Mary Shelley’s Annotated Frankenstein

This copy of Frankenstein (PML 16799) contains extensive additions and emendations by Mary Shelley. It is an essential document for understanding the intentions of the author, who wrote nearly two thousand words in the margins of passages she hoped to improve in a later edition. She was acutely conscious of the defects in the text of the first edition, which she started to write at the age of eighteen.  Acting as helpmeet, editor and agent, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley encouraged her efforts but admitted that she sometimes succumbed to a “baldness of style” as might be expected “in the production of a very young writer.” Her comments on pages 77 and 124, volume one, reveal how much she was dissatisfied with her work. The revisions shown here were never published in her lifetime, but she made substantial changes in the third edition of 1831. 

She was diffident even on the day of publication, January 1st, 1818, when the first edition appeared without any indication of the author’s name. By the end of that year she was thinking about revisions, but it is not known when she made them in this copy or why she abandoned them—only to start again in a different direction in 1831.

The fame of Frankenstein may have influenced her decision. Her father William Godwin wrote to her from London in February 1823 with the news that it was increasingly talked about in town, “though it can never be a book for vulgar reading.” By August he knew that it would reach a wider audience, if not in print then on the stage. He took it upon himself to publish another edition to capitalize on the success of a theatrical adaptation starring Thomas P. Cooke in the part of the creature. A gifted mime, Cooke appeared in this role 365 times and inspired a long series of imitations, tributes, and parodies. Mary Shelley came to London in September and saw one of his performances. “I found myself famous!” she wrote to a friend. “On the strength of the drama my father has published for my benefit a new edition of F.”

Mary Shelley learned about this edition before she came to London. She had been living in Italy but resolved to return home after the death of her husband, who left her in straitened circumstances. While en route she passed some time in Albaro, near Genoa, where she made the acquaintance of a Mrs. Thomas. This person, as yet unidentified, helped her through this difficult period (see Mrs. Thomas’s notes on the half-title), and received this copy as a parting present. Mary Shelley gave it away because she no longer had any use for it except as a literary memento and a mark of gratitude. For all she knew, Frankenstein was just a passing fad, and her father was right to cash in as quickly as he could. In his haste to profit from the stage production, he would not have consulted her about revisions. This scenario might explain why the annotations were not published until after the Morgan Library & Museum made them available for scholars. Now, for the first time, this presentation makes it possible to view them in context and see the author in action, reviewing her work and thinking how it might be improved.

This digital facsimile is presented in conjunction with the exhibition It’s Alive! Frankenstein at 200, on view October 12, 2018 through January 27, 2019

Nathaniel Whittock (1791–1860) after Thomas Charles Wageman (1787–1863),  Mr. T. P. Cooke, of the Theatre Royal Covent Garden, in the Character of the Monster in the Dramatic Romance of Frankenstein, lithograph, London, 1832–34. The Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.