"It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld my man completed ..."
The summer of 1816 was by all accounts a cold and wet one. After the April 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa, part of what is now Indonesia, global temperatures dropped and a rainy, monsoon-like drizzle settled in over Northern Europe. In a holiday villa on the shores of Lake Geneva, a young English poet and his lover, the guests of another poet, discouraged from outdoor pursuits, sat discussing the hideousness of nature and speculating about the fashionable subject of "galvanism". Was it possible to reanimate a corpse?
The villa was Lord Byron's. The other poet was Shelley. His fiancee, 19-year-old Mary Shelley (nee Godwin), was in post-partum distress. When Byron, inspired by a book of supernatural tales, suggested that each member of the party should write a ghost story to pass the time.
Initially, Mary Shelley didn't feel up to Byron's challenge. Then, she said, she had a dream about a scientist who "galvanises" life from the bones he finds in charnel houses: "I saw - with shut eyes, but acute mental vision - I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion."
Young Mary took the prize, with her tale of eccentric scientist Victor Frankenstein, who creates a grotesque creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. Frankenstein became a bestseller and a Gothic classic that still resonates with readers almost two centuries later...
Like many great works of art, Frankenstein was initially misunderstood. The first reviews were decidedly mixed. An anonymous review in The Literary Panorama and National Register published June 1 1818 dismissed Shelley's work as 'a feeble imitation of one that was very popular in its day.' Other periodicals were kinder. Writing in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine on 20 March 1818, Walter Scott praised the unusual Gothic Romance as a "tale, though wild in incident, is written in plain and forcible English, without exhibiting that mixture of hyperbolical Germanisms with which tales of wonder are usually told."
Frankenstein and the Critics presents a selection of the most prominent reviews from the time of Frankenstein's publication. Also included is Mary Shelley's uncensored 1818 text often labeled 'Frankenstein 1818' presented in its unabridged entirety. This is the original, 1818 text. In 1831, the more traditionally first "popular" edition in one volume appeared.This version of the story was heavily revised by Mary Shelley who was under pressure to make the story more conservative, and included a new, longer preface by her, presenting a somewhat embellished version of the genesis of the story. This edition tends to be the one most widely read now but many scholars prefer the 1818 text, arguing that it preserves the spirit of Shelley's original publication.
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About the Author
Mary Godwin's mother died when she was eleven days old; afterwards, she and her older half-sister, Fanny Imlay, were reared by her father. When Mary was four, Godwin married his neighbour, Mary Jane Clairmont. Godwin provided his daughter with a rich, if informal, education, encouraging her to adhere to his liberal political theories. In 1814, Mary Godwin began a romantic relationship with one of her father's political followers, the married Percy Bysshe Shelley. Over the next two years, she and Percy faced ostracism, constant debt, and the death of their prematurely born daughter. They married in late 1816 after the suicide of Percy Shelley's first wife, Harriet.
Until the 1970s, Mary Shelley was known mainly for her efforts to publish Percy Shelley's works and for her novel Frankenstein, which remains widely read and has inspired many theatrical and film adaptations. Recent scholarship has yielded a more comprehensive view of Mary Shelley's achievements. Scholars have shown increasing interest in her literary output, particularly in her novels, which include the historical novels Valperga (1823) and Perkin Warbeck (1830), the apocalyptic novel The Last Man (1826), and her final two novels, Lodore (1835) and Falkner (1837). Studies of her lesser-known works such as the travel book Rambles in Germany and Italy (1844) and the biographical articles for Dionysius Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopaedia (1829-46) support the growing view that Mary Shelley remained a political radical throughout her life. Mary Shelley's works often argue that cooperation and sympathy, particularly as practised by women in the family, were the ways to reform civil society. This view was a direct challenge to the individualistic Romantic ethos promoted by Percy Shelley and the Enlightenment political theories articulated by her father, William Godwin.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Frankenstein and the Critics, in one edition. An early and faithful edition of the original, plus eyebrow raising criticism. You'll want to own this if you're a Frankenstein fan -- or a Frankenstein detractor.
Frankenstein and the Critics by Various Artists An interesting read and essential for fans of Frankenstein . Thought provoking.