Lodge Report

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Prefatory Note

It was on a dreary night of December that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils; it was on a dreary night of December that I realized that unbeknownst to me those toils had already been preeempted by the edition used by class (i.e., _not_ the old and yellowed Signet classic edition that I have) which covered most of what I said. Dreary indeed; it is hardly invigorating to find the live corpus of work one had hoped to discuss already neatly laid on the table by another. However, because there is so much covered in the introduction and contextual works (and, therefore, I'm assuming not everyone will remember all of it); because much of it is necessarily somewhat superficial; and because others besides me may not have this edition, I am offering the following report. Please excuse any repetition.

Any of us using an old copy from college or high school are almost undoubtedly dealing with the revised 1831 edition, the only one available until 1974, when Rieger's 1818 edition came out. More recently, as _Frankenstein_ has gained more serious critical attention and as theories about textual editions no longer automatically accept the latest work of an author as the most definitive, the 1818 ed. has been increasingly favored. Anne K. Mellor chooses the 1818 ed. as authoritative for the same reasons she says Wordsworth's 1805 ed. of _The Prelude_ should be used: "the first completed versions of both works have greater internal philosophical coherence, are closest to the author's original conceptions, and are more convincingly related to their historical contexts." These historical contexts, for _Frankenstein_, are the recent death of Mary Shelley's baby, her dissatisfactions with Percy's Romantic ideology, her reactions to the French Revolution, and her responses to current scientific issues. However, Mellor's arguments assume a preference for a work with `greater coherence' (something recent deconstructive work counters); privileges the notion of `original conceptions'; and does not take into account that the 1831 text would be equally close to its own historical contexts (largely, the friction between attempting to be both an author and a `proper lady' that Mary Poovey elaborates on--see below). Marilyn Butler says there are good reasons for preferring the 1831 edition, citing the deepened characters presented and also the fact that the changes had been carefully thought out by Mary Shelley (hereafter MS). Clearly, there are arguments to be made for both texts, and it may be that there is no need, even, no ability, to proclaim one either `more authentic' or `better' than the other.

While specific textual changes are noted in the class edition, I'd like to expand on them a little. Butler summarizes the 1831 changes as follows: "as a more practised, polished writer, [MS] regularly amplifies descriptive passages or introduces reflective ones"; Walton and Frankenstein's characters are both softened and made more sympathetic; Frankenstein (hereafter VF) is also presented as more admirable; there is more Christian imagery; Elizabeth changes from VF's first cousin to an adopted `sister' (removing the incest threat); Elizabeth's critiques of the administration of justice during Justine's trial are cut; and Clerval no longer wants to become a farmer, but is instead a budding colonialist, hoping to "master" languages and cultures. Walton more clearly lusts after glory and fame (creating a stronger parallel between him and VF). VF's homelife is depicted in, if possible, even more glowing colors. Fate is stressed, and there are numerous references to fate, destiny, and evil angels of destruction, all of which serves to lessen VF's guilt.


Many critics see the 1831 changes as also evincing MS's increasing discomfort with herself as author. Butler characterizes the revisions as "acts of damage--a limitation rather than a reassertion of authority," and others point out how the language of her 1831 introduction backs MS into the role of author: she says her imagination "unbidden" presented her with this story, and describes herself as "averse to bringing myself forward in print." Mary Poovey views the 1831 changes, coupled with MS's introductory reticence, as manifesting the tensions inherent in attempting to be both woman and author in the 19th century. If the `proper lady' was a passive Angel in the House (as Elizabeth, the "being sent from Heaven," appears to be), how is one to reconcile that with an active desire to assert oneself? MS's friend Eliza Rennie once wrote of her as "almost morbidly averse to the least allusion to herself as an authoress. . .I really think she deemed it unwomanly to print and publish." MS, Poovey says, was torn by

two competing impulses. . .on the one hand, she repeatedly bowed to the conventional prejudice against aggressive women by apologizing for or punishing her self-assertion: she claimed that her writing was always undertaken to please or profit someone else,. . .and she subjected her ambitious characters to pain and loneliness. On the other hand, both in her numerous comments about her profession and by her ongoing literary activity, MS demonstrated that imaginative self-expression was for her an important vehicle for proving her worth and, in that sense, for defining herself.

