Mary Shelley’s First Edition of “Frankenstein” Sells for Record $ 1.17 Million | Smart News


Mary Shelley was only 20 when she published the first edition of her gothic novel Frankenstein. Pictured: Richard Rothwell’s portrait of Shelley, circa 1840
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

A first edition of Marie shelleythe emblematic Gothic novel of Frankenstein shattered expectations last week when it sold to Christie’s for $ 1.17 million.

By a declaration, the three-volume set broke the auction record for a printed work by a woman. The presale of the lot estimate was $ 200,000 to $ 300,000.

As Alison Flood reports for the Guardian, the previous world record for a work printed by a woman was set in 2008, when a first edition of Jane Austen’s 1816 novel Emma sold for about $ 205,000.

The record copy of Frankenstein stands out because it retains its origin boards– the bluish gray cardboards which cover each volume. 19th-century publishers used these disposable covers to bind and sell books, in the hopes that the new owners of the tomes would eventually replace them with a permanent cover.

“The [book] is incredibly fragile and therefore very rare, so a copy like this, especially in good condition, is highly desirable for collectors, ”a Christie’s spokesperson told the Guardian. “Overall, it’s a very strong market and we’re seeing an increased demand for fine examples of literary hotspots.


The first edition of

This original copy of Shelley’s Frankenstein: or, the modern Prometheus was published anonymously on January 1, 1818. It was recently auctioned for $ 1.17 million.

Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2021

Christie’s notes that this edition of Frankenstein is the first of its kind to be auctioned since 1985. It is one of dozens of rare first editions featured in the antique book collector’s auction house sale Theodore B. Baum‘s holdings. Other titles sold include copies of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), Virginia Woolf Night and day (1919) and James Joyce Dubliners (1914). Sales of Baum’s collection brought in more than $ 9 million in total, the statement said.

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin wrote the first draft of her groundbreaking novel in 1816, when she trip to Lake Geneva with her future husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their friend, the famous poet Lord Byron. Stuck inside during an unusually cold summer for the season, following a catastrophic volcanic explosion in Indonesia, the writers clashed to see who could compose the most compelling ghost story.

” I found things to do think of a story, Shelley later recalled, “… [o]which would speak about the mysterious fears of our nature and would arouse a palpitating horror, one to make the reader dread to look around him, to make the blood curdle and accelerate the beating of the heart.

Inspiration hit one night as Shelley tried to sleep. Inspired by its strange surroundings and recent discussions of galvanism, which suggested that scientists could use electricity to simulate life or reanimate the dead, the 18 years old The writer began to create the story of Victor Frankenstein, an obsessive scientist who brings a humanoid “creature” to life with terrifying consequences for both.

“I saw the pale student of the ungodly arts kneel down beside the thing he had assembled,” Shelley wrote in the text. “I saw the hideous fantasy of a man lying down, then, over the operation of a powerful motor, show signs of life and stir with an anxious, half-life movement.” (Viewers can explore his original draft manuscript, with Percy’s line modifications, in line by the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford.)

A small London publishing house, Lacington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones, printed for the first time Frankenstein: or, a modern Prometheus in a series limited to only 500 copies on January 1, 1818. The first edition was published anonymously but included an unsigned preface by Percy and a dedication to the father of Mary, philosopher Guillaume Godwin. Shelley didn’t publicly claim her novel until four years later, when Frankenstein has been adapted into a popular game.


The first edition of

Illustration by Theodor von Holst from the frontispiece to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Today, Frankenstein is considered a fundamental and premonitory work of science fiction.

“It’s a book that relentlessly questions the limits and how far to go, and the implications of what we do in the world” Gita Manaktala, editorial director of MIT Press, told Kat Eschner Smithsonian reviewed in 2018.

At the time of publication, however, Comments of the novel were mixed. Shelley herself was not happy with the job, as she made clear in her annotations margins of at least one copy in the collections of the Morgan Library and Museum. Available to view in line, the critical commentary reads: “If there were to be another edition of this book, I would have to rewrite these first two chapters.” Incidents are tamed [and] badly arranged, the language sometimes childish. They are unworthy of the rest of the narrative.

In 1831, thirteen years later FrankensteinIn its initial version, Shelley released a revised edition that included a reworked first chapter and other narrative changes. This text from 1831 is the one that is the most read today, as Geneviève Valentine notes for NPR in 2018. While the text of 1818 is more sympathetic to the actions of Victor Frankenstein, according to Valentine, the last version emphasizes the pride of the scientist who tries to modify the natural state of the world.

Shelley also chose to remove an epigraph from John Milton’s 1667 epic poem on the Christian parable of original sin, lost paradise. The sentence, a question from the first biblical man, Adam, to God, opened the 1818 text: “Did I pray to you, Creator, of my clay / To shape me Man?” / Did I ask you / Darkness to promote me?

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