This edition has been in gestation for some fifteen years, which in terms of electronic editions encompasses what in book production might be likened to several centuries. It began from a campus-wide project at the University of Pennsylvania in 1993, where all incoming first-year students were asked to read Frankenstein over the summer and begin their college experience with a seminar on the novel taught by faculty members from a wide array of disciplines. With the various faculty involved meeting in advance to discuss approaches, we discovered a process akin to what can be observed in critical and theoretical approaches to the novel. Whatever the disciplinary interests – from philosophy to chemistry to law or medicine – the novel fit neatly within them, absorbing their discourses like a sponge. This experience coincided with the early efforts in CD-ROM technology, and it occurred to me that it would be possible to create around Frankenstein an exemplary demonstration of the uses to which this new instrumentation could be used. Fortunately for someone relatively new to these concepts, there were two graduate students in the Penn English Department, Sam Choi and Jack Lynch, who had advanced programming skills and a like fascination with the potentiality of electronic textuality. Our initial goal was to create a complete conceptual framework for the novel, surrounding it with a library of the elements that formed its exceptional intertextual echo chamber: the Creature’s reading list, the contemporary scientific discourse everywhere informing the discourse, the relevant history of polar exploration, etc.
As such a list suggests, a basic organizational principle would be essential to making resulting cross-connections simple and navigable. We did end up with one category called “miscellaneous,” but fortunately it was small and peripheral. The basic organizational grid served amazingly well, allowing what eventually became a project of 89,000 separate files to have a totalized coherence. Within this were embedded other early writings of Mary Shelley, a sizable amount of the writings of Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the whole of Paradise Lost, Dryden’s Plutarch, the first English translation of Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werter, Volney’s Ruins, all the ghost stories whose reading sparked the novel, a great deal of Humphry Davy’s representation of the state of chemical experimentation, plus generous sections of other texts alluded to in the novel or its prefatory material. Then, it occurred to us that we could cross-index all this material, so that when the Creature or Victor, for instance, alludes to Paradise Lost, a link could take one immediately to the source. On top of this, ambition being directly proportional to the sense that there was virtually no end to the library that could be embedded here, we decided to key in all the critical literature discussing Frankenstein and similarly cross-index its references both to the novel and to other critical articles. The end of this would be the creation of an instantaneous variorum commentary. And so, with many student assistants at work, we added and minutely encoded over 200 such critical works. Meanwhile, as Jack Lynch created a double-text of the 1818 and 1831 editions with the possibility of an instant collation between them, I set to work writing a commentary that sought to highlight the intertextuality and complex interplay between the embedded narrative lines as well as not to hobble the interpretive latitude available to its readers. This all took many months – some years, in fact.
And as the work progressed, the limitations of the technological means we were depending on reared their hydra heads. We had wisely agreed not to hitch this wagon to the star of any of the then-available commercial platforms, but rather to create the entire project within an HTML format (and this before there existed any of the means to simplify and automate the writing of its code). If we had sought only to embed the myriad texts and contexts surrounding the original texts of the novel, that would have been a reasonable scholarly aim that would have resulted in a useful tool. But to represent the critical literature moved the discourse on to a plane forever in motion, and a CD-ROM is an artifact that, like most such, exists within a static temporal frame. About this time, too, the early enthusiasm for electronic publishing ran up against unexpected commercial resistance. And furthermore, desiring to reproduce for scholarly purposes someone else’s intellectual property (which in the far-off past century in which this project was conceived seemed easily resolvable) concomitantly brought us face-to-face with the staggering cost of the royalties involved.
The platform on which this mammoth project was originally conceived, then, was, if inevitably subject to refinement (HTML giving way to XML), sound and, given that there were almost no examples available to rely on, actually pathbreaking. But the exalted ambitions transcended the state of either the law or available commercial instruments. For several years now, this project in which so many people invested their imagination, knowledge and time, has lain in neglect. At the urging of the general editors of Romantic Circles, Neil Fraistat, Steven E. Jones, and Carl Stahmer, and with the very active participation of Laura Mandell, its technical editor, I have decided to make available a pared-down but still essentially useful representation of both texts of Frankenstein, with the original, copious annotation that would not be viable in a traditional printed format, and with a basic bibliography of editions that should be subject to development with improvement in the state of our knowledge of this novel’s publishing history. I am deeply grateful to the many people whose enthusiasm and erudition helped drive the original creation and to those skilled programmers involved in transferring this edition into its present state.
9 April 2009