From the time it was published anonymously in 1818 (see this frontispiece, steel engraving, 1831), the identity of the author has been in dispute. It was even debated after Shelley and her more famous (at the time) husband Percy affirmed that she indeed wrote the classic story. Still, some modern scholars remain doubtful about Frankenstein‘s true author.
A new edition of the novel sheds light on the Shelleys’ collaborative relationship
By JENNIFER HOWARD
Nobody shouts “It’s alive!” in the novel that gave birth to Frankenstein’s monster. Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, does not feature mad scientists messing around with beakers in laboratories, nor does it deliver any bug-eyed assistants named Igor. Hollywood has given us those stock images, but the story of the monster and his maker owes its essential power to the imagination of an 18-year-old woman and the waking nightmare she had by the shores of Lake Geneva one rainy summer almost 200 years ago.
If, that is, you believe that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley really was the genius behind one of our most enduring tales of existential horror. Almost from the moment that it was published anonymously on New Year’s Day 1818, Frankenstein had readers and critics arguing over its origins. Early rumor held that it wasn’t Mary Shelley but her husband, the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who deserved the credit. (Or the blame; some early readers were outraged by the novel’s idea that a man could play God and create life.) Even after the couple confirmed Mary’s authorship and her name appeared on new editions in 1823 and 1831, some critics held on to the idea that Percy was the guiding spirit behind Frankenstein.
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