Author Archives: Jacqueline Jacobson

National Library of Medicine’s Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature

Update: This traveling exhibition will be coming to UCR July 2nd through August 11th


As we move into the year, we’ll be seeing more and more Frankenstein-related exhibits and events. The NLM’s contribution to the conversation, Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature, starts, appropriately enough, with A Dark And Stormy Night:

On a dark and stormy night in 1816, Mary Shelley began writing a story that posed profound questions about individual and societal responsibility for other people.

To make her point, the young novelist used the scientific advances of her era and the controversy surrounding them as a metaphor for issues of unchecked power and self-serving ambition, and their effect on the human community.

Since that time, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus has become one of the Western world’s most enduring myths. The story provides a framework for discussions of medical advances, which challenge our traditional understanding of what it means to be human.

You can find more Frankenstein doings on our Events ,and Other Exhibits & Links pages

Volcanic ash and the creation of Frankenstein II

Logo of a green brain with the words

Logo for the “Frankenstein & Dracula: Gothic Monsters, Modern Science” Exhibit at Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Library

The Rosenbach Rare Book Library in Philadelphia has opened a new exhibit of rare manuscripts which examines the science that underpins the intersection of the Gothic and the Monstrous. Frankenstein & Dracula: Gothic Monsters, Modern Science, opened October 13th, and will run until February 11th.  You can learn more herehere, here, and here.

Image courtesy of


Volcanic ash and the creation of Frankenstein

Guest Post by Janet Reyes, Geospatial Information Librarian, Maps & GIS Unit, Orbach Science Library

Map of unusually cold temperatures in Europe during the summer of 1816  Source

It’s always interesting when seemingly unrelated events do in fact have a connection. You’ve probably heard the notion behind the butterfly effect: that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil might result in a tornado forming in Texas.

Here’s an unexpected connection: the explosion of a volcano in Indonesia in 1815 is believed to have indirectly inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein in Switzerland the following year.

The volcano was Tambora. The magnitude of its eruption in April 1815 is thought to be the largest in the last 2000 years. Krakatau (Krakatoa) in 1883 might be better known, and Mt St Helens was more recent and closer to home, but nothing in the historical records beats Tambora for kilograms of stuff extruded. It’s also the unfortunate champ for causing the most fatalities in the local area (more than 71,000, compared to under 37,000 for Krakatau).

Mt Tambora had been quiet until 1812, when the locals started observing rumbling and small ash clouds. Its first major eruption occurred on April 5, 1815, followed by a stronger one on April 10. Local inhabitants experienced fire, tsunamis, stones the size of walnuts falling from the sky, daytime darkness with visibility measured in inches, and whirlwinds that uprooted trees and lifted cattle into the air.

Ash was also a problem. Nearby homes collapsed under the weight of ash falling from the sky, and ships had to slog through several feet of it floating on the ocean’s surface.

In addition, Tambora spewed smaller, lighter particles and sulfur dioxide. These spread around the earth via the stratosphere in quantities massive enough to affect the climate worldwide by blocking a significant amount of incoming solar radiation for several months. That’s why 1816 came to be known as The Year Without a Summer.

Sunlight was blocked; global average temperatures dropped 3 degrees Celsius (about 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit). Under gloomy skies, crops in North America and Europe suffered, farmers were distraught, food prices rose, and famine spread. Among the devastated crops were oats, which were used to feed horses. With this scarcity in “fuel,” transportation costs also rose. Epidemics of typhus spread through the British Isles.

Everyone was effected – even creative types.

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, John Polidori and Claire Clairmont had elected to spend the summer of 1816 at Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Normally the summer there would be pleasant enough, but the incessant chilly, rainy conditions forced Mary and the others to spend much of their time indoors.

What to do? They played morbid games, told ghost stories – and being writers, they wrote! In a competition to see who could write the best horror story, Polidori came up with The Vampyre, which is seen as an influence on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Byron penned the poem “Darkness, which includes lines such as, “I had a dream, which was not all a dream. The bright sun was extinguish’d” and “Morn came and went – and came, and brought no day,….”

Eighteen-year-old Mary began writing the manuscript that would become Frankenstein. No surprise that stormy weather prevails throughout much of the story.

And while Frankenstein is indeed a story of horror, so too is the volcanic eruption that occurred months earlier and half a world away.

Sources Consulted

  • Evans, Robert. Blast from the Past. Smithsonian Magazine [available here]
  • Mersereau, Dennis. 15 Facts About ‘The Year Without a Summer.’ [available here]
  • Oppenheimer, Clive. Climatic, environmental and human consequences of the largest known historic eruption: Tambora volcano (Indonesia) 1815. Progress in Physical Geography. [available here]
  • Ritchie, Ian. How the year without a summer gave us dark masterpieces. The Guardian. [available here]
  • UCAR Center for Science Education. Mount Tambora and the Year Without a Summer. [available here]
  • Wikipedia. Mary Shelley [available here]

About Maps and GIS at UCR:

The UCR Library provides access to a wide variety of maps, atlases, aerial photos, and geographic data.

We hold historical, thematic and road maps, as well as atlases. Our United States Geological Survey (USGS) topographic maps come in various scales for the entire U.S. Geological maps can also be found online through the U.S. Geological Publications Warehouse or the California Geological Survey.

