Science Fiction Studies

#76 = Volume 25, Part 3 = November 1998



“The Wonderful Effects of Steam”: More Percy Shelley Words in Frankenstein? With the publication of Charles E. Robinson’s magisterial two- volume edition of The Frankenstein Notebooks: A Facsimile Edition of Mary Shelley’s Manuscript Novel, 1816-17 (NY: Garland, 1996), we now have a good deal of precise knowledge about the words and suggestions that Percy Shelley contributed to Mary Shelley’s novel. By my count his contribution to the Frankenstein manuscripts (what has survived of the Last Draft and the Fair Copy) and therefore to the 1818 text (and beyond) amounts to some 4,500 words, about 6% of the total. My figure depends upon counting each complete word that originates with Percy as one word, and such alterations of Mary’s words as tense changes or changes from the singular to the plural, or the reverse, as half words. But my total has to be less than Percy Shelley’s actual total contribution to Frankenstein. We know nothing of his contribution to what Robinson calls the “ur-text” of Frankenstein—the draft (or drafts) no longer extant that preceded the Last Draft, most of which survives (unlike the Fair Copy) and is transcribed in Robinson’s edition. Percy Shelley may well have contributed some words to that ur-text that found their way into the Last Draft. Some of the differences between the extant Last Draft and the 1818 edition (and between the surviving fragments of the Fair Copy and the 1818 edition) may also derive from his interventions. We know that Percy Shelley made changes in the proofs of Frankenstein, but we cannot identify most of these changes since the proofs, and the revisions, no longer exist. Clearly, there is a whole dimension of Percy Shelley’s contribution to Frankenstein that must remain forever a mystery.              

My purpose here, however, is to point to nine words in the 1818 and 1823 editions of Frankenstein (but not in the revised 1831 edition, in which the section containing these words is rewritten) that might well be Percy Shelley’s (directly or indirectly), although they are not so identified in The Frankenstein Notebooks. The context in the Last Draft is the insert pages describing Frank-enstein’s shift from the old occult philosophers to modern science, pages written around the time Mary Shelley wrote the end of Last Draft Chapter 3 (perhaps intended to precede Last Draft Chapter 4—which begins in the midst of the 1818 Chapter II in James Rieger’s edition [1974; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982] at page 40, line 18—but more likely intended to precede Last Draft Chapter 3 [1818 Chapter II]). Subsequently, these pages were split into two portions, which in the 1818 text lie on either side of the paragraph in Chapter I that describes the fifteen-year-old Frankenstein’s experience of seeing an oak tree struck by lightning. For a more concrete sense of these complicated manoeuvers see Robinson’s edition (1: xxxvi [First Insert Pages], lxxxii [27 October 1816], 15-37) and my “Frankenstein’s ‘Conversion’ from Natural Magic to Modern Science–and a Shifted (and Converted) Last Draft Insert,” SFS 24 (March 1997): 57-78. What might be nine Percy Shelley words appear in the 1818 and 1823 paragraph preceding the one-sentence paragraph that precedes the tree-struck-by-lightning incident. What follows is my transcription of the relevant portion of the draft insert, with Percy Shelley’s revisions in italics (cf. Robinson 1: 22-23); the 1818 text (London: Lackington, et. al., I: 55-56, as reprinted in Rieger 34.20-26) appearing in a parallel column to the right:


The natural phænomena that takes
place every day before our eyes did not
escape my examinations. I remember The
fermentation of liquors - distillation of which 
                   or ⊙ [?]                   
my favourite authors were utterly ignorant  
excited my astonishment, but my utmost  
             engaged by some experiments  electrical machine
wonder was caused by an air pump
             employed  on an air pump
which I saw used by a gentleman whom   
we were in the habit of visiting.  

