Bibliographic Studies on the Work of Mary Shelley

This essay was written by Sumeeta Patnaik. If you would like to contact the author, please email her at

The literary reputation of Mary Shelley and her masterpiece, Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus remains a paradox in studies on 19th century literature. Despite being the progeny of two famous political writers,Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin,Mary Shelley only began writing at the insistence of her husband, Romantic poet Percy Shelley. In the introduction of the 1831 revision of the novel, Mary Shelley tells that her literary evolution began with the writing of Frankenstein:

My husband, however, from the first, very anxious that I should prove myself
Worthy of my parentage and enrol myself on the page of fame. He was forever
Inciting me to obtain literary reputation, which even on my own part I cared for
Then, though since I have become infinitely indifferent to it. At this time he
Desired that I should write, not so much with the idea that I could produce
Anything worthy of notice, but that he might himself judge how far I possessed
The promise of better things hereafter. Still I did nothing. Travelling, and the
Cares of the family occupied my time; and study, in the way of reading or
mproving my ideas in communication with his far more cultivated mind, was all
Of literary employment that engaged my attention (Shelley 6).

So began Mary Shelley’s literary employment. While she wrote 17 works during her lifetime, Frankenstein remains her only novel that has been examined beyond its 19th century shelf life.

The origins of the story of Frankenstein and the controversial lifestyle of its author have continued to receive as much critical study as the novel itself. However, critics consider

Frankenstein one of the best Gothic novels because it synthesized natural philosophy and 19th century scientific experimentation with Mary Shelley’s own literary influences and personal vision. As scholars continue to study Mary Shelley’s personal vision, they will come
closer to understanding why the public continues to agree with Percy Shelley’s assessment of his wife’s writing:

{Frankenstein is} one of the most original and complete productions of the day.
We debate with ourselves in wonder, as we read it, what could have been the
Series of thoughtswhat could have been the peculiar experiences that
Awakened themwhich conduced, in the author’s mind, to the astonishing
Combinations of motives and incidents and the startling catastrophe, which
Compose this tale (Shelley 4).

State of the text.

  1. Availability of the Text. Only six of Mary Shelley’s books are currently available in paperback editions. Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus (Oxford Worlds Classics), The Last Man (Bison Books), Lodore (Broadview Press), Mathilda (Buccaneer Books), Valperga or Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca (Women Writers in English 1350-1850 series) and Mary Shelley: Collected Tales and Stories with Original Engravings (Acclaim Books).
  2. Number of Editions in Print since the Original Printing. The number of editions of Mary Shelley’s works since the original printing.

History of a Six Weeks’ Tour: {With Percy Bysshe Shelley) London: T. Hookman, Jun, and C. and J. Ollier, 1817. Paperback edition. Oxford: Woodstock, 1989.

Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus: 3 vols. London: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones, 1818. 2 vols. Reprint of the first edition. London: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones, 1823. Revised one volume edition. London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, 1831. Paperback edition. New York: Penguin, 1985. Paperback edition. New York: Dutton, 1993. It should be noted that in the 1998-1999 publishing year, there were 53 current editions of Frankenstein available in paperback.

Valperga or Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca. 3 vols. London: G. and W.B. Whittaker, 1823. Hardcover edition. Revised one volume. New York: AMS, 1979. Paperback edition. London: Women Writers in English 1350-1850 Series, 1998.

The Last Man: 3 vols. London: Henry Colburn, 1826. 2 vol. Reprint. Philadelphia: Carey, Lea and Blanchard, 1833. Paperback edition. University of Nebraska Press, 1965. Paperback edition. Nebraska: Bison Books, 1993.

The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, A Romance: 3 vols. London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, 1830. Hardcover reprinted edition. 3 vols in 2. New York: AMS, 1979.

Lodore: 3 vols. London: Richard Bentley, 1835. Revised one volume edition. New York: AMS, 1979. Paperback edition. New York: Broadview Press, 1997.

Falkner: A Novel: 3 vols. London: Saunders and Otley, 1837. Reprinted. 3 vols in 1. New York: AMS, 1979.

Tales and Stories by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: now first collected and introduced by Richard Garnett. London: W. Paterson & Co., 1891. Reprinted and edited by Charles E. Robinson as Mary Shelley: Collected Tales and Stories with Original Engravings. Baltimore: John Hopkins University P, 1976. Paperback edition. New York: Acclaim Books, 1997.

Mathilda: Edited by Elizabeth Nitchie. Extra Series #3 of Studies in Philology. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P., 1959. Paperback edition. New York: Buccaneer Books, 1994.

