About This Book

The story of Frankenstein is not an unfamiliar one, however this edition of the gothic novel might be. Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus (Frankenstein for short) was written by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851) during her time in Geneva, Switzerland with her husband, Percy Shelley, and some friends. They began telling ghost stories to scare each other, and from that idea Frankenstein was born. The novel was published in 1818, but this particular edition is the 1831 edition published in 1839. There are slight changes between the original and this one. Firstly, Mary Shelley includes her preface in this version which mentions how she came to write this story. Additionally, chapter one is split into two chapters and Elizabeth is no longer Victor’s cousin; in the first edition she was, but Shelley changed the story for this edition. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Frankenstein/the-1818-and-1831-editions/

This book was published in London, Edinburgh, and Dublin. Each place had a different publisher because during that time period publishing worked differently; it was all independent rather than large publishing houses like it is today. The book is in its original cloth binding. The binding is old and beautiful, made of purple vertical grained cloth, blocked in blind. This means that there are decorations on the cloth which have been pressed, but no gilt outline is present. The spine, however, is lettered in gilt (gold, says Standard Novels in block caps with Frankenstein underneath it). Clearly the nickname of the full book title is already in play so soon after its original publication. The spine is faded to brown instead of purple and the corners are slightly bumped. At the time, this would have been a very average household copy of Frankenstein, however it is so old now that it was sold to Santa Clara University’s Library for £2,500.

There are two inscriptions present in this novel. The first inscription is on the left inside cover; it reads “No. 394 The Otley Library, January 1849.” The Otley Library is in a suburb called Leeds located in West Yorkshire, UK. It is a small library for a small area, and the inscription really helps to narrow down the area where the book originally went after publication. http://www.leedsinspired.co.uk/places/otley-library. The second inscription is on the right inside title page and reads “J. Walker Hartley, Ashfield House.” In my search for Ashfield house I discovered a bed and breakfast that is also located in Yorkshire. It seems likely that this, once a private house owned by J. Walker Hartley, was where the book was either before or after 1849 when it was in the library. http://www.ashfieldhouse.co.uk/  

This 1831 edition of Frankenstein also includes two images. The two illustrations can be found in the front, engraved by William Chevalier and designed by Theodore von Holst. The first is of the creature awakening with a quote from pg 43- “By the glimmer of the half-extinguished light I saw the dull, yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs… I rushed out of the room.” The image of the creature and his dull yellow eye is one that has terrified readers for over a century now. Its inclusion in this early version is very apropos. The second is of Frankenstein and a woman with a quote from pg 31- “The day of my departure at length arrived.” The assumption is that this is Victor and Elizabeth, particularly because the quote comes from part of the book where Victor is leaving to continue his studies. It represents the beginning of the journey of Frankenstein.