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Which Literary “Monster” Was a Vegetarian?

Margaret Lipman
Updated May 16, 2024
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The English novelist Mary Shelley began writing her acclaimed Gothic novel Frankenstein in 1816, when she was 18 years old; it was published two years later. Despite being widely read, the first misconception made about this classic work of fiction is that the monster (or “creature”) in Shelley’s novel is named Frankenstein. However, “Frankenstein” is actually the surname of Victor Frankenstein, the monster's creator. Delving deeper into Shelley's narrative reveals another often-overlooked detail: Frankenstein's monster is a vegetarian.

In the novel, the monster states, “My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and the kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment.” By denouncing humanity’s treatment of animals and distancing himself from his creator, Frankenstein’s monster is portrayed sympathetically.

Mary Shelley grew up surrounded by artists, philosophers, and writers, and this upbringing deeply influenced her perspective. The daughter of the political philosopher William Godwin and the women’s rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft (who died 11 days after her birth), and married to the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley was steeped in an environment ripe with intellectual discourse.

During the summer of 1816 spent with Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and their friends near Lake Geneva, Switzerland, Mary conceived the idea for Frankenstein. Reportedly, as the friends shared stories, Mary narrated the tale of a man named Dr. Frankenstein who created a monster, which would become her most celebrated work.

Though less common during the Romantic era, vegetarianism was not entirely unheard of. Mary Shelley's father and husband were both proponents of vegetarianism, with Percy Shelley writing four essays on the subject. In “A Vindication of the Natural Diet,” which Percy Shelley published in 1813, he wrote, “It is only by softening and disguising dead flesh by culinary preparation that it is rendered susceptible of mastication or digestion, and that the sight of its bloody juices and raw horror does not excite intolerable loathing and disgust.” Percy Shelley argued strongly against the consumption of meat, considering it to be brutal and immoral. He also wrote that eating a vegetarian diet could protect against disease.

In another of Percy Shelley’s works, “Queen Mab, A Philosophical Poem,” he returns to the subject of vegetarianism, using the striking image of a lamb being slaughtered. This motif is much like the example Mary Shelley uses in Frankenstein to show the monster's rejection of eating animals. Considering the monster’s vegetarianism sheds light on his capacity for empathy and perhaps affords him a little more sympathy in the novel than he is accustomed to.

Other famous vegetarians:

  • The Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci was a devout vegetarian long before the term was invented.

  • Alice Walker, the celebrated author of The Color Purple is reportedly vegetarian and known for saying, "the animals of the world exists for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men."

  • The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was a vegetarian, once stating, “Animals are my friends…and I don’t eat my friends.”

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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