A view into her thoughts
One of the most effective ways to address Mary Shelley, the woman, is to locate personal items which provide a glimpse into her personality and thoughts. By examining a person’s handwriting, secrets are revealed and clues provided as to their owner’s character. There is no better place to start than with Charles E. Robinson’s The Frankenstein Notebooks. The two volumes are unique in that they provide facsimiles of Shelley’s original handwritten manuscripts with revisions by Mary and Percy Shelley, along with side by side notes and translations by Robinson.
In his introduction, Robinson tells his readers that
"these collations and parallel texts are valuable tools by which a reader can and should learn that a text or literary product involves a literary process that must be understood before any attempt is made to fix a text, whether fix is understood to mean establish or make firm and unchanging or emend and therefore change" (xxvii).
The most useful section of the Frankenstein Notebooks in regards to the web project based on Volume II, Chapters V & VI, is found on page 318 in Part I. Here, we are made privy to the evolution of Safie’s name. Although a minor character, Safie has a big impact on the creature and in turn, the novel. We see that Shelley put a great deal of thought into the meaning of her name. By reading Mary Shelley’s handwritten notes in the draft of Vol. II Ch. , page 60, we can plainly trace Shelley’s decision to discontinue the use of the name Maimouna, which was crossed out, as was the second name, Amina. In the end, Shelley chooses the name Safie. This is relevant to the web chapters in that the history of these names can be incorporated into the understanding of the text. Robinson’s notes to this effect provide much needed background for character analysis, and shows that Mary Shelley continued to make revisions well into her final draft. Robinson also notes the possible reasons behind the name change. This information supports the web project for those chapters which include Safie, namely Volume II, Chapters V & VI, and will be incorporated as such.
By observing Shelley’s revisions, we begin to see her thought process and are able to better understand and answer some of the questions that arise while reading Frankenstein. The information found in The Frankenstein Notebooks is an invaluable blueprint for those that choose to spend the time to examine it.