C. Location of Copies. There are several first editions of Mary Shelley’s works available through the Ohio University Library System. These works are non-circulating and can be found in the special collections of each library. Kent State University has the largest collection of Mary Shelley’s works. These holdings include first editions of her novels: The Last Man (1826), Lodore (1835), Lives of Eminent Literary and Scientific Men of France (1838, 1839), a 19th century reprint of Frankenstein (1869), and her editions of Percy Shelley’s work: The Poetic Works of Percy Shelley 1820-1822, edited by Mary Shelley (1842), Posthumous Poems, (1824),
edited Mary Shelley (1847), and Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translation and Fragments by Percy Shelley, edited by Mary Shelley (1840).
Ohio State University’s library special collection holds the first editions of three Mary Shelley novels: Valperga or Lives and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca (1823), The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830) and Falkner: A Novel (1837) and correspondence between Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley in their library’s 19th century correspondence collection. The University of Cincinnati’s library special collection holds Mary Shelley’s ode to Percy Shelley’s death The Choice (1876) and a facsimile copy of Bodleian manuscript of Mary and Percy Shelley’s journals from the Abinger Shelley collection at the Bodleian library at Oxford University. Wittenberg University’s library holds a microform copy of A History of a Six WeeksTour (1817) by Percy and Mary Shelley and Miami University’s library contains a copy of Lives of Eminent Literary and Scientific Men of Italy, Spain and Portugal (1835, 1837). An 1891 edition of Tales and Stories is available in the special collection at Ohio University and Rambles in Germany, Italy 1840, 1842, 1843 (1844) is the only Mary Shelley first edition that is available for public use and it can be found at Consort Colleges library.

  1. Evaluation of the Best Edition. There were 53 editions of Frankenstein available in paperback during the 1998-1999 publishing year. The Penguin edition, published in 1992, is the best edition available. The edition is a reprint of Frankenstein’s 1831 edition and according to the editor’s note on the text, it contains all of Mary Shelley’s revisions. The edition, which is edited by Maurice Hindle, contains an introduction, a note on the text, suggestions for further reading and a chronology of Mary Shelley’s life. The text itself contains Mary Shelley’s introduction to the 1831 Standard Novels Edition, and the preface that Percy Shelley wrote for the 1818 edition. The text is divided into three volumes, which the editor states allows the reader to notice the "narrative worlds within worlds of the book" (Hindle 25). Volume one contains the narration of Captain Walton and Victor Frankenstein. Volume two contains the narration of the creature. Volume three picks up on the narration of Victor Frankenstein and ends with his death. Following the text, there are three appendices. Appendix A contains a collation of the texts of 1831 and 1818. Appendix B contains "A Fragment" by Lord Byron. Appendix C contains "The Vampyre: A Tale" by Dr. John William Polidori. Notes on the text follow the appendices.

Manuscripts, Letters, Journals and Memorabilia.

Institutions that Hold Major Collections of Mary Shelley’s Work.

There are five institutions that hold major collections of Mary Shelley’s works Bodleian Library at Oxford University, The Huntington Library, the Ohio University Library System, the New York Public Library and the British Library. The Bodleain Library holds eight rare manuscripts of Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley writings. The manuscripts are facsimile editions with full transcriptions, introduction and notes with bibliographical references. The manuscripts include fragments of Mary Shelley’s poetry, her two previously unpublished dramas, Midas and Prosperine, drafts of Mathilda, Life of Shelley and Frankenstein and copies of Percy Shelley’s work written in the hand of Mary Shelley. The Bodleian Library also holds 118 unpublished correspondence by Mary Shelley. The Huntington Library holds 181 previously unpublished letters of Mary Shelley. The Ohio University Library System holds the largest collection of first editions of Mary Shelley’s work and 19th century reprints of her novels and her editions of Percy Shelley’s poetry. The New York Public Library holds a special collection of Mary Shelley’s manuscripts and letters in the Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and his Circle. The British Library holds a special collection of Mary Shelley’s letters and manuscripts.

Publication of Mary Shelley’s Journals and Letters.

Editors Paula Feldman and Diana Scott-Kilvert have compiled Mary Shelley’s journals into a two-volume collection titled The Journals of Mary Shelley. This hardback collection contains Mary Shelley’s notebooks between 1814 and 1844. This two-volume set was published by Clarendon Press in Oxford in 1987. Volume one of the set contains an introduction, publication history, editorial policy, description of the journal notebooks, chronology including the text of her journals between 1814-1822. Volume two of the set contains the text of her journals between 1822-1844 includes three appendices, textual notes, Percy and Mary Shelley’s reading list, select bibliography of printed sources and an index. The two-volume set has continuous pagination. In each volume, the journals are divided into notebooks starting on 28 July 1814, the day of Percy and Mary Shelley’s elopement and ending in 1844 when Sir Timothy Shelley dies.

