Stitching the Seams of Textual Bodies


A Digital Frankenstein Project for the Bicentennial

Dr. Elisa Beshero-Bondar: Director, Pitt-Greensburg Center for the Digital Text | Associate Professor of English Contact: ebb8 at | @epyllia     5 March 2018 Frankenstein Week at Missouri Southern State University These slides:

Frankenstein's Genesis


1814 Elopement of young radicals: 16-year old Mary Godwin and 22-year-old Percy Shelley (Chronology details)

Summer of 1816: "The year without a summer": The Shelleys and Mary's half-sister Claire Clairmont go to Europe to visit Lord Byron. Scandalous, exiled radical writers and "libertines". In 1821, Robert Southey will brand Byron's work a "moral virus" infecting society.

Byron's 1816 challenge to his guests:
  We will each write a ghost story...
They'd been reading German Fantasmagoria and Coleridge's more nightmarish poems...


1831 engraving: Villa Diