The New Annotated Frankenstein

A phenomenal new addition to the Norton Annotated series ahead of the monster’s 200th birthday

Mary Shelley’s iconic gothic novel Frankenstein turns 200 next year. To celebrate, we are thrilled to be publishing the New Annotated Edition, edited by Leslie S. Klinger of the Sherlock Holmes Annotated Series, The New Annotated Dracula and The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft.

Of the Annotated H. P. Lovecraft — thought to be the “definitive” (New Statesman) edition of Lovecraft’s stories— the Times Literary Supplement praised Klinger’s virtuosity in restoring the magic of the original classics: “Lovecraft will now garner increased critical attention because of Leslie S. Klinger’s sumptuous The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft….Klinger has supplied a sensitive introductory overview of the writer and his legacy.” Now, Klinger has done the same with Shelley’s darkly iconic tale. And this time, Guillermo del Toro has provided the introduction alongside Klinger’s foreword.

Poster for Frankenstein (Universal Pictures, 1931), directed by James Whale.

The New Annotated Frankenstein is a magnificent ode to the monster’s iconic status in popular culture — literature, art, film, theatre and television, comic books and more. It is a testament to the chameleonic nature of the monster within the public consciousness, manifesting itself through a myriad of different guises— sometimes even changing gender — like a trapped psyche that can’t escape the two hundred year-old anxiety that formed it. Klinger addresses the prevailing concerns with modern science during the time Shelley wrote the book, and explores the literary circle she was a part of. Her contemporaries similarly desired to revolt against anything staid and formulaic, extolling the virtues of individualism — as well as the dangers of extreme introversion, of which Victor Frankenstein is a primary example.

Here we have provided an extract from the foreword to The New Annotated Frankenstein (extensive footnotes can be found in the book).


by Leslie S. Klinger

From inside The New Annotated Frankenstein (Norton)

Three literary figures loom over the nineteenth century, their shadows extending into the twenty-first century: Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and the Frankenstein monster. It is easy to describe the simplified, iconic aspects of each: Holmes, the “Great Detective,” the supreme rationalist, always in charge, never swerving from his pursuit of justice; Dracula, the “Master Vampire,” seductive, immortal, powerful, above the laws of human nature yet fundamentally human; and Frankenstein’s “creature,” terrific, superhuman, but isolated and innocent, a product of presumption and prejudice. Yet they are far more complex in their original conceptions than these images suggest. Only by considering the sources — the books in which the figures first appeared — can we truly understand them.

From inside The New Annotated Dracula (Norton)

While it is beyond the scope of this book to consider Holmes and Dracula, The New Annotated Frankenstein allows us to explore Victor Frankenstein and his creature through the text of Mary Shelley’s story, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, as published in 1818. Two hundred years after its original publication, the book’s historical and social context, despite the story’s cultural familiarity, may be unfamiliar to many readers, and its language, ideas, and events difficult to readily appreciate; at the same time, two centuries of reinterpretation and reshaping of the work, and of adaptation into film and other media, have only revealed more about the genius of the original material. As biographers and scholars note, Shelley revised her tale in 1823 and 1831, but no previous annotated or scholarly edition of Frankenstein has considered the effect of her revisions or the possible reasons for specific changes. Finally, unlike the Sherlock Holmes tales or Dracula (which happen to have been written by men), Frankenstein surprisingly incorporates a good deal of the personal life of its author, and understanding those linkages enriches the story.

This volume is not specifically intended to add to the existing body of academic scholarship. Beginning in the last quarter of the twentieth century, women’s and gender studies gained ascendancy in college curriculums, as did considerations of popular culture; with the convergence of these disciplines, Frankenstein shifted from being dismissed as merely early “science fiction” to becoming a regular object of pedagogical scrutiny. Instead, this book seeks to show readers that the original text of Mary Shelley’s novel, when read thoughtfully, is far more complex and engaging than the simplistic story that most new readers, who know only the films or comics, expect to find.

Comic book editions of Frankenstein

It is axiomatic to state that everyone knows the name “Frankenstein.” Millions have seen the eponymous 1931 film, loosely based on Shelley’s novel, starring Boris Karloff as the monster. A vast amount has been written about Frankenstein and continues to proliferate, almost at an exponential rate: Commentary has increased almost tenfold since original publication of the novel. There are nearly 150 films to date bearing the title Frankenstein in some form or other. Yet novelist, editor, and literary historian Brian W. Aldiss, who describes Mary Shelley as “the first science-fiction writer,” notes that for every thou-sand who think they are familiar with her tale of a deranged scientist and his ill-begotten creature, only one in fact has read the novel.

