Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus was first published on January 1, 1818 without attribution. Only 500 copies were produced by the small publishing house known as Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, and Jones in London. Little to the publishing house’s knowledge, Frankenstein would end up becoming one of the most influential novels of all time.
Later in 1831, another edition was published. This edition went on to become the standard edition which most people have read. Though it is the most common, this edition was heavily edited by Shelley before publication due to some critiques citing the original as far too radical and vulgar.
The major changes are the following:
• Chapter 1 is expanded and split into two chapters. For this reason, the numbering and final count of chapters can vary from one version of the book to another.
• The story of Elizabeth Lavenza's origin changes. In the 1818 edition, she is the daughter of Alphonse Frankenstein's sister, making her Victor's cousin. While it was not unheard of for cousins to marry, some readers might have reacted negatively to that circumstance. In the 1831 edition, then, Shelley changed Elizabeth's situation, making her a poor orphan Alphonse and Caroline — chiefly at Caroline's direction — take into their home. This change also adds to the credit of Caroline because of her kindness toward the girl.
• In describing the lightning strike that destroyed a tree and first alerted him to the power of electricity, Victor says in the 1831 edition that a scientist visiting the family discussed electricity and galvanism. Galvanism was thought at the time to have the power to animate animal muscle. The addition suggests that this might have been the secret power that Victor used to bring the Monster to life.
• The 1831 edition has more comments critical of Victor's decisions and actions, as Shelley attempted to respond to the harsher conservative critics who had objected to her novel on moral grounds.
Because of the 1831 edition, there has been controversy as to which edition is most deserving of the spotlight. To the chagrin of many, the 1831 version is the most widely read edition of Frankenstein.
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