These journals provide interesting window into the life of Mary Shelley, not only do they reflect her relationship with Percy Shelley, her children and their friends, but the journals display her evolving personality. The first notebook of the collection is well noted for the candor in which Mary Shelley wrote about her life and for Percy Shelley’s contributions to it. However, by the second notebook, which is started in July 1816, Mary Shelley is careful to omit any evidence about events that were occurring including the deaths of her two children, Clara and William. It wasn’t until Percy Shelley’s death in 1822, which begins the third notebook, that Mary Shelley began to use her journal as an emotional release. From 1822 until 1844, Mary Shelley used her journal to record her feelings about her relationships with friends, her family and various male suitors.

There are several interesting items about the journals that should be noted. First, the editors note that the Shelley family had destroyed or omitted several entries in each of the notebooks that they may have considered harmful to the Shelley reputation. Second, Mary Shelley stopped keeping a journal after the death of Sir Timothy Shelley when her surviving son, Percy Florence inherited the Shelley estate. Third, Mary Shelley’s use of the journal as emotional companion after the death of Percy Shelley. Fourth, Mary Shelley never used her journal to outline any of her novels. The journals are an excellent key to understanding Mary Shelley as a historical figure; however, the journals fail to provide any insight into her writing craft.

Mary Shelley wrote thirteen hundred letters between her seventeenth birthday in 1814 and her fifty-third birthday in 1850. These letters reflect her daily routines, her observations of political and literary events of the time period and her health concerns towards the end of her life. Mary Shelley never wrote about her writing craft, although her letters are a reflection of her evolution as a woman writer. In a three-volume hardcover set titled The Letters of Mary
Wollstonecraft Shelley
, thirteen hundred letters, written between 1814 and 1850, have been compiled and annotated by editor Betty T. Bennett. The John Hopkins University Press originally published this three-volume set in 1980 with a second printing made available in 1991. Volume one of the set contains an introduction to the set, editorial notes, abbreviations, a list of the letters, a text of the letters, October 1814 between August 1827 and an index of names. Both volumes two and three contain the same information; however, a list of illustrations is only available in these two volumes. Volume two of the set contains a text of the letters, September 1827 between June 1840. Volume three of the set contains a text of the letters, July 1840 between November 1850 and an appendix of letters written by Mary Shelley’s son, Sir Percy Florence Shelley after her death in 1851. There is no continued pagination between volumes.

The letters reflect Mary Shelley’s concerns of the day–her relationship with Shelley and her family, her children, and financial trouble. In her early letters, it is easy to discern that although Mary Shelley may have considered herself to be a writer, she was more concerned with improving her education to converse with Shelley. The letters that Mary Shelley wrote after his death in 1822 not only reflect her daily routine, but they also reflect the political and literary events of the day, including Mary Shelley’s friendships with writers, such as Washington Irving and George Eliot. By the 1840’s, health became a major theme in Mary Shelley’s letters and her letter writing began to taper off as her health began to fail. Interestingly, her last letters reflect her concerns for her friends’ welfare and do not mention her illness. Mary Shelley wrote her last letter on November 20, 1850 and she died of brain cancer three months later on February 1, 1851. The editors of this three volume set state that there are more unpublished letters of Mary Shelley, which were recently discovered in 1991. These letters are worthy of publication because of the insight they will give into Mary Shelley’s life during her later years.

III. Biography

Evaluation of Published Biographies about Mary Shelley


There have been numerous published biographies about Mary Shelley. The first biography of Mary Shelley appeared in 1890 as a part of the Eminent Women Series published by W.H. Allen in London. Written by Lucy Madox Rossetti, this biography set the standard that almost all Mary Shelley biographers would follow: a biocritical work that concentrated on the aspects of her life with Percy Shelley and his circle in conjunction with the period she wrote Frankenstein. The following 20th century biographies have imitated Rossetti’s biography of Shelley in several respects: the extensive use of Mary Shelley’s journals and letters during her composition of Frankenstein, critical reviews of Frankenstein during the time of its publication, and the influence of literature on Mary Shelley’s composition of Frankenstein including John Milton’s Paradise Lost and the poetry of the Romantic period. In addition, it is important to note that the exploration of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein shifted in the 1970’s and 1980’s as Frankenstein became regarded as a feminist work.

