About This Book
The book Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley in 1818, tells a tale of a scientific imagination and creation gone awry. The story of Frankenstein is filled with contradictions: life and death, beauty and horror, conflict and peace. These tensions throughout the book engage the reader and contribute to its gothic themes. The book begins with the creation of Doctor Victor Frankenstein’s monster. This monster’s one true desire is to be accepted by his creator, but to no avail. Instead, throughout the whole book, he is cast away and rejected by society. Mary Shelley brings the reader into the world of both characters: we see the struggles and simultaneous growth of the monster, his violent encounters, and his frustrations with the world; and we also see the Doctor’s relationships, his resentment toward his own creation, and his gradual demise. In Barry Moser’s 1818 edition of Frankenstein, he weaves themes from the text into the book’s physical appearance. His accompanying art is meticulously crafted, similar to the labor and craftsmanship of Victor Frankenstein. However, the beauty of Moser’s labor is juxtaposed with the horror within the graphics: the reader can identify both the beauty and terror of the monster and the overall novel. Just as Victor Frankenstein gives life to his creation, Barry Moser revives Mary Shelley’s text with beautifully gruesome illustrations in the 1984 special edition by Pennyroyal Press.
While the plot of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is widely known, the history of the book itself is somewhat of a mystery. Since 1818, a minimum of 280 editions have been released and read by millions. Perhaps the most iconic and costly version of the text is the 1984 special edition published with illustrations by Barry Moser. Published by Pennyroyal Press, (owned and operated by Moser himself who is now 77 years of age), this edition reprinted the original 1818 version of Frankenstein as Mary Shelley first published it. Perhaps in creating this new edition based on the original book, Moser intended only to enhance the worth and beauty of her work, reaffirming the value of her first published words of this story. In addition, the calligraphy on the spine of the book was done by Yvette Rutledge
His incredible talent expressed in his added illustrations is shown not only through the artwork itself, but through the book as a whole. The texture of the paper, the feel of the original signed engravings, the sheer size and weight of the edition, the artistic rearrangement of some of Shelley’s passages, as well as the leather case in which the edition and its prints are housed––all of these work together to transcend the act of simply reading the book. Every carefully thought out aspect of this edition sets it apart from others because they transform the story of Frankenstein into a multisensory experience, bringing the story to life, much like Dr. Frankenstein’s experiment in bringing the creature to life in the story itself.
This edition is meant to be touched, to be carefully looked at. It craves the feel of human hands, for fingers to slowly and lightly cascade their warmth over the engravings, and the slightly raised words. The book begs to be held and opened, to have its pages flipped through and cherished. And although its size and material make it a heavier choice to pick up, this simply reaffirms the strong presence which it demands in any room.
There are 350 editions of 1984 Pennyroyal Frankenstein, and Santa Clara University owns the 18th copy (denoted by a small handwritten “18” on the title page of the book- signed by Barry Moser). Mary Shelley’s story is carefully printed on Pulegium paper, a plant commonly known as “Pennyroyal,” and is an archival paper. This paper distinguishes this edition as a special book, not one for shoving in a bag at an airport or reading in the park. The size also prevents the book from being one of leisurely reading on the go. It is a hefty edition that shows off Moser’s prints in larger form than the average book. It is also carefully bound in cloth and leather and comes with a cloth cover, which leads us to believe this is a very expensive edition- not just your average coffee table book. While 54 copies of this edition belong in university libraries all over the globe, it can be assumed that the remaining copies are owned by collectors and immense fans of Shelley’s work.
Altogether, Barry Moser’s 1984 edition of Frankenstein is designed for book collectors and Shelley superfans. Its art and supplemental essays bring the original 1818 text to life in the 21st century. Moser’s 1984 Pennyroyal Press edition is an example of how Mary Shelley’s text has inspired artists and writers like Moser and Atwood to respond to the original text.