The Changes that Percy Bysshe Shelley made to Mary Shelley’s Draft of Frankenstein
Version 1.0: May 2018
The Texts of Frankenstein
This is summarised from Charles E. Robinson, “Texts in Search of an Editor” in the Norton Critical Edition of Frankenstein edited by J. Paul Hunter (pp. 202-204). As he says it “should help dispel the still-persistent myth of the solitary artist who has total control over a text.
- The 1816 Ur-text: novella length, written between June and August 1816 and no longer extant.
- The 1816-17 Draft, written between August 1816 and 17 April 1817. Largely survives.
- The 1817 Fair Copy. Written originally in April and Mat 1817 in 11 softbound notebooks; what survives is about 12 percent of the 1818 text. The last 12 and 3/4 pages are in Percy’s writing.
- Proofs: not extant. There is evidence that both MWS and PBS read and corrected the proofs, and three major additions were made, between late September and early November 1817.
- Revised proofs were seen by the Shelleys, probably in November 1817.
- Three-volume novel published anonymously on 1 January 1818 in 500 copies.
- A copy of the first edition was corrected by Mary Shelley and given to Mrs Thomas in Genoa: Now in Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.
- A two-volume edition published 11 August 1823. William Godwin corrected it: there were about 123 corrections, which carried over to the 1831 edition.
- A re-issue of this edition in 1826, but no copy has survived.
- A one-volume edition published in 1831, in 4020 copies, by Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley in their “Standard Novels” series. MWS made all the changes. This was the standard text that was read over for almost two centuries, until recent taste shifted to the 1818 text.
Elsewhere on this site I have listed the major changes that Mary Shelley made to the original published text of Frankenstein (1818) when she reissued it in 1831. On this page I am going to list changes to the original draft (1816/17) made by Percy Bysshe Shelley (who married Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin on 30 December 1816) to the original draft. I am not going to list all of them: merely the most significant of those that actually made it through to the 1818 publication. Shelley made several thousand amendments to the handwritten manuscript that Mary Shelley produced. Most of these were purely editorial (corrections of punctuation and spelling); many were simply one-word changes (which I am mostly not listing), but others were more significant. They are not enough, in my opinion, to warrant saying that P. B. Shelley was a “co-author” of M. W. Shelley’s book, as some have done; the amendments are no more than a modern editor might made to an author’s text, and we do not expect the publisher to add the editor’s name to the author’s on the title-page.
I do not believe that there is a list of these amendments anywhere. As my source I have used Charles E. Robinson, ed., Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. The Original Two-Volume Novel of 1816-1817 from the Bodleian Library Manuscripts by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (with Percy Bysshe Shelley) (New York: Vintage Books, 2008). This book prints the amended text, with P. B. Shelley’s changes indicated by italicisation, and then prints M. W. Shelley’s original text (which only survives from a point in chapter 1, thus leaving out Captain Walton’s letters at the beginning).
I have not listed the corrections of punctuation and spelling; although I do
sometimes list changes in words, if only to illustrate that PBS turned MWS’s plainer text into something more opaque, replete with complex (often Latinate) words, although occasionally clarifying things where MWS had not been specific enough. The chapter numbers I give are from the three-volume 1818 edition, rather than from the two volumes projected in the 1816/17 manuscript.
This illustration shows how the manuscript appeared, with a broad margin in which either Shelley could make changes. This page comes from the beginning of Chapter 7, with the description of the creation of the Creature. Charles Robinson has learned how to distinguish the hands of the two Shelleys. Thus, the Creature’s skin was originally described as “dun”, but Mary has changed that to “yellow”. On the other hand, it is Percy who has changed the repeated words “handsome” to “beautiful” and has added “of a lustrous black” to Mary’s description of the Creature’s hair as merely “flowing”.
