Grotesque Triple Decker: A Casual Scholar’s Description of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Nearly two centuries after its initial publication as a notorious “three-volume novel” of Victorian times (Bennett), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has often been combined into a single volume with added literary criticism and historical abstracts.

The revised 2003 edition of the Penguin Classics release contains relevant biographical material as well as a timeline of Shelley’s life, critical essays, and the associated works believed to have been written during Shelley’s infamous 1816 writing retreat, “A Fragment” by Lord Byron and John Polidori’s “The Vampyre: A Tale.”

As a classic work contained in the public domain, Frankenstein has seen a massive amount of publications and reprints (even during Shelley’s lifetime, specifically when asked by Henry Colburn & Richard Bentley to release a heavily revised, single volume (Shelley)).

The Penguin Classics edition represents the standard approach many publishers have taken in regards to what is often considered the first “true” science fiction novel; measuring seven and a half inches by five and a half inches and containing 273 pages, the novel is compact enough for the casual reader to carry with ease (in fact, much of its thickness of seven-tenths of an inch is composed of extra scholarly material). The discrepancies between the 1831 edition and the grittier 1818 version are accounted for by including an appendix containing comparisons between the two editions.

Furthermore, the Penguins Classics edition contains a mere two images: the first is a detail from Nicolai Abildgaard’s  The Wounded Philoctetes (1775) (supplied by the Statens Museum fur Kunst in Copenhagen, Sweden) while the second is a facsimile of the first edition’s cover page as reproduced by the British Library. As a Classical Greek hero exiled from the Greeks for ten years, the anguish depicted on his face on the cover adequately reflects the ostracism of Frankenstein’s monster. Aside from these considerations, Penguin’s version of the text continues the publishing companies trend of black finish on the trimming and back cover with the story’s synopsis laid out in a white, sans serif font.

The actual content of the book is set in PostScript Adobe Sabon by Rowland Phototypesetting Ltd in Suffolk while the book was printed in England by Clays Limited. Interestingly enough, the editors chose to divide the novel into the original three volumes of the initial printing (a decision that isn’t reflected, for example, in the free Kindle version in Amazon’s Kindle store). The paper on which the text is printed on what Penguin Books proudly touts as Forest Stewardship Council certified paper. As a mass produced book, perfect binding is used to hold the signatures, or groups of sheets, together while a justified alignment of text further highlights Penguin’s mass production tendencies (Monroig). The combination of a justified text adjustment with this edition’s leading creates what BFA Design student, Daniel Monroig, says is a confusing format in which large gaps between words makes it easy for readers to lose track of lines.

Despite this edition’s attempt at using to extra resource material to contextualize Shelley’s story and plump up the novel, Penguin’s Classics isn’t my favorite version of this classic. Despite Paul Hunter’s scathing views on both Penguin’s and the Oxford World Classics, I prefer the latter version’s thoughtful consideration as to both the technical formatting and literary criticism.

A redeeming property of the Penguin edition, however, is the inclusion of an extensive “Further Reading” index which includes the authoritative Frankenstein Notebooks (which maintains both Mary and husband, Percy Shelley’s manuscript notes). As Hunter states, both editions are meant for the “casual scholar,” which, in turn, accounts for Penguin’s cheap adjustment and leading techniques meant to facilitate mass production.  Both versions, however, trump the sloppy, yet free, Kindle version which ignores proper paragraph indentation and refuses to divide the book into its original three volumes by merely numbering the chapters.


Miley Cyrus — “We Can’t Stop”

After witnessing Miley Cyrus’ intense bout of media spectatorship this past year (centered primarily on a fickle engagement to Liam Hemsworth), one might hope that the Disney alumnus would take the opportunity to defend her openly criticized affairs in her much anticipated summer release.

“We Can’t Stop,” however, not only fails to invoke the personal but also reinforces the same philosophy that jeopardized her career with “Can’t Be Tamed”: conformity. Lines such as “To my homegirls here with the big butts/Shaking it like we at a strip club” and the rampant Red Solo cups littering the single cover capitalize on college party-scene consumers. Despite assertions of a maturing musical direction, “We Can’t Stop” shows Cyrus resorting to targeting the now-collegiate generation that first brought her fame in her Hannah Montana days.