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) make maps come to life by storing, analyzing, and relating spatial and geographical information. To support GIS, we provide ArcGIS software on computers in the Orbach Science Library Map Room and Learning Commons computers, as well as Learning Commons computers in Rivera Library. We can help you identify, obtain, and organize data sets for your research – email us at



Frankenstein 1831 Edition: Bentley’s “Standard Novels”

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. 

Doctored page of the Eaton’s 1831 Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (From the holdings of Special Collections & University Archives, UCR Library, University of California, Riverside.)

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.

Picture of a scared scientist and his creature

Frontispiece of the Eaton’s 1831 Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (From the holdings of Special Collections & University Archives, UCR Library, University of California, Riverside.)

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.

Sources Consulted

  • “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.

Unique editions of Frankenstein at the Eaton: 1831

Our 1831 edition (London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley) is unique, as it has been “Frankensteined” in many ways. Of course, on the title page, our book describes itself as “revised, corrected, and illustrated with a new introduction, by the author.”

Title page of the 1831 edition of Frankenstein

Title page of the Eaton’s 1831 Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (From the holdings of Special Collections & University Archives, UCR Library, University of California, Riverside.)

This is a reference to textual changes made both by William Godwin (Mary Shelley’s father), and Mary Shelley herself, which make the novel into a composite text.

More than this, the Eaton’s copy literally appears to have been cut up and re-bound. As shown below, one piece of publication information has been cut out from one title page, and pasted onto a new page in our re-built book.

Doctored page of the Eaton’s 1831 Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (From the holdings of Special Collections & University Archives, UCR Library, University of California, Riverside.)

Like our 1818 edition, this physical object – the artifactual book – is a treasure trove of Franken-history just waiting to be explored. For more info, come back again next week!

Who is @WhinyPantsFrank?

Have you ever noticed that Victor Frankenstein seems a bit whiny? Perhaps a tad querulous and fretful? Self-absorbed and self-pitying? Peevish?  Petulant?  Plaintive? Given to kvetching, moaning, bitching, and complaining?

You’re not alone. Whether you’re in a book club, school class, or special collections library, it’s impossible not to notice that he repeats words like “wretched” and “miserable” consistently throughout the novel. It’s easy to attribute Victor’s constant complaining to immaturity or hubris, but in Mary Shelley’s introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, she says that her intention really was to to create a character who could not escape the horrors of his own accomplishment.* As a humorous addition to the FrankenBlog, we have created the Twitter account @whinypantsfrank, which places images of the “whiniest” passages from Shelley’s novel alongside humorous Tweets that highlight Victor’s misery. Click here to follow Whiny Frankenstein!

*See Mary Shelley’s 1831 introduction in Frankenstein, or, The modern Prometheus / Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley ; edited by D.L. Macdonald & Kathleen Scherf. Ontario: Broadview Press, 1999), page 357.  [Eaton copy here]

Editions of Frankenstein – Part II

Scholars D.L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf argue that even Mary Shelley’s first edition of Frankenstein, published in 1818, was “heavily influenced by [her] husband” in terms of both style and ideas. Furthermore, the second edition, released in 1823, was prepared by Mary’s father William Godwin, “without any participation from the author.” Mary Shelley accepted most of Godwin’s minor edits when she herself revised the book for its 1831 third edition, and she also implemented large-scale changes that completely alter the message of the novel. Anne K. Mellor argues that in 1818, Shelley grants Victor the free will to abandon his pursuit of creating life at any point; whereas in 1831, “he is a pawn of forces beyond his knowledge or control.” For this reason, several scholars have concluded  that the 1831 edition is “largely a different book from the 1818 edition.”


  • “A Note on the Text,” in Frankenstein: the 1818 text, edited by D.L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf (Ontario: Broadview Press, 1999).
  • “A Note on the Text,” in Frankenstein, edited with an introduction and notes by Maurice Hindle (New York: Penguin Books, 2003).
  • Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters (New York: Routledge, 1989), page 171.
Picture of a scared scientist and his creature

Frontispiece of 1831 edition of Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (From the holdings of Special Collections & University Archives, UCR Library, University of California, Riverside.)

Editions of Frankenstein – Part I

The Eaton collection’s extensive archive contains 187 items that feature “Frankenstein” in the title. Though some of these are adaptations, over 50 of them claim to contain Mary Shelley’s original work. But what counts as “original work,” anyway? The Eaton has both a first edition 1818 text, pictured below, originally published in three volumes, and an original 1831 text (third edition), which is printed in a single book. Although scholars have long considered the 1831 text to be authoritative, since Mary Shelley edited it herself, this version also maintains over 100 small changes made by Mary Shelley’s father, William Godwin. What are these changes? Why do they matter? Come back next week for the newest FrankenBlog post!

Welcome to the FrankenBlog III

This FrankenBlog, in true Franken-prefix fashion, brings together many stories — how Special Collections libraries come to know their objects and create exhibits, how creative works make their way into our cultural consciousness, and how people from all different backgrounds, living in all different places, come together to celebrate literature that sparks something special in its readers – something so special that a work can be as thought-provoking today as it was 200 years ago. Because there are hundreds of stories you can tell from as rich a collection of Frankenstein material as lives in the Eaton, we don’t know yet which one we’ll explore. Join us as we assemble the body and bring it to life!