William A. Walling’s Mary Shelley is an interesting biography that attempts to erase what the author describes as critical bias against Mary Shelley as a serious author. Published in 1972, Walling’s book attempts to correct the treatment of Mary Shelley as a "distinctly minor appendage whose writings derive their chief importance from the fact that they reflect something of the vitality of Shelley and his circle" (11). Walling’s book begins with a preface describing his treatment of Mary Shelley as a subject, a chronology of her life and an introduction that serves as
a general biography. What follows is a biocriticisma critical review of Mary Shelley’s three most prominent novels Frankenstein, Valperga or the Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca and The Last Man and biographical treatment of her life during the composition of those works.

The structure of Walling’s biography is interesting for two reasons: he includes critical reviews of Mary Shelley’s work from both the 19th century and 20th century and he devotes only one chapter to the Frankenstein. In addition, Walling also provides a critical treatment of Mary Shelley’s other novels Mathilda and Lodore, her nonfiction prose and her work as an editor on Percy Shelley’s poetry. Unfortunately, Walling was unable to prove his hypothesis. Despite minimizing the importance of Frankenstein in the Mary Shelley canon, Walling’s treatment of her other works only support the critical bias against them. For example, in Walling’s assessment of Valperga, he writes that the novel has not been available for reprint in the 20th century because the critical reaction to the novel continues to be negative. The achievement of Walling’s book is that it made the public aware that Mary Shelley’s literary career extended beyond the composition of Frankenstein.

Anne K. Mellor’s Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters, published in 1988, is a feminist biography that critiques both Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. In her preface, Mellor states that her book is an attempt to revise critical examination of Frankenstein: "Frankenstein is rapidly becoming an essential text for our exploration of female consciousness and literary technique" (Mellor 6). Mellor’s book marks a shift in critical emphasis concerning Frankenstein and Mary Shelleythe novel and life of its author are now examined as a critique of feminist concerns of the day. Mellor’s book includes a preface and chronology before it moves onto the main text. After the main text, there is an appendix on Percy Shelley’s revisions to the Frankenstein manuscript, notes on the text and a selected bibliography. Throughout the book, the author examines three general themes found within the storyuncontrolled scientific advancement causes destruction, the division of gender roles in 19th century society and an exploration of the male fear of uninhibited female sexualityand discerns why Mary Shelley wrote from this perspective.

First, Mellor states that Frankenstein is a feminist critique on the advancement of science in a gender constructed environment. The author believes that Mary Shelley was attempting a feminist examination of science for her audience. Mellor states that Frankenstein is a warning that man, as the father of science, had a responsibility to control scientific and technological development: "Mary Shelley was aware of the damaging consequences of scientific, objective, alienated view of both nature and human labor" (114). Mellor states that Mary Shelley, herself an orphan, examined scientific development as a motif for parental responsibility.

Second, Mellor states that Frankenstein is an exploration of the division of gender roles in 19th century society. The author states that Frankenstein shows that by confining women to the domestic realm, the patriarchal society is depriving them of their chance to explore the same intellectual ideas as men. Mellor points out that Mary Shelley takes this feminist idea to the extreme by murdering many of the female characters in Frankenstein. The author believes that Mary Shelley was attempting to demonstrate that "the female role model of independent, well-educated, loving companion" (118) that was idealized in her mother’s book Vindication of the Rights of Women did not exist in 19th century society.

Third, the author states that the novel is an exploration of male fear of uninhibited female sexuality. Mellor points out that all-female characters in Frankenstein are sexless and that Victor Frankenstein destroys the female creature he created because he could not control her ability to reproduce. The author states that, in Frankenstein, men use technology to control women and the need to control female sexuality was "endemic to a patriarchal construction of gender" (120). Mellor states that Mary Shelley was attempting to be a "moral educator" (126) by endorsing the preservation of family and responsibility of controlling science to women.

Mellor’s biography is the first book length biocritical examination of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein that uses feminine criticism to analyze the theme of female consciousness that are prevalent in the novel. Mellor is successful in identifying key elements of the story, which prove that Frankenstein is Mary Shelley’s own feminist critique on a woman’s role in the 19th century. Mellor’s book has only one failing. The author’s tendency to lapse into psychoanalysis. As an example, Mellor devoted the first chapter of the book to psychoanalyzing Mary Shelley’s relationship with her father, William Godwin. While these details are interesting, they ultimately
do not provide any new insight into Mellor’s study of Frankenstein. Overall, Mellor’s book is currently one of the best biographies on Mary Shelley available.

Biographical Dictionaries. The popularity of Frankenstein upon its population and the impact of the Romantic Movement upon English literature ensured Mary Shelley’s inclusion into several prominent literary biographical dictionaries. These biographical dictionaries include the New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, the Dictionary of National Biography, the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Encyclopedia of British Women Writers and British Women Writers: A Critical Reference.

