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SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers for Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

In her groundbreaking novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley eliminated almost all of her characters: Justine Moritz, William Frankenstein, Henry Clerval, Elizabeth Lavenza, Alphonse Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein, and presumably the creature itself; Shelley certainly stacks up body size. Only Robert Walton is left to tell Victor’s dirty story. or it seems. Because there is a character who not only escapes the carnage, but also breaks free from Shelley’s narrative. His fate is tempting and forever a mystery. Of course, I’m not talking about anyone other than Ernest Frankenstein.

Who is Ernest Frankenstein? Well, he’s the Frankenstein brother that Shelley and Judy Winslow got out of their novel (yes, I’m a proud 90s kid). Right before Victor embarks on his epic adventure in the Arctic to find the creature, Victor mentions to Walton that “Ernest was still alive.” This nondescript sentence is the final statement about the only surviving member of the Frankenstein family. There is no tearful farewell between brothers, no last words that Victor remembered on his journey to the North Pole. In the midst of all the gruesome death and chaos, Ernest simply disappears without explanation.

So what happened to Ernest Frankenstein? Since the novel was published, there have been a number of writers who have wondered the same thing. When researching for this post, however, it became clear that there was a lack of Ernest Frankenstein-Forward adjustments written by color authors. Hopefully that will change very soon! However, there are excellent Frankenstein customizations from color authors that you should check out right away. In particular, the book Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor and Destroyer by Victor LaValle are must-sees. For an interesting and terrifying retelling of Shelley’s novel in US-occupied Baghdad, get Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi.

Some of the writers who have explored this character have written adaptations of Shelley’s work that put Ernest in strange new roles. Read on if you dare, fearless reader, to discover the fate of this missing character.

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Ernst’s Break: A Brief History of Literary Erasure

For most of the 200 years that Frankenstein was a pop culture phenomenon, Ernest Frankenstein was a non-unit. The 19th century in particular was not kind to the missing brother. In the first dramatic account of Frankenstein – Richard Brinsley Peakes’ conjecture; or the fate of Frankenstein – Ernest’s character is simply left out of the cast. In addition, this decision did not bother Mary Shelley, who was “very amused” by the play. (By the way, Peake created Fritz, the famous laboratory assistant of Victor Frankenstein, out of guesswork.)

Peake’s piece, written in 1823, set the precedent for Ernest’s disappearance in 19th-century adaptations of Frankenstein. The only exception seems to be the anonymous, terrible penny The Monster Made By Man; or The punishment of presumption. This terrifying story, based on Shelley’s novel, revolves around a character named Ernest and his assistant Frantz. Together they combine the dark arts of alchemy with the latest anatomical sciences and manage to create a monster that – wait a minute, you might be thinking. Isn’t this just the Frankenstein story, but a guy named Ernest instead of Victor? Unfortunately for Ernest Frankenstein, you would be correct.

The Return of Ernest: Adaptations of the 20th and 21st Centuries

It wasn’t until the 1970s that Ernest Frankenstein reappeared as a character in Brian Aldiss’ bizarre science fiction novel Frankenstein Unbound. In the book, nuclear warfare has severely disrupted the space-time continuum, and the narrator Joe Bodenland suddenly travels to Switzerland in 1816. There he discovers that the Frankenstein family exists in real life. With his previous knowledge of Shelley’s novel, Bodenland tries to help the Frankensteins against the creature’s insatiable thirst for revenge. In Frankenstein Unbound, Ernest is a dark, brooding character who is suspicious of Bodenland’s intrusions into his family’s business. He has a presence that he didn’t have in Shelley’s novel. While his role isn’t exactly that significant, Aldiss sets the stage for Ernest’s return to the Frankenstein myth.

Two novels of the 21st century continue Ernest’s adventure to Frankenstein: Suzanne Weyn’s Dr. Frankenstein’s Daughters and Pete Planisek’s Frankenstein: A Life Beyond. In Weyn’s novel, Ernest plays the role of caretaker for Giselle and Ingrid, Victor’s newly discovered twin daughters and heirs to his estate. After living through his brother’s nightmare of creation, Ernest settles in the Orkney Islands in a quiet, domestic life. Unfortunately for him, Giselle and Ingrid destroy that peace in order to understand the violent past of the Frankenstein family.

In Frankenstein: A Life Beyond, Planisek sets the plot a decade after Shelley’s novel. Ernest returns to Geneva accompanied by Clerval’s son. There he hopes to find out what happened to Victor and find comfort after the death of his family. Of the novels starring Ernest Frankenstein, Planisek treats the character best. In addition, Frankenstein: A Life Beyond is the first part of a planned trilogy and thus promises more Ernest-centered adventures!

The case for Ernest Frankenstein

If you’ve made it this far, you might be wondering: Should I really be interested in a character Mary Shelley basically made spooky? Is Ernest Frankenstein not only an interesting Frankenstein trivia but also an important role? Well, my hypothetical reader, that would be perfectly reasonable questions! After all, his more famous brother achieved the unthinkable and created a sentient life. Moreover, his utter lack of consideration for his creation brought down everyone around him. It only seems fair that Victor Frankenstein gets the lion’s share of literary attention.

While Victor Frankenstein speaks of the romantic age of the fallen hero, Ernest’s appeal is much more contemporary. Ernest Frankenstein is an unfinished person, a kind of participant in some immense tragedy over which he has no control. At the end of Frankenstein, Ernest is completely deracinated. All the people in his life are gone and his social world is squeezed to a vanishing point. Besides, Ernest will never fully understand what happened to him. Victor and the creature are dead, and all possible explanations have gone with them. It is a deeply shattered and harrowing existence: the wreckage of a megalomaniac’s catastrophic pursuit of power.

In the midst of all this, “Ernest was still alive”. He went on and took it day after day. While I don’t envy the thought of Ernest’s future wanderings in an excited world, I find them compelling and strangely familiar. I make roots for you, Ernest Frankenstein! You may be just a fragment of Mary Shelley’s fantasy, but our precarious, apocalyptic times have made you a character of honor. Sure, you are missing your older brother’s lightning bolt, but you managed to survive it all. And in our world that certainly counts for something.