Frankenstein, a terrific sale: first edition sold for 1.17 million dollars

The gothic novel by celebrated author Mary Shelley broke the world auction record for a work by a woman, with a sale of $ 1,170,000. The classic Frankenstein, or “The Modern Prometheus”, arose in the writer’s imagination when she was only 18, almost for fun. 

In the spring of 1816, Mary, her half-sister Claire Clairmont and her husband Percy decided to spend their summer holidays on Lake Geneva, at Villa Diodati in the company of Lord Byron, who was having an affair with Claire at the time, and John William Polidori, a doctor of Italian origin. The summer of that year, in reality, was unusual, with incessant rains and low temperatures. The unfavorable climatic conditions, the group of friends was often forced to spend whole days at home. A very welcome pastime was reading German stories of monsters and ghosts from the then recent “Phantasmagorian” anthology. This type of scary stories inspired Byron’s proposal to write, for a challenge, a ghost story. It was this event that generated, during the night, a powerful vision in Mary, which led to the writing of the novel Frankenstein: “I saw – with my eyes closed but with a sharp mental perception – the pale scholar of profane arts kneeling next to the” thing “that had put together. I saw the hideous silhouette of a man lying down, and then, upon the entry into operation of some powerful machinery, I saw him show signs of life and move with an awkward, almost vital movement. A terrifying thing, because terrifying would have been the result of any human attempt to imitate the wonderful mechanism of the Creator of the world” said the author.

Thus, she began writing Frankenstein, with the following words: “It was on a dreary night of November…”, but it took nine months to complete the work, and she did not lack the encouragement of her husband Percy. The novel was published anonymously in 1818, with a circulation of 500 copies by the publisher Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones, enjoying great success and many theatrical adaptations. A revised edition of the novel was published in 1831, with the author’s name.

For the auction of the first edition copy, experts initially estimated that the first edition copy would sell for between $ 200,000 and $ 300,000. But the auction went much better than expected, with the participation of buyers from all over the world. The sale even broke the record held by a first edition of Jane Austen’s “Emma” from 1816, which was sold in 2008 for about 175,000 euros.

A spokesperson for the well-known auction house Christie’s said: “The first edition in its original plates is incredibly fragile and consequently very scarce, so a copy like this, particularly in good condition, is highly desirable for collectors. Overall it is a very strong market and we are seeing an increase in demand for excellent examples of literary successes”. 

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