In each dictionary, the entries concerning Mary Shelley includes a short biography and a list of her works. The critical view of Mary Shelley in these dictionaries is mixed. In the New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature (1969-1977) and the Dictionary of National Biography (1964), the entries on Mary Shelley are critical of her talents and accuse her of straining her marriage to Percy Shelley through her prolonged grief over the deaths of their two children. In the Dictionary of National Biography, Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee are particularly critical towards Mary Shelley’s role as a wife: "although she admired his poetry, her inner sympathy was not sufficiently warm to console him for the indifference of the world" (29). Overall, neither dictionary dispels the popular myth that Mary Shelley’s involvement with the Romantic circle is the only reason to study her work.

Critical analysis of Mary Shelley’s novels shifted in the 1980’s when Frankenstein began to be reexamined by feminist scholars as a serious novel. Biographical dictionaries published at this time focused on the critical aspects of Mary Shelley’s work and her production as an author. In the Dictionary of Literary Biography (1991), British Women Writers: A Critical Reference (1989) and An Encyclopedia of British Women Writer’s (1988), the entries on Mary Shelley interweaves criticism of Frankenstein and The Last Man with the events of her life and scientific discoveries of the time. All three authors in these biographical dictionaries criticize Mary Shelley for not capitalizing on the talent she displayed in Frankenstein. In An Encyclopedia of British Women Writer’s Paul and June Schlueter’s entry best exemplifies this new criticism: "The weaknesses of Mary Shelley’s writing after Frankenstein have less to do with the melancholy conservatism of world view than her failure to develop and organize the critical potential of that vision" (609).

Film History of Frankenstein.

No media has done more to perpetuate the mythology of Frankenstein than motion pictures. Frankenstein has a distinct place in motion picture history. Inventor Thomas Edison choose Frankenstein to be the first horror motion picture ever made. Edison shot the film in 1910 and Frankenstein earned the distinction as the first book adapted for motion pictures. Since 1910, there have been 71 motion picture adaptations made of the novel. The most notable adaptations include Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Young Frankenstein (1974) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994).

What is interesting about Frankenstein’s adaptation to motion pictures is that none of the films have remained true to the text. Instead, motion picture adaptations of Frankenstein have created the myth of the mad scientist and his creature. This myth was not Mary Shelley’s intention for her novel and may have inadvertently hurt critical response to the novel.

Criticism since 1985.

Volume and Quantity. The volume and quantity of critical work on Mary Shelley and Frankenstein is astonishing. Since its publication in 1818, Frankenstein has been the subject of critical interest because of the book’s political and social themes and the circumstances of its composition. Both Harold Bloom and Anne K. Mellor, two leading authorities on Mary Shelley and Frankenstein, state that the continued interest in Frankenstein is due to the fact that critics believe the novel is an archetype of Romantic idealism. Unfortunately, the consistent focus on Frankenstein have left Mary Shelley’s other novels unexamined which is a detriment to scholarship on this author.

B. Evaluation of Criticism. What makes the wide range of criticism on Frankenstein so interesting is the constant shifting of critical approaches to the novel. The Promethean myth that is at the core of the novel is often used by critics to examine a political or social event of their generation. Criticism before 1985 concentrated on several different themes within the novel Mary Shelley’s vision of a society overrun by uncontrolled technology, Frankenstein as an explication of the fall of man outlined in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, a female author’s fear of giving birth to a novel in a repressive patriarchal society. Since 1985, the primary critical approach to the novel is feminist. Feminist criticism adopted Frankenstein in the late 1970’s as a feminist work that portrays the female experience in a patriarchal society: "{Frankenstein} portrays the situation of women obliged to play the role of the literal in culture that devalues it" (Homans 133).

Arguably, Frankenstein is an important feminist novel because it explores of female consciousness in a male dominated society. Unfortunately, most feminist critics have primarily concentrated on sexual themes within the novel. A recent feminist criticism argues that the novel is Mary Shelley’s exploration of her own awakening sexual identity. In their essay, "Horrors Twin: Mary Shelley’s Monstrous Eve," Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar state that Mary Shelley’s "waking dream accompanied her precipitious entrance into teenage motherhood" (116) makes Frankenstein a feminist novel "because its author was caught up in a maelstorm of sexuality" (116) during its composition. This type of criticism is neither constructive nor academic. In reference to this type of feminist criticism, Anne K. Mellor argues that Mary Shelley’s purpose for writing Frankenstein was not personal, but to provide her audience with ethical uses of language to define their environment: "She wishes us to see that human beings typically interpret the unfamiliar, the abnormal and the unique as evil" (Mellor 134).

