Victor was born in Naples (according to the 1831 edition of the novel) and raised in Geneva. He was the son of Alphonse Frankenstein and Caroline Beaufort, who died of scarlet fever when Victor was seventeen. He describes his ancestry thus: "I am by birth a Genevese; and my family is one of the most distinguished of that republic. My ancestors had been for many years counsellors and syndics; and my father had filled several public situations with honour and reputation." Victor has two younger brothers—William, the youngest, and Ernest, the middle child. Victor falls in love with Elizabeth Lavenza, who became his adoptive sister (his blood cousin in the 1818 edition) and, eventually, his fiancée.
Assembling a humanoid creature perhaps by the use of a chemical, apparatus or a combination of both (he avoids the question three times when asked), Frankenstein successfully brings it to life, but he is suddenly horrified by his actions as it awakens. He abandons and flees his creation, who disappears and soon embarks upon a journey of vengeance that results in the death of Frankenstein's younger brother, William. The Frankensteins' family friend and housekeeper, Justine, is blamed for the boy's death and executed; Victor is wracked with guilt, but does not come forward with the truth because he thinks no one will believe his story, and he is afraid of the reactions he'll get.
The creature approaches Frankenstein and begs him to create a female companion for him; Frankenstein agrees, but ultimately destroys this creation, aghast at the idea of a race of monsters. Enraged, the creature swears revenge and kills Henry Clerval, Victor's best friend. Later, on Frankenstein's wedding night, the monster kills Elizabeth, keeping the promise he made the night Victor demolished the incomplete female creation.
Frankenstein pursues the "fiend" or "Demon" (as he calls his creation) to the Arctic with the intent of destroying it; he ultimately fails in his mission, as he falls through an ice floe and contracts severe pneumonia. He is rescued by a ship undergoing an expedition to the North Pole, but dies after relating his tale to the ship's captain, Robert Walton. His creature, upon discovering the death of its creator, is overcome by sorrow and vows to commit suicide by burning himself alive in "the Northernmost extremity of the globe"; he then disappears, never to be seen or heard from again.
A majority of adaptations portray Victor Frankenstein's age anywhere between his twenties or thirties to late middle age or elderly. In the book, Victor is only in his early twenties when he creates his monster.
Percy Shelley, Mary's husband, served as a major influence for the character. Victor was a pen name of Percy Shelley's, as in the collection of poetry he wrote with his sister Elizabeth, Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire. There is speculation that one of Mary Shelley's models for Victor Frankenstein was Percy, who at Eton College had "experimented with electricity and magnetism as well as with gunpowder and numerous chemical reactions", and whose rooms at Oxford University were filled with scientific equipment. Percy Shelley was the first-born son of a wealthy country squire with strong political connections and a descendant of Sir Bysshe Shelley, 1st Baronet of Castle Goring, and Richard Fitzalan, 10th Earl of Arundel. Victor's family is one of the most distinguished of that republic and his ancestors were counsellors and syndics. Percy had a sister named Elizabeth. Victor had an adopted sister, named Elizabeth. On 22 February 1815, Mary Shelley delivered a baby two months premature; the child died two weeks later. Soon after, Percy left with Claire, Mary's stepsister, with whom he was having an affair. The question of Victor's responsibility to the creature – in some ways like that of a parent to a child – is one of the main themes of the book.
Obsession plays a major role in the development of Victor's character. First, as a child, he is obsessed with reading books on alchemy, astrology, and many pseudo-sciences. Later, as an adolescent/young adult, he becomes enthralled with the study of life sciences - mainly dealing with death and the reanimation of corpses. Finally, after the monster is created, Victor is consumed with guilt, despair, and regret, leading him to obsess over the nature of his creation. Obsessive behaviors can be seen from the beginning of the book until Victor dies.
In other media
Beside the original novel, the character also appears or is mentioned in other books from pastiches to parodies.
In the book Frankenstein's Aunt, the Baron's aunt comes to Frankenstein's castle to put it back in order, following the chaos caused by her nephew's experiments. In the novel Frankenstein's Aunt Returns, the doctor has created a child for the monster and his bride.
In Dean Koontz's Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein – now going by the alias of Victor Helios – has survived into the present, now living in New Orleans while arranging for the creation of his 'New Race' of humanity. His creations are mentally and emotionally defective, however, and Helios is forced to kill them. He is opposed in his 'quest' by his original creation – now called Deucalion, who has mastered the ability to teleport due to the unique circumstances of his creation – and two New Orleans detectives.
Victor Frankenstein's first unofficial appearance on screen was in a 1910 film (produced by Thomas Edison) in which he seemed more a magician.