Frankenstein is often summarized along the lines of its serving as “a caution- ary tale warning of the dangers that can be cast into society by a presuming experimental science.” But it is so much more: Remarkably, a nineteen-year-old, writing her first novel, penned a tale that combines tragedy, morality, social commentary, and a thoughtful examination of the very nature of knowledge. The book is also the offspring of one of the most storied love affairs and collaborations in nineteenth-century literature, that between Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and Percy Bysshe Shelley, the prodigal daughter of two of the leading English intellectuals of the late eighteenth century and the son of an English aristocrat, destined to sit in Parliament, who turned his back on convention to embrace a wholly original, heretical, and visionary philosophy of life: a pairing of geniuses. And, as already suggested, the work is also deeply autobiographical. The elements of autobiography are so finely calibrated with the book’s form and content that the task of deciphering them, as demonstrated in these annotations, rewards effort yet is its own kind of trap; nonetheless, it has always been a vigorous line of research. Among the most obvious factors are, first, that Mary was motherless — her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died of puerperal fever, contracted giving birth to her in 1797 — and although her father, William Godwin, raised her after his wife’s death, their relationship was often strained and distant. Second, in the motherless creature’s demonstrations of love and hatred for his “father,” Victor Frankenstein, may be found echoes of Mary Shelley’s complex relationship with Godwin. Third, like Victor, Percy Shelley was obsessed with the natural and occult sciences, which manifested itself in his keeping “vials, crucibles, ‘philosophical instruments,’ a solar micro- scope, a galvanic trough, an air pump, a telescope, and an assortment of electrical devices” in his rooms at college. Fourth, Mary Shelley lost three children in infancy, and her dark feelings about childbirth and child-rearing suffuse the novel. Lastly, she puts into the mouths of the story’s principals her own strong feelings about her father’s and Percy’s pursuit of ideas to the detriment of family.

Too often, Frankenstein is dismissed as merely early science fiction, rather than what is truly the first modern myth. Some still view the book as an anomalous product of a youthful author and Mary Shelley herself as a freakish prodigy, but it has achieved its place as one of the Romantic period’s greatest works of imagination. Its richness and nuance contrast sharply with the reductive, if appealing, story told in stage and film adaptations. For all its antiquarian flavor, it has become a timeless classic, a book that can be read simply and enjoyed as entertainment, but one that can also be parsed and studied for its influence on Western literature — twin purposes that the volume at hand seeks to accomplish. Uniquely, this volume will pay close attention to the changes in the text over the course of its maturation and provide a single-source reference for all of the variant texts.


Entrée de l’Armeé française à Rome le 15 février 1798, by Hippolyte Lecomte, 1798

Before actually reading Frankenstein, it is important to understand the contextual history. The turbulent period between 1772 and 1818, the years encompassed by the events of the book and the date of its publication, included two major political revolutions, the American and the French, as well as “ripple revolutions” the world over. The American and French revolutions, which shifted the tectonic plates of world history, revised drastically the relationship between rulers and the ruled and opened the door to new roles for government. An equally defining series of events was Napoleon’s rampage through the European continent, beginning in Italy in 1796, which created a new empire born of war, though one that collapsed by 1821. The period also witnessed revolutions in science, as the fields of chemistry and biology greatly expanded, as did an understanding of electricity. Major advances in theory were accompanied by practical applications, with the introduction of the spinning jenny, the power loom, and gas-lit, steam-driven factories. Roads were built at a growing pace, helping to usher in the Industrial Age and shape the great metropolises we know. Gas mains were laid in London. The first steam locomotives appeared, and then a steamship crossed the Atlantic, these transportation revolutions giving rise to modern cities. As local farms and cottage industries gave way to the Industrial Revolution, lives changed to the rhythms of factory work rather than farm work, and people began to live more distant from their employment. Printing became more efficient and less expensive, and reading, once a domain of academics, clergy, and the rich, flourished.