At present, criticism of Mary Shelley’s work continues to focus primarily on Frankenstein with critics now examining the differences between the 1818 edition and the 1831 revision made by Mary Shelley. The consistent focus on Frankenstein has been detrimental to scholarship on Mary Shelley. In order to broaden the critical base of Mary Shelley scholarship, critic emphasis needs to be place on novels written during her later years including The Last Man, Lodore, Valperga and the Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck. These novels are important not only because they demonstrate Mary Shelley’s evolution as a woman writer, but they also demonstrate Mary Shelley’s interest in exploring her political and social ideas through historical narrative.

C. Scholarly Interest in the Author. Mary Shelley has been the subject of substantial critical interest since the 19th century. Since 1997, there has been a recent surge of critical interest in her novel The Last Man. The setting is the year 2100 and the novel is an artifact of historythe entire population has been decimated by a plague and the last man has written a manuscript of the events. Critics have become interested in studying the novel as Mary Shelley’s experiment in writing prophetic history and the problems with writing historical narrative: "{The Last Man} draws attention to complex questions about time with regard to writing, reading and translating historical narrative" (O’Dea 293).

D. Evaluation of Contributions by Main Authorities on this Author. Harold Bloom and Anne K. Mellor are two of the leading authorities on Mary Shelley and their scholarship on Frankenstein covers a select range of criticism. Harold Bloom has edited two book of criticism on Frankenstein: Modern Critical Views: Mary Shelley (1985) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1987). Both books reflect his interest in studying Mary Shelley’s use of the Promethean myth that is at the core of her novel. Bloom’s sexist bias is evident in his introduction and his selection of essays in both books. In the beginning of his introduction, Bloom states that Mary

Shelley’s marriage assured her a place in history: "Had she written nothing, Mary Shelley would be remembered today" (Bloom 1). Bloom states that Frankenstein is only a reflection of the "Romantic mythology of the self" (4). However, Bloom criticizes the novel’s "frequent clumsiness in its narrative and characterization" (4) and that it "lacks the sophistication and imaginative complexity" (4) of other Romantic works such as Lord Byron’s Manfred and Percy Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. Bloom’s selection of essays reflect his bias against Mary Shelley and Frankenstein since these essays seem to concentrate on the biographical aspects of Mary Shelley’s life rather than the unique composition of Frankenstein. As an example, Mary Poovey’s essay, "My Hideous Progeny: The Lady and the Monster," concentrates on the biographical aspects of her life and its affects on the composition of Frankenstein. This is a general theme in Mary Shelley scholarship and it has been overexplored. Bloom’s books of criticism would have been better served if he had been willing to concentrate on other aspects of Mary Shelley criticism including an examination of her other works.

Anne K. Mellor is one of the leading feminist critics on Mary Shelley and Frankenstein and her book, Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Monsters, Her Fiction (1988), reflects the feminist perspective that Frankenstein is a book of feminine consciousness. Mellor’s feminist critique of Frankenstein examines the novel by putting Mary Shelley in the role of a "moral educator" (126) whose primary concern was to educate her readers with the political ideals of her father and mother, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Mellor is attempting to demonstrate that Frankenstein is a unique feminist novel that was Mary Shelley’s answer to her mother’s book Vindication on the Rights of Women and her father’s book Political Justice. Mellor states that Frankenstein was Mary Shelley’s answer that the political ideas of her parents had not been realized in a controlled and repressive 19th century society where women were primarily restricted to the domestic realm. Mellor also focused on several different themes within the novel
including exploring the prejudice women writers faced when attempting publication and the male fear of uninhibited female sexuality.

Arguably, Mellor is presents engaging arguments on her themes. As an example, in her essay on the male fear of uninhibited female sexuality, Mellor argues that Victor Frankenstein is attempting to reunite with his dead mother by himself becoming a parent: "Victor Frankenstein is engaged upon a rape of nature, a violent penetration and usurpation of the female’s hiding places of the womb" (122). However, Mellor’s argument that Victor Frankenstein’s obsession with his creature is based on repressed homosexual feelings may be the author trying to read too much
into her subject. Unfortunately, this is a consistent problem with Mellor’s criticism of Frankenstein. The author uses feminist criticism to explore female consciousness, but she often lapses into psychoanalysis of the novel and its author. Another problem with Mellor’s criticism is that it has attempted to explore too many ideas and the result is a broad range of feminist criticism that cannot be united by any one theme. Mellor’s biocriticism of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein would have been a strong work, if she had concentrated her efforts on one general theme. Still, Mellor’s book is one of the best biocriticisms currently available on Mary Shelley and Frankenstein and it is an interesting book for exploring feminist themes in the novel.

