Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus 1818 First Edition. (London: for Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones, 1818), first edition, three volumes, 12mo (4.25" x 7"), bound in twentieth century brown morocco with five raised bands, floral gilt decoration on the spines and front and back covers; front and back pastedown in gold bordered green leather, facing front free endpaper and back free endpaper in blue moire taffeta, small green leather book plate on verso of front free endpaper with gold design and monogram, introduction written by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

    A brief synopsis of the story:

    A young Swiss medical student discovers the secret of animating lifeless matter by assembling body parts, and creates a monster which vows revenge on its creator after being rejected by society.

    Mary Shelley modeled her life and works on her parents', William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, belief in the power and responsibility of the individual to effect change. Frankenstein was written in response to a literary contest agreed upon by Mary and Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and his physician, John Polidori, that each would write a terrifying tale. With Percy's encouragement, Mary's tale became a novel and her greatest treatise on this philosophy of enlightenment. The following discussion of the novel was informed by Betty Bennett's Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: An Introduction.

    Frankenstein, a wealthy, indulged young man whose acceptance of his society's norms leads him to want, like a monarch or a god, absolute power. To achieve this goal, Frankenstein pieces together a very unheroic-appearing Creature, who devolves from a state of natural goodness to one of crime and transgression.

    For Mary Shelley, scientific experimentation served as a model for political experimentation, both offering the means to create a better world. Paving the way for future science fiction novels, Mary Shelley incorporates some of the most recent technological findings of her time, replacing the heavenly fire of the Prometheus myth with the spark of newly discovered electricity. The animation of the Creature was inspired and informed by the experiments in electricity and reanimation of Luigi Galvani (1737-98) and Alessandro Volta (1745-1827).

    In the Greek myth, Prometheus' actions, like Christ's, result in redemptive suffering for humanity. Frankenstein's quest, conversely, is for the attainment of personal, godlike power rather than for society's advancement. Frankenstein's failure, which destroys the larger community, is a parable for the failure of the 19th-century socio-political structure to take responsibility-material and spiritual-for the greater populace. His transgression is not that he enters sacred realms, but that he fails to take responsibility for his own actions.

    This modern, failed Prometheus reduces the "heroic" act to a mocking parody of enlightenment personified by the Creature. The Creature is the only character that fully understands and assumes responsibility for the horrors of his deeds, though he is incapable of restraining himself. This Rousseauian natural savage regresses from a condition of instinctual goodness to learned evil, mirroring a society based on power and fear. When the Creature educates himself, he embodies Shelley's revered values of reason, love and individual dignity. When he breaks from this model and emulates the power system prevalent in the early 19th century, he, like his creator, becomes both victim and perpetuator of that system.

    The novel advances Mary Shelley's reformist ideology that power and unjust social conditions are more the work of man than of God and therefore can be changed. With her dark gothic tale, Mary Shelley holds up an unflattering mirror to an England driven by the emerging industrial age to convey a humanistic message of hope, reason and universal love.

    The three volumes are very good, with a light .5" scratch on back cover of Volume III, front cover of Volume II has thin .5" light line following the natural crackling pattern of the leather, edges of spines lightly rubbed and crackled, but integrity of leather still strong, Volume I lacking advertising leaf, top edge of textblock is gilt, each volume has small stain at top edge of front of textblock and bottom of textblock at spine, 2" crease at right corner of title page of Volume II, Volume I is lightly foxed, while Volumes II and III have minimal foxing. The pages are trimmed and there has been some expert restoration done to one volume. Box lined with flannel, brown cloth outside with leather trim around opening, leather trim missing along bottom edge of box. From the Betty Bennett Collection.

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    Auction Dates
    April, 2007
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