Discovered: Lord Byron’s Copy of Frankenstein Signed by Mary Shelley

The sto­ry behind the writ­ing of Franken­stein is famous. In 1816, Mary Shel­ley and Per­cy Bysshe Shel­ley, sum­mer­ing near Lake Gene­va in Switzer­land, were chal­lenged by Lord Byron to take part in a com­pe­ti­tion to write a fright­en­ing tale. Mary, only 18 years old, lat­er had a wak­ing dream of sorts where she imag­ined the premise of her book:

When I placed my head on my pil­low, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. 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.

This became the ker­nel of Franken­stein; or, The Mod­ern Prometheus, the nov­el first pub­lished in Lon­don in 1818, with only 500 copies put in cir­cu­la­tion.

Near­ly two cen­turies lat­er, a first edi­tion signed by Shel­ley has turned up in the ves­tiges of Lord Byron’s library. The grand­son of Lord Jay notes, “I saw the book lying at an angle in the cor­ner of the top shelf. On open­ing it, I saw the title page, recog­nised what it was at once and leafed hun­gri­ly through the text — it was only when I flicked idly back to the first blank that I saw the inscrip­tion in cur­sive black ink, “To Lord Byron, from the author.”

Today this inscribed copy is on dis­play at Peter Har­ring­ton’s, a Lon­don spe­cial­ist in rare books. And there it will be put on auc­tion, like­ly fetch­ing north of £350,000, or $575,000. The video above gives you more of the back­sto­ry on the writ­ing and gift­ing of the book.

You can find Franken­stein in our col­lec­tions of Free eBooks and Free Audio Books. Also don’t miss the first film adap­ta­tion of Franken­stein from 1910 here, or the 1931 ver­sion list­ed in our meta list of Free Movies Online.

via Huff­Po

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Comments (10)
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  • I won­der why he would sell it, esp. as it’s part of the fam­i­ly’s great lore and his­to­ry? If he’s still in the same house where Lord Byron lived and there­fore in the same library, he must be OK for mon­ey??

  • Neil McGowan says:

    But, dear Lord, have you ever actu­al­ly *read* this book?

    It begins as the account of an Eng­lish sea-cap­tain, who pur­chas­es a ship in the Russ­ian Arc­tic, and then crews it with a team of entire­ly-Eng­lish-speak­ing sea­men whom he finds in the Far Russ­ian North. (Hel­lo?). This part of the book is writ­ten in the form of let­ters (sent how, we won­der?) to his sis­ter Mar­garet. He then finds Dr Franken­stein float­ing on an ice-floe in the Arc­tic. Then the cap­tain begins to nar­rate what Franken­stein tells him — of how he stud­ied sci­ence, and excelled his pro­fes­sors in Den­mark. Here he cre­at­ed the mon­ster (no details, and cov­ered in half a page). He goes home to Switzer­land and for­gets all about his mon­ster entire­ly, until it shows up to kill one of his rel­a­tives. (It has found its way there all by itself). Now the Cap­tain starts relat­ing Franken­stein’s nar­ra­tion of the Mon­ster’s per­son­al sto­ry. The Mon­ster some­how fled to France (hel­lo?) where it hid in a wood­shed for two years. The own­ers were dis­graced Span­ish nobles. By observ­ing them through a chink in the wall, the mon­ster not only learned French, but taught him­self to read Plutarch’s “Lives” and oth­er sem­i­nal works of Euro­pean lit­er­a­ture. The mon­ster feels sor­ry for the young man in the fam­i­ly… and then we get HIS sto­ry, relat­ed by the mon­ster, relat­ed by Franken­stein, as told to the Sea-Cap­tain.

    This is one of the most poor­ly-writ­ten, atro­cious­ly-con­struct­ed books ever pub­lished. If Shel­ley’s sis­ter were not the author, this dross would nev­er have seen pub­li­ca­tion.

  • Mari says:

    @ Neil McGowan. Yes, I’ve read it and it’s as dread­ful as you describe.

    One com­ment, Mary Shel­ley was Per­cy Shel­ley’s wife, not his sis­ter.

  • James R says:

    Actu­al­ly the book was pub­lished anony­mous­ly, and Mary Shel­ley was not iden­ti­fied as the author until the sec­ond edi­tion a few years lat­er. And Per­cy’s pub­lish­er reject­ed it, as did Byron’s, so being mar­ried to him did­n’t make it that easy for her.

  • Barry C says:

    ridicu­lous com­ments, prob­a­bly the great­est work ever writ­ten by a teenag­er

  • Jennifer says:

    God! Mansplain­ing based on your 21st cen­tu­ry sen­si­bil­i­ties! Shel­ley’s work is actu­al­ly the very first nov­el and kicked off the hor­ror genre.

  • Charles Hoffman says:

    The nar­ra­tive-with­in-nar­ra­tive was a fair­ly com­mon device in 18th and ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry nov­els. Franken­stein has been cit­ed as the apex of Goth­ic fic­tion and the first sci­ence fic­tion nov­el

  • Paul says:

    Not even close to “the very first nov­el”. Long pre­ced­ed by Don Quixote, Robin­son Cru­soe, Gulliver’s Trav­els, Pamela, Tris­tram Shandy and many, many oth­ers.

  • Carla Rippey says:

    “First nov­el”- long pre­ced­ed by “The Tale of Gen­ji”, by Murasa­ki Shik­ibu, Japan ear­ly 11th cen­tu­ry

  • Susan D says:

    Sounds sus­pi­cious to me. Real­ly? She inscribed “to Lord Byron” instead of, “To George Gor­don Byron” as one would to a friend?

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