Never mind that stronger expression Anne Lamott uses to describe her first drafts, “monstrous” is precisely right to describe this one: Mary Shelley’s handwritten first draft of Frankenstein, going on display December 3 at Oxford’s Bodleian Library as part of “Shelley’s Ghost: Reshaping the Image of a Literary Family.”
The exhibit will remain in the UK until March 27, then will transfer and reopen at the New York Public Library central branch at 42nd and Fifth Avenue.
Pages of cursive writing once handled by the author have a nearly spiritual appeal for me that other kinds of drafts can’t approach. In the 1970s David Gerrold used a Selectric with a mag tape to generate original scripts for auction, and today Cory Doctorow can send a copy of his original pixels in a Word track-changes document on a moment’s notice to anyone in the world if the whim strikes him, but these copies (for whatever reason) lack romance compared with Mary Shelley’s marked-up, ink-spattered pages.
Other relics on display at the Bodleian include Percy Bysshe Shelley’s spy-glass, thought to have been aboard the Don Juan on Shelley’s final voyage which resulted in his drowning, and his baby rattle.
I learned from a comment on the Daily Mail’s article that supposedly Percy, not Mary, really wrote Frankenstein. I hope somebody has already taken the obvious step of analyzing the handwriting in the manuscript and verified it is Mary Shelley’s, even if there are other literary arguments that can’t be answered quite as simply.
[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]