A bit battered, cover dulled and scratched, this was my first copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, an Airmont Classic paperback from 1963.
The novel had been available in popularly priced editions throughout the twentieth century, usually part of a collection of famous titles conveniently in the public domain.
Airmont’s titles included Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Dickens’ Oliver Twist, and so on, the usual predictable list, all offered “Complete and Unabridged, With Introductions”. Frankenstein was the 19th title in the series.
While earlier editions were often given upscale packaging, with artists like Lynd Ward and Nino Carbe providing illustrations, the paperback formula — ubiquitous today — consisted of the so-called “definitive” 1831 edition wrapped in simple covers and augmented by an original introduction of the literary persuasion. Typically, the Airmont paperback carries a short essay by Mary M. Threapleton that skims through Mary’s difficult life, the extraordinary circumstances of the ghost story contest at Villa Diodati, the theme of rejection by society, and the book as a forerunner of modern science-fiction. Ms. Threapleton edited and introduced numerous classic novels in the sixties and her name is associated with the Memorial University of Newfoundland, so I’m guessing English Lit teacher/expert.
The cover, uncredited, is at odds with the scholarly introduction and a back cover blurb stating that readers “familiar with the Hollywood movies of Frankenstein… may be surprised not to find themselves transported at once to a remote castle, complete with galvanic flashes and the inarticulate grunts of Boris Karloff”. The image of a pensive Frankenstein with books and retorts may be correct, book-wise, but he is presented against a background featuring a movie-inspired ramshackle cemetery and foreboding tower laboratory on a rocky hill. The Creature’s face, appearing menacingly in the darkened sky behind the title, sports the unmistakable tall forehead of Hollywood’s iconic Monster.
It’s now an established recipe for Frankenstein books: Look, it’s a work of literature, it has nothing to do with movie castles, bolt heads and grunting Karloffs… and here’s Boris on the cover anyway, just so you know you’re getting Frankenstein.