The character's first significant film appearance was in Universal Pictures' 1931 film adaptation, directed by James Whale. Here, the character is renamed Henry Frankenstein (a later film shows his tombstone bearing the name "Heinrich") and is played by British actor Colin Clive opposite Boris Karloff as the monster. Clive reprised his role in the 1935 sequel, Bride of Frankenstein, which reunited Clive, Whale and Karloff, as well as first giving Frankenstein the official title of Baron. Although the character is not present in the following sequels due to Clive's death in 1937, an oil painting of Frankenstein (as portrayed by Clive) appears in 1939's Son of Frankenstein; he is also the title character, in spite of having only a cameo, in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942).
The film Mad Monster Party? featured Baron Boris von Frankenstein (voiced by Boris Karloff) who is based on Victor Frankenstein. Boris discovers the secret to total destruction where he plans to show it to the Worldwide Organization of Monsters while announcing his retirement. He has a nephew named Felix Flanken who was the son of his youngest sister (who was the "white sheep of the family" and was an expert in witchcraft) and a medicine man named Chuck Flanken (who Boris' sister met in Transylvania) where they moved to the United States and later passed away leaving Felix as Boris' only living relative.
The TV film Mad Mad Mad Monsters (a "prequel of sorts" to Mad Monster Party?) featured Baron Henry von Frankenstein (voiced by Bob McFadden impersonating Boris Karloff) who resembles Baron Boris von Frankenstein. In the TV film, Henry and his assistant Igor had constructed and brought to life a female monster to be the mate for Frankenstein's Monster much to the dismay of Igor (who wanted the bride to be given to him and not the Monster). To prepare for the wedding, Baron Henry von Frankenstein goes to the Transylvania Astoria Hotel in order to make wedding arrangements (where there is an opening on Friday the 13th) and to give them information on what food should be prepared for the wedding.
Robert Foxworth played Victor Frankenstein in a 1973 television adaptation Frankenstein.
In Mel Brooks' 1974 comedy Young Frankenstein, Gene Wilder portrays Frederick Frankenstein, grandson of Victor Frankenstein, who inherits the family estate but is repelled by his grandfather's work (to the point of insisting that his name is pronounced "Fronk-en-steen"). He is ultimately inspired to take up the work, eventually creating his own monster (played by Peter Boyle).
In 1992, a made-for-TV film adaptation of Frankenstein was produced by David Wickes for Turner Pictures. It starred Patrick Bergin as Victor and Randy Quaid as the monster. In this film, Victor clones himself instead of creating the creature from the dead. The major differences from the novel are the cloning and William's death. William is riding a horse and the monster pushes it over and the horse kills William. The servant Justine commits suicide after seeing the creature. On Victor's wedding night the monster kills Victor's father Alphonse and kills his friend Henry Clerval by stabbing him with a coat hanger. In this adaptation, Victor and the monster share a psychic link, and can sense each other's presence.
In the 1999 animated film, Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein, Victor (referred as "Dr. Frankenstein") is the main antagonist voiced by Michael Bell. After secretly creating the monster in a roller coaster, his lab is discovered by the Chipmunks and sends his creation after them. After the creature had not returned, he goes to the Chipmunks' house and kidnaps Alvin. He then uses a formula that makes Alvin go out of control. After Alvin is returned to normal, Victor in the disguise of the park's mascot tries to electrocute him, but is electrocuted by his own creation. Later near the end of the film, he appears as the theme park's entertainer.
In the 2004 film Van Helsing, Victor Frankenstein (portrayed by Samuel West) is hired by Count Dracula to create the monster for Dracula to use to bring his offspring to life. When Victor refuses, Dracula kills him, only to be attacked by the monster. The monster takes Victor's body to the windmill, but an angry mob outside of the castle sees the monster and chases it to the windmill. They set fire to the windmill in order to kill the monster, but are chased off by Dracula and his brides. The monster survives when the floor on top of the windmill caves in. The monster – which refers to Frankenstein as his/its father – is later used to bring Dracula's offspring to life, only to escape from the castle with help from monster hunter Gabriel Van Helsing.
The 2004 independent movie Frankenstein features a Victor Frankenstein known as Victor Helios, who has used his own research to extend his life into the modern day, where he continues his experiments to create life with the goal of replacing humanity with his own creatures. He is opposed by his original creation, who is determined to defeat his creator while being hampered by a mental 'block' Helios has installed in all his creatures to prevent them harming him.
The 2004 made-for-TV Hallmark production of Frankenstein starred Alec Newman as Victor Frankenstein opposite Luke Goss as the monster.
