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Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein while visiting Lord Byron in Switzerland, in the summer of 1816. She, her future husband (Percy Bysshe Shelley) and another person discussed ghost stories with Lord Byron, and at one point the latter suggested that the four of them write their own. For a period of time Mary struggled with writing her own, before a discussion surrounding the “principle of life” occurred, which eventually led to her imagination running wild when she couldn’t sleep. In this state she imagines the portion of the novel where Frankenstein brings his creation to life (and is horrified at what he has done). The next day she began writing: “At first [she] thought but of a few pages—of a short tale; but Shelley urged [her] to develope the idea at greater length”, eventually leading to her writing more and publishing the novel in 1818.
Frankenstein is notable for being one of the first science-fiction novels. In his review of Frankenstein, novelist Sir Walter Scott prefaces the piece with “This is a novel, or more properly a romantic fiction, of a nature so peculiar, that we ought to describe the species before attempting any account of the individual production” (Scott), already suggesting Frankenstein is of a different ilk than other stories.
Critically, Frankenstein received mixed reviews.
The novelist Sir Walter Scott (writing in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine) found issues with plot points relating to the education of the monster. Specifically that his education should be “improbable and overstrained”(Scott), and that he learned too much from simply “listening through a hole in the wall”. Additionally, he mentions the monster evading capture (or even being discovered) raises skepticism, but he relents and says that there are reasons that these issues aren’t major, and also that the overall work negates their impact. Scott ends his review praising Frankenstein, saying “the work impresses us with a high idea of the author’s original genius and happy power of expression”(Scott).
John Wilson Croker’s review from The Quarterly Review is much more scathing compared to Scott’s. After a quick rundown of the plot, he assumes those who read his summary will agree “what a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity [Frankenstein] presents” (Croker), and goes on to say Shelley (then anonymous) might be as mad as the titular character. Further criticism continues with the idea that the science within Frankenstein is nonsense, but Croker does acknowledge that the writing itself is “language highly terrific” (Croker). In the end, though, Croker finds the novel despicable, and suggests “the head or heart of the author be the most diseased” (Croker).
One review, from The British Critic, attacks Shelley for her gender. The review notes the horror and grotesque nature of Frankenstein’s themes and imagery, and ends with the passage “The writer of it is, we understand, a female; this is an aggravation of that which is the prevailing fault of the novel”…and includes the phrase “if our authoress can forget the gentleness of her sex” (The British Critic), suggesting her femininity disqualifies her from writing with the subject matter Frankenstein explores.
Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein
Frankenstein was popular enough to inspire theatrical adaptations, with Presumption being the first.
For additional contemporary reviews, please click here.
References (in progress)
The British Critic Staff. N/A. The British Critic. April 1818: 432-38. Digital. https://www.rc.umd.edu/reference/chronologies/mschronology/reviews/bcrev.html
Croker, John Wilson. N/A. The Quarterly Review [London] June 12th, 1818: 379-85. Digital. https://www.rc.umd.edu/reference/chronologies/mschronology/reviews/qrrev.html
History.com Staff. “Frankenstein Published.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.
Douglas, Hoehn. “The First Season of Presumption!” University of Pennsylvania, n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
Scott, Walter. N/A. Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 2 [Edinburgh] March 1818: 613-20. Digital. https://www.rc.umd.edu/reference/chronologies/mschronology/reviews/bemrev.html
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. 1831 Ed., Colburn and Bentley, 2013, Gutenburg, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/42324/42324-h/42324-h.htm