It would be useful to list here some of the small corrections made by PBS, which I summarise from Anne K. Mellor’s “Choosing a Text of Frankenstein to Teach”, from the Norton Edition (as above), pp. 208-209:
have → possess
wish → desire, purpose
caused → derive their origin from
a painting → a representation
plenty of → sufficient
talked → conversed
ghost-story → a tale of superstition
about on a par → of nearly equal interest and utility
we were all equal → neither of us possessed the slightest preeminence over the other
eyes were shut to → eyes were insensible to
it was a long time → a considerable period elapsed
what to say → what manner to commence the interview.
And so on… no commentary is necessary.
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Editing
Vol. 1 Chapter 1.
1. The surviving part of Mary Shelley’s manuscript starts in the paragraph beginning “Every one adored Elizabeth”. PBS changes MWS’s “we agreed perfectly although there was a great dissimilitude in our character” to “We were strangers to any species of disunion or dispute. For, although there was a great dissimilitude in our characters, yet there was a harmony in that very dissimilitude”.
2. In the same paragraph, “My application was of longer endurance but it was not so severe as hers while it lasted” becomes “My application was of longer endurance but it was not so severe as hers while it endured. I delighted in investigating the facts relating to the actual world; she busied herself in following the aerial creations of the poets. The world was to me a secret which I desired to discover; to her it was a vacancy which she sought to people with imaginations of her own.”
3. In the next paragraph, “Clerval” was inserted by MWS for the original “Carignan”. MWS wrote that Victor’s brothers were considerably younger, but Clerval’s friendship “compensated for this”: PBS added the word “deficiency” to follow “this”. MWS wrote just “which excited us to ardour” and PBS added “in the prosecution of them”. “We learned Latin and English to read the writers of those languages” became “that we might read the writings in those languages”. “Perhaps we did not read so many books or learn languages as quickly as another child but what we learned was impressed on our memory” became “Perhaps we did not read so many books, or learn languages so quickly, as those who are disciplined according to the ordinary methods; but what we learned was impressed the more deeply on our memories.”
4. “… should probably have applied myself to the more rational theory of chemistry which has at present the approbation of the learned. But the cursory glance…” became “… should probably have applied myself to the more rational theory of chemistry which has resulted from modern discoveries. It is even possible that the train of my ideas might never have received that fatal impulse which led me to my ruin. But the cursory glance…”
5. “Nor were these my only visions; the raising of ghosts or devils was also a favourite pursuit and If [sic] I never saw any I attributed it to my own inexperience and mistake, rather than want of skill in the instructor” became “Nor were these my only visions. The raising of ghosts or devils was a promise liberally accorded by my favourite authors, the fulfilment of which I most eagerly sought and if my incantations were always unsuccessful, I attributed the failure rather to my own inexperience and mistake, than to a want of skill or fidelity in my instructors.”
6. “My father expressed a wish that I should attend a course of lectures upon natural philosopher, to which I consented and one evening that I spent in town at the house of Clerval’s father I met Mr P, a proficient in Chemistry who left the company at an early hour to give his lecture upon that science enquiring as he went out if any one would go with him—I went but this lecture was unfortunately the last in his course…” becomes “My father expressed a wish that I should attend a course of lectures upon natural philosophy, to which I cheerfully consented. Some accident prevented by attending these lectures until the course was nearly finished. The lecture, being therefore one of the last, was entirely incomprehensible to me…”
Vol. I Chapter 2.
7. “When I had attained the age of seventeen my parents resolved that I should go to the university of Ingolstadt” becomes “When I had attained the age of seventeen my parents resolved that I should become a student at the university of Ingolstadt.”
8. “But before the day resolved upon could arrive the first misfortune of my life occurred: as if an omen of my future misery if I should prosecute my journey” becomes “But before the day resolved upon could arrive, the first misfortune of my life occurred: an omen, as it were, of my future misery.”
9. “She … entered her sick chamber long before it was safe” became “She … entered her chamber long before the danger of infection was past.”
