How Contemporaries viewed Frankenstein

  Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

1. “This novel is a feeble imitation of one that was very popular in its day,–the St. Leon of Mr. Godwin. It exhibits many characteristics of the school whence it proceeds; and occasionally puts forth indications of talent; but we have been very much disappointed in the perusal of it, from our expectations having been raised too high beforehand by injudicious praises; and it exhibits a strong tendency towards materialism.

The main idea on which the story of Frankenstein rests, undoubtedly affords scope for the display of imagination and fancy, as well as knowledge of the human heart; and the anonymous author has not wholly neglected the opportunities which it presented to him: but the work seems to have been written in great haste, and on a very crude and ill-digested plan; and the detail is, in consequence, frequently filled with the most gross and obvious inconsistencies….

We have heard that this work is written by Mr. Shelley; but should be disposed to attribute it to even a less experienced writer than he is. In fact we have some idea that it is the production of a daughter of a celebrated living novelist.”- excerpt from Literary Panorama and National Register, June 1818


2. “…So concludes this extraordinary tale, in which the author seems to us to disclose uncommon powers of poetic imagination. The feeling with which we perused the unexpected and fearful, yet, allowing the possibility of the event, very natural conclusion of Frankenstein’s experiment, shook a little even our firm nerves; although such and so numerous have been the expedients for exciting terror employed by the romantic writers of the age, that the reader may adopt Macbeth’s words with a slight alteration:

“We have supp’d full with horrors
Direness, familiar to our “callous” thoughts,
Cannot once startle us.”

…It is no slight merit in our eyes, that the tale, though wild in incident, is written in plain and forcible English, without exhibiting that mixture of hyperbolical Germanisms with which tales of wonder are usually told, as if it were necessary that the language should be as extravagant as the fiction. The ideas of the author are always clearly as well as forcibly expressed; and his descriptions of landscape have in them the choice requisites of truth, freshness, precision, and beauty.

…Upon the whole, the work impresses us with a high idea of the author’s original genius and happy power of expression. We shall be delighted to hear that he has aspired to the paullo majorica; and, in the meantime, congratulate our readers upon a novel which excites new reflections and untried sources of emotion. If Gray’s definition of Paradise, to lie on a couch, namely, and read new novels, come any thing near truth, no small praise is due to him, who, like the author of Frankenstein, has enlarged the sphere of that fascinating enjoyment.”- Sir Walter Scott writing for the Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, April 1818

Published in: on June 6, 2010 at 5:11 pm  Comments (11)  
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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have to chuckle at two such starkly different reviews. Apparently nothing has changed in almost 200 years: everyone’s got an opinion, and you can’t listen to critics! 🙂

    I like what Scott said about it “is written in plain and forcible English,” and the language is not “as extravagant as the fiction.” That’s something I try to watch in my writing, desperatly avoiding ‘purple prose.’

  2. *desperately


  3. Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus.

    One of the best tittles I have ever read.

  4. I love this book (as you all know) for the simple fact that it’s so easy to interoperate completely different aspects of this book. Its defiantly a sign of a well written book.

  5. Truth, freshness, precision, beauty: you can’t ask for a higher compliment than that.

    Ha. The style may change, the whole publishing industry may be turned on its ear, but critics are a constant. 🙂

    I wonder of Mary Shelley also had to restrain herself from responding to reviewers?

  6. heya DD,

    That’s exactly why I chose such contrasting reveiws. Great reminder that you can never please everyone.

    Regarding the language, Mary preferred simple everyday speech. But Percy liked the more…let’s say, colorful terms, and suggested changes in her script when he was critiquing it. One of my books has some examples of this, but I don’t have time to dig it up right now.

    So it also shows that even then, you had to listen to beta readers with a grain of salt. 😉

  7. Hiya Ralfast,

    It is a fantastic title! 🙂

  8. Hey Chazz!

    I agree. It is an incredibly well-written book. Its rawness just adds to its power. Very beautiful and tragic story.

  9. Hey Amy,

    Well, I read that when it came out, Mary waited and braced herself for the bad reviews to come.

    So, indeed…nothing has changed! 🙂

    It’s rather comforting to know that all these people who we now consider literary greats, went through all the same pains we do.

  10. “That’s exactly why I chose such contrasting reviews. Great reminder that you can never please everyone.”

    So very true! So the best thing to do is just write and let the reviews fall where they may. 🙂

  11. Hi Jenna,

    Indeed! 🙂

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