Unediting the Teaching Text | Frankenstein
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FRANKENSTEIN

The Modern Prometheus

Introduction

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s iconic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus was first published in 1818. The story of Frankenstein’s genesis is almost as famous as the novel itself. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley spent the summer in Switzerland in 1816. There they met up with Shelley’s friend George Gordon, Lord Byron. Staying by Lake Geneva, Byron proposed that each of the assembled guests—including the Shelleys and Byron’s friend Dr. Polidori—write a ghost story. Mary was 19. Although, as she tells the story in 1831, it took her some time to come up with an idea, in the end it was her story, the embryo of Frankenstein, that would have the most staying power. Later Mary expanded and revised the story, with Percy editing her original manuscript (his changes were not always felicitous). The novel was an immediate sensation. Although the novel, published anonymously, was immediately seen as shocking, if anything it appeared even more so when the author was revealed to be Mary Shelley. As the Shelley’s friend Leigh Hunt observed in an 1837 poem, the public found it difficult to believe that this dark tale could have emanated from the imagination of a pretty young woman:

 

And Shelley, four-famed—for her parents, her

lord,

And the poor lone impossible monster

Abhorred.

(So sleek and so smiling she came, people

stared,

To think such fair clay should so darkly have

Dared.)

Editions

There are two editions of Frankenstein showcased on this site: the 1818 and 1831 editions. The pages linked from the images and titles below present comparisons of key passages in the 1818 and 1831 editions, as well as one of the original manuscript versions of Frankenstein. Click on either image or title below to launch the comparisons.

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