10. “My mother was dead but we still had duties which we ought to perform we must continue with the rest and bless God if nothing worse happens. And the idleness generated by grief would become a bad habit if further indulged” became “My mother was dead, but we still had duties which we ought to perform; we must continue our course with the rest, and learn to think ourselves fortunate, whilst one remains whom the spoiler has not seized.”
11. Clerval “bitterly lamented that he was not able to accompany me But his father could not bear to part with him; besides he intended to become a partner with him in his business, and he said he could not see that use learning could be to a merchant” became “bitterly lamented that he was unable to accompany me: but his father could not be persuaded to part with him, intending that he should become a partner with him in business, in compliance with his favourite theory, that learning was superfluous in the commerce of ordinary life.”
12. “Besides I had a contempt for the uses of modern natural philosophy. It was very different when the masters of the science sought immortality and wealth;—such views although futile were grand; but now it was all changed and the expulsion of chimera overthrew at the same time all greatness in the science.” became “Besides, I had a contempt for the uses of modern natural philosophy. It was very different, when the masters of the science sought immortality and power; such views, although futile, were grand; but now the scene changed. The ambition of the inquirer seemed to limit itself to the annihilation of those visions on which my key interest in science was chiefly founded. I was required to change chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth.”
13. Between “he smiled at the names of Cornelius Agrippa and Paracelsus, but without the contempt that Mr Krempe had exhibited” and “that his lecture had removed my prejudices concerning modern chemists”, PBS added the following: “He said, that ‘these were men to whose indefatigable zeal modern philosophers were indebted for most of the foundations of their knowledge. They had left to us, as an easier task, to give new names, and arrange in connected classifications, the facts which they in a great degree had been the instruments of bringing to light. the labours of men of genius, however erroneously directed, scarcely ever fail in ultimately turning to the solid advantage of mankind.’ I listened to his statement, which were delivered without any presumption or affectation; and then added, that…”
Vol. I Chapter 3
14. “That application which at first had been a matter of duty now became so ardent and eager that the stars often dissapeared [sic] while I was yet labouring in my laboratory” became “That application, which at first had been a matter of duty and resolution, now became so ardent and eager, that the stars often disappeared in the light of morning whilst I was yet engaged in my laboratory.”
15. “and Professor Krempe often asked me with a sly smile how Cornelius Agrippa went on.” became “Professor Krempe often asked me, with a sly smile, how Cornelius Agrippa went on? while M. Waldman expressed the most heartfelt exultation in my progress.”
16. “When I arrived at this point, that my residence at Ingolstadt was no longer conducive to my improvement” became “When I arrived at this point and had learned all the professors at Ingolstadt were qualified to teach, my residence there being no longer conducive to my improvement.” By 1818 that had become “When I had arrived at this point, and had become as well acquainted with the theory and practice of natural philosophy as depended on the lessons of any of the professors at Ingolstadt, my residence there being no longer conducive to my improvements…”
17. “I paused, examined and analyzed every minutiæ of causation untill from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me. A light so brilliant & wondrous and yet so simple that while it intoxicated me I was surprised that I among so many men of genius who had applied to the same science that I alone should discover this astonishing secret.” became “I paused, examining and analyzing all the minutiæ of causation, as exemplified in the change from life to death, and death to life, until from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me—a light so brilliant and wondrous, and yet so simple, that while I became dizzy with the immensity of the prospect which it illustrated, I was surprised that I—among so many men of genius who had applied the same science—that I alone should discover this astonishing secret.” By 1818, the last two dashes had been removed, and the end of the sentence had become “surprised that among so many men of genius, who had directed their enquiries towards the same science, that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a secret.”
Vol. I Chapter 4.
18. “His limbs were in proportion and I had selected his features as handsome. Handsome; Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries; his hair was flowing…” became “His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!—Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing…”
19. “Doubtless My [sic] words surprised Henry—he at first believed them the wanderings of my disordered imagination but the pertinacity with which I continually recurred to the same subject astonished him,” became “Doubtless my words surprised Henry: he at first believed them the wanderings of my disordered imagination; but the pertinacity with which I continually reacted to the same subject persuaded him that my disorder owed its origin to some uncommon and terrible event.”
