a genius-level intellect, possibly with access to supernatural technology, and who most likely served in the fight against a Tyrant some sources say was bent on world domination.

If any of this sounds vaguely familiar it may be because Mary Shelley accidentally invented Batman over a century early. There’s really no other way of looking at it. And here’s the thing: No one has been writing fiction about this.


That’s right, ladies and gents, I introduce “Ernest Frankenstein,” the first of what I hope will be, if popularity serves, many accounts of this criminally ignored character, and his adventures in the early 19th century, reluctantly teaming up with the creature who murdered his family to combat a deeper threat: Mad men of Science who would abuse Victor Frankenstein’s research to malevolent ends.

Read the first story here, and please share on whatever social media you most enjoy to spread the word if you want to read more. And please leave a comment, here or on the story itself, to tell me what you think.