Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Unnamed Monster at Two Hundred

On the first of January 1818, the London publishing firm of Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor and Jones released a three volume Gothic novel with the title Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus. The first edition was published anonymously, though it contained a preface by the up-and-coming Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Percy had previously published two novels in the Gothic mode, the highly derivative and edge-lordy Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne, which Lovecraft quite rightly dismissed as "schoolboy effusions". But Percy's history with the genre and his preface led many people to assume that Frankenstein must be his work too (a theory that several later critics have, against all reason, tried to keep alive). It was only with the second edition in 1822 that the author was revealed to be Percy's wife, Mary Shelley.

To honor the book's bicentennial, I'm going to spend the next few months blogging about the novel's origins and its place in literary history. My plan is to spend January discussing Mary Shelley's family background, how she came to know Percy Shelley, and how she ended up at Lake Geneva with him and Lord Byron, and how these elements are reflected in the novel. After that I'll move on to the development of the Gothic genre in the decades leading up to Frankenstein, how the genre relates to the Age of Enlightenment and British reaction to the French Revolution, how Frankenstein relates to that, and how the Gothic eventually diffused into the modern genres of mystery, horror, romance and fantasy. Then finally I'll look to the question of whether Frankenstein fits into the history of science fiction.

I don't plan on making detailed citations for this blog series, but these are the main works I've consulted in my research:

Death and the Maidens by Janet Todd
The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana by Jess Nevins
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, 1st Edition by William Godwin
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, 3rd Edition by William Godwin
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, annotated by Leslie S. Klinger
The Gothic: A Very Short Introduction by Nick Groom
Great Utopian and Dystopian Works of Literature by Pamela Bedore
History of the Gothic, Volume 1 (1764-1824) by Carol Margaret Davison
History of the Gothic, Volume 2 (1824-1914) by Jarlath Killeen
In Defense of Harriet Shelley by Mark Twain
Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life by Janet Todd
Shelley: The Pursuit by Richard Holmes
Supernatural Horror in Literature by H. P. Lovecraft, annotated by S. T. Joshi
Unutterable Horror: A History of Supernatural Fiction by S. T. Joshi
Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft by Lyndall Gordon
Young Romantics by Daisy Hay

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