Vol. I Chapter 5.
20. In the letter from Elizabeth, MWS wrote “My Aunt observed this, and when Justine was twelve years old prevailed on her mother to allow her to live at our house. Where she was taught all the duties of servant & was very kindly treated. I dare say that you now remember all about it, for Justine was a great favourite of yours…” PBS changed this to: “My aunt observed this and, when Justine was twelve years old, prevailed on her mother to allow her to live at our house. The republican institutions of our country have produced simpler and happier manners than those which prevail in the great monarchies that surround it. Hence there is less distinction between the classes into which human beings have been divided: and the lower orders, being neither so poor nor so despised, are more refined and moral. A servant at Geneva does not mean the same thing as a servant in France or England—Justine was thus received into our family to learn the duties of a servant, which in our fortunate country does not include a sacrifice of the dignity of a human being. I dare say that you now remember all about it, for Justine was a great favourite of yours.” This addition was amended slightly when it was incorporated into the 1818 addition, most notably by changing the penultimate sentence to read “which, in our fortunate country, does not include the idea of ignorance, and a sacrifice of the dignity of a human being.”
21. MWS wrote “Mr. Krempe was not equally docile & weak as my illness had made me his harsh econiums [sic] gave me even more pain than the benevolent approbations of M. Waldman.” PBS changed that to “M. Krempe was not equally docile; and in my then condition of almost insupportable sensitiveness, his harsh blunt encomiums gave me even more pain than the benevolent approbations of M. Waldman.” In 1818 that became “in my condition at the time, of almost insupportable sensitiveness…”.
Vol. I Chapter 6.
22. MWS wrote “He therefore was the murderer! I could not doubt it I was agonised by the bare probability—I thought of pursueing the devil…” PBS changed that to: “He therefore was the murderer! Nothing in human shape could have destroyed that fair child. He was the murderer! I could not doubt it. The mere presence of the idea was an irresistible proof of the fact. I thought of pursuing the devil…”
23. MWS wrote “The appearance of the creature at my bedside—its departure.” PBS wrote “The whole train of my progress towards my creation; the appearance of the work of my own hands, alive at my bedside, and its departure.” The last “and” was dropped in 1818.
23. “I considered the wretch I had cast in among mankind for purposes of mischief nearly in the light of my vampire; my own spirit let loose from the grave and forced to destroy all who were dear to me” became “I considered the being whom I had cast in among mankind and endowed with the will and the power to effect purposes of horror, such as the deed he had now down, nearly in the light of my vampire, my own spirit…”
24. “A creature whom I myself had created and endued with life” became “A being, whom I myself had created and endued with life, had met me at midnight among the precipices of an inaccessible mountain.”
Vol. II Chapter 1.
25. In between “efface the recollection of the past” and “My abhorrence of the fiend” PBS inserted “There was always scope for fear so long as anything I loved remained alive.”
26. In between “ancient days or imaginary evils” and “but now misery has come home” PBS inserted “at least they were remote and more familiar to reason than to imagination.”
27. MWS wrote “The weather was beautiful and if mine had been a sorrow to be chased away by any fleeting circumstance this voyage would certainly have had the effect which my father intended. As it was I was interrested [sic] and sometimes amused”, which PBS changed to “The weather was beautiful [in 1818 changed to “uncommonly fine”]; and if mine had been a sorry to be chased away by any fleeting circumstance, this voyage would certainly have had the effect intended by my father. As it was, I was somewhat interested in the scene; it sometimes killed, although it could not extinguish my grief.”
Vol. II Chapter 2
28. MWS wrote “I remained in a recess of the rock gazing on this wonderful & stupendous scene—My heart before sad swelled with somthing [sic] like joy.” PBS changed and added: “I remained in a recess of the rock gazing on this wonderful and stupendous scene. The sea, or rather the vast river of ice, wound among its dependent mountains, whose aërial summits hung over its recesses. Their icy and flittering peaks shone in the sunlight over the clouds. My heart, which was before sorrowful, now swelled with something like joy.”
