3 october 2008

Frankenstein at the Bodleian

A miniature of Mary Shelley, an idealized portrait made after her death.
The display at the Bodleian Library will feature a miniature of Mary Shelley, an idealized portrait made after her death, alongside the draft notebooks in Mary and Percy Shelley’s handwriting.

The Bodleian Library is holding a special one-day event on Tuesday 7 October 2008 to celebrate the launch of The Original Frankenstein, the latest Bodleian Library publication.

Frankenstein Day will include a special display of Mary Shelley's original manuscripts, a lecture by Charles E. Robinson, the author of the new edition, and a book launch with science fiction author Brian Aldiss as guest speaker.

The Original Frankenstein is a new edition of the first and most popular work of science fiction, allowing Mary Shelley’s pure authorial voice to be heard for the first time since 1817, when the book was initially written. The Bodleian publication uses the unique handwritten draft of 1816-17, held at the Library, to distinguish Mary's own words from the additions written in by her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

For years, scholars have debated the degree to which Percy Shelley influenced his wife’s novel. Until now, no one has been able to read what Mary Shelley herself initially wrote in this original draft of the novel.

Going back to the unique draft manuscript of the text held in the Bodleian Library, Charles E. Robinson has identified up to 5,000 edits in Percy Shelley’s hand writing and has teased these out, isolating them from the story in Mary Shelley’s hand. Both texts – with and without Percy’s interventions – are presented in this edition, allowing us for the first time to read the story in Mary’s original hand and also to see how Percy edited his wife’s prose.

The results are a more rapidly-paced novel that is arranged in different chapters and it identifies Mary’s genuine voice, which sounds more modern and more colloquial than her husband’s learned, more polished style.

Mary Shelley's original manuscript, a handwritten draft of Frankenstein from 1816-17.The display at the Bodleian features the draft notebooks in Mary and Percy Shelley’s handwriting and the fair copy written by Mary Shelley for the publisher, the textual source for the three-volume first edition of 1818.  Also on display is a miniature of Mary, an idealized portrait made after her death. The display ends with a lock of Mary's hair, cut in 1816 -- the year of Frankenstein's birth.

The manuscripts of Frankenstein were bought by the Bodleian Library in 2004, with the generous support of the National Heritage Memorial Fund and other institutional and private donors. They are part of the Abinger Collection, the remaining third of the Shelley family archive. The Bodleian already owned the other two thirds through gifts from the Shelley family, including the miniature of Mary given by her daughter-in-law in 1894.

The Original Frankenstein is part of the Library's continuing campaign to make its riches more accessible for study and enjoyment.

For more information about the display and events please visit the Bodleian Library website.