The political events in France stirred a multitude of vocal reactions in England. The great philosopher Edmund Burke wrote Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), beginning a long public debate in England over the role of the aristocracy and the rights of the citizenry. The same year, Mary Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft (on whom more below), achieved fame when she published a response to Burke, A Vindication of the Rights of Men, her defense of the ideals of the French revolution and a repudiation of the aristocracy. (The pamphlet did not actually bear her name until it went into a second edition, the first having sold out in a matter of weeks.) This was followed by the expatriate American Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, a radical exploration of liberty that appeared in 1791–92, and by Mary Shelley’s father, William Godwin’s, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793).

Title page of Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (ca. 1818 edition).

In the midst of, and perhaps because of, such changes and political debate, literature flourished, especially in England. The publication of The Castle of Otranto (1764), from the unlikely source of Whig politician Horace Walpole, the son of Robert Walpole, the first prime minister of England, set a new fashion in fiction, called “gothic.” Walpole combined the tropes of medieval romance (castles and supernatural beings) with contemporary fiction, striking a balance between the wild fantasies of the former and the strict realism of the latter. Otranto was highly popular, and other authors copied Walpole’s style, including Clara Reeve (best known for The Old English Baron, 1778) and Ann Radcliffe, whose best-known work was The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), though she wrote a half-dozen other novels. Matthew Gregory “Monk” Lewis cashed in on the new genre with a tossed-off but wildly successful scandalous novel, The Monk (1796), written before Lewis was twenty. The book was a favorite of Percy Shelley’s. Certainly Frankenstein, on its surface, with the nearly supernatural monster and a hero (and heroine) threatened with an apparently implacable doom, displays some gothic elements, but, as will be seen, Mary Shelley’s work goes far beyond the tropes of previous books in the genre.

Lewis’s work certainly owed a debt to Radcliffe’s but also to Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, a novel by William Godwin, published in 1794, three years before the birth of his first child, Mary. Godwin intended Things as They Are to be an exposition of his political principles, as expressed in his 1793 Enquiry, but the novel — glorified by his sympathizers and denounced by his detractors as dangerously revolutionary — was successful in its own right, a compelling story of two men in relentless pursuit of each other over a span of years (a theme that recurs in Frankenstein). In a preface to the first edition that went unused because of the reaction of skittish booksellers, Godwin described the novel as a record “of domestic and unrecorded despotism, by which man becomes the destroyer of man.” It has been said to have prefigured both the existential novel and noir detective fiction. Mary first read it in 1814, when she was seventeen, and it clearly made a great impression, as is evident not least from the title page of Frankenstein.

The gothic movement in literature yielded in the 1780s and 1790s to Romanticism—coinage of the term is usually attributed to Friedrich Schlegel—partly as a reaction to the morbid obsessions of gothicism. It became a complex response to the idealism of the American and French revolutions, with its emphasis on reason, and drew literary sustenance from the sudden onset of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of science, again a crucial and new element of Frankenstein. Its adherents rejected classical standards for art and embraced a return to Nature and medievalism. The Romantics extolled the virtues of strong individuals whose heroism and rejection of the strictures of society would by their example lead others to better lives. They also celebrated intense feelings, especially those brought about by the presence of the sublime — the wonders of the natural world. All of these themes are well in evidence in Frankenstein.

Although written during the height of the gothic movement in England, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther (first published anon- ymously in 1774, when Goethe was twenty-five, and revised in 1787) was embraced by the Romantics for its emphasis on sentimentality over sense and may be viewed as the launching point for much of what followed. Werther was, to say the least, an incredibly popular novel about a young man driven to suicide by the tortures of love, so successful that not only did readers take to dressing like Werther, but the book appears to have induced “copycat” suicides among its devotees. Another very popular writer of the day was Sir Walter Scott, an early champion of Frankenstein, who achieved success with novels and poems dramatizing historical struggles, essentially inventing “historical fiction.” His long narrative poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel was published anonymously in 1805, when he was thirty-four. This was followed by the epic poem Marmion in 1808. Waverley (1814, again published anonymously, as was all of Scott’s fiction until 1827) was the first of twenty “Waverley” novels, and it and others — for example, Rob Roy (1817) and Ivanhoe (1820) — largely focused on individuals struggling heroically against the confines of their societies.

English poetry began to reflect this change as well, focusing on emotions recollected by the individual rather than consideration of classical or biblical themes. The collection Lyrical Ballads, published in 1798 by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, truly launched English Romanticism, and succeeding poetry penned by William Blake, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Burns, Lord Byron, and of course Percy Shelley, Mary’s husband, eschewed lofty themes and complex structures such as those in the poetry of Milton and Pope. Instead, the Romantic poets wrote about their experiences, usually in specific locations, recording their personal moods and emotions. Lord Byron, discussed further below, became in many ways virtually the personification of Romanticism, with the “Byronic” hero the ideal.


Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin’s biographical details are essential knowledge for anyone reading the novel. She was born on August 30, 1797, in London. Her father, William Godwin, a former minister and the son of a Non-conformist minister (that is, a Protestant who elected not to “conform” to the precepts of the Church of England), had achieved a fame equal to or greater than his wife’s with publication of his Enquiry Concerning Public Justice. It was followed by Things as They Are, and he became a central figure among English supporters of the French Revolution — styled as the “English Jacobins” — a group that included Tom Paine and William Blake and, most importantly for our purposes, Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of Mary Shelley.

Mary Wollstonecraft , by John Opie (ca. 1797)

Mary Wollstonecraft was the eldest daughter of a once wealthy family, who, as a child, witnessed her father’s violence toward her mother and set her- self to be the protector of her mother and younger sisters and brothers. Her ministrations were unappreciated and resented by her mother, who, retiring to the sick chamber to nurse both unspecified ailments and at least one very real one (edema, then known as dropsy), would seat Mary in a corner with instructions not to move — a “punishment” that sometimes lasted for four hours. Uncharacteristically for the time, Wollstonecraft left her home at nineteen to make her own way, soon starting a school with her closest friend, Frances (Fanny) Blood. She subsequently served as caretaker of a widow in Bath and as a governess in Ireland for the country’s biggest landowners, Robert King and Caroline Fitzgerald King, Lord and Lady Kingsborough — a family once distinguished by its place among the governing elite then known collectively as the Ascendancy, and later disgraced by the elopement of their daughter Mary, one of Mary Wollstonecraft’s former charges.

At twenty-eight, after a year in her employ, Mary Wollstonecraft was peremptorily dismissed by Lady Kingsborough. She had grown tired, in any case, of the limited opportunities afforded her and other women, and quite bravely she decided to move to London to try to make her living as an author. Her first novel, Mary: A Fiction (1788), written on the job in Ireland, mined her friendship with Fanny Blood; its secondary female character, Ann, is based on Fanny. Wollstonecraft also wrote a 1788 collection of children’s tales, Original Stories from Real Life: With Conversations Calculated to Regulate the Affections and Form the Mind to Truth and Goodness, centered around her experiences both at the school and in the employ of the Kingsboroughs. In November 1791, the year following the release of A Vindication of the Rights of Men, she met William Godwin, and, although their union seemed almost foreordained, this initial contact was a disappointment to both, as they disagreed on nearly everything. Godwin even took umbrage at what he perceived to be “offences, against grammar and other minute points of composition,” in A Vindication of the Rights of Men.

William Godwin, by Henry William Pickersgill (date unknown).

“The interview was not fortunate,” Godwin wrote, seven years later, in Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1798), a sui generis account of his wife’s unconventional life that can safely be said to have no precedent in literature, at least that of the late eighteenth century. The book took its title from Wollstonecraft’s proto-feminist classic A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Clearly written from the heart but unsparing in its accounts, Godwin’s “memoir” incongruously details Wollstonecraft’s affairs — with the married painter Henry Fuseli and others — in the language of a political pamphlet, mixing theory and prurience. “She regarded her sex, in the words of Calista [in Greek mythology, the goddess who was both nymph and, after her seduction by Zeus, a bear], as ‘In every state of life the slaves of men.’ . . . It is necessary here that I should resume the subject of the friendship that subsisted between Mary and Mr. Fuseli. . . .” Some of Wollstonecraft’s sentiments regarding the position of women in society appear in Frankenstein, in the mouth of Elizabeth Lavenza, Victor’s unfortunate fiancée.

Wollstonecraft had become involved with Fuseli before she met Godwin. Eventually, Sophia Rawlins, Fuseli’s wife, not surprisingly, objected to her presence in their lives, and Wollstonecraft removed herself, traveling to Paris. There she had a relationship with an American adventurer, Gilbert Imlay, and became even more highly visible as a writer, publishing, among other works, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. In 1794 she and Imlay had a daughter, Fanny, an event that precipitated a pattern of chronic absences, with Imlay’s “ambiguity” and extended business trips to London and elsewhere “the prelude to an eternal separation,” according to Godwin’s later account. Alone in the midst of the French Revolution, Mary followed Imlay to London, where she apparently attempted suicide. After a second unsuccessful attempt to take her own life, she had begun a slow return to literary circles. Imlay’s final desertion, in April 1795, had come with the rather cruel implication that he found Wollstonecraft too domesticated for his tastes: “Mr. Imlay,” Godwin wrote in Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, “…had formed another connexion; as it is said, with a young actress from a strolling company of players.”

