Electronic Edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

University of Maryland’s Romantic Circles, edited by Neil Fraistat, Steven E. Jones, is a wide-ranging digital resource that focuses on the literature and culture of the Romantic period. The project, described as a “refereed scholarly Website,” is organized around several cross-referenced categories, including RC Blog, a weblog for news and announcements; Electronic Editions, an archive of refereed electronic editions of primary texts; Praxis Series, a digital journal of critical and theoretical essays; Scholarly Resources, a collection of chronologies, indexes, bibliographies, and links to related websites; Reviews, original online reviews of print and electronic publications; Pedagogies, a resource for teachers and professors of Romantic Studies; and MOO, a platform for “discussions, meetings, and online gaming.” With such a broad selection of materials, Romantic Circles is an invaluable resource to anyone with interest in the Romantic period, ranging from high school students to experts in the field. Despite the scope of the project, the materials presented are of consistent quality and reliability—a testament to the high standard of collaborative scholarship among contributors, editors, and the distinguished Advisory Board that oversees the website.

The website’s design, usability, and navigation features, however, leave much to be desired. The Romantic Circles logo that appears on the page header of every section does not always link to the home page (it often links to the same page one is currently viewing); neither does the “Home” icon that appears right below the logo. The website contains many “dead” links, especially in the older sections. The “Advanced Search” function, though cleverly designed, is rather limited. For example, one cannot search the electronic edition of Frankenstein by using the “Electronic Editions” section of the “Advanced Search” page—the edition is simply not listed there. Neither was I able to search this particular edition by going to the home page of the “Electronic Editions” (http://www.rc.umd.edu/editions/): a search for “Plutarch” returned only four results, none from Frankenstein. The only successful search was from the home page of the edition (http://www.rc.umd.edu/editions/frankenstein/).

Described as a “searchable archive of texts of the Romantic era, enhanced by technology made possible in an online environment,” the Electronic Editions section of the website gives an impression of technologically sophisticated scholarship with a scale of presentation and functional features that are impossible in print—something along the lines of the innovative vision the editor of Frankenstein, Stuart Curran, initially had for his project:

. . . a complete conceptual framework for the novel . . . with a library of the elements that formed its exceptional intertextual echo chamber: the Creature’s reading list, the contemporary scientific discourse everywhere informing the discourse, the relevant history of polar exploration, etc.
(Curran, “Introduction”)

However, this edition—like many others—faced a number of problems: the scope of the project and the impossibility of providing every text that influenced the novel—especially since Frankenstein is a highly intertextual work; technological limitations; and funding, especially once the editor recognized the cost of the royalties that such project entailed (“Introduction”). The project’s unrealistic, though ambitious scope and lack of funding meant that it would be in a constant state of development. Romantic Circles released what can be best described as a temporary solution—a basic electronic scholarly edition that includes both texts of Frankenstein with abundant annotations and bibliography. Furthermore, the edition contains several study aids such as “Plot Summary” and “In Popular Culture,” and links to relevant resources within Romantic Circles. As with other sections of the website, the edition contains some “dead” links to annotations. For example, clicking on “I sympathised” in paragraph 5 of chapter 15 (1831) will bring up an empty window instead of an annotation. Despite the high quality scholarly apparatus and the accuracy of primary texts, the Romantic Circles edition of Frankenstein is far from Curran’s initial vision for the project, and although he claims that the novel includes “copious annotation that would not be viable in a traditional printed format” (“Introduction”), I do not see many advantages of this electronic edition over any standard scholarly print edition of Frankenstein. In “About this Edition,” Curran briefly mentions the encoding standard for this edition. Perhaps the value of this edition lies in behind-the-scenes tagging of the text, something that future editors will be able to use to produce their own, more comprehensive solution that would be one step closer to Curran’s vision.

Works Cited

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Ed. Stuart Curran. Romantic Circles Electronic Editions.<http://www.rc.umd.edu/editions/frankenstein/>.