6. The character of Victor Frankenstein and his castle were based on fact.
While the plot of Frankenstein may have been a result of Mary Shelley’s imagination, it seems the main character and the setting for his fateful experiments were not. Part of Mary and Shelley’s European travels after their elopement took them through Germany’s Rhineland. It was here that they came across the ruins of Castle Frankenstein, towering imposingly 400 meters over the Rhine Valley, overlooking the city of Darmstadt. Built in the thirteenth century, the castle’s name meant ‘the stone of the Franks.’ However, in the seventeenth century, it became home to its most notorious resident and the possible pattern for Mary’s Victor Frankenstein.
Johann Konrad Dippel was born at Castle Frankenstein in 1673 and lived there all his life. Alchemy was Dippel’s passion. His primary goal was to discover the secret of immortality. To this end, he created “Dippel’s Oil”; a concoction of ground-up horn, blood, leather, and ivory, which he claimed, was the elixir of life. Dippel guaranteed the oil would grant the user a lifespan of one hundred years and cure any known disease.
However, Dippel’s quest for immortality also led him to experiment with dead animals. He was even rumored to have used human corpses. Whether this is true cannot be proven. However, Dippel did write that he believed it was possible to transfer the soul of one body to another using a funnel, hose, and some lubricant! Dippel died in 1734- some say of poison administered by local people suspicious of his activities. Although Mary Shelley never claimed to have used Dippel as her inspiration, the name of his Castle- and the eerie similarities between its resident alchemist and Shelley’s scientist are compelling.