The story of Frankenstein has always been one of my favorites. I love the romanticism and mysticism that surrounds it. I also love science so it’s really a match made in heaven. We all probably know the story of Frankenstein, which I won’t go onto here, but as usual I wanted to know more.
There is truly an actual Frankenstein’s Castle. I am sure you are stunned to find out that there is indeed such a place. The real castle is located in Germany and was originally a seat of politics and learning built by and maintained by the German Nobles and Lords of the 1200’s through the 1600’s. Connections between the novel bearing the Frankenstein name and this real local are hard to prove and are rather controversial. One of its former residents bears some hard to overlook semblances to the well known story. This is the fellow I want to focus on today.
Johann Konrad Dippel was a German Alchemist and Physician who was born at the actual Castle Frankenstein in Germany.
The facts surrounding Dippel are sketchy due to age and record keeping of the day. What is known is that Dippel was both a prolific author, mostly on topics of Theology, and a medical anatomist. Records show he experimented quite frequently with dead animals, to which he was said to be an “avid dissector”. He actually wrote a dissertation called Maladies and Remedies of the Life of the Flesh, in which he claimed to, have discovered both the Elixir of Life and the means to exorcize demons through potions he concocted from boiled animal bones and flesh. Many of Dippel’s countrymen regarded him as a dark sorcerer and reasoned that he had a pact with the devil to exchange his soul for knowledge of the dark arts. In any event there is only a tenuous possibility of any connection between Dippel and Mary Shelly who wrote the novel.
Dippel’s stories and reputation may have traveled to Mary Shelly’s ears via her stepmother, who had a relationship with Jacob Grimm of Grimm’s Fairy tales fame. It seems Grimm needed his tales translated and the translator chose was from the villages near the now famed Frankenstein’s castle. Rumors about Dippel included stories that he performed gruesome experiments with cadavers in which he attempted to transfer the soul of one cadaver into another. While experiments with cadavers and soul-transference were common among alchemists at the time, thus making it possible that Dippel pursued similar objectives, there is no direct evidence to link him to these specific acts. There is also no evidence to the rumor that he was driven out of town, when word of his activities reached the ears of the townspeople.
All in all I see lots of fun connections here and I thoroughly enjoyed finding out that there may have been a real person at the center of one of my favorite stories. Happy Halloween!