Aligned with the electronic minimalist leanings of her previous album’s cuts, “We Can’t Stop” also offers flashes of the hip-hop promised in Cyrus’ recent CNN interview. Released a year after her country Youtube performances entitled Backyard Sessions, “We Can’t Stop” shows Cyrus swapping intimate performances for generic productions meant to cater to —rather than move— an already loyal fan base.

Demi Lovato, Unbroken

“And I just ran out of Band-Aids,” belts Demi Lovato on the swooping ballad, “Fix A Heart”. Naturally, this seems like an understatement for what one of Disney’s most popular teen divas has experienced this past year. With the publicity of Lovato’s struggles with bulimia  and self-mutilation piled on top of the departure from the TV hit, Sonny With A Chance, it would seem Lovato would need more than First Aid kit necessities to help her.
Still, the ballad showcases the best –and worst– of her latest album, Unbroken. The most striking element of Lovato’s latest record is the showcasing of her undeniable vocal talent. At only 18-years old, Sonny With A Chance’s has a level of vocal prowess and stamina that fellow Disney queens, Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, will probably never achieve.  On ballads such as synth choir soaked “Lightweight” and the empowerment anthem of a lead single, “Skyscraper”, Lovato conquers demanding vocal sweeps with a precision that gives credence to producer and One-Republic frontman Ryan Tedder’s praising of Lovato as a “Kelly Clarkson level vocalist”. Although such ballads prove to be only a minority of the record’s contents, they are Lovato’s most poignant moments, suggesting that Lovato may eventually be capable of breaking free from her Disney roots.
The majority of Unbroken, however, still has Lovato chanting along to bubblegum pleasures that sound as limited as that of any artist still under contract by Disney. The, Timbaland and Missy Elliot featuring club-stomper “All Night Long” includes a superb example of the cliche lines that flood the album’s high-paced tunes: “Let’s keep the party going all night long/All night long.” Despite featuring A-list guests, tracks such as “You’re My Only Shorty” (featuring Iyez), the peace rallying of the Jason Derulo duet “Together” and the guilty pleasure “Who’s That Boy” are at moments laughable with their boring cameos and lukewarm pop rhythms.
While Lovato certainly has the stadium crowding vocals of any chart topper today, the poor songwriting and faux assertiveness of Unbroken stifle the potential for a promising record by refusing to let Demi take off the Mickey Mouse ears.

Rihanna, ‘Loud’

After the notorious Rihanna-Chris Brown abuse case stormed tabloid columns and blogs, both critics and Rihanna’s followers alike accurately predicted the gothic, distorted R&B of her previous album, Rated R. Still, once news about Rihanna’s return to the studio to create Rated R’s follow-up surfaced, everyone asked the same question: Where would pop’s leading lady take her musical stylings now?
Upon listening to Rihanna’s fifth studio album, Loud, the answer becomes immediately obvious. Producers and songwriters keep the music scene’s most current diva even more relevant by making her latest attempt a compilation of her past albums’ styles. Despite the irony in this formula, it works. On the popular singles, “S&M” and “Only Girl (In The World), Rihanna heralds the return to the top-seller Good Girl Gone Bad’s dance-pop leanings. Meanwhile, songs like the Avril Lavigne sampling, weekend warrior anthem “Cheers (Drink To That) and the murder confessional “Man Down” feature flashbacks to the island girl’s Caribbean homages on Music Of The Sun. As the disc’s highlight, “Man Down” is a sonic smoothie of the Bob Marley style vocals and rhythms that blazed across her debut, and the shady story lines that marked 2009’s Rated R as the year’s eeriest musical thriller.
Still, a fashionista knows that one cannot go retro without solid grounding in the present. Keeping this in mind, Loud threads a sense of maturity and freshness throughout, making it a stylish competitor for Hit Album of the Year.

Matt Duke, ‘One Day Die’

As the followup to 2008’s folksy Kingdom Underground, Matt Duke’s One Day Die shows the promising musician’s ventures into harder, more experimental rock. In songs like “Kangaroo Court”, a speedy rocker with distorted vocals akin to Lindsey Buckingham’s solo work, and the Eagles-esque “Shangri-La”, Duke’s writing promises more texture while still showcasing his talent for irresistible hooks. Duke’s religious undertones are still in full force on the single “Needle & Thread”, and the eerie, small-town commentary “M.L.T.” As a comfortable blend of familiar and radical, One Day Die solidifies Matt Duke as contender for King of The Underground.