The natural phænomena that take
place every day before our eyes did not
escape my examinations. 
Distillation, and the wonderful  effects of
steam, processes of which
my favourite authors were utterly ignorant,
excited my astonishment, but my utmost   
wonder was engaged by some experiments
on an air-pump,
which I saw employed by a gentleman whom
we were in the habit of visiting. 


(Percy’s two letters in “examinations” are written over Mary’s mistakenly switched “n” and “m.”) The Percy Shelley marks under “distillation” (the underline indicating that the word be retained?) which I read speculatively as “or ⊙”—“or” followed by some kind of symbol—is speculatively rendered in Robinson’s transcription as “{?no}” and is speculatively applied to the word “utterly” in the line below. In his footnote to what is line number 18 in Robinson’s transcription, he suggests “PBS ?no possibly denies that these authors were ‘utterly ignorant.’” If that were the case, why, one might wonder, was the “utterly ignorant” not changed?                

In looking at the actual manuscript page, it is not so obvious that Percy Shelley’s insert refers to “utterly.” The circular figure, which is clearly separate from the “n” or “or” or whatever letter(s) that precede(s) it, grazes the line under “distillation.” Here I must simply refer the interested reader to the photographic reproduction on page 22 of volume 1 of Robinson’s edition.               

Whatever Percy Shelley wrote, it does not look like “no”: for one thing there is too large a space between the circular figure and whatever precedes it, and for another there is definitely a mark within the circle. I would maintain that Percy’s marks relate to “distillation” and that the “⊙” is definitely a symbol. Perhaps that symbol merely refers Mary Shelley to an alternative or addition that Percy had written on a scrap of paper similar, perhaps, to the scrap that has been torn from the foot of this manuscript page (or, less likely, the same scrap). If this were true, the additional words that  appear in the 1818 and 1823 texts and that are absent in the Last Draft are, directly or indirectly, Percy Shelley’s. Certainly, as the page survives, there are no margins top, bottom, or either side where he might have directly written these words or commented in a way that would have led Mary to insert those words.                

The natural phenomena that Mary lists in her draft (whether deleted or not), and in the 1818 and 1823 editions of Frankenstein, all involve observable physical transformations (in the last case from life to death for whatever animal is in an airtight container when the air is pumped out; see Joseph Wright’s famous painting, “An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump” [1768]). And the word “distillation,” it might be noted, is both the term for a modern scientific procedure and an alchemical term. Surely Mary or Percy began to cancel the word because the alchemical association might, at first, have appeared inappropriate in the present modern science context? It seems most likely, in fact, that Percy’s “or ⊙” was intended to draw Mary’s attention to this inconsistency. As Carol McGuirk helpfully informed me by letter, a “circle circumscribing a central the old alchemical symbol for gold (and the sun).” Percy is indicating by what seems to be the notation “or alchemy” that the word distillation can also refer to a stage in the alchemical enterprise of turning base metal into gold. The nine added words can, then, be viewed, to an extent, as inspired by—a way of underlining—the purely modern scientific meaning of distillation. Distillation initially involves converting a liquid or a solid into a gas or vapor and then condensing the gas or vapor into a liquid; one method uses steam. What should also be noted here is the connection between the possible Percy words—“and the wonderful effects of steam processes”—and the “electrical machine” that Percy momentarily substitutes for Mary’s “air pump.” The common denominator is electricity, the power that, the lightning-struck-tree passage suggests, animates the monster. Among “the wonderful effects of steam,” harnessed most dramatically by James Watt in 1769 to run an efficient engine (is Percy’s symbol a representation of a piston in a cylinder?), would be electricity, electricity generated by a steam- driven dynamo. But it was not until 1884 that Sir Charles Algernon Parsons produced the first practical steam turbine. It seems likely that Percy Shelley’s knowledge of science (both actual and prophetic) exceeded Mary Shelley’s, and that here Percy is contributing significantly to the touches that make Frankenstein the most important example of proto-sf.—David Ketterer, Concordia University.I. F. Clarke and the Pioneer Award.