Wollstonecraft and Godwin met again in January 1796, through writer friends. This time, he took a different view of her. He read her Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, published in late 1795, and he was charmed. Later he wrote, “If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book.” Although their relationship started slowly — she afraid that she had once again let herself become dependent on a man, he that he was incapable of love — it was to become deeply passionate. “For six and thirty hours,” he wrote her, “I could think of nothing else [but you]. I longed inexpressibly to hold you in my arms.” Both Wollstonecraft and Godwin publicly vilified the idea of marriage — Godwin described every married man as odiously selfish, treating his wife as a possession — but when Wollstonecraft became pregnant, in order to provide their child the legitimacy that Fanny Imlay lacked, they married. As noted above, five months after the wedding, Mary died of puerperal fever, contracted giving birth to her second child, Godwin’s first, their daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Wollstonecraft survived for only ten days after Mary’s birth.

Godwin, then at the height of his reputation and happiness, was plunged into a period of despair and dissatisfaction from which he never emerged. His state of mind was further compromised by the public’s reaction to Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which was to have the effect, apparently entirely unanticipated by its author, of soiling Wollstonecraft’s reputation for nearly a century. It was not until the rise of the New Woman in the late nineteenth century that Wollstonecraft’s life and work came to be celebrated as foundation stones of feminist philosophy and writing.

Left not only with Mary but with his late wife’s other daughter, Fanny, Godwin declared himself “totally unfitted to educate” the two girls and embarked on a course of child-rearing that was informed by his philosophy but had little practical basis. He was an undemonstrative father, emotionally distant by choice, though later Mary admitted, “I could justly say that he was my God…I remember many childish instances of the excess of attachment I bore him.” Certainly the relationship between Victor and the monster is colored by Shelley’s own feelings about her father. He had hoped for a son by his wife, having chosen the name William, and perhaps out of disappointment, he gave Mary a “masculine” education, exposing her to a broad range of intellectual stimulation and a wide program of reading. This thinking is reflected in the differences between the education of Victor and Elizabeth in the Frankenstein household. In contrast, however, the Godwin household was a focal point for a diverse group of English writers and intellectuals, and there is an oft-told anecdote of an evening in 1806 when the nine-year-old Mary hid behind a sofa to listen to Samuel Taylor Coleridge read aloud his Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a work whose themes run throughout Frankenstein.

After four years of struggling to succeed as a single parent, Godwin married his neighbor Mary Jane Vial Clairmont, who already had two children of her own, Charles (1795–1850) and Clara Mary Jane (1798–1879). The latter, eight months younger than Mary, first called Jane but later Claire or Clare, would have a significant role in Mary’s early life. Mary had no love for her stepmother, writing, in a letter dated September 26, 1817, “As to Mrs. Godwin, something very analogous to disgust arises whenever I mention her.” Whatever her deficiencies as a parent, however, Mary Jane was the kind of woman Godwin needed. He described her later as having “great strength and activity of mind.” Like many an author, Godwin had struggled to earn money and was frequently in financial straits. Now, with Mary Jane’s active partner- ship, they undertook to publish children’s primers on biblical and classical his- tory and such works as Godwin’s friends Mary and Charles Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. However, their business, the Juvenile Library, would end in financial disaster, leaving Godwin in constant need of funds. Mary’s relation- ship with Mary Jane and the distance she was to put between herself and her father would later come to shape Frankenstein, again reflected in the strained “parental” relationship between Victor and the monster.

(Foreword continues in The New Annotated Frankenstein)

The New Annotated Frankenstein is published on the 8th September and is available to pre-order on our website.

Published in the UK by W W Norton & Company Ltd.

“The flame of Shelley’s intelligence burned brighter than any of her contemporaries’, and the novel surges like an explosion with all the combustible matter available to her.” — Guillermo del Toro, from the introduction

“In annotating Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Les Klinger has pulled off the nearly impossible trick of making the original novel as interesting as the phenomena (from the many incarnations of the monster to the field of science fiction) which it spawned. A beautifully illustrated compendium...” — Neil Gaiman