About the Frankenstein Notebooks

We present here for the first time in digital form all the known manuscripts of Frankenstein, perhaps the most famous and widely reproduced work of British Romanticism. These manuscripts consist of the now disbound pages from five notebooks once the property of Mary Shelley, purchased by the Bodleian Library, Oxford, in 2004, from her descendant, Lord Abinger.

Originally published on January 1, 1818, Frankenstein had its notorious beginnings as a now lost ur-story written in the summer of 1816, when the Shelleys and Claire Clairmont joined Lord Byron and his physician John Polidori in Cologny, near Geneva. During that historically cold and rainy summer, the group amused themselves during the evenings by reading ghost stories aloud, prompting Byron to propose that they each attempt to write one. Mary Shelley’s own original story and further early drafts are no longer extant. She recast this early work, with the collaboration of Percy Shelley, into the draft of a two-volume novel in 1816-1817. In doing so, she used two notebooks now designated A and B, which were later disbound and whose pages are reproduced and transcribed in the Shelley-Godwin Archive. Notebooks A and B (Bodleian MS Abinger c. 56 and c. 57) contain approximately 87% of the final text of the novel as published in 1818. Missing are the four introductory letters of Captain Walton to his sister Margaret Saville and part of Chapter 1. The draft of the two-volume novel was then transformed into three volumes when the Shelleys prepared a fair-copy for prospective publishers and, ultimately, the printer. Approximately only 12% of that fair-copy is now extant, surviving in the disbound pages of Notebooks C1 and C2 (Bodleian MS Abinger c. 58).

All of these notebooks can now be viewed in high quality, resizable page images accompanied by TEI-conformant transcriptions, which enable several different ways to sequence and view the pages of the notebooks, including according to which parts have been written by Mary or Percy Shelley.

Click here for instructions on how to use the Archive.

Those who choose to view the notebooks in their original page order will note the presence of two leaves unrelated to Frankenstein except by physical juxtaposition, the text of a fragment in Mary Shelley’s hand concerning the Persian king, Cyrus the Great (MS Abinger c. 56 [folio 63] and MS Abinger c. 57 [folio 95]).

Both our transcriptions of the Frankenstein Notebooks and our attribution of authorial hand are based on Charles E. Robinson’s magisterial edition, The Frankenstein Notebooks, Parts One and Two. (Manuscripts of the Younger Romantics, Volume IX [Garland: New York, 1996]). These have been supplemented by corrections he has supplied to us. We also reproduce from this hard-to-find and out-of-print edition key excerpts from the Introduction detailing such matters as the novel’s genesis and composition, the complex relations among its various versions, the material details of the manuscripts, and the collaboration between Mary and Percy Shelley in its production. Finally, Robinson’s edition provides the richest Chronology ever written of Frankenstein's composition history, which we are delighted to incorporate into the Archive. We are thus deeply indebted to a scholar whose expertise on Frankenstein's composition history is exceeded only by his great generosity. As a whole, the Shelley-Godwin Archive will enable users to explore as never before the making of what has been called “one of the central myths of modern world culture.”

The Frankenstein resources contained within the Archive can be usefully supplemented by Stuart Curran’s online edition of Frankenstein, which provides the texts of both the 1818 first edition and the 1831 third edition.