Critical Overview

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When Mary finished her novel in May 1817, Percy Shelley sent her manuscript, under an anonymous name, to two different publishers, both of whom rejected it. Lakington, Allen, and Co. finally accepted it. Early reviews of the work were generally mixed. As quoted in Diane Johnson's introduction to the novel, a critic for The Edinburgh Review found that "taste and judgement [sic] alike revolted at this kind of writing," and "it inculcates no lesson of conduct, manner of morality; it cannot mend, and will not even amuse its readers unless their tastes have been deplorably vitiated." A writer from the Monthly Review, as quoted by Montague Summers in The Gothic Quest, claimed that the setting was so improbable—the story so unbelievable—that it was "an uncouth story . . . leading to no conclusion either moral or philosophical." Even though this conclusion regarding the novel's lack of moral implications seems absurd to readers today, most of the earliest unfavorable reviews related to the story's grotesque or sensationalist elements. On the other hand, some early reviewers enjoyed the novel's uniqueness and praised the author's genius. As Johnson related Sir Walter Scott stated in Blackwood's Edinburgh magazine that he was impressed with "the high idea of the author's original genius and happy power of expression." The rest of England seemed to agree with Scott's opinion, since so many readers enjoyed Frankenstein. The novel resembled many works of the popular gothic genre, but it also became one of the triumphs of the Romantic movement. People identified with its themes of alienation and isolation and its warning about the destructive power that can result when human creativity is unfettered by moral and social concerns. Even if readers did not identify the Romantic themes present in Shelley's novel, the sensationalist elements piqued interest in other forms of dramatization.

In 1823, the English Opera House performed Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein, and fourteen other dramatizations were staged within three years of the play's premiere. The Opera House, in fact, used the protests against this play to further its own interests. As Steven Forry notes in his book Hideous Progenies: Dramatizations of Frankenstein from the Nineteenth Century to the Present, public outrage regarding the "immoral tendency" heightened the appeal of both the play and the book. Eventually, the various dramatizations shaped Shelley's characters to fit whatever popular appeal would draw audiences to the playhouses. (©eNotes) Even today, numerous film adaptations distort the novel's original story, especially concerning the creature's very complex response to his world.

Since the 1800s, Frankenstein has continued to appeal to a wide audience. Criticism of the novel represents a diverse range of approaches. These include feminist interpretations, which describe the novel as reflecting Shelley's deepest fears of motherhood. Marxist analyses explore the effects of the poor versus the bourgeois families (the De Lacey's versus the Frankenstein's). In addition, some critics have focused on psychoanalysis, interpreting Dr. Frankenstein and the monster as embodying Sigmund Freud's theory of id and ego. Today, much critical focus seems to rest on the autobiographical elements of Frankenstein, as critics wish to rightfully consider Shelley as one of the leading Romantic writers of her day.

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Critical Evaluation


Essays and Criticism