Frankenstein (First Edition) by Mary Shelley



2015-06-26 10:58:29

Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus is a novel by Mary Shelley (1797-1851). The first edition of this work was published anonymously in 1818 by Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, London. Background

The story came about in a cabin by Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Mary and her lover, later to be husband Percy Bysshe Shelley visited Lord Byron here, in the cold and rainy summer of 1816. The conversation turned to galvanism, and whether it would be possible to return a corpse to life, like Erasmus Darwin had claimed he had animated dead matter. The companions also told ghost stories to one another, and Byron proposed that they each write their own supernatural tale. Mary Shelley then conceived the story of Frankenstein, what she thought would be a short story.

There was much discussion of the ideas of the Enlightenment, and whether the force of progress in society was bad or good. Shelley herself believed that it was a positive thing if power was not misused, and likewise with progress specifically in science, as can be seen in the disasterous outcome of playing God in the novel.

The first edition was published in an edition of 500 copies, each in three volumes. It was published anonymously, not carrying Shelley’s name until the second edition, two volumes, of 1822.

The novel was extremely significant and influential to literature, in the history of horror and science fiction. The character of Frankenstein’s monster is a cultural icon, recognised world-wide.

Plot, Characters, Themes

It is written in epistolary form, from the perspective of an exploring writer who finds Dr. Victor Frankenstein in the North Pole in pursuit of the monster. He recounts Frankenstein’s story of his lifelong obsession with science, and unorthodox creation of a creature, made of various pieces of dead matter stitched together and thus eight feet tall as a result of mismatched parts, that Frankenstein brings to life in an scientific experiment. Victor images that it will be beautiful, but it is hideous. The remainder of the story involves his pursuit of the monster, and its own intelligent development and desire to be accepted by people who are only horrified by his appearance. The monster demands that Frankenstein make it a female counterpart. It claims that as his creator, he has a duty to make it happy, and promises to disappear forever if he does so. Victor agrees, but as he is creating it, worries about the breeding of an entire race of monstrous beings, so destroys the unfinished female creation. The monster vows to take revenge on Victor’s wedding night, and does so, not as Victor expects by murdering him, but by murdering his bride. Victor vows to pursue the monster to the death, and at this point is found in the north pole by the narrator. The novel ends with the death of Frankenstein, and the monster seen mourning him, lamenting his crimes, and deciding to kill itself.


Mary Shelley is a novelist best known for this Romantic Gothic horror tale, Frankenstein, seen by many as the first science fiction story.

See main article: Mary Shelley rare books and memorabilia

Notable auction sales and collecting tips

The first edition (1818, Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, London) is in three volumes, and does not include Mary Shelley’s authorship. As there were a mere 500 copies, these are rare and very valuable. It is unusual to see first editions of Frankenstein in their original paper board or publisher’s cloth bindings. However they are much more valuable if they do retain these, so it is not recommended to rebind or restore them.

First editions of Frankenstein were sold by Bloomsbury Auctions for $65,000 in October 2007, by Christie’s for $43,700 in May 1996, $50,000 in December 2009, and $95,600 in December 2004, and by Sothebys for £66,000 in March 2005 and in original boards for £115,250 in October 2010.

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