Mary Shelley was only 18 when she imagined her story of a “pale, ungodly arts student” and the “hideous fantasy of a man” he created. Now a first edition of his seminal gothic horror classic, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, set a world record for the highest price paid for a work printed by a woman, after being auctioned for $ 1,170,000 (£ 856,000).
The first edition was one of 500 copies of the novel printed in 1818, and the first to be auctioned since 1985. Christie’s, who described it as “exceptionally rare,” initially estimated that the copy would sell for between $ 200,000 (£ 146,000) and $ 300,000 (£ 220,000). The auction house said it was a new world auction record for a work printed by a woman, with bidders participating in the auction from all over the world. The record for a work printed by a woman was previously held by a first edition of Emma by Jane Austen from 1816, which was sold by Bonhams in 2008 for £ 150,000. A copy of JK Rowling’s Tales of Beedle the Bard sold for £ 1.95million at Sotheby’s in November 2007, but it was handmade and illustrated, rather than printed.
A Christie’s spokesperson said: “The first edition in its original plates is incredibly fragile and therefore very rare, so an example like this, especially in good condition, is highly desirable for collectors. Overall it is a very strong market and we are seeing increased demand for fine examples of literary hotspots.
Shelley, the daughter of philosopher William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, came up with the idea for Frankenstein in the summer of 1816, while she was staying by Lake Geneva with Percy Shelley, her husband and Lord Byron. The group had read French translations of German ghost stories, and Byron challenged them to write their own. Shelley wrote in a preface to an 1831 edition of her novel that she was ” [herself] think of a story, – a story to rival those which had inspired us with this task. One that would speak of the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken a thrilling horror – one to make the reader dread looking around, to curdle the blood and speed up the heartbeat ”.
She had a “sharp mental sight” as she tried to sleep, she continued, of “the pale student of ungodly arts kneeling beside the thing he had assembled”, of “the hideous fantasy of ‘a man lying down, then, on the operation of a powerful motor, show signs of life and stir with an anxious, half-life movement.
His story of how Victor Frankenstein creates a being from body parts and brings it to life will be published anonymously on January 1, 1818 in just 500 copies by publisher Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones. The novel had been refused by John Murray, when Percy presented it to the publisher as his own; Lackington, who “mostly sold cheap books,” gave Mary a third of the bottom line, writes Miranda Seymour in her author biography. “It was not a good time for controversial works and making a creature from human parts without divine help was very controversial,” according to Seymour.
With a preface by Percy and a dedication to the then-anonymous author’s father, William Godwin, Frankenstein received mixed reviews: while Walter Scott was impressed by the author’s “original genius” and “unusual powers. of the poetic imagination ”, the Quarterly Review asked if“ the author’s head or heart is sicker ”.
Shelley will publish a revised edition of the novel in 1831, under his own name. Her introduction sees her set out to answer the question “I’ve been asked so often -” How, when I was a young girl, did I come to think and dwell on such a horrible idea? “”
Today Frankenstein is considered one of the world’s first science fiction novels, a work of horror, invention and philosophy, which addresses key questions about what it means to be human and which inspired d ‘countless adaptations.