Historical Backgroundwrote Frankenstein (1818), she surely did not know the extent of the change that her work would acquire. Frankenstein has been adapted numerous times, starting on stage in 1823 with Presumption by Richard Brinsley Peake and continued to be adapted for stage throughout the 19th century. In 1910, it began appearing in film, when James Searle Dawley adapted the text into a silent short film. Frankenstein films have consistenly been created since then, often stretching the idea of Frankenstein's monster to his utmost limits.  The monumental impact of Frankenstein can not only be seen in dramatic form, but also in children’s books, television shows, music, and newspapers. It has even, in the case of political cartoons, provided impetus for great change in society. Frankenstein’s Monster has often been used to represent the masses in such cartoons, and is used to show, as Steven Earl Forry puts it, “dissolute and unbridled forces” that is the common theme which connects all of these cartoons. In a bit of confusion and muddling of the source text, the creature that is found in these cartoons is normally referred to simply as "Frankenstein", rather than "Frankenstein's monster".

1832 Reform Bill 

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"Reform Bill's First Step Amongst His Political Frankenstein" 1833

In 1832, the British tried to pass an act which would expand voting rights to booming industrial cities that previously had no political representation.  Authorized by Charles Grey in 1831, the Act had no problems passing the required number of votes for the House of Commons , but was voted down in the House of Lords.  This occurred three more times until the public outcry was too great, prompting Prime Minister Grey to threaten resignation. 

Finally, the act was passed into law on June 4, 1832 (“Reform Bill”).  The Reform Act of 1832 was an incredibly important piece of legislation for history’s sake and as Eric J. Evans comments, “Looked at from a modern perspective, 1832 can be seen as the vital first step on the road to full, representative parliamentary democracy.” (Evans)  There were many reform acts that came after 1832, including one in 1867 and 1884 , but these two later but were only successful due to the headway that was made in 1832.  The first Reform Act increased the total electorate by 217,000 people, the second by 938,000 and the third by 5,000 per district, which in total tripled the total electorate (“Reform Bill”). 

Understanding the importance of this act is key to seeing just how Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein functions in political history.  In March of 1832, the first Franken

stein political cartoon concerning the Reform Act was published in McLean’s Monthly Sheet of Characters depicting William IV’s decision to create peers and let the Act continue (Forry). The cartoon is implying that if the Bill were successfully passed, then the power that was once held solely by the Royal would be given away to the people.  The second cartoon was published in Figaro in London on April 28th of that same year and was entitled “The Political Frankenstein". In this, Prime Minister Grey stands above the Creature, who represents the new electorate and is feeding the Creature political power (Forry).  In 1833, the third cartoon is published, which shows the Creature that has been created by the passage of the Act trampling over other important issues such as slavery and free trade (Levine).  This particular cartoon attempted to show the opinion that the passage of the bill was giving too much power to the masses, and therefore, other issues would be overlooked and "trampled upon".

Irish Frank 1869

The Irish Frankenstein 1869

Irish Frank 1882

The Irish Frankenstein 1882

English-Irish Relations

Throughout the 19th century the Frankenstein Monster kept up with the ongoing issues of the Irish and English relation.  The English despised the Irish, and in an attempt to show them as uncivilized, violent people, the political cartoonists got to work and painted the Irish as literal monsters. According to Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature, “The Irish, like the working class, were considered by the English to be brutish and primitive and, like a monster, possessing the potential to run out of control.” (Lederer).

The first major Irish-English relation cartoon that was published appeared in Punch in early 1843 and was entitled, “The Irish Frankenstein”. It depicts a large Irish man as the monster, attacking an innocent British man walking past (Forry).  The next major cartoon in the Irish saga comes in The Tomahawk in December of 1869 by Matt Morgan .  The cartoon was to specifically counter the new myth of Irish Finianism which came about with John O’Mahony’s "Fenian Brotherhood ”. The cartoon was published along with a story called “The Monstrous Legacy”, about an evil man who constructed Fenianism (Forry).   John Tennial once again appears on the Frankenstein political scene when he published a cartoon in 1882 depicting Irish nationalist leader, Charles Stewart Parnell after the Phoenix Park murders .  He even goes so far as to connect it to Shelley’s novel by quoting her, again referring to Parnell as the Monster, “The hateful and blood-stained Monster… yet was it not my Master to the very extend that it was my Creature?... Had I not breathed about my own spirit?” (Levine).

