Contemporary Reviews of Frankenstein

by Victoria Machado
Early Reviews

Like the reception of most novels in all eras, the reviews of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein were mixed. John William Croker’s review, which appeared in January of 1818, takes a decidedly sarcastic tone. Croker describes Victor’s preparation for his experiment in reanimating the dead as: “he traced through vaults and charnel-houses the decay and corruption of the human body, and whilst engaged in this agreeable pursuit…” (Croker 373) Croker also humorously points out the unlikelihood that the Creature would have had access to the particular collection of books that provide his education. This review’s goal appears to be discouraging anyone from reading the book by providing a summary of the entire novel, and by declaring the story to be “a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity” (Croker 376) and its author to be potentially as insane as the hero. The entire tone of the review is similar to those snarky recaps of films and television shows that appear in several sites on the internet, so the review is more entertaining than it is edifying.

            For the most part, Walter Scott’s review takes a more serious tone, but like Croker, he humorously remarks that the likelihood of the Creature’s self-education could have had him just as easily learning single and double entry bookkeeping. The most interesting aspect of the review is the observation that because of his long oratory, the Creature “loses…some part of the mysterious sublimity annexed to his first appearance” (Scott 380). The review also provides the provocative contention that the Creature’s motivations should have remained a mystery.  Scott would probably have preferred the early film versions of the novel.

            The anonymous review in the Literary Panorama opens by declaring that the novel is a pale imitation of the work of Mary Shelley’s father, William Godwin. The reviewer had no idea that in the future the work of William Godwin would rarely be read, while Frankenstein would endure. The author of Frankenstein is described as “occasionally puts forth indications of talent” (LP 390). This review was written several months after the novel was published, and declares that expectations were raised due to “injudicious praises” (LP 390) which suggests that the novel had been well received for the most part. 


                                                          Works Cited

Croker, John Wilson. "Quarterly Review 18" {January 1818}. Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 2nd ed. Ed.    Susan J. Wolfson. New York: Longman, 2007. 372-77.

Scott, Walter. "Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine 12" {March 1818}. 377-82.

"The Literary Panorama and National Register,New series 8" {1 June 1818} 390-91