Where did Victor Frankenstein get the body parts for his monster?

Victor Frankenstein got the body parts that he used to make his creature from the corpses of dead humans, as well as from animal carcasses. He tells Captain Walton that he "dabbled among" the graves and "collected bones" from their human owners' final resting places. He also says that the "dissecting room and slaughter-house" provided him with many of his materials.

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In Chapter Three, Victor says that he "began the creation of a human being."  In order to achieve his goal, he requires "lifeless matter" so that he can "renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption." In other words, he needs body parts, and so he must look in all of the places one might find those parts: the morgue (the "charnel houses" later referenced in chapter four), slaughter-houses, etc. He also says, in Chapter Three, that he "dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave [and] tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay." Thus, it sounds as though Victor actually did resort to digging up fresh graves in order to plunder the bodies buried there.  

Importantly, it is in his "pursu[it] of nature to her hiding places" (the morgue, the grave, and other similar places that the average human eye avoids) that forces his "human nature to turn with loathing from [his] occupation" (chapter three).

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In Chapter 4 we see that Victor Frankenstein has an increasing fascination with death. He tells us he has never been afraid of or superstitious about graveyards, and he has become obsessed with finding out how and why death occurs.

This is the chapter where he explains that he has decided to create life and details how he went about it. To obtain the body parts he frequented a few places. First, he tell us he "collected bones from charnel-houses." According to the Oxford English Dictionary a charnel house is "a house for dead bodies; a house or vault in which the bones of the dead are piled up." You can think of "charnel houses" as another term for "morgue."

The charnel houses were not his only stop, however. He tells us later in Chapter 4, "The dissecting room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials." We can assume by this description that he was not only obsessed with finding body parts, but very resourceful!

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"To make his creature, Victor Frankenstein "dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave" and frequented dissecting rooms and slaughterhouses. In Mary Shelley's day, as in our own, the healthy human form delighted and intrigued artists, physicians, and anatomists. But corpses, decaying tissue, and body parts stirred almost universal disgust. Alive or dead, whole or in pieces, human bodies arouse strong emotion--and account for part of Frankenstein's enduring hold on us.

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Victor Frankenstein got the human body parts to make his creature by stealing them from the graves of the recently deceased. He tells Captain Walton that he "dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave," and that he "collected bones from charnel-houses." Thus, he essentially admits to digging up graves that had been recently filled in and going into mausoleums so that he could take pieces from the bodies. He absolutely, and quite illegally, interrupted the final resting places of people so that he could both study the bodies, trying to learn more about the principles of life and what causes death, as well as steal parts from them.

Victor claims that "the dissecting room and the slaughter-house" provided him with many of the materials he needed as well. This makes it sound as though Victor not only stole human parts from the recently deceased to make his creature, but also that some of the parts he used actually came from animals as well. In scientific studies, the dissection of animals is quite common, so there were likely lots of animal pieces and parts lying around at the university for this reason. Furthermore, the mention of a slaughterhouse implies that Victor may have even used pig or cow organs in constructing his creature.

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Victor speaks in two places about his methods of collecting body parts (chapter 4). Initially he does so to learn about anatomy and physiology. Once he decides that he can and should animate a living being, he sets about collecting the materials.

In the first phase, rather than just observe dead bodies, he resolves to study “the natural decay and corruption of the human body.” He gets “bodies deprived of life” from churchyards, and studies the decay in bodies that were now just “food for the worm.” He also goes to “vaults and charnel-houses,” often doing his studies on site. As he studies decomposition and the effects of “worms,” a category that seems to include bacteria, Victor develops an emotional attitude toward these processes:

I saw how the fine form of man was degraded and wasted; I beheld the corruption of death succeed to the blooming cheek of life . . .

In this phase and after he decides he can pursue regeneration, what interests him is the change from life to death, and death to life . . . ” Once he settles on his mission, realizing he will need a large number of parts, he goes to nature’s “hiding-places,” including returning to charnel houses. While the reader understands from this narrative that Victor is collecting bodies and body parts, one phrase is particularly troubling:

Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay?

Mary Shelley never clarifies what Victor means by “tortured the living animal . . . ” He may be referring to a nonhuman animal that he regarded as similar to humans, on which he experimented to understand its functions. But it is possible that Victor took one or more living persons for his experiment—perhaps to remove and transplant the heart, brain, or other essential organ.

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"The dissecting room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials" (Chapter IV).

Victor informs the reader in Chapter Four that he returns to his "old habits," that is he begins to frequent the dissecting rooms again, only this time as a collector, rather than a mere observer.  He also mentions gathering bones from 'charnel houses.' Unlike the 'Hollywood' versions of the novel, Frankenstein does not have an 'Igor'--a gruesome assistant searching for brains in rotting crypts. 

Victor does confess to "dabbl[ing] among the unhallowed damps of the grave," but Shelley's diction here remains purposefully vague.  Taken in context, Victor's graveside remark seems like figurative language, a metaphor, for his preoccupation with death and dead tissue; but upon considering Victor's fervor for completing his task, it is not totally untoward for the reader to consider that Victor may have robbed a few graves in order to complete his project.  If anything, Frankenstein is a novel that reveals how Victor's obsession in the name of science superseded his morality. 

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