On this day in 1818, Frankenstein was first published to a bemused public.
Mainstream serious publishers had refused to take it as it was felt to be impious and immoral, but was eventually taken by Lackington, a more populist bookseller, whose massive store was known as the Temple of the Muses.
It was published anonymously in a three volume edition, as was usual at the time, and 500 copies were printed. Mary Shelley’s share was one-third of the profits, which came to £41.13.10 which would be about £10,000 in today’s money.
Many reviews were damning…
‘The creator, terrified at his own work, flies into one wood, and the work, terrified at itself, flies into another. Here the monster, by the easy process of listening at the window of a cottage, acquires a complete education…– it inculcates no lesson of conduct, manners, or morality; ……leaving the wearied reader, after a struggle between laughter and loathing, in doubt whether the head or the heart of the author be the most diseased.’ -The Quarterly Review
‘We need scarcely say, that these volumes have neither principle, object, nor moral; the horror which abounds in them is too grotesque and bizarre ever to approach near the sublime. 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’..-The British Critic
But a few saw the the literary merit…
‘…this extraordinary tale, in which the author seems to us to disclose uncommon powers of poetic imagination. Upon the whole, the work impresses us with a high idea of the author’s original genius and happy power of expression’ – Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine
‘….it has an air of reality attached to it, by being connected with the favourite projects and passions of the times. .……there is much power and beauty……. ………..some of our highest and most reverential feelings receive a shock from the conception on which it turns’ – The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany
Luckily the public loved it!
Read the full story of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley and her turbulent relationship with the poet Percy Shelley and her jealous step-sister Claire in Almost Invincible.