Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus
Originally published as a three-volume novel on January 1, 1818, Frankenstein had its notorious beginnings as a now lost ur-story written by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (MWS) 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.
MWS’s own original story and further early drafts are no longer extant. She recast this early work, with the collaboration of Percy B. Shelley (PBS), into the draft of a two-volume novel in 1816-1817. In doing so, she used two notebooks (A and B) whose disbound pages now exist as Bodleian MS Abinger c.56 and c.57. Complicating the textual condition of the draft material: the division of pages between Notebooks A and B does not correspond with their disbound form as manuscripts c.56 and c.57, which instead echo the divisions between Volumes I and II of the two-volume novel. The draft of Frankenstein can therefore be accessed in S-GA in three different forms: (1) in the virtually reconstituted form of original Notebooks A and B; (2) in the physical sequence of MS Abinger c.56 and c.57; and (3) in the linear chapter sequence of the two-volume draft as presented below. 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]).
The extant draft of Frankenstein contains 87% of the final text of the novel as published in 1818. Missing from it are the four introductory letters of Captain Walton to his sister Margaret Saville and part of Chapter 1. From mid-April to mid-May 1817, the draft of the two-volume novel was transformed into three volumes when the Shelleys prepared in several small soft cover notebooks a fair copy for prospective publishers and, ultimately, the printer. Approximately only 12% of that fair copy is now extant in the form of Bodleian MS Abinger c. 58, which contains the disbound pages of original Notebooks C1 and C2. These pages contain fair copy for the concluding chapters of Volume III as published in 1818, though the text of the final chapter breaks off near its beginning. S-GA therefore provides access to the extant fair copy of Frankenstein in three forms: (1) the physical order of Bodleian MS Abinger c.58; (2) the virtually reconstituted order of Notebooks C1 and C2; and (3) the linear chapter sequence of the the three-volume fair copy, as presented below.
The table below, “Tracing the Evolution of Frankenstein”, illustrates the complex relations among these various versions, with links to each of them.
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 Robinson’s 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.
The marquee feature of S-GA, which enables users to view which words on any page are in MWS’s or PBS’s hand, may prove useful amid the continuing controversy about how much of Frankenstein's text was composed by each. Searches on the entire text can also be filtered by attributed hand. Among the relative few who maintain that PBS actually authored the entire text, such as John Lauritsen in The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein (2007), evidence that MWS’s hand vastly predominates in the manuscript only goes to show that she was taking dictation from him.
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.
- From Charles E. Robinson: Introduction to The Frankenstein Notebooks (Garland, 1996)
- From Charles E. Robinson: "Frankenstein Chronology," The Frankenstein Notebooks (Garland, 1996)
Tracing the evolution of Frankenstein