Frankenstein: The Original 1818 ‘Uncensored’ Edition
I saw “The New Annotated Frankenstein” and read some excerpts. I was interested to learn there was an earlier version that was different from the version I owned: Mary Shelley’s original 1818 text. I download the 1818 version and it sat on my Kindle for months. When I decided to finally read it I was curious about Mary Shelley and the book she wrote so I did some research starting with wikipedia. I noticed was it was published on 1/1/1818 – exactly two hundred years ago. That’s pretty cool. But the most amazing thing was how a 19 year old girl managed to write what is arguably the first science fiction novel. It was her first novel too. Some argue, her future husband, Percy Shelley wrote the story, but it definitely reads in a woman’s voice. I’m sure he helped out, but the book is her’s.
The story is charged with Gothic and Romantic era writing and is really out there.. even today.
Shelly uses a framing narrative to introduce Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Captain Walton runs into Victor and the creature on his way to the North Pole. The book ends with Victor’s destruction and creature heading into the wasteland. Edgar Rice Burroughs used these framing narratives all the time. So I’m used to them, however they seem rather cheesy.
I also have issues with Victor’s relationship with his creature. A young Victor Frankenstein reads a lot of books at home, studying outdated theories. He leaves for school: University of Ingolstadt in Germany. Victor excels at chemistry and other sciences, soon surpassing his instructors. Victor develops a technique to impart life to non-living matter. He builds an 8-foot being over the course of two years using pieces from “the dissecting room and the slaughter-house”. It’s easier to work on an out-sized creature. If the point is to test his life-giving technique, why doesn’t he use an animal. Or if he wants to go all the way, re-animate a drowning victim? Hell, he could dig up his recently deceased mother and reanimate her. Nope, he builds a monster and brings it to life. It’s only then he notices his creature isn’t exactly Adam. He has a nervous breakdown, the creature disappears, and Victor requires four months of care to recover.
Meanwhile the creature is busy studying humans. He learns to speak (and read!) The creature may be large and misshapen but it’s strong, fast, and quick to anger. But it’s only looking for love.. from its creator. Victor’s reaction to the creature is weird. Why did Victor create the creature only to have such a violent reaction against it?
Victor comes close giving in to the creatures demands by building it a mate. But Victor changes his mind at the last minute. The creature tortures Victor by killing his family and friends one by one. It’s only then that Victor decides to purse the creature and destroy it?!
Also left unsaid, Victor has discovered how to re-animate life. This is just glossed over. I’m I the only one to think this is a big deal. The fact his first experiment was something of a bust should not preclude further investigation.
His first experiment was a 8-foot homicidal monster. Okay, what about the military. I’m sure some country wouldn’t mind a small army of Frankenstein’s creatures.
It’s also funny how 1800 science infuses the work. Victor is concerned that if he makes a mate for the creature they will reproduce and there will be little monsters running around. I have to laugh. Assuming they could reproduce at all wouldn’t a normal human baby be the result.
The creature has no memories from before it’s reanimation. Did Shelley think the brain Frankenstein used would be wiped clean?
I also think Victor could have controlled the creature if he hadn’t so wildly rejected the poor thing. Sure civilization at large would recoil in horror from it, but they would get use to it. Elephants are big and misshapen and we got use to them.
After Victor dies, who got all his notebooks, all his secrets. In the movies it’s his younger brother. But in the book, the creature has the best shot at learning Victor’s secrets. What if the creature re-animated Victor. Wouldn’t that be ironic. The creature could teach Victor, mk II, to love him.
Amazon Book Preview of “Frankenstein”
Excepts from my Kindle
He is eloquent and persuasive; and once his words had even power over my heart: but trust him not. His soul is as hellish as his form, full of treachery and fiend-like malice. Hear him not; call on the names of William, Justine, Clerval, Elizabeth, my father, and of the wretched Victor, and thrust your sword into his heart. I will hover near, and direct the steel aright.
Oh, Frankenstein! generous and self-devoted being! what does it avail that I now ask thee to pardon me? I, who irretrievably destroyed thee by destroying all thou lovedst. Alas! he is cold; he may not answer me.”
I have a soft spot for “Frankenstein”. It was one of the first novels I read. I had read a lot before this book, but it was mostly non-fiction, and school directed reading. When I arrived at Junior High in 1972, the school had a tiny library. (They would build a new library the next year.) I often arrived an hour early so I could catch a ride with my father. I would hang out at the library. It was “Frankenstein” that caught my attention. I checked it out on April 18, 1973.
I’m surprised that it caught my attention because it’s a difficult read. The language is very early 1800s: flowery and overwrought. I suppose the surprise is the creature is sympathetic and Dr. Victor Frankenstein is the monster.
After reading “Frankenstein” I read Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” and “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”. The fuse was lit.
I read it again on January 2, 1978.. and again forty years later.
On August 7, 1984 at Village Comics in New York, I saw the illustrated novel: “Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein”. I loved the Berni Wrightson illustrations. So as I read the 1818 version today, I checked the changes against my ‘Marvel Illustrated Novel’ which is the 1831 version and read Stephen King’s introduction.
- Frankenstein Mary Shelley English Literature Revision A level
- Wikipedia on Frankenstein
- Making a Monster: an introduction to Frankenstein by Anne K. Mellor
- To what extent did Percy Bysshe Shelley work on ‘Frankenstein’?: A new analysis reveals all. Reviewed by James Grande<