The artifactual differences between the Eaton’s unique 1818 Frankenstein and unique 1831 Frankenstein, and between our copies and other copies of the same editions, are fascinating, but why do these different versions of the book even exist? What textual changes did Mary Shelley make, and why do scholars think she made them? In this lecture for English 20C at the University of California, Riverside, PhD student and 200 Years of Frankenstein co-curator (and WhinyPantsFrank mastermind) Miranda Butler tells “A Tale of Two Frankensteins.”
Click “Read More” on the YouTube description to jump to a specific topic within the lecture, or begin at timestamp 30:24 to focus on analyzing the textual differences.
Frankenstein, or, The modern Prometheus / Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley ; edited by D.L. Macdonald & Kathleen Scherf. Ontario: Broadview Press, 1999 [Eaton copy here].
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. Pennsylvania Electronic Edition, edited by Stewart Curran [available here].
Mellor, Anne K. “Revisiting Frankenstein” in Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. New York: Metheun, 1988. pp. 170-176 [available here].
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. The Original Frankenstein, edited by Charles E. Robinson. New York: Vintage Books, 2009. More info about the book can be found [here] and [here].
Scott, Walter. “Remarks on Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus; a novel” in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, no. XII, vol. ii (March 1818). pp. 613-620 [available here].
Vint, Sherryl. Science Fiction: A Guide for the Perplexed. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014.
Sousanis, Nick. Unflattening. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2015.
Mersereau, Dennis. “Facts about the Year without a Summer” [available here].
You can read Miranda’s musings on Frankenstein and other matters on her blog
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.
Frontispiece of 1831 edition of Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (From the holdings of Special Collections & University Archives, UCR Library, University of California, Riverside.)
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!