Shelf Life – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Illustrated by Lynd Ward
In the spirit of Halloween, we decided that this week Shelf Life should be devoted to what is probably one of the greatest and most enduring horror stories in literature. This week we’re talking about a beautiful edition of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, illustrated by one of our favorite illustrators Lynd Ward.
We hadn’t heard of the illustrator Lynd Ward prior to seeing this edition but immediately fell in love with his work. His line work is sublime, very refined and each composition is carefully executed, reminiscent of Art Deco influences. Lynd was one of America’s preeminent illustrators of the 20th century. He illustrated countless books and he’s also credited with being one of the originators of the graphic novel. His wordless novels, “Gods’ Man” and “Book of Hours”, inspired in part by the work of Masereel, are beautiful examples of visual storytelling. If you’d like to learn more about Ward’s life, there is a documentary about him produced by 217 Films. And there is also an upcoming exhibition of Ward’s work in New York’s Grolier Club.
This edition was published by the publishing company founded by Harrison Smith and Robert K. Haas. This edition was published in 1934, two years before they merged with Random House. Sadly there are no credits for the design of book, with its delicate typography and sensitive layout.
Frankenstein was published anonymously in 1818, but thanks to carefully kept diaries by both Mary & Percy Shelley, the book was eventually attributed to Mary Shelley. While on vacation in the Villa Diodati, near Geneva, with her husband the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, the infamous Lord Byron, his physician John Polidari, and Mary’s step-sister Claire Clairmont, they decided to have a writing party to see who could write the best horror story. Mary struggled to produce a story, until after a fitful night’s dream (apparently stimulated by long days and nights discussing the science and theories of animating objects, attributed to scientists like Darwin and Luigi Galvani) she awoke from a nightmare and penned a short story revolving around the idea of a re-animated corpse. Initially, Mary thought of the story as no more than a “short tale” created among friends, but with her husband’s encouragement she kept working on it, and in the process created one of the most influential novels of all time.
Interestingly, it’s a common mistake to confer the name Frankenstein to the creature itself, when in actuality it was the scientists’ surname. The creature is never called by any name, though it’s referred to as “monster,” “creature,” “demon,” “devil,” “fiend,” “wretch,” and “it.” When speaking to Dr. Frankenstein, the creature refers to itself as “Adam” or “the Adam of your labors,” referring, of course, to the book of Genesis in the Bible.
We hope you all enjoyed this post & enjoy your Halloween!