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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