Frankenstein in the Library

As many of you already know, this year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This weekend, the medical school is hosting a special three-day forum, The Curren(t)cy of Frankenstein, exploring what the novel can contribute to current discussions of medical research, practice, and ethics. The Becker Medical Library is also hosting a special “Making a Monster” exhibit of the developments in science that influenced the writing of Frankenstein.

The Monster’s Challenge

In addition to these events, Washington University is also holding an exciting competition called The Monster’s Challenge, for which both undergraduate and graduate students are encouraged to submit creative works that “exemplify the spirit, tone, and feeling of Frankenstein for our age.” The deadline for submissions is October 15, 2018. Details on submission guidelines and prizes can be found at To inspire you in your creative projects, we have compiled a very short selection of some of the works related to Frankenstein in the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections.

Frankenstein in Special Collections

A letter from Mary Shelley to Howard Payne, August 14, 1829. From the William K. Bixby Papers.

The Julian Edison Department of Special Collections has a number of interesting materials related to Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, many of which were displayed in an exhibit titled “The Monster’s Library” which ended earlier this year. These materials include five letters penned in the author’s own hand. These letters from Mary Shelley to Howard Payne, an American actor who had fallen in love with her, provide a brief glimpse into her personal life after the initial publication of Frankenstein. Sometime after the death of her husband, the well-known Romantic poet Percy Shelley, Payne even proposed marriage to Mary Shelley. She refused him, but the two remained friends, corresponding about their mutual interest in literature and theater.


A letter from Mary Shelley to Howard Payne, August 24, 1829. From the William K. Bixby Papers.

A Rare Edition of Frankenstein

The Washington University Libraries also own a rare 1831 edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus. This edition is a revision of her 1818 novel, the only one she wrote, in which Shelley emphasizes the role of fate in Victor Frankenstein’s life. Special Collections also has an edition of the original 1818 version of the text that was republished in 1984, with an afterward by Joyce Carol Oates.

The title page and frontispiece of Mary Shelley’s 1831 edition of Frankenstein.

A Family of Authors

Mary Shelley came from a family of philosophers and writers. Her mother was Mary Wollstonecraft, a famous early advocate for women’s rights who wrote Vindication of the Rights of Women. The Julian Edison Department of Special Collections has rare 1791 edition of Wollstonecraft’s children’s book, Original Stories from Real Life, featuring illustrations by William Blake.

An illustration by William Blake from Mary Wollstonecraft’s Original Stories from Real Life, 1791.

Mary Shelley’s father, William Godwin, was a radical political philosopher. Special Collections has a 1793 edition of Godwin’s An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice which criticizes political institutions and argues for anarchy. Also in our holdings is a document written by Godwin titled “The Elopement of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin” describing his daughter’s marriage.


The title page of William Godwin’s An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, 1793.

Not only did Mary Shelley come from a family of writers, but she also married into one. As has already been mentioned, her husband was one of the great English Romantic poets, Percy Shelley. Special collections has a letter written by Percy Shelley, as well as a 1905 edition of his four-act lyrical drama, Prometheus Unbound in which he adapts the ancient Greek myth of Prometheus who was punished for stealing fire from the gods and sharing it with mankind. The subtitle to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is “The Modern Prometheus.”

An illustration from Prometheus Unbound, part of The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1904-1906.


About the author

Rose is a PhD candidate in English and American Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. When she is not working on her dissertation on post-1945 asylum novels or blogging about the amazing materials in Special Collections, she fills much of her time reading, writing, gardening, and wrestling.