Until I started reading up for my short presentation on Lucian and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for the “Science Fiction and Religion” panel* at Bradford the other weekend, I had no idea that Shelley had notably revised the text between its first 1818 edition and the better-known 1831 edition.
Small, frequent amendations and revisions** altered the text’s focus towards a much greater concern with Christianity, in particular, giving Victor Frankenstein a greater religious consciousness. Frankenstein, in the later text, refers at various points to a guardian angel, and to an angel of destruction leading him on. Although these need not necessarily have come at the cost of sacrificing descriptions of Frankenstein’s scientific practice, they have, such as a youthful scene in which he experiments with electricity, cut from the later version. Even the references to historical practices of natural magic are revised, in order to cast them in a more negative light.
I was conscious that there were many versions of Frankenstein simply because it has been memorably reworked in film numerous times over the years. I hadn’t realized how much the focus of the story was adjusted in Mary Shelley’s own revisions as well.
Some edition of Frankenstein (offhand, I cannot tell you which one!) is currently on display at the British Library as part of the Out of this World: Science Fiction But Not As You Know It exhibition. You have four days left, including today until 18:00, to see it.
* See also the contents of the talk which Una McCormack gave, on sf and religion in Dr Who and Star Trek, for the same panel.
** I used the Oxford World’s Classics edition of the 1818 text with its list of changes by Marilyn Butler in Appendix B.
One thought on “Out of this World: Four Days Left / Frankenstein”
There were several reasons why Mary Shelley rewrote parts of Frankenstein for the 1831 edition, not least of which was her need for money. Her other books had sold less well, her father-in-law forbid her publishing about Bysshe, and Frankenstein itself was widely pirated. A revised edition overcame all of this to some extent.
Conventional wisdom suggests the widow Mary became increasingly conservative after Bysshe does, and whilst in comparison to her step-sister Claire Clairmont and her friend Jane Williams this is superficially true, the Mary Dods affair shows some radical spirit lingered. It is my feeling that the changes Mary made owed as much to her awareness of her critics and her market as to her changed beliefs.