'Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.'
Frankenstein was Mary Shelley's immensely powerful contribution to the ghost stories which she, Percy Shelley, and Byron wrote one wet summer in Switzerland. Its protagonist is a young student of natural philosophy, who learns the secret of imparting life to a creature constructed from relics of the dead, with horrific consequences.
Frankenstein confronts some of the most feared innovations of evolutionism: topics such as degeneracy, hereditary disease, and mankind's status as a species of animal. The text used here is from the 1818 edition, which is a mocking exposé of leaders and achievers who leave desolation in their wake, showing mankind its choice - to live cooperatively or to die of selfishness. It is also a black comedy, and harder and wittier than the 1831 version with which we are more familiar.
Drawing on new research, Marilyn Butler examines the novel in the context of the radical sciences, which were developing among much controversy in the years following the Napoleonic Wars, and shows how Frankenstein's experiment relates to a contemporary debate between the champions of materialist science and of received religion.
Note on the Text
A. Author's Introduction to the Standard Novels Edition (1831)
B. The Third Edition (1831): Substantive Changes
C. The Quarterly Review and Radical Science, 1819
'makes the original 1818 text easily available, and there are good reasons for welcoming it ... Butler's introduction is a rich essay in historical contextualisation, emphasising the Shelleys' early links with materialist physiology and showing how the 1831 edition reflected the broad intellectual changes of the intervening years.' The English Association
'this edition is worth a browse' Daily Telegraph
'The excellent introduction discusses the circumstances of its writing in the wider context of social and scientific controversy.' Good Book Guide, January 1995