Florescu Book Looks at History Behind Frankenstein

By Paul Clerici
Contributing Writer

Prof. Emeritus Radu Florescu (History) is a respected authority on Eastern Europe, and the people who shaped the region's history and culture. So why does he spend so much time writing about Dracula and Frankenstein?

"Sometimes," Florescu said, "the mythical characters are more interesting."

Just in time for the season when such mythical characters are foremost in the public's mind, Florescu recently updated his 1975 book In Search of Frankenstein , which sheds additional light on the fact and fiction behind Mary Shelley's 180-year-old literary vision. Like his works on Dracula, which include books authored with Prof. Raymond McNally (History), In Search of Frankenstein reflects Florescu's interest in unearthing the historical basis for these popular legends.

Florescu believes that the Frankenstein legend drew its first breath when Shelley visited Castle Frankenstein in southwest Germany. At that time, Florescu said, it was the home of Konrad Dippel, a seemingly disturbed alchemist who took the name Dippel Frankenstein from the castle's previous owners, the von Frankenstein family. Dippel supposedly wanted to convert the castle into a laboratory where he could make gold and pursue an even more ambitious, darker dream.

Prof. Emeritus Radu Florescu (History)

"It can't be proven that he created a man, as depicted in the movies, but he always wanted to perpetuate life," Florescu said. "He claimed he had an oil that could make you live to over 100 and he dug up graves and collected cadavers to use for this purpose."

Shelley, then an impressionable teenager, learned of Dippel's macabre work during her stay at the castle, Florescu said. It was as a result of this visit, he said, that two years later Shelley had a nightmare about Frankenstein which became the inspiration for her famous book.

Florescu's theory has drawn criticism from some Shelley devotees, who claim that by attributing Frankenstein to an actual person, it calls the author's originality into question. Florescu acknowledges the controversy but declares he is "not a literary man, I'm an historian."

Florescu's Frankenstein project was animated by an accidental spark from his Dracula research, which regularly takes him to Romania. "In a Transylvanian chapel," he recalled, "I saw an effigy of a 'von Frankenstein,' who was related to Frankenstein. So I thought perhaps there's something there."

He followed the trail into Germany to the famous castle - which, he said, people still search in hopes of finding the gold Dippel was said to create - and numerous points along the way, following in the footsteps of Shelley, Dippel and other important figures to the legend.

In addition to becoming a noted historian on subjects such as Dippel and Vlad the Impaler - the historical figure on whom Dracula is based - Florescu also has been thrust into celebrity, from book signings and television appearances to national talk shows and documentaries. He sees his work as an example of attracting people to the real story by way of the popularized myth.

"I exploited the vampire to sell Vlad the Impaler," he said. "I guess that's opposite of Hollywood."

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