It has been awarded the money, its largest ever grant, from the National Heritage Memorial Fund towards the purchase of the Abinger Papers, an archive of major literary significance which includes the draft manuscript of Shelley’s iconic 19th century novel.
The 1816/17 draft version contains many hand-written corrections by Mary’s husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and, say academics, provides unique evidence for the debate on how much he influenced his wife’s monster masterpiece.
The Abinger Papers also include letters and papers from Mary Shelley’s parents, the feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and intellectual William Godwin. Correspondence from the poet Shelley himself, and Thomas Malthus, who inspired Charles Darwin, are further additions.
Frankenstein was created in the summer of 1816 when Mary and Percy Shelley, their friend and fellow writer Lord Byron, and a doctor called Polidori, holidayed at a lakeside villa in Geneva. The nightmarish idea was sparked by late-night talk of ghost stories and a discussion on whether lightning could jolt a corpse into life again.
Mary Shelley left the papers to her son in 1851 and they were eventually passed on to the Bodleian in 1893. But a third of the papers, the Abinger section, have only been there on loan since 1974 for the benefit of scholars.
They are now being offered for sale. The Bodleian had already collected £500,000 (717,000), and now has until March 2004 to raise another £385,000 (552,000) to reach the reserve price.