Overall Critical Reception


Frankenstein has been both well-received and disregarded since its anonymous publication in 1818. Critical reviews of that time demonstrate these two views. The Belle Assemblee described the novel as "very bold fiction" (139). The Quarterly Review stated "that the author has the power of both conception and language" (185). Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine congratulated "the author’s original genius and happy power of expression" (620). The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany hoped to see "more productions from this author" (253). What is interesting to note about these glowing reviews is that the critics assume that the anonymous author is a man.

In two other reviews where the author is known as the daughter of William Godwin, the criticism of the novel is an attack on the feminine nature of Mary Shelley. The British Critic attacks the novel’s flaws as the fault of the author: "The writer of it is, we understand, a female; this is an aggravation of that which is the prevailing fault of the novel; but if our authoress can forget the gentleness of her sex, it is no reason why we should; and we shall therefore dismiss the novel without further comment" (438). The Literary Panorama and National Register attacks the novel as a "feeble imitation of Mr. Godwin’s novels" produced by the "daughter of a celebrated living novelist" (414).

Today, critics no longer debate over the flaws in the novel or its authorship, but recognize the novel as a masterpiece in examining the female condition in 19th century society. Critic William Veeder notes that Frankenstein is still studied today because Mary Shelley was willing to embrace her own femininity in a society that choose to repress and control it: "Mary further emphasizes her specialness as women by insisting that will and weakness, however, common to both sexes, operate differently in women. They do not prevent her from achieving the moral superiority which for orthodoxy is the compensation of her gender" (Veeder 18).

V. Possibilities for Further Research.

Textual. Since there are so many editions of Frankenstein printed in the last several years, a standard edition of the novel is needed that will collate the changes Mary Shelley made in her 1831 revision with the 1818 text. Standard editions of Mary Shelley’s other novels, especially The Last Man are needed to study the importance of the historical narrative of her novels. Another area of textual focus would be the revisions that Percy Shelley made to Frankenstein in 1818 and why Mary Shelley further revised the text in 1831.

B. Critical. There are many opportunities for further critical study of Mary Shelley’s work. The influence of John Milton and Samuel Taylor Coleridge on the composition of Frankenstein is needed to fully understand the exploration of the feminine self-found in the text. The Last Man is an excellent historical narrative that is a treasure trove of critical studies since the novel has never been studied at full length except as a narration of Mary Shelley’s reaction to the deaths of Percy Shelley and Lord Byron. A bibliographic study of Mary Shelley’s work is desperately needed for scholars preparing bibliographic and biographical studies on the author.

The life and work of Mary Shelley will continue to remain a focus of critical studies on 19th century literature, especially those studies focused on the Romantic Movement. Arguably, Mary Shelley may one of the most famous members of that movement, but her reputation lies
firmly in her feminist masterpiece Frankenstein and her role as the wife of Percy Shelley and the daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. The evolution of Mary Shelley as a women writer in a repressive society such as the 19th century is amazing considering that she raised a young son and supported her father solely through her writing. What is even more amazing about Mary Shelley is that after Frankenstein she continued to produce novels that explored themes crucial to her understanding of her own society. Frankenstein will remain a capstone in the Mary Shelley canon because of its originality, the power of its language, and the strength of its narrative. As Mary Shelley states in her 1831 introduction to the novel, "And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper" (Shelley 10). Given the overwhelming critical interest in the novel, the author’s "hideous progeny" (10) will continue to prosper well into the 21st century.

Works Cited

Biographies and Biographical Dictionaries

Gerson, Noel B. Daughter of Earth and Water: A Biography of Mary WollstonecraftShelley. New York: William Morrow, 1993.

Holmes, John R. "Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley." Edited by John R. Greenfield.

Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 110. Detroit: Bruccoli (1991): 209-220.

Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. New York:
Metheun, 1988.

Rossetti, Lucy Madox. Mrs. Shelley. London: W.H. Allen, 1890.

Schlueter, Paul and June Schlueter,. eds. "Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley." An
Encyclopedia of British Women Writers
. New York: Garland (1988): 408-410.

Small, Christopher. Ariel Like A Harpy: Shelley, Mary and Frankenstein. London:
Gollancz, 1972.

Stephen, Leslie and Sidney Lee,. eds. "Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley." The Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 18. London: Oxford UP (1964): 29-31.

Sunstein, Emily. Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality. Boston: Little, 1989.

