This year marks the 200-year anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Although revised in later editions, our class is reading the original 1818 text as published by Broadview Press in 1999; edited by D. L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf. I have not read the later, more widely-known 1831 revision, but according to National Geographic, one of the chief differences is in the plot. The magazine notes
that in the original text, Victor Frankenstein “makes the creature in the spirit of free, scientific curiosity; his sin is that he then refuses to love and nurture him once he comes to life.” They then state that “the later edition portrays Dr. Frankenstein as a victim of fate; much of the science behind the creation of the creature comes about through chance.” It makes me curious to read the later version just to see if the changes make me despise Victor Frankenstein any less that I currently do.
The explanation by National Geographic makes it sound like Frankenstein is less to blame for the tragedy that befalls the creature and his victims, but of course this can’t be the case if Frankenstein still abandons the “daemon” he created and spends the rest of the novel bemoaning his bad fortune and stating ad nausea how he is the most victimized and suffering person out of everyone.
Take for instance the first murder committed by the creature, which was Frankenstein’s younger brother William. The young, innocent Justine is found guilty of the murder and sentenced to death. Frankenstein, as the creature’s creator, knows he is ultimately to blame for his brother’s death, but he has the nerve to claim he is in more agony that poor Justine, who will lose her life. “The tortures of the accused did not equal mine,” Frankenstein states, as “she was sustained by innocence, but the fangs of remorse tore my bosom, and not forego their hold.” Really? He still gets to live, but we should feel sorrier for him than Justine? He is the one worse off? I could go on and on with examples. Frankenstein is an ass.
As far as discovering if the later revisions make him any less of an ass, there are digital tools that can compare the texts and highlight differences. One project underway is The Pittsburgh Digital Frankenstein Project: Reassembling Textual Bodies. Its aim is to build a more comprehensive picture of the different versions of the text than any earlier digital or print edition could show. The various pieces of their work are being managed through GitHub, an online tool that is very popular for open-source projects. GitHub allows for individuals and teams to collaborate and manage projects as well as store and manage code. The site boasts it is user friendly so that even novice coders can work in it. Here is the link to the projects GitHub page so you can see how they are using the tool. https://github.com/PghFrankenstein/Pittsburgh_Frankenstein. Anyone can click on the various uploads within the project to view the code. Projects being open-source so anyone can access and use the work is important in digital humanities. As I am not very familiar with code, some of the work here is beyond my understanding but I know it is valuable to other researchers. (And I’m sure it will probably still conclude that Frankenstein is an ass.)