November 26, 2012

Frankenstein Abridged

As if conjured, The Monster rises like a supernatural apparition in this unsigned illustration of the creation scene from Frankenstein published in The New York Press of January 16, 1910.

There was a time when newspapers routinely published fiction. It is generally held that the runaway success of Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Paper, serialized in 1836, inspired publishers to syndicate popular novels in daily installments. The practice declined through the mid-1900s with serialized novels moving to periodicals and pulp magazines, though some papers continued running book serials well into the Sixties.

Frankenstein was running in newspapers by the late 1800s, but the curious version at hand is not a serial but rather an abridged story, formatted for a single broadsheet page, part of a series called “A Classic in a Page”. The story title is elaborately hand-drawn, with “Wollstonecraft” misspelled.

Author Julius Muller prominently copyrights his version of Mary Shelley’s public domain title. Muller’s name — sometimes as J. W. Muller — appears in the Library of Congress Catalog of Copyright Entries for 1909 as copyright owner for his versions of Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews, Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon and William Beckford’s Vathek. Muller is listed as a resident of Glen Falls, New York, and his publisher as Associated Literary Press of New York.

Muller begins with a short intro, evoking the famous story contest at Villa Diodati that inspired Mary Shelley. “The novelty of the idea,” Muller writes, the weird horror of the theme and the skill of the story’s construction, added to the purely literary excellences it contained, made it famous at once and its fame has endured now unabated for nearly a century.”

Using a descriptive third person voice for his adaptation, Muller cuts to the chase, drops the arctic opening and opens with Victor Frankenstein’s narrative. The main events are all here, up to the polar conclusion. Muller’s last paragraph reads, “The monster sprang through the open port and was lost in the darkness and the distance. Walton was obliged to return with his quest unsatisfied and he told to his relatives the strange story of Frankenstein, which they attributed to machinations bred by the Arctic solitudes.

Today, abridged version of Frankenstein are very common and in constant supply, usually pitched to younger readers, often embellished with illustrations. Back in 1910, Mary Shelley’s story had already served as inspiration for numerous adaptations, often derived from stage plays and increasingly removed from the original. Julius Muller’s ‘Classic in a Page’ Frankenstein of 1910 is an early attempt at condensing the novel itself, and it makes for an interesting curio.  

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