It’s alive — and digital!

October 28, 2013
(The Bodleian Library at Oxford)
(The Bodleian Library at Oxford)

This Halloween night, diehard fans of Frankenstein will be haunting a new scholarly Web site devoted to Mary Shelley and her family.

With a $300,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, scholars, librarians and computer scientists around the world have created a monster archive that for the first time will stitch together the manuscripts of Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley, who started writing “Frankenstein” when she was just 19 years old.

Online users of the new Shelley-Godwin Archive will be able to see Shelley’s manuscript of “Frankenstein” with all the traces of her literary surgery. In a statement about the new site, Neil Fraistat, director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, explains, “We encoded each stage of the composition process, tracing the revisionary evolution of primary manuscripts from rough draft to final copy.”

Fraistat and others involved in the creation of this site will speak on Halloween at 6 p.m. in the New York Public Library. This is also a rare chance to see a 1818 first edition of “Frankenstein” and related illustrations and photographs from early theatrical and film productions.  (The presentation is free, but you need reservations. E-mail elizabethdenlinger@nypl.org or call 212-930-0717.)

As the archive grows, it will eventually include selections from Mary Shelley’s journals, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poetry, novels by William Godwin and other related material from libraries around the world.

This is the kind of resource that literary scholars have been dreaming about since the birth of the Internet, but such projects have been spooked by technological, logistical and legal complications. All hail these dark masters!

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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Ron Charles | October 24, 2013