Out of this World: Four Days Left / Frankenstein

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.

Speaking To The Mysterious Fears Of Our Nature

Earlier in the autumn, the Bodleian Library hosted a one day event to mark the publication of The Original Frankenstein:

… a ground-breaking new edition of the first and most popular work of science fiction, allowing Mary Shelley’s pure authorial voice to be heard for the first time since 1817, when the book was initially written. The Bodleian publication uses the unique handwritten draft of 1816-17, held at the Library, to distinguish Mary’s own words from the additions written in by her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

I didn’t manage to make it to the event, but thanks to Vulpes Libris I (and you) can now read Brian Aldiss’ closing speech:

A teenager! She was a teenager, you know?! Not the sort of female teenager today’s newspapers would have us believe in. Mary came from a civilized — a crowded but civilized — home. Literature, science and politics were regularly discussed there; Coleridge read his poetry there. (To see and to hear Samuel Taylor belting out ‘The Ancient Mariner’ might not have been to everyone’s taste — a bit like early Dr Who — but it is something to have a living poet rampant in the parlour, even if aided and abetted, I might say, by ‘a substance’ …) Anyway, Mary would have been aware that new things had developed and that the world was opening up, in the same way that we’re aware now that we’re closing down the shop — victims of our own cult of greed.

(There’s more substantive stuff about Shelley’s writing and significance, too.)