[SHELLEY, Mary Wollstonecraft (1797-1851).]
Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. London: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, and Jones, 1818. Exquisite copy of the first edition, unusually bound as a single volume and in contemporary calf. Frankenstein was conceived during the rainy summer of 1816 beside Lake Geneva, where the author and Percy Shelley were staying with Lord Byron. It was Byron’s suggestion that the group, who had amused themselves with reading French translations of German ghost stories, should each write their own. In the preface to the 1831 edition, Mary Shelley writes: “I busied myself to think of a story, —a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror—one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart.” The idea came to her in an “acute mental vision” as she tried to sleep: “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.” Published anonymously on 1 January 1818 in a run of 500 copies, the first edition included a preface written by Percy Shelley and a dedication to the author’s father, William Godwin. Its narrative, of a living being fashioned with materials found in "the dissecting room and the slaughter-house" and rejected by its maker, has now reached the same mythic cultural status as Don Quixote and Robinson Crusoe. Yet the reviews at the time were mixed, with the Quarterly Review sufficiently morally outraged to wonder "whether the head or the heart of the author be the most diseased," while Walter Scott praised her “original genius” and “uncommon powers of poetic imagination.” The single volume format of this copy is unusual and very attractive, it was likely done for the book's first or early owner, Gilbert East. According to the records of ABPC, the most recent copy of the first edition of Frankenstein in contemporary leather binding was offered at auction in 2004. Three volumes bound in one, 12mo (173 x 106mm). Half-titles present for each volume, without advertisements. (Two closed tears, to D5, vol 1, and to corner of second title page.) Contemporary tree calf, red morocco lettering piece (upper joint neatly repaired, lower joint very tender). Custom quarter calf case. Provenance: Gilbert East (ownership signature dated 1824 on inner margin of first title page). This is possibly Sir Gilbert East of Hall-place (1764-1828). Sir Gilbert left a very eccentric will, with lavish provisions for his pets and incredible specificity as to the material, decoration, and scenting of his coffin.