The Science Fiction Research Association recently announced the recipient of this year’s Pioneer Award: I.F. Clarke’s “Future–War Fiction: The First Main Phase, 1871-1900,” published in SFS 24.3 (November 1997): 387-412. The Award Committee praised the article’s “scholarship in bringing to light the historical details of an often forgotten segment of the SF field” and balancing this information with a strong sense of larger social and cultural contexts.


Nevil Shute Conference. The Nevil Shute Society is sponsoring an inaugural conference and celebration of the centennial of Nevil Shute (1899-1960) from 15-17 January 1999 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. David Stevens, director of the PBS miniseries “A Town Like Alice,” is scheduled to speak at the banquet. Panels will discuss topics ranging from Shute’s female characters and para-normal concepts in his novels to spiritual concepts in his fiction and Shute as engineer/philosopher/writer. Inquiries should be directed to the Centennial Coordinator: Dick Telfair <>, 808 Tramway Lane NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87122; (505) 856-6774; FAX 856-7603.


SFRA Conference. The 1999 Science Fiction Research Association Conference will be held June 2-6 at the Radisson Hotel in Mobile, Alabama. The conference theme will be “Southern Accents in Science Fiction.” Andy Duncan, the program director, explains the emphasis: “Many science fiction writers live in the South, are native to the South, or have spent many formative or productive years in the South. Their fiction uses Southern settings, Southern characters, Southern themes.” Michael Bishop, whose sf well illustrates Duncan’s point, will be Guest of Honor. Send all paper or panel proposals to <>. 


IAFA Anniversary Conference. The 20th International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts will be held March 17-21, 1999 in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Brian Aldiss is Guest of Honor, John Clute is Guest Scholar, and Kim Stanley Robinson is Special Guest. The conference theme is Utopia and Dystopia. Readers of SFS are invited to join IAFA in Fort Lauderdale to mark this milestone anniversary. Of special interest will be the panels and presentations organized through the Science Fiction Literature & Theory Division. The SF Division Head is Rob Latham, Department of English, University of Iowa (<>). Following is a list of suggested topics within the Science Fiction Division for ICFA-20: Intersections of SF and Utopian/ Dystopian Literature; Brian Aldiss, Author and Scholar; Kim Stanley Robin-son’s Orange County Trilogy; Feminist Utopias: Theory and Practice; H.G. Wells and the Anti-Utopian Tradition; Brave New Worlds: The Utopian/ Dystopian Strain in Contemporary SF; Comic Infernos: Dystopia in 1950s American SF; H.P. Lovecraft and SF; Victorianism and Utopia: Progress and its Pitfalls in Edward Bellamy, William Morris, and Samuel Butler. Also planned are sessions on More, Bellamy, Zamiatin, Huxley, Orwell, Marge Piercy, and others. ICFA also welcomes proposals relevant to its other divisions: Fantastic Literature in English, The Fantastic in Film and Media, Horror Literature, The Fantastic in Popular Culture and Visual Arts, and International Fantastic Literature. All papers presented at the conference are considered for publication in the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, IAFA’s interdisciplinary quarterly, and in the annual conference proceedings volume published by Greenwood Press. Those interested may visit the IAFA website at <> for further information about the Call for Papers, IAFA membership, conference registration, graduate student awards, and more.


