Douthwaite article reveals existence of French Frankenstein

Author: Shannon Chapla

French Frankenstein

Julia Douthwaite, professor of Romance languages and literatures at the University of Notre Dame, recently published an article that reveals the existence of a French “Frankenstein,” 28 years before the publication of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece.

Published with the help of former Notre Dame graduate student Daniel Richter in the July issue of European Romantic Review, “The Frankenstein of the French Revolution: Nogaret’s Automaton Tale of 1790,” proves that French author François-Félix Nogaret, in 1790 coined the name Frankenstein for an inventor who created a life-sized automaton during the French Revolution in a parable titled “Le Miroir des événemens actuels, ou la belle au plus offrant” (The Looking Glass of Actuality, or Beauty to the Highest Bidder).

“Nogaret’s story is an astounding precursor, especially since the revolution and its attempt to make a ‘new man’ have long focused interpretations of Shelley’s work,” Douthwaite said. “Our study of Nogaret’s novella holds fantastic insights for readers of the Gothic blockbuster of 1818, drawing from the history of automatons and the confusion over mechanical and vitalist philosophies of life during the years between the revolution and Romanticism. ‘Frankenstein’ will never be read the same.”

Douthwaite will speak about her article and forthcoming book titled “The Frankenstein of 1790 and Other Missing Links from Revolutionary France” on Sept. 21 at Hope College in Holland, Mich., and on Sept. 28 at Wesleyan University. In addition, the Webmaster of “Frankensteinia,” a blog that attracts some 500 visitors daily, has requested posting an interview with Douthwaite.

“I believe that this discovery is sensational and that scholars and students of Shelley’s masterpiece will find it essential reading,” Douthwaite said.

The article can be viewed in its entirety here.

Douthwaite is the author of “The Wild Girl, Natural Man and the Monster: Dangerous Experiments in the Age of Enlightenment” and “Exotic Women: Literary Heroines and Cultural Strategies in Ancient Regime France.” Her areas of specialty include 18th and early 19th century French literature, the French Revolution and Franco-English literary relations.

Contact: Julia Douthwaite, 574-631-9302,