The 2007 film Frankenstein introduces Victoria Frankenstein. Instead of making the creature out of corpses, she uses stem cells, intending to use her experiment to save her dying son. The experiment goes wrong, however, and the creature escapes. When Victoria catches up with the monster, she comes to love it because it is her only remaining link to her son, who has since died.
In the 2012 film Frankenweenie, a film that greatly resembles the story of Frankenstein, the main character is named "Victor Frankenstein", implying that this was Victor Frankenstein when he was a child. Additionally, a character named Edgar "E" Gore resembles Igor.
In the 2014, the film "I, Frankenstein" depicts Victor Frankenstein (Played by Aden Young), for the first 3 minutes into the film. Since the whole movie rotates around his monster (named "Adam"), he is referred to quite a few times.
Victor Frankenstein is mentioned as the creator of Herman Munster of the series The Munsters, but does not appear in the series. It was mentioned that Victor Frankenstein is dead.
In The World's Greatest Super Friends episode "The Super Friends Meet Frankenstein," Dr. Frankenstein (voiced by Stanley Ralph Ross) is depicted as a mad scientist, monster maker, and great great grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein. He is assisted by an Igor-like henchman named Gork (voiced by Michael Bell). Dr. Frankenstein used his monsters to take revenge on the Transylvanians for what they did to his great great grandfather. First he unleashes the classic Frankenstein monster to attack Transylvania. The Super Friends were called in to investigate. When Batman and Robin attack Frankenstein's monster, Dr. Frankenstein ordered his monster to lure Batman and Robin to Frankenstein's Castle in order to trap them. When Batman and Robin short circuit Frankenstein's monster, Dr. Frankenstein arrives and traps them while thanking them for giving him an idea for his next creation more powerful then the original one. First Dr. Frankenstein transfers Batman's abilities to the target body. Robin manages to escape, but Dr. Frankenstein isn't bothered by this as Robin is only bringing the others. When Superman and Wonder Woman are called in by Robin, they are attacked by a tentacled tar creature with Kryptonite in it enabling Superman and Wonder Woman to be captured. Dr. Frankenstein then transfers Superman and Wonder Woman's abilities into the target body thus creating a composite monster that has Batman's head, cape, and genius-level intellect, Superman's body and super abilities, and Wonder Woman's magic lasso, magic bracelets, and telepathic powers. Dr. Frankenstein sends his Super-Monster to attack Europe while Robin and Gleek free Superman, Batman, and Robin. With help from the Austrian Energy Research Institute, Robin ends up going through the same technological experiment enabling him to have the powers of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman in order to fight the Super-Monster. Robin and the Super-Monster are evenly matched until Robin dons a lead suit and exposes the Super-Monster to Kryptonite. Robin defeats the Super-Monster while Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Gleek apprehend Dr. Frankenstein and Gork and then regain their powers from the Super-Monster by reversing the experiment.
The Adult Swim animated series Mary Shelley's Frankenhole features Dr. Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Jeff B. Davis) and other characters from both the novel Frankenstein and other classic horror films. Frankenstein is depicted as being a narcissist who, after drinking an immortality serum he invented, has lived for more than a thousand years. He has developed the technology to connect his village in Western Europe to various points in time, called Frankenholes, that allow various people from history to time travel to visit him in the hopes he will do some sort of miraculous surgery to fix physical and mental flaws.
Viktor Frankenstein appears in ABC's Once Upon a Time played by David Anders. Viktor comes from a black-and-white world that is separate from Fairytale Land/The Enchanted Forest (where the other characters come from). Also in this show as seen in flashbacks, his brother Gerhardt is reanimated as this show's version of Frankenstein's monster. In Storybrooke, he appears as a physician named Dr Whale. In the episode "In the Name of the Brother", the viewer is introduced to Frankenstein's Monster.
Victor Frankenstein's in-universe analog or ancestor "Friedrich von Frankenstein" is mentioned multiple times throughout Castlevania: Lords of Shadow's main story. Before he died, the Vampire Lord Carmilla had promised to make him suffer for his creations and had carried it out after becoming undead. One of his creations appears as a boss, but unlike the monster, it's a metallic, scorpion-like creature that has no hint of humanity but a large amount of durability. In the first DLC expansion of the main story you find Friedrich's decayed fingers in jars spread out in the Vampire Lord's castle, although you can only find 6 of them.
^"Journal 6 December – Very Unwell. Shelley & Clary walk out, as usual, to heaps of places...A letter from Hookham to say that Harriet has been brought to bed of a son and heir. Shelley writes a number of circular letters on this event, which ought to be ushered in with ringing of bells, etc., for it is the son of his wife." Quoted in Spark, 39.