Working Class

Irish Frank 1843

The Irish Frankenstein 1843

Another common theme throughout the 19th century was the Frankenstein Monster being used to represent the working class in Labor and its disputes (Forry).19th century cartoonist John Tenniel , who published more than two thousand cartoons (and is better known for illustrating Alice in Wonderland ), produced many of these cartoons that starred the working class (Lederer).  There were several famous cartoons published, the most known of them being the “Brummegem Frankenstein ” which was published by Tenniel in Punch in September of 1866. Brummegem comes from the vernacular pronunciation of Birmingham, which was an English city known for cheap jewelry and toys (Lederer).  In the cartoon, the Monster waits for voting rights to be given to him, and the theme of the working class gaining too much power persists.

New Frankenstein 1862

The New Frankenstein 1862

Abolition Debates

In 1824, George Canning used a Frankenstein analogy to argue against the abolition of slavery in the West Indies. Canning compared the slaves to Frankenstein's Monster, saying that if they were to be freed, the slaves would revolt in a manner similiar to the creature in the text. Canning went on to say: “To turn [the slave] loose in the manhood of his physical strength, in the maturity of his physical passion, but in the infancy of his uninstructed reason, would be to raise up a creature resembling the splendid fiction of a recent romance.” (Lederer)

The creature was also featured in an 1862 cartoon from America, “The New Frankenstein” which was published in Vanity Fair by Henry Louis Stephens .  It referred to the anti slavery argument fought by Massachusetts senator, Charles Sumner (Young).   Sumner compares the Monster to the Southern Confederacy and is outraged that they desire to keep slaves, saying that they are the: “soulless monster of Frankenstein, the wretched creation of mental science without God.” (Young).

Other Important Cartoons and Today


The first ever Frankenstein political cartoon to be published was in 1821 and it was George Humphrey’s “Tugging at a High Eye Tooth” on November 1.  Another important cartoon included military struggle and power referred to by John Tenniel with “The Russian Frankenstein and his Monster” in 1854.  It is also believed that Frankenstein was invoked to help pass another Act in Britain in 1832 called the Anatomy Act.

Timeline of 19c Political Cartoons

  • “Tugging at a High Eye Tooth”, November 1, 1821 by George Humphrey</li>
  • George Canning refers to Frankenstein in a pro-slave trade argument in 1824</li>
  • “Frankenstein Creating Peers”, March 1 st, 1832 in McLean’s Monthly Sheet of Characters.</li>
  • “The Political Frankenstein”, April 18 th, 1832 in Figaro in London.</li>
  • “Reform Bill’s First Step Amongst his Political Frankensteins” 1833</li>
  • “The Irish Frankenstein”, 1843 in Punch</li>
  • “The Russian Frankenstein and his Monster”, July 15, 1854 in Punch by John Tenniel</li>
  • “The New Frankenstein”, May 10, 1862 in Vanity Fair by Henry Louis Stephens</li>
  • "Brummagem Frankenstein”, September 8, 1866 in Punch by John Tennial</li>
  • “The Irish Frankenstein”, December 18, 1869 in The Tomahawk by Matt Morgan</li>
  • “The Irish Frankenstein”, May 20, 1882 in Punch by John Tennial    

    Works Cited

    Evans, Eric J. The Great Reform Act of 1832. N.p.: Psychology Press, 1994. N. pag. Print.

    Forry, Steven E. Hideous Progenies: Dramatizations of Frankenstein from Mary Shelley to the Present. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990. N. pag. Print.

    Lederer, Susan E., Elizabeth Fee, and Patricia Tuohy, eds. Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature: an Exhibition by the National Library of Medicine. N.p.: Rutgers University Press, 2002. 33-36. Print.

    Levine, George Lewis, ed. "Mary Shelley's Monster: Politics and Psyche in Frankenstein by Lee Sterrenburg." The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel. N.p.: U.C. Knoepflmacher, 1982. 167-71. Print.

    "Reform Bill." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 08 Dec. 2013. <>.

    Young, Elizabeth. Black Frankenstein: The Making of an American Metaphor. N.p.: NYU Press, 2008. 47-55. Print.