Todd, Janet,. ed. "Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley." British Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide. New York: Continuum (1989): 605-610.

Walling, William. Mary Shelley. New York: Twayne, 1972.

Watson, George,. ed. "Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley." The New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature. Cambridge: UP (1969-1977): 761-764.

Criticism on Mary Shelley’s Work

Ashley, Cowper. "Echoes of Cowper in Frankenstein." Papers on Language and Literature 46 (1999): 33-34.

Bennett, Betty T. and Charles E. Robinson., eds. The Mary Shelley Reader. Oxford:Oxford UP, 1980.

Baldick, Chris. In Frankenstein’s Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity, and Nineteenth-Century Writing. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1987.

"Belle Assemblee 17 (March 1818)." October 1997. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Chronology and Resource Site. Ed. Shanon Lawson. 12 September 1999.

"Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 2(20 March/1 April 1818).

" October 1997. Mary
Wollstonecraft Shelley Chronology and Resource Site
. Ed. Shanon Lawson.12 September 1999.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: Mary Shelley. New York: Chelsea, 1985.

—. Modern Critical Interpretations: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. New York: Chelsea, 1987.

Brewer, William D. "William Godwin, Chivalry and Mary Shelley’s The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck." Papers on Language and Literature 35 (1999): 181-205.

"British Critic n.s., 9 (April 1818)." October 1997. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Chronology and Resource Site. Ed. Shanon Lawson. 12 September 1999.

Canuel, Mark. "Acts, Rules and the Last Man." Nineteenth Century Literature 53 (1998): 147-170.

"Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany: A New Series of "The Scots Magazine" 2 (March 1818)." October 1997.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Chronology and Resource Site. Ed. Shanon Lawson. 12 September 1999.

Gilbert, Sandra M. and Susan Gubar. "Horror’s Twin: Shelley’s Monstrous Eve." Edited
by Harold Bloom. Mary Shelley (Bloom’s Modern Critical Views). New York: Chelsea.
(1985): 115-136.

Goodall, Jane. "Frankenstein and the Reprobate’s Conscience." Studies in the Novel
31 (1999): 19-43.

Hetherington, Naomi. "Creator and Created in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein." Edited by Angus Graham-Campbell. Keats-Shelley Review. No. 11. Windsor: The Keats-Shelley Memorial Association. (1997): 1-39.

Homans, Margaret. "Bearing Demons: Frankenstein’s Circumvention of the Maternal."
Ed. Harold Bloom. Frankenstein (Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations). New York:
Chelsea, (1987): 133-153.

Kercsmar, Rhonda Ray. "Displaced Apocalypse and Eschatological Anxiety in
Frankenstein." South Atlantic Quarterly 95 (1999): 360-375.

Ketterer, David. "The Corrected Frankenstein: Twelve Preferred Reading in the Last
Draft." English Language Notes 33 (1995): 22-36.

Levine, George and U.C. Knopflmacher., eds. Endurance of
. Berkeley: U. of California P., 1979.

"The Literary Panorama and National Register, n.s., 8 (1 June 1818)." October 1997.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Chronology and Resource Site. Ed. Shanon Lawson. 12 September1999. .

Lowe-Evans, Mary. Frankenstein: Frankenstein: Mary Shelley’s Wedding Guest (Twayne’s Masterwork Studies). New York: Twayne,

May, Lulia Silvana. "Sibling Revelry in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein." Studies in English Literature 35 (1995): 669-686.

O’Dea. Gregory. "Prophetic History and Textuality in Mary Shelley’s The Last Man." Papers on Language and Literature 28 (1992): 283-305.

Poovey, Mary. "My Hideous Progeny: The Lady and the Monster." Edited by Harold
Bloom. New York: Chelsea. (1987): 81-106.

"The Quarterly Review, 18 (January 1818)." October 1997. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Resource Site. Ed. Shanon Lawson. 12 September 1999.

Veeder, William. Mary Shelley and Frankenstein: The Fate of Androngny. Chicago: U of
Chicago P., 1986.

Wohlpart, James A. "A Tradition of Male Poetics: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as an
Allegory of Arts." Midwest Quarterly 39 (1998): 265-279.

Journals and Letters of Mary Shelley.

Bennett, Betty T., ed. Selected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
. 3 vols. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1980.

Feldman, Paula and Diana Scott-Kilvert., eds. The Journals of Mary Shelley. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon P., 1987.

Works by Mary Shelley

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Ed. Maurice Hindle. New York: Penguin 1992.

—. The Last Man. Ed. Anne K. Mellor. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P., 1993.

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