Popular Culture Association Convention. The 1999 National Convention of the Popular Culture Association will be held at the San Diego Marriott between March 31-April 3, 1999. The Science Fiction/Fantasy area has solicited papers on topics ranging from “Chaos Theory in SF” to “Postcolonial SF and Fantasy.” Other panels projected: Propaganda in SF, SF’s Aliens, Psycho-analysis and SF, Gene Roddenberry’s Legacy, Spielberg’s Influence, Robert A. Heinlein, SF’s Invented Religions, Syndication vs. Network SF, and Medie-valism in SF.Sf in Catalan. “Sebastià,” participant in Rede Global Paraliteraria, an electronic discussion group concentrating on non-Anglophone sf (see SFS 25 [July 1998]: 398), recently posted a bibliography of sf published in Catalan, a language spoken in Catalonia, País Valencià, Illes Balears (Spain), Andorra,  North Catalonia (France) and L’Alguer (Italy).
                Series: Titles of short novels appearing in “Ciència-ficció,” a series published by Pagès editors (Bobalaà, 4. 25004 LLEIDA. Catalonia [Spain]):
                “Més enllà de l’equació QWR,” Ricard de la Casa.
                “Llibre de tot,” by Antoni Munné-Jordà.
                “Els silencis d’Eslet,” by Jordi Solé-Camardons.
                “Sota pressió,” by Ricard de la Casa.
                “La gesta d’Utnoa,” by Abel Montagut.
                “La llavor del mal,” by Juan Miguel Aguilera and Ricardo Lázaro.
                “Nàufrags en la nit,” by Eduardo Gallego and Guillem Sànchez.
                Anthology: Futurs Imperfectes, ed. Antoni Munné-Jordà (Publisher: Edicions 62, Barcelona. El Cangur Plus, 247. First edition: July 1997). Futurs imperfectes contains a historical introduction to Catalan sf by Antoni Munné-Jordà and the following stories: “Un somni futurista espaterrant” by Pompeu Gener (1910); “El llamp blau” by Joaquim M. de Nadal (1935); “El malson” by Antoni Ribera (1953); “L’espiral” by Pere Calders (1956); “Debat a l’ONU” by Sebastià Estradé (1961); “La vedellada de míster Bigmoney” by Pere Verdaguer (1967);  “El marcià poeta” by Màrius Lleget (1967); “Darrer comunicat de la terra” by Manuel de Pedrolo (1973); “La tele del passat” by Lluís Busquets I Grabulosa (1967); “La Droga” by Roser Cardús (1982); “Cabòries (Memòries d’una rata de Skinner)” by Esteve Freixa (1980); “Domesticació de la memòria” by Avel•lí Artís-Gener (1980); “Històries” by Joan Crexell (1980; “La computadora incriminada” by Víctor Mora  (1981); and “Suïcidi d’estat” by Josep Albanell (1985).
                Magazines: The fanzine Dinamo is praised as “witty and surrealistic” (price: 395 pessetes; publisher: Grup Freaks; address: Apartat de Correus 22048. 08080 Barcelona, Catalonia (Spain). Another periodical mentioned is SC2F2: News Bulletin of SCCFF (Catalan Society of SF and Fantasy), a quarterly published by AELC (Associació d’Escriptors en Llengua Catalana) Canuda, 6, 5è. 08002 Barcelona, Catalonia [Spain].
                Catalan SF homepages: DINAMOWEB. Web of the fanzine Dinamo: <>.
                SCCFF: Web page of the Catalan sf writers. Reviews, awards, netzines, bibliographies<>.


SFS Website Planned. The journal’s website, designed by Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., will be up and running later this winter. Prior contributors, please note: if you do not wish material previously published in SFS to appear on the SFS website, inform Art Evans immediately. The site will offer access to abstracts of all articles that have appeared in the journal since 1973, as well as the full text of book reviews, rare documents of sf, and—as they say on television—much, much more. 


Ed. Note: For some of the conferences listed in this issue, the deadline for paper proposals will have passed. It is unfortunate that SFS closes its Nov-ember issue early in September, around the time most Calls for Papers set their deadlines for Spring conferences. But we cannot provide conference information in the Summer issue unless the conference organizers send dates, deadlines and panel topics by early May (when the July issue closes). Please send conference information to the Notes editor (CM) as soon as panel topics have been defined and the dates set: the quickest way is through e-mail (see inside of front cover). Official correspondence (i.e., intended for publication), notes, and announcements are also best sent to me, electronically if possible.—CM 

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