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Press Release - December 8, 2006
Extremely Rare Frankenstein First Edition to be Auctioned by Heritage!
DALLAS, TEXAS: It is one of the most important English language novels of the 19th Century, written on a lark by a teenaged girl, which has spawned a cultural icon of monstrous proportions.
The young girl was Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, daughter of feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and anarchist/atheist journalist and philosopher William Godwin, and wife of the legendary Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.
In 1816, during a holiday in Switzerland near Lake Geneva, when Mary was 19, with friends including Dr. James Polidori and the famous poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, a raging storm prompted the idea that each guest should write a ghost story to amuse the others. Byron and Shelley soon tired of the idea, but Polidori wrote The Vampyre, a work largely forgotten now, but which would have a strong influence on Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Mary, however, crafted a true masterpiece, cobbling together inspiration from a number of sources, including the myth of Prometheus, the Greek god who gave the gift of fire to mankind, and more recent literary works like John Milton's Paradise Lost and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, to current scientific theories and advances, especially the study of electricity. If one is to believe her own accounts from years later, all of this coalesced into a dream, thus forming the basis for Frankenstein.
Far from being a mere "ghost story," however, Shelley crafted a tale with strong moral and intellectual underpinnings. Interwoven with the narrative of an ambitious medical student who discovers the secret to granting life to a cobbled-together collection of dead body parts are allusions to Shelley's own fears about childbirth, her views on human nature, and even a brutal assessment of child/parent relationships. One of the most enduring themes, and one that still resonates in today's headlines, is that of the inappropriate and ill-considered uses of science and technology. In fact, the word 'Frankensteinian' has been used to describe everything from heart transplants to stem cell research.
For those who are only familiar with Victor Frankenstein's creation through his many media incarnations, the original novel comes as something of a shock. Far from being the mute beast that many actors portrayed, Shelley's creature is an intelligent, sensitive soul who wants nothing more than acceptance into society, fellowship, and friendship. Because everyone with whom he comes into contact rejects him, beginning with his "father" at the very moment of his "birth," he initiates a campaign of violence and destruction that climaxes at the top of the world with Victor Frankenstein's death aboard an ice-bound ship and the Creature's disappearance into the icy wastes.
"Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, is one of the cornerstone novels of Western literature," said Tom Slater, Director of Americana auctions for Heritage Auction Galleries. "The work was originally issued on January 1, 1818 in a set of three volumes by the London publishing firm of Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones. It was initially published anonymously, as it was felt that such a book written by a woman would not be favorably received. As it contained a preface written by Percy Bysshe Shelley, many at first assumed that he had written the book."
"The three-volume, 'triple-decker' format was a common one for 19th-century first editions," said Slater, "and, although critically panned, the work enjoyed a great deal of popular success. It was translated into French in 1821, and first staged as a play under the title, Presumption, or The Fate of Frankenstein, in 1823. Also in that year, a second edition was issued, this time giving credit to the true author."
"Shelley revised the work in 1831," Slater said, "and this later version is the one most familiar to modern readers. Among other changes, this new edition alters Victor's motivation significantly, from a megalomaniac who does what he does simply to attain God-like powers, to a kinder, gentler scientist working solely to benefit mankind, a change that greatly affects how the reader looks at the obsessed scientist, and how one considers his actions towards his creation. Whichever edition one reads, however, Frankenstein is a stunning work, as worthy of consideration today as it was when it was written."
"The first edition copy of Frankenstein, as well as several other important items offered in our upcoming auction, hails from the collection of Dr. Betty T. Bennett," Slater said, "a renowned professor of literature and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, at American University, Washington D.C. She was recognized as a leading authority on Romantic literature, and was considered one of the world's foremost experts on the works of Mary Shelley. Sadly, Dr. Bennett passed away this past August, after a five-year battle with lung cancer. Her passing is a devastating loss to the world of literary scholarship, and we are pleased to pay tribute to her by offering this and other significant works in her collection to lovers of fine literature worldwide."
"Copies of the 1818 edition of Frankenstein rarely surface," Slater said, "especially not in such superb condition. The offering of this scarce collectible, beautifully bound in contemporary brown morocco with five raised bands, and floral gilt decorations on the spines and front and back covers, represents a singular opportunity for the advanced collector looking to add a truly important treasure to his or her holdings. The impact that Shelley's creation has had upon the modern world is incalculable, and this is where it all began. An opportunity such as this may not come around again for many, many years."
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus 1818 First Edition:
ESTIMATE: $80,000 - $125,000
Heritage Auction Galleries will hold their auction of rare books and manuscripts on April 16 & 17, 2007 at their headquarters in Dallas, TX.
For more information about Heritage's auctions, and a complete record of prices realized, along with full-color, enlargeable photos of each lot, please visit www.HA.com.
Prospective consignors and sellers of political memorabilia, Americana, and related collectibles are invited to visit www.HA.com and click on the "Sell Now" tab. Or simply email Tom Slater at TomS@HA.com.
To reserve your copy of any Heritage auction catalog, please contact Nicole Jewell at 1-800-872-6467, ext. 272, or visit www.HA.com to order by email.