29. MWS wrote: “‘Abhorred monster, cried I furiously, fiend that thou art the tortures of Hell are too soft for the wretched devil! you reproach me with your creation…” PBS changed to: ” “Abhorred monster!” cried I furiously, “field that thou art, the tortures of hell are too mild a vengeance for thy crimes. Wretched devil! you reproach me with your creation…” In 1818, “cried I furiously” was left out.
30. MWS wrote “Remember that I am thy creature—Thy Adam—or rather the fallen angel for everywhere I see bliss while I alone [sic] am irrecoverably wretched.” PBS changed to “Remember that I am your creature—I ought to be thy Adam—but I am rather the fallen angel, whom though drives from joy for no misdeed; every where I see bliss from which I alone am irrecoverably excluded.”
31. MWS wrote “Yet it is in your power to recompense me and deliver them from an evil which you have bestowed on them.” PBS changed to “Yet it is in your power to recompense me and deliver them from an evil which it only remains for you to make so great, that not only you and your family, but thousands of others, shall be swallowed up in the whirlwinds of its rage.”
Vol. II Chapter 3.
32. In the original draft, which was for a two volume novel, this is the chapter that opened the second volume: the Creature’s narrative of his own life.
33. MWS wrote (of the old man and his daughter) “He raised her and smiled with such kindness and love and that felt my own hard nerves move and I was obliged to withdraw from the hole.” PBS changed to “He raised her and smiled with such kindness and love the I felt sensations of a peculiar and overpowering nature; they were a mixture of pain and pleasure, such as I had never experienced either from hunger or cold, or warmth or food; and I withdrew from my station unable to bear these emotions.” In the 1818 version, “station” was replaced by “window”. Robinson notes (p. 248): PBS cancelled MWS’s phrasing, pencilled in his suggested revisions, some but not all of which MWS inked over to accept, In effect, MWS edited PBS’s prose after he edited her prose.”
Vol. II Chapter 4.
34. MWS wrote “he cleared away the snow that obstructed her path to the milk house; drew water from the well and brought the wood from the outhouse” and PBS added “where, to his perpetual astonishment, he found his store always replenished by an invisible hand.”
Vol. II Chapter 7.
35. Describing the Creature’s discovery of The Sorrows of Werther, MWS wrote “The gentle and domestic manners it described combined with lofty sentiments and feelings accorded well with my experience among my protectors”; PBS changed o “The gentle and domestic manners it described, combined with lofty sentiments and feelings which had for their object something out of self, accorded well with my experience among my protectors and with the ways which were for ever alive within my own bosom.”
36. Describing the Creature’s discovery of Frankenstein’s journal, MWS wrote “You doubtless recollect these papers—Here they are—Every thing is related in them & every disgusting circumstance is set in view; the minutest description is given of my odious & loathsome person.” OBS changed to: “You, doubtless, recollect those papers. Here they are, Every thing is related in them which bears reference to my accursed origin; the whole detail of that series of disgusting circumstances which produced it is set in view; the minutes description of my odious and loathsome person is given, in language which painted your own horrors and rendered mine ineffaceable.”
Vol. II Chapter 8.
37. MWS wrote “I determined to seek that justice which I vainly attempted to gain from your fellow creatures”; changed by PBS to “I determined to seek that justice which I vainly attempted to gain from any other being that wore the human form.”
