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Frankenstein | Study Guide

Mary Shelley

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Frankenstein | The 1818 and 1831 Editions

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There are two major editions of Frankenstein. The 1818 edition is the original text published by Mary Shelley. The 1831 version includes Shelley's account of how the book came to be written but also has several textual changes. The chief changes are these:

  • Chapter 1 is expanded and split into two chapters. For this reason, the numbering and final count of chapters can vary from one version of the book to another.
  • The story of Elizabeth Lavenza's origin changes. In the 1818 edition, she is the daughter of Alphonse Frankenstein's sister, making her Victor's cousin. While it was not unheard of for cousins to marry, some readers might have reacted negatively to that circumstance. In the 1831 edition, then, Shelley changed Elizabeth's situation, making her a poor orphan Alphonse and Caroline—chiefly at Caroline's direction—take into their home. This change also adds to the credit of Caroline because of her kindness toward the girl.
  • In describing the lightning strike that destroyed a tree and first alerted him to the power of electricity, Victor says in the 1831 edition that a scientist visiting the family discussed electricity and galvanism. Galvanism was thought at the time to have the power to animate animal muscle. The addition suggests that this might have been the secret power that Victor used to bring the Monster to life.
  • The 1831 edition has more comments critical of Victor's decisions and actions, as Shelley attempted to respond to the harsher conservative critics who had objected to her novel on moral grounds.

Many readers have come to know the novel by reading modern editions based on the 1831 version. Scholars argue that the original from 1818 more closely reflects Mary's original vision.

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