Saturday, November 01, 2008

Books: The other author of "Frankenstein"?

The online edition of the Time Literary Supplement features an interesting article about Percey Shelley, iconic Romantic poet and husband of Mary Shelley, and his contributions to the horror classic Frankenstein.

In a review of a new edition of the novel, the first to include the actually manuscript Mary Shelley submitted to publishers, Times reviewer Linda Pratt gives readers a overview of the books round-about pre- and post-publication history. Famously, Frankenstein began life as what Mary Shelley herself referred to as "a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream." From the article:

Mary’s "transcript" of her "grim terrors" has not survived and it was, indeed, quickly superseded. Urged on by Percy Shelley, she continued to work on her tale through July and August 1816, perhaps, as Charles E. Robinson [editor of the new edition – CRwM] notes in the introduction to his new edition, finishing a "short or novella-length version", now also lost or destroyed, by the time she returned to England at the end of August. The decision to expand her "story" into a novel was taken about this time and a first draft was completed by late March or early April 1817. Mary revised and expanded this between April 9 and 17, and between April 18 and May 13 she made a fair copy that included a number of textual and structural alterations. This eventually became the printer's copy for the first edition. Further changes at both proof and revise stages took place before Frankenstein was finally published by the London firm of Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor and Jones in 1818. The text's evolution did not stop with its publication, however. A second, "New Edition" appeared in 1823, incorporating 123 verbal alterations made not by Mary, but by either her father William Godwin or an unknown printer, though Mary was responsible for the third "revised [and] corrected" edition of 1831. This incorporated most of the changes introduced into the 1823 text as well as numerous other revisions, including an entirely new chapter and an "Introduction" (reproduced as Appendix C in Robinson’s edition). Mary lived for twenty more years, but the Frankenstein of 1831 represented her final public word on the text.

One of the things that makes the new manuscript edition interesting is the attention it gives to the work of Shelley's then famous poet husband. Again, from the article:

Robinson pays special attention to the manuscript first draft as a collaborative enterprise – as the work of "Mary (with Percy) Shelley", the brackets are revealing – and provides two separate, but linked, reading texts. The first reproduces the manuscript draft with Percy Shelley’s additions, corrections and revisions, using italics to make "evident . . . . [his] considerable hand" (the pun is presumably intended) at this stage of the novel’s development.

So what in the novel can be traced to Percy Shelley? First and foremost, the highlighted revisions confirm that the novel's chief creative force was Mary Shelley herself. Of the 72,000 words in the original manuscript, only 4,000 to 5,000 seem to be from Percy Shelley. That's less than 10% of the book. Still, his alterations were not negligible:

These revisions and additions take a number of forms. Some replace colloquialisms with more formal, Latinate language: “ghost story” with “tale of superstition”; “go to the university” with “become a student at the university”; “it was safe” with “the danger of infection was past”. Others clarify motivation and set up the events that Frankenstein’s insatiable curiosity will unleash. For example, the following comparison between Frankenstein and his future wife, Elizabeth Lavenza. In the draft, Mary Shelley’s “my [ie, Frankenstein’s] amusements were studying old books of chemistry and natural magic; those of Elizabeth were drawing & music” is expanded and changed by Percy Shelley to: “I delighted in investigating the facts relating to the actual world – she busied herself in following the aerial creations of the poets. The world was to me a secret which I desired to discover – to her it was a vacancy which she sought to people with imaginations of her own”. The revisions amplify the difference between the two characters, and establish the curiosity which Frankenstein will later pursue to fatal effect, a curiosity which leads to Elizabeth’s death at the hands of the creature.

Yet further revisions are evidence of what his widow described years later as Shelley’s ability and willingness “to embody ideas and sentiments” rather than to “invent the machinery of a story”. To give one example, the social position of Justine, the girl from a poor family brought into the Frankenstein household as a twelve-year-old, is described by Mary in the first draft as follows: “she was taught all the duties of servant & was very kindly treated”. Percy Shelley’s alterations to this passage offer instead a political disquisition on the difference between servants in the Swiss Republic and those in unreformed monarchies, such as England.

Currently, the new edition, with the unwieldy title FRANKENSTEIN OR THE MODERN PROMETHEUS: The original two-volume novel of 1816–1817 from the Bodleian Library Manuscripts by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (with Percy Bysshe Shelley), is only available in the UK. American Frankophiles will have to wait for an American publisher to pick up the book.


Anonymous said...

Famous work not necessarily written by famous person ? What, did they help with Shakespeare's folios as well ;)

CRwM said...

Screamin' Sassy,

I think Mary doesn't have to worry about keeping her byline. She's still responsible for something like 94% of the copy.