This Month in Science Fiction: Frankenstein Turns 200

January 22, 2018 | Isabel

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January is the 200th anniversary of "Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus"  by Mary Shelley. Celebrate this special birthday by checking out our collection. 
Victor Frankenstein becoming disgusted at his creation.
Illustration from the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, by Theodore von Holst.

Mary Shelley and her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley spent the summer of 1816 with the poet Lord Byron. They and some friends stayed in Byron’s rented villa on the shores of Lake Geneva. One evening in June, kept inside by bad weather, the group began reading ghost stories to each other. Lord Byron suggested a game: they would each write a story of their own to share with the group. Mary Shelley’s story became "Frankenstein". 
Shelley was only 18 years old when she started writing "Frankenstein". On Jan 1, 1818, at the age of 20, she published her first and most famous book. Two hundred years later, "Frankenstein" is still beloved, both as a novel and as a source of inspiration.

Frankenstein  Everyman's Library Frankenstein  Bloomsbury Classics

The oldest copy of "Frankenstein" we have is on the third floor of the Lillian H. Smith branch in the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy. The book is from 1931; not ancient, but it is an interesting copy. In 1931, Universal Pictures released a movie version of "Frankenstein", starring Boris Karloff. Instead of illustrations, our oldest copy of "Frankenstein" has scenes from this movie. It is an early example of a movie tie-in (known at the time as a photoplay edition).


Boris Karloff as Frankenstein
Boris Karloff as Frankenstein
When I think of "Frankenstein", I picture Boris Karloff lumbering through silver-screen shadows. Karloff's portrayal of Frankenstein's monster is the one that most of us know best. His groaning, shambling giant is the opposite of the monster in the novel. But, it has eclipsed the original in popular culture.
Frankenstein (1931) DVD 1, 2
 MagicImage Filmbooks Presents Frankenstein edited by Philip J. Riley

I have to admit, "Frankenstein" surprised me the first time I read it. I thought I knew what to expect, but I didn't. "Frankenstein" was much more than the story of a raging monster. It was the story of an intelligent creature, struggling to belong in a world it wasn't made for.

Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell
Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Mary Shelley’s life was anything but ordinary. She grew up in a politically radical household. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a prominent feminist and pioneer of women’s liberation. Her father, William Godwin, was a philosopher and novelist. In 1814, she eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley while he was still married to his first wife. Her family and friends, and most of society, ostracized her for this scandal. On December 30, 1816, she married Shelley after his first wife committed suicide. She had given birth to and lost her first child the previous year. By the time she was writing "Frankenstein", she had already lived through her share of tragedy.

 After her husband died in 1822, Shelley supported herself and her sole surviving child with her writing. She published several more novels and short stories, though none were as admired as her first.

The Last Man The Mortal Immortal
Maurice  or The Fisher's Cot  Transformation
Mathilda  Mary Shelley Collected Tales and Stories

The Last Man by Mary Shelly

The Mortal Immortal: The Complete Supernatural Short Fiction by Mary Shelly; narrative introduction by Michael Bishop

Maurice, or the Fisher's Cot by Mary Shelly

Transformation by Mary Shelly

Mathilda by Mary Shelly

Mary Shelley: Collected Tales and Stories

"Frankenstein" is still relevant today. It is an exploration of science and technology, of responsibility and fate. The novel makes us ask important questions: What is the price of playing God? What are our responsibilities to our creations? These themes are crucial now in our age of artificial intelligence and gene-editing. It's no surprise that people still have "Frankenstein" on the brain.

Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years The New Annotated Frankenstein
In the Shadow of Frankenstein Frankenstein: Annotated for Scientists  Engineers  and Creators of All Kinds

Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years by Christopher Frayling

The New Annotated Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; edited with a foreword and notes by Leslie S. Klinger; introduction by Guillermo Del Toro

In the Shadow of Frankenstein: Tales of the Modern Prometheus edited by Stephen Jones; foreword by Neil Gaiman

Frankenstein: Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds by Mary Shelley; edited by David H. Guston, Ed Finn, and Jason Scott Robert