February 20, 2008

The Covers of Frankenstein : Airmont Classic

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.


Anonymous said...

I remember this edition well, as it was the one sold through FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND's back pages "Captain Company" catalog. I had it and DRACULA for a several days before I studied the cover hard enough to see the ghostly image of the Monster's face -- your scan is much clearer than I remember the cover actually being. I read and held onto it with passion, until I saw the Bantam Books edition with James Bama's glorious rendition of the Boris Karloff test make-up. The Airmont edition was replaced in my library posthaste--!

Anonymous said...


I always loved the Airmont classics because...

...they were cheap!

When I first got to NYU, if you dug far enough back into those wire frames pb's used to be sold from, there'd be an old Airmont behind the costlier Bantam, or Pyramid, or whatever.

-Craig W.

rob! said...

amazing how famous the Frankenstein visage is that you didn't even need to put his face on the cover(at least not obviously).

Pierre Fournier said...

David: I, too, did not make out The Monster’s face for a long time. Of course, after I finally saw it, I couldn't help seeing it anymore.

I think the art may have been photographed and/or printed too dark. I made a straight scan of it and you are right, the face appears much clearer and, in fact, the colors, especially the reds and pinks, pop out more. As dark as the cover is, there’s no real black there, it’s dark brown.

By the way, this edition was available for a long time. Mine went for 50 cents, but I’ve seen copies of this book, same cover, with a $2.95 price tag.

Arbogast said...

I had that edition, too, albeit later on toward the end of the decade or possibly in the early 70s. I also had a hardbound edition of FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA together, which was pretty cool.

B-Sol said...

The edition of Frankenstein I have is one of those hardcover Barnes & Noble public domain editions. It actually has a publicity photo of Karloff from the first movie on the cover.