Frankenstein—1818 Version


I’ve never read the original text of Frankenstein before. Mary Shelley wrote the book when she was 18, published it when she was 20, and then published an edited version 5 years later (due to a lot of pressure to make the book more conservative.) I picked up an anthology called Penny Dreadfuls at Pioneer Book (’tis the season), and it included the first published text, from 1818. According to the editor, they chose the original edition because it was more gruesome and graphic and—well, dreadful.

To be honest, I didn’t really notice the difference, but that might be because I haven’t read the book in nearly a decade. My husband is reading the later version, and he noticed a few differences in the beginning chapters. For example, in the original version, Dr. Frankenstein marries his literal cousin. In the later version, she’s just an orphan they adopted and referred to affectionately as “cousin.” (Makes me wonder if marital laws changed around that time…)

Anyways. I digress. I like the 1818 version just as much as the more popular version (as far as I remember it.) It’s sufficiently creepy, and it rams home the responsibility that Dr. Frankenstein should have taken for his hideous creation—but didn’t. Also, the monster in the book is way more scary than in any movie out there. I don’t just say that because my imagination is better, or something. I say that because Shelley describes the monster as basically an enormous skeleton with translucent yellow skin, visible (but distorted) muscles, and long, scraggly black hair. Creepazoid.

I also think there’s an unstated theme to this book: humans are not ready to be gods. Shelley makes a world where man can create life, but shouldn’t, because he’s not ready for the responsibility. It’s a wonderful story.

It’s also a really flowery story, though. My husband keeps rolling his eyes at the complete lack of action, the ridiculous coincidences, and the elevated dialog. It’s entirely unrealistic, and that’s without even addressing the whole “bring the dead back to life” thing. It’s unrealistic because in real life, ten-year-old children who’ve just encountered eight-foot walking corpses don’t stop to explain why they’re afraid of them, in perfect academic English. The book was written in a flowery and educated age, for a flowery and educated audience.

I give Frankenstein 5 stars for concept, but only 2 stars for action. It’s short enough, however, that you might be able to plow through and compensate for the slow plot line. ♦


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