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It’s Alive! (…Even If Not Easily Available)

November 6, 2008

9781851243969Leslie Klinger’s New Annotated Dracula is getting a fair amount of media attention these days, with articles in The L.A. Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, among others. But what about that other big horror classic recently revisited with a scholarly eye? The Original Frankenstein, prepared and edited by University of Delaware English professor Charles E. Robinson, hasn’t gotten much press on these shores — not surprisingly perhaps, since it seems to be only available from the publisher itself, the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, or through Amazon’s UK site (a full pound-and-a-half off the list price!), and either way the shipping might be steep. 

So how’d I find out about it? From Jennifer Howard’s excellent article in the November 7 edition of The Chronicle Review, a “weekly magazine of ideas” published by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Howard’s article explores the controversy over Frankenstein‘s authorship — was it 18-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley who wrote it? or did her husband, famed poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, admittedly an influence on the final book, ultimately have the greater hand in creating the horror masterpiece? — and then surveys the scholarly research on that topic, culminating in Robinson’s meticulous work with Shelley’s original notebooks and other materials to reveal the first draft of the manuscript. As Howard explains: 

The Bodleian edition presents two fresh texts of Frankenstein. The first, credited to “Mary (with Percy) Shelley,” uses italics to show the additions Percy made to Mary’s draft. (He made further changes in the fair copy — the final version sent out to be typeset — and to the printers’ proofs.)

The second text, credited to Mary Shelley alone, strips out all of Percy’s “interventions,” as Robinson calls them in an editor’s note, and restores whatever Percy took out. Any word, phrase, or sentence that Percy added to Mary’s Frankenstein notebooks is banished; anything of Mary’s that he struck out has been restored. The result is Mary’s raw text, unvarnished, down to idiosyncrasies of spelling, punctuation, and grammar….

“We take the text as far back as we can to the original,” Charles Robinson says of the new edition. “We get a much purer or much better representation of her voice.”

The full article offers a terrific look both at groundbreaking scholarship in action and, further back, at the process of writing and revision, at mentorship, at collaboration, and even at how a couple working in the same field works together. (Engaged to a writer myself, with each of us commenting on the other’s drafts, I found that interesting too.)

Until the text itself is more readily available here in the States, Howard’s article offers a fresh look at a classic novel and enough excerpts to provide both a hearty sample of Shelley’s original works and a feel for Robinson’s accomplishments. Howard also talks about the article at her own blog, elaborating more informally on the subject.

Also in the Chronicle — both in print and online — are a couple of articles about our new president-elect and the idea of being “professorial”: Siva Vaidhyanathan’s article “What’s So Bad About Being Professorial?” looks at how “Academic life is simultaneously idealized and vilified in America. And Richard Monastersky offers another take on the topic with “America Gets a Professor in Chief.” 

— Art Taylor

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One comment

  1. Shelley’s book, along with DRACULA, are two of the most boring offerings in the canon of fantastic fiction. While HISTORICALLY it may have some significance (the first SF novel, some say, others see it as a forerunner of horror), it’s actually a dull, turgid read, a juvenile offering by a young woman with romantic (small “r” and capital “R” inclinations). Hardly a work of maturity and craft…



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