Dippel's Experiment Is a Model For Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

This Experiment Might Be a Model For Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”

Do you believe Mary Shelley had been inspired by the alchemist Johann Conrad Dippel’s bizarre experiments for the creation of the novel “Frankenstein”? If you’ve ever wondered about the origin of this scientific legend, you might be intrigued by the story of Johann Conrad Dippel. He was born in Castle Frankenstein and is often cited as a potential inspiration for Shelley’s famous novel. But Shelley never mentioned Dipple as a reference for her novel.

Here are the claims and the truth about them. Let’s dive in to know more about this story. 

Who is Johann Conrad Dippel?

Johann Conrad Dippel was a 17th-century alchemist, theologian, and controversial figure. He was born in 1673 at Castle Frankenstein near Mühltal and Darmstadt. He had a knack for causing trouble with his unconventional ideas. He studied theology, philosophy, and alchemy at the University of Giessen and obtained a master’s degree in theology. Dippel published many works under Christianus Democritus and became known for his controversial experiments.

Johann Conrad Dippel
Johann Conrad Dippel
Image Source : Wikipedia

Myth beyond his experiments

One of the most captivating legends surrounding Dippel is his quest to create a homunculus. “Homunculus” comes from Latin, meaning “little man.” In alchemy, it refers to a tiny, artificial human created through mystical and pseudo-scientific processes. Dippel has used bizarre methods, such as mixing animal blood, human semen, and other ingredients in sealed jars to create these tiny beings.

Also Dippel conducted  experiments on dead bodies stolen from a nearby graveyard. He has developed a substance called Dippel’s Oil, which was supposed to be similar to the ‘elixir of life’. While scientifically unfounded, these stories captured the imaginations of many and added to the mystique of alchemy. Some historians believe that  Mary Shelley heard these stories about Dipple and used them as inspiration for her novel Frankenstein.

Dippel during his experiments
Image Source : X

Today, bioengineering and genetic research explore the boundaries of life creation, but these fields operate with strict ethical guidelines and scientific rigor. The idea of creating life from inanimate materials remains in science fiction and fantasy.

Dippel’s Connection to Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”

Frankenstein Castle
Image Source : Wikipedia

Dippel’s connection to Castle Frankenstein gave rise to the theory that he was a model for Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel “Frankenstein.” This idea, while controversial, was first suggested by Radu Florescu in his 1975 book “In Search of Frankenstein.” Florescu speculated that Mary Shelley might have visited the castle during her travels on the Rhine with Percy Shelley. They could have heard local stories about Dippel, which had likely grown legendary and notorious by then.

Florescu also noted that Shelley referenced a brief interaction while touring the countryside around Castle Frankenstein with students of the University of Strasbourg. Dippel had once studied at this same university. These students might have shared stories about the infamous alumnus. 

In addition to that, Shelley knew several members of the “Kreis der Empfindsamen,” a literary circle that met in Darmstadt and frequently used Castle Frankenstein for public readings. It should be accepted that Dippel’s legends emerged in conversations within this circle, further influencing Mary Shelley’s creation of her famous novel.

Also, many writers have tried to connect Dippel’s experiments with Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. But she didn’t mention any reference or release any notes about Dippel’s experiment regarding her works. Whether or not these stories directly inspired her novel, Dippel’s reputation as an eccentric alchemist undoubtedly contributed to the mythos surrounding “Frankenstein.”

Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley
Image Source : Wikipedia

Regardless of the historical validity of the connection, Dippel’s status as Frankenstein’s prototype seems assured in current popular culture. Similar to Count Dracula’s controversial interchangeability with Vlad the Impaler, the merging of Dippel and Frankenstein has appeared in several works of fiction.

  • Robert Anton Wilson’s fantasy novel “The Earth Will Shake” features Dippel as a monster-making, globe-hopping magician who calls himself Frankenstein.
  • The science fiction novel “The Frankenstein Murders” portrays Dippel as an assistant to Victor Frankenstein.
  • Topps’ comic book miniseries “The Frankenstein-Dracula War” lists Dippel as one of Dr. Frankenstein’s chief inspirations.
  • Warren Ellis’s graphic novel “Frankenstein’s Womb” hypothesizes that Shelley visited Castle Frankenstein and heard of Dippel before writing her famous work.
  • Christopher Farnsworth’s debut novel “Blood Oath” features a vampire trying to stop an immortal Dippel from creating a Frankenstein-like army.
  • G.M.S. Altman’s novel “Dippel’s Oil” features a kindhearted Dippel living in modern times, bemused at his influence on the Frankenstein myth.
  • Larry Correia’s novel “Monster Hunter Vendetta” references Dippel as the creator of an enigmatic character, ‘Agent Franks.’
  • Kenneth Oppel’s novel “This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein” includes homages to Shelley’s influences, naming Victor Frankenstein’s twin brother Konrad after the alchemist.
  • Stan Major’s novel “Rimms of Khaos” features Dippel as an immortal criminal mastermind, making Frankensteinian monsters for a master vampire.
  • Johann Dippel is mad-doctor Lord Hervey’s hero in the TV series “The Frankenstein Chronicles,” with Dippel’s reanimated son as Hervey’s partner in crime.
  • Jeanette Winterson’s novel “Frankissstein” in 2019 dramatizes the Shelleys’ visit to Castle Frankenstein, where they hear the story of Dippel’s determination to reanimate his beloved deceased wife.
  • Dutch symphonic black metal band Carach Angren also released a concept album inspired by Dippel, “Franckensteina Strataemontanus,” in 2020.


Johann Conrad Dippel’s life and experiments are a fascinating chapter in the history of science and alchemy. While his attempts to create a homunculus were based on myths and pseudo-science, they reflect a time when the boundaries between science and magic were blurred.  So, did a 17th-century alchemist create tiny living people in jars? The answer is no, but the story of Johann Conrad Dippel continues to captivate and inspire those who love the weird sciences. Dippel’s legacy, intertwined with the legend of Frankenstein, serves as a reminder of the enduring human curiosity about life’s mysteries.

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