In other words, MS felt the need to unwrite, or disclaim, her words and authority even as she wrote them.

Although after Percy's death MS produced five novels, 19 short stories, a travel book, several well-respected biographies of literary and scientific figures, and cirtical editions of Percy's poetry, she still had an odd need to see herself as helpless: in an 1835 letter she says, "I was always a dependent thing--wanting fosterage and support--I am left to myself instead by fortune--and I am nothing," while in her journal she announces her "woman's love of looking up and being guided." This desire to claim that she is not able to guide herself even as she clearly does so--much like her demure assertion (in print) that she is "averse to putting herself forward in print"--may help explain some of the changes in her text. MS's 1831 emphasis that VF's creation was part of his "destiny," that "fate" led hm to it, may have also hleped to mask MS's own anxieties over creation; that is, both MS and VF are abjured of responsbility for their "hideous progeny."

Unfortunately, MS was not the only one all too eager to denigrate her role in the creation of _Frankenstein_. When _Frankenstein_ first came out, it was assumed that it was written by a man; when it was discovered that the author was MS, the book's successes were attributed to her "masculine understanding." Later critics read that "masculine understanding" specifically as Percy Bysse Shelley, and seemed unable to accept MS as an author in her own right; Rieger's introduction to this 1818 editon notoriously asserts that Percy 'oversaw his wife's manuscript at every stage," and that Percy's "assistance at every point in the book's manufacture was so extensive that one hardly knows whether to regard him as editor or minor collaborator" (claims which have not been backed up; Percy appears to have offered no more editorial support than MS provided in her compilation of his poems). Rieger also consistently refers to MS as simply "Mary," while he refrains from this intimacy with Percy, instead calling him "Shelley." The first sound film version of the book, James Whale's 1931 _Frankenstein_, credits "the novel of Mrs. Percy B. Shelley." In other words, even in their references to her, her authority is often undermined by using her first name or her husband's name. The first serious critical collection of essays on _Frankenstein_, the 1979 _The Endurance of Frankenstein_, tried to remove any authority at all from MS and wondered,

How much of the book's complexity is atually the result of

MS's self-conscious art and how much merely the product of the happy circumstances of subject, moment, milieu? . . . Are not its (_Frankenstein's_) energies. . .un-self-conscious and accidental?

(We should all have such "happy circumstances". . .) This suggests that the spectre of female authorship, or the difficulty of conceiving of woman as author that Poovey describes in the 19th century is still very much with us.


What effect does the change in Elizabeth's character have on the book? Though Frankenstein's characterizations of her as "summer insect" and "favorite animal" are dropped, so too are her courtroom speeches where she ardently argues Justine's case. Does the 1818 version offer an implicit critique of women's roles by allowing the reader to see the discrepancy between VF's fondly belittling view of her and her actual strength?

the classic: if you were to teach this text in a course, which edition wuld you use and why?

Works Consulted

Bann, Stephen, ed. _Frankenstein: Creation and Mosntrosity. London: Reaktion Books, 1994

Bennett, Betty and Robinson, Charels eds. _The MS Reader_. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Bloom, Harold. _MS's Frankenstein_. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.

Butler, Marilyn, ed. _Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus: the 1818 Text_. London: William Pickering, 1993

Fisch, Audrey; Mellor, Anne; and Schor, Esther, eds. _The Other MS._ New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Poovey, Mary. _The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer_. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Shelley, Mary. _Frankenstein_. New York: Signet Classics, 1965.

Smith, Johanna ed. _Case Studies of Contemporary Criticism: Frankenstein_. Boston: Bedford Books, 1992.

Spark, Muriel. _MS_. London: Constable and Co. Ltd., 1987.