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View full screen - View 1 of Lot 141. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley | Frankenstein, London, 1818, 3 volumes in one, later polished calf.

Fine books and manuscripts from a private Scottish library

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley | Frankenstein, London, 1818, 3 volumes in one, later polished calf

Lot Closed

December 13, 02:41 PM GMT


150,000 - 250,000 GBP

Lot Details


Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. London: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, 1818

FIRST EDITION, 3 VOLUMES BOUND IN ONE, 8vo (190 x 110mm.), half titles and titles to each volume, printed dedication to William Godwin from the author and preface in volume one, later polished calf by Riviere and Son, spine gilt with raised bands in 6 compartments, with green mottled calf label to second compartment, top edge gilt, others uncut, blue endpapers, inner dentelles gilt

“…My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw – with shut eyes, but acute mental vision – I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful it must be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the creator of the world…” (Author’s Introduction, 1831)

A FINE COPY OF THE RARE FIRST EDITION OF THE ARCHETYPAL HORROR STORY OF THE SCIENTIFIC AGE. Frankenstein is claimed as the first work of science fiction in English literature, and is surely the most influential. The novel was famously triggered by Byron’s famous ghost story contest of the wet summer of 1816, but it drew on many threads that ran through the life and thought of the young Mary Shelley, who was just eighteen when she wrote the book. Scientific speculation on galvanism and the origins of life were a subject of discussion amongst Byron and the Shelleys during their holiday at Villa Diodati. Mary Shelley was the child of two of the greatest radical thinkers in Britain, of a revolutionary generation that rejected traditional authority and imagined a world remade. There is also no question that Mary Shelley’s experiences of parenthood, and especially the loss of her first baby, had a profound shaping effect on her writing (“…Dreamt that my little baby came to life again; that it had only been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and it lived. Awake and find no baby…”, Mary Shelley, Journal, 20 March 1815)

It was not easy to find a publisher for this strange and anguished story by an unknown writer. Percy Bysshe Shelley sent it first to Byron’s publisher John Murray, and then to Charles Ollier, who published his own poetry, but it was rejected by both. It was published anonymously – but with a foreword by P.B. Shelley, by Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones, a less prestigious publishing house with a list of gothic sensationalism; the publisher’s advertisements (not found in this copy) included such titles as The Magus; or Celestial Intelligences; a complete System of Occult Philosophy, Lives of the Alchemystical Philosophers, and Apparitions; or, the Mystery of Ghosts, Hobgoblins, and Haunted House. Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus was published on 1 January 1818 in an edition of 500 copies.

The power of Mary Shelley’s fable was such that it almost immediately entered the public consciousness. It was first adapted for stage in 1823 and the following year in the House of Commons a warning was sounded that freeing slaves in the Caribbean would “raise up a creature resembling the splendid fiction of a recent romance”. Over two centuries the story has been retold, refashioned, parodied and remade in almost every manner imaginable, but Mary Shelley’s original words retain a tremendous and disturbing power.


Ashley Library 5:29; Tinker 1881; Wolff 6280