Phi Beta Cons

Something About Mary

For Halloween, CHE publishes a very interesting story on the question of Frankenstein and its authorship–is Mary Shelley the true author or, as some have suggested, is her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a kind of unacknowledged co-author? Here’s what CHE reports:

All told, Robinson identified about 3,000 words that Percy wrote into Mary’s draft. Add that tally to changes that Percy is known to have made later, during the run-up to publication, and you have a total of about 5,000 words of Percy’s in a 72,000-word novel. …

He does not believe, however, that the manuscript evidence suggests that Mary resented Percy’s edits — or that she desperately needed his help. Robinson describes many of Percy’s interventions as minor, thinks that many but not all of them improved the text, and believes that Mary had the final say even though she accepted most of Percy’s suggestions.

“There’s no evidence that Percy is responsible for the conception of this novel or even the early drafting of it,” he says. “All the evidence that we have is that he comes in at this intermediate stage and offers his editorial advice and changes, and comes in at the fair-copy stage and offers some melodramatic prose for the final version of the scene in the polar regions.” Close to publication, Percy added about 60 words to the ending. “Those words are a bit purple,” Robinson says.

For those who can’t get enough Frankenstin, check out my podcast interview with Joseph Pearce, who is the editor of a new edition of this classic novel. (He’s very pro-Mary and anti-Percy, by the way, though we don’t dive deep into the authorship question.)

Also, just because if you’ve read this far you may have an interest, here’s my recent WSJ article on Dracula.

Happy Halloween!

John J. Miller — John J. Miller is the national correspondent for National Review and the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. His new book is Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.

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