38. In the next paragraph, MWS wrote “I often wandered wide from my path. An incident that happened when I arrived on the confines of Switzerland…”, changed by PBS to I often wandered wide from my path. The agony of my grief allowed me no respite. No incident occurred from which my rage and misery could not extract its food. But a circumstance that happened when I arrived on the confines of Switzerland…”
Vol. III Chapter 5
39. After many pages without any substantial changes to the text, we come to Victor’s response to Elizabeth’s letter. MWS wrote “Yet I would die to make her happy and if the monster executed his threat die I must. Yet again I considered if my marriage would hasten my fate if once the fiend had determined upon my death. It might indeed hasten a few months but if her expected that I delayed on his account he would certainly revenge himself some other way.” PBS amended: “Yet I would died to make her happy; if the monster executed his threat death was inevitable. Yet again, I considered whether my marriage would hasten my fate if once the fiend had determined on my death. My destruction might indeed arrive a few months sooner; but, if my torturer should suspect that I postponed my marriage on account of his menaces, he would surely find other and, perhaps, more dreadful means of revenge.”
40. MWS wrote “I would rather have banished myself from my country & only friends than have consented to this miserable marriage” became “I would rather have banished myself for ever from my country, and wandered a friendless outcast over the earth, than have consented to this miserable marriage.”
41. MWS wrote “as I touched the shore I felt those cares and fears revive which I had forgotten on the water”, which PBS changed to “as I touched the shore, I felt those cares and fears revive which soon were to clasp me and cling to me for ever.”
Vol. III Chapter 6.
42. MWS wrote “Every sound terrified but I resoldved [sic] that I would sell my life dearly & not die until my adversary should lie senseless at my feet”, changed by PBS to “Every sound terrified me, but I resolved that I would sell my life dearly and not relax the conflict that impended until my own life, or that of my adversary, were extinguished.”
Vol. III Chapter 7.
43. MWS wrote “Alas! reflection in my present situation was impossible—I was hurried away by fury—Revenge along inspired me with strength, & power of action.” PBS replaced with “My present situation was one in which all voluntary thought was swallowed up and lost. I was hurried away by fury. Revenge alone endowed me with strength and composure.”
44. MWS wrote “the villain eluded my grasp. When suddenly the broard [sic] disk of the moon arose and shone fully upon the dæmon who fled”, changed to “the devil eluded my grasp. Suddenly the broad disk of the moon arose and shone fully upon his ghastly and distorted shape, as he fled with more that mortal speed.”
45. MWS wrote “The mediterranean appeared and by a strange chance I saw the fiend enter by night & hide himself in a vessel bound for the black sea. I followed him.” which became “The Mediterranean appeared [in 1818 “the blue Mediterranean”]; and by a strange chance I saw the fiend enter by night and hide himself in a vessel bound for the Black Sea. I followed him—I knew the vessel in which he was concealed—and he escaped me I know not how.”
46. MWS wrote: “I pursued mt path towards the destruction of the dæmon more as a task enjoined by heaven than the ardent desire of my soul” which was changed to “I pursued mt path towards the destruction of the dæmon more as a task enjoined by heaven, as the mechanical impulse of some power of which I was unconscious, than the ardent desire of my soul.”
47. MWS wrote: “Thus have ten days passed away while I have listened to the strangest tale that ever imagination formed. My thoughts & every feeling of my soul [have] been drunk up by the interrest [sic] felt in my guest” is changed to “thus has a week passed away while I have listened to the strangest tale that ever imagination formed. My thought and every feeling of my soul have been drunk up by the interest for my guest which this tale and his own elevated and gentle manners have created.” Victor began his account of 20 August and finished on 26 August, so a week, not ten days, is correct.
48. On the draft copy, PBS made no changes to the final paragraph of MWS’s manuscript, which read: “He sprung from the cabin window as he said this on to an ice raft that lay close to the vessel & pushing himself off he was carried away by the waves and I soon lost sight of him in the darkness and distance.” Subsequent to this, PBS did “embellish” (Robinson’s word, p. 252) the final pages of the manuscript, and final paragraph in the 1818 text reads “He sprung from the cabin-window, as he said this, upon the ice-raft which lay close to the vessel. He was soon borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and stance.” It is up to the reader to think whether or not this change makes a crucial difference to our understanding of the Creature’s fate.