We began preparing a new digital encoding of the novel Frankenstein by returning to its first online text in Stuart Curran’s and Jack Lynch’s Pennsylvania Electronic Edition. That hypertext edition represented groundbreaking digital scholarship in the era of web 1.0, by deploying an interface for reading the 1818 and 1831 texts in juxtaposed parallel texts, using HTML frames now deprecated by the Worldwide Web Consortium. That edition prepared the novel in hundreds of distinct HTML files, representing a few paragraphs at a time to provide its comparison view of the 1818 and 1831 editions. The Pennsylvania Electronic Edition also gathered many hundreds of files of context, including editions of related poems like “The Witch of Atlas” and “The Revolt of Islam” together with scholarly articles, maps, glosses and annotations.

The Pennsylvania Electronic Edition was partially curated by Romantic Circles in a version of TEI, the XML language of the Text Encoding Initiative recommended for sustainable transfer and long-range storage of digital editions. According to Neil Fraistat, the HTML publication of the 1818 and 1831 editions has become Romantic Circles’ most-visited site. However, the HTML “skeleton” of the Pennsylvania Electronic Edition posed a serious problem to convert to TEI, and the TEI first produced from the HTML consisted of minimal TEI renderings of HTML tags – mainly presentational rather than semantic markup. Though the TEI provides critical apparatus markup for storing alternate versions of passages and for storing multiple editions in a single XML document, the first TEI edition of Frankenstein for Romantic Circles preserved the 1818 and 1831 texts in separate documents. A representation of the texts in comparison appears via Juxta Commons, but there are problems with the differentiation of long texts using the Juxta algorithm.

Our work on the project has involved returning to the code of Curran’s and Lynch’s electronic editions of the 1818 and 1831 texts, and converting its HTML tags into simple XML marking the structure of the document. (Click here for details.) New with our Variorum is a text-based digital edition of the 1823 publication supervised by William Godwin, the first edition to show Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s name on the title page. We prepared this plain text edition from OCR of the 1823 edition, derived via ABBYY Finereader, and formatted like our plain texts of the 1818 and 1823. Throughout this process we have been correcting our new and restored digital texts against photo facsimiles of the originals.

We then prepared all editions to be compared with one another with computer-aided collation. To create the TEI variorum, we prepared all the print editions with the same XML elements, and then we “flattened” those elements as self-closing milestone markers for collation, because the collation process needs to be able to locate alterations that collapse or open up new paragraphs and chapters. We similarly flattened the markup of the Shelley-Godwin archive texts, and we wrote an algorithm in Python to exclude page surface and line markers from the collation, because our process compares what we think of as semantic structures; thus, the paragraphing, the chapter, the volume boundaries matter where the page boundaries and lineation do not. When the editions are thus prepared in comparable “flat” XML, we process them with CollateX, which locates the points of variance (or “deltas”) and outputs these in TEI XML critical apparatus markup. We have devised a structure that we think of as the “spine” of the edition created from the TEI critical apparatus to point to specific locations in the manuscript notebooks. This provides a way to link a reading interface of the novel that highlights “hotspots” of variance in the print edition and that links into relevant passages in the Notebooks.

We first prepared the “skeleton” of the new TEI edition, a structure fundamentally different from the TEI currently featured at Romantic Circles. We include a version of the little-studied 1823 and “Thomas” editions. We hope our edition will inspire fresh investigations of longstanding questions about Frankenstein’s transformations, such as the extent of Godwin’s interventions in the text in 1823 and how many of these these persist in the 1831 text, and what alterations Mary Shelley made in her Thomas copy marginalia diverge from the version of the text she prepared in 1831.