Shelley’s original handwritten manuscripts to Frankenstein now accessible by all

Shelley handwriting banner The earliest modern source for what it means to be “borg” is no doubt Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, perhaps the most famous and widely reproduced work of fiction–and certainly the most adapted over the past 200 years in books, plays, television, and movies.  Originally titled Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, Shelley wrote her book in a series of notebooks from an idea she had from a dream while pondering what to write for a competition to write a “frightening tale”.

Frankenstein first edition 1818

Published first in 1818 with a run of 500 copies, her original manuscript notebooks survived. If you happen to be more than a few decades old, you remember the days of pages of handwriting, before word processors and PCs, and long before the days when schools stopped teaching handwriting.  Tasks we can perform quickly today only years ago took far greater effort, and the thought of writing something as lengthy as an entire book long-hand seems so very archaic in 2013.  And exhausting.

Page from Shelley's Frankenstein
Original handwritten page from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein manuscript.

Thanks to the new Shelley-Godwin Archive, you can now read for the first time the entire handwritten and hand-edited manuscripts from Shelley’s five original notebooks.  Maintained by Mary Shelley, and recently purchased by the Bodleian Library, Oxford, in 2004, from her descendant, Lord Abinger, clear digital scans have been uploaded to the Web–easily readable including printed text for comparison.  Most interesting is the documentation of her thought process as she started and re-started sentences as she created this monumentally influential work.

Here is the link to the Shelley notebooks. And if you’ve ever wondered what was the first film adaptation of Shelley’s Frankenstein, it’s a 1910 version produced at Thomas Edison’s studio, J. Searle Dawley’s Frankenstein, showing the crazed doctor and a hideous version of his monstrous creation.  At just under 13 minutes, the 102 year old film can be watched for free here:

We’re just a little more than four years away from the 200th year of Frankenstein.  It’s incredible how pervasive Shelley’s story has become.  Simply look to yesterday’s entry about the new RoboCop and Almost Human–directly influenced by the story of the world’s first reanimated man.  Could the author have had any idea what kind of life of its own her novel would take?

C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg

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