So, what are the “standard novels” referenced by the cut-and-pasted title page of the Eaton’s 1831 Frankenstein? In 1829, publishers Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley joined forces with a simple business plan: they acquired copyrights to popular three-volume novels, and then republished them in inexpensive, one-volume formats. According to Victorian Fiction: An Exhibition of Original Editions, this “Standard Novels” series, which began releasing volumes in 1831, “expanded the market of fiction” to include people who could not previously afford such books.
In some cases, Colburn and Bentley also asked for authorial revisions, or new material, so that they could claim to have the “most authoritative” versions of the texts at the time. Plus, to make these popular novels even more exciting, each of the volumes featured an engraved frontispiece, giving us the following iconic image of Victor Frankenstein running from his Creature.
Besides Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which was volume 9 in the series (along with the first part of Friedrich Schiller’s The Ghost Seer.) Other volumes of note include number 6, James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, and five reprints of Jane Austen novels. Although Colburn and Bentley’s partnership only lasted for three years, they published the first 19 volumes of the series together, and even after Colburn left the partnership, Bentley went on to publish 107 additional volumes, for a grand total of 126 volumes between 1831 and 1855. For the curious, a list of titles is here.
- “Richard Bentley” in British Literary Publishing Houses, 1820-1880. Eds. Patricia J. Anderson and Jonathan Rose. Vol. 106 in the Dictionary of Literary Biography (Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1991). Pages 39-52.
- “Bentley’s Standard Novels” in Victorian Fiction: An Exhibition of Original Editions at 7 Albermarle Street, London, January to February 1947. Arranged by John Carter and Michael Sadleir. Published for the National Book League (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1947). Page 11.