Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Friday, February 5, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 203

Godwin's changes in Mary's novel ...

William Godwin, Mary’s father, as we have seen, was not one to resist what today we call meddling. He was a most confident man—absolutely certain that he was right about, well, about anything about which he pontificated. And so he’d arranged—without telling Mary—to publish a new edition of her book, an act that could seem, of course, a generous, loving surprise gift. But what about discovering that Godwin had made some alterations in the text?
Imagine Hawthorne re-issuing his friend Melville’s Moby-Dick—but getting rid of all that annoying detail about whaling. (Probably not a good example. Hawthorne was not all that alert to “annoying detail”: check out the Custom House introduction of The Scarlet Letter.) But you get the picture. So … what did Godwin change?
One scholar says there were some “114 substantive differences” between her original 1818 edition and this new one in 1823.[1] A look at the list of the changes, now available online, shows they are generally very small alterations, principally dealing with diction.[2] Here’s an example; the creature is speaking about his desire to have Victor Frankenstein create a mate for him:
• 1818 version (Mary’s):  How is this? I thought I had moved your compassion; and yet you still refuse to bestow on me the only benefit that can soften my heart, and render me harmless.
• 1823 version (Godwin’s): How is this? I must not be trifled with: and I demand an answer.
A reminder: As you can see, Mary’s elevated diction is wildly different from the groans and grunts employed by the creature in James Whale’s influential 1931 film of her novel (with Boris Karloff as the monster).

About a decade after Godwin’s edition, Mary would present her own revision, and in that edition the changes are profound.

[1] Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley, vol. 1, “Introductory Note,” by Nora Crook, xvci.
[2] http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/Articles/murray.html  accessed Feb. 5, 2016.

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