1) Belle Assemblee (March 1818)
The author of this review is very positive about Frankenstein. He praises Mary Shelley's style (there are six extracts reprinted to "shew the excellence of its style and language") and the moral overtones of her work. But, he is worried that readers will be too caught up in the power of Mary Shelly's imagery to see the importance of her theme:
This is a very bold fiction; and, did not the author, in a short Preface, make a kind of apology, we should almost pronounce it to be impious. We hope, however, the writer had the moral in view which we are desirous of drawing from it, that the presumptive works of man must be frightful, vile, and horrible; ending only in discomfort and misery to himself. But will all our readers understand this?
This is a very short review and the majority of the piece is simply a summary of Mary Shelley's story.
2) Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (March 1818)
There are two interesting points about this article by Walter Scott. First, P.B. Shelley sent Scott a copy of Frankenstein thinking that the authorship would be kept a secret. Scott, however, assumed that Shelley was the author, not Mary Shelley. At the end of the review Scott quotes from "Alastor" thinking that it will demonstrate "that the author possesses the same facility in expressing himself in verse as in prose." Secondly, Scott recognizes that the reader must be willing to accept some pretty far-fetched plot points:
We should also be disposed, in support of the principles with which we set out, to question whether the monster, how tall, agile, and strong however, could have perpetrated so much mischief undiscovered.But, he is willing to entertain these "wildest freaks of imagination" as long as the author has something important to say about the human condition and does so with "logical precision". Scott enjoys Frankenstein because of the moral and emotional insight gained from Victor and the other characters:
In this case, the pleasure ordinarily derived from the marvellous incidents is secondary to that which we extract from observing how mortals like ouselves wouls be affected.He compares the tale of Tom Thumb to Gulliver's voyage to Brobdingnad. Both follow similar plot lines, but the latter does much more than exaggerate the smallness of the hero; it satirizes and teaches. Scott also mentions that "the author seems to us to disclose uncommon powers of poetic imagination."
3) Quarterly Review (January 1818)
This review was much less flattering than the previous two. Here John Wilson Croker gives a sarcastic summary of the work, pointing out all the moments in the novel where I myself rolled my eyes. Then he proceeds to attack the novel and the man it is dedicated to, Mr. Godwin:
Our readers will guess from this summary, what a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity this work presents. -- It is piously dedicated to Mr. Godwin, and is written in the spirit of his school. The dreams of insanity are embodied in the strong and striking language of the insane, and the author, notwithstanding the rationality of his preface, often leaves us in doubt whether he is not as mad as his hero. . . . His [Godwin's] disciples are a kind of out-pensioners of Bedlam, and, like `Mad Bess' or `Mad Tom' are occasionally visited with paroxysms of genius and fits of expression, which make sober-minded people wonder and shudder.I couldn't understand the reasons for Croker's dislike of Godwin and his followers, but it was pretty intense. Unlike Walter Scott, Croker could find nothing of interest in this study of tortured souls:
Our taste and our judgement alike revolt at this kind of writing, and the greater the ability with which it may be executed the worse it is -- it inculcates no lesson of conduct, manners, or morality; it cannot mend, and will not even amuse it readers.
4) The Edinburgh Magazine, and Literary Miscellany (March 1818)
This article makes two points about Frankenstein and I'm not sure but what they're contradictory. The author starts out by stating that the wild and outrageous nature of the story is not surprising. It is, in fact, a reflection of the present times (1818). Science, exploration, and colonization were changing the way men and women thought about everything. Each day the world must have seemed to offer something new, exciting, and some times unimaginable to the well-read and upper classes:
There never was a wilder story imagined, yet, like most of the fictions of this age, it has an air of reality attached to it, by being connected with the favourite projects and passions of the times. The real events of the world have, in our day, too, been of so wondrous and gigantic a kind,--the shiftings of the scenes in our stupendous drama have been so rapid and various.This appears to me to be a compliment. But, at the end of the article the author suggests that Frankenstein's author come up with new themes for future works:
We hope yet to have more productions, both from this author and his great model, Mr. Godwin; but they would make a great improvement in their writings, if they would rather study the established order of nature as it appears both in the world of matter and of mind, than continue to revolt our feelings by hazardous innovations in either of these departments.That sounds like "don't question, don't think" to me -- very unenlightened. Anyway, the author spends quite a few of the opening paragraphs explaining how Frankenstein reflects the changing and complicated nature of the present-day world, but ends the article with a few lines about preserving a traditional way of life. I was a bit confused.