Study Guide

Frankenstein Preface

By Mary Shelley


  • Okay, time for a quick Brain Snack, to get your appetite working. Mary Shelley first published Frankenstein in 1818. When she republished it in 1831, she revised it (a lot) and wrote this nifty preface. The 1818 and 1831 editions have some pretty significant differences—not so much in plot, but in style, characterization, and the role of fate. Most scholars prefer the 1818 version, but most mass market publishers still use the 1831 version. We're sticking with the 1831 version because it's more widely available, but you can see some of the differences here.
  • In this preface, Shelley explains that it was rainy and kind of creepy the summer of 1816, when Shelley (then Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin) and her future husband were vacationing in the Swiss Alps along with some other friends, like majorly famous poet Lord Byron.
  • Today, we know that Mount Tambora erupted in the Indian Ocean in 1815 and disrupted weather patterns all over the world.
  • In 1816, all the Shelleys knew was that this was shaping up to be the worst summer ever, so they told German ghost stories to pass the time.
  • And then someone had the brilliant idea to have a ghost-story contest. The result? One of the first vampire stories in Western literature… and Frankenstein.
  • Oh, there's also some name-dropping of Dr. Darwin. Not the famous one, but his grandpa, who was a less noteworthy science geek.

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