200 Years Later, We’re Still Learning from Frankenstein: The 1818 Text

Lorraine Berry in Signature:

FrankensteinHow can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!—Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriance only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shriveled complexion, and straight black lips.

These are Victor Frankenstein’s words upon seeing his “child,” the Monster, who is never named by his father. The Monster is created early in the book’s narrative, in chapter four, and the rest of the novel’s action concerns itself with the consequences of Frankenstein’s ultimate sin as a parent: the abandonment of his newborn.

It’s the bicentennial of the publication of Mary Shelley’s first novel, a novel that has been translated to television and film more than any others – 177, as of October 2017. And yet, those who have not sat down with the original version, written by Mary Shelley when she was between sixteen and eighteen, and published when she was twenty, will have little idea of the real story of Frankenstein. The gothic novel was the product of a famous challenge among Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John William Polidori, and Mary Godwin, who was not yet married to Shelley. Byron challenged all of them over a weekend to write a scary tale. Out of that weekend, Polidori wrote The Vampyre, the original vampire novel, and Mary, unable to come up with anything over the weekend, worked on Frankenstein for a year.

More here.