Review of Frankenstein from The Athenaeum


Though written by Percy Bysshe Shelley as an apparently pre-emptive review of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in case of hostile criticism, this review was not published until 1832, 14 years after the original publication of the novel. The Athanaeum was a literary magazine that employed some of the most regarded writers of the day to review new works.

What areas of the novel does Shelley critique?

Shelley’s assessment is based on his personal experience of reading the book. He notes how it becomes more and more exciting as it goes on, describing it as original and complete, meaning uninfluenced by other works, although he later mentions one instance that might be imitative. He compares the climactic argument between Frankenstein and the monster to a passage from Caleb Williams by William Godwin, Mary’s father (and the dedicatee of the book). There is no reluctance to include a spoiler – it was common for reviews at the time to outline the plot. 

How does the review relate Frankenstein to Percy Shelley’s own work? 

Shelley references mountains to describe his experience of reading the book, a reminder that he was writing the poem ‘Mont Blanc’ at the time Mary was working on Frankenstein. The environment is an aspect Shelley also emphasises in his preface to the 1818 edition. He examines the way the monster turns against the world as a direct result of his treatment. For Shelley this is an example of the philosophical idea he defined as necessity, ‘an immense and uninterrupted chain of causes and effects’, which is explored in ‘Mont Blanc’ and is ‘the direct moral’ of Frankenstein. He points out that the monster’s mind is formed by impressions, and thus a conflict is created between Frankenstein monster’s good intentions (moments at which he is ‘affectionate and full of moral sensibility’) and the reactions of those around him to his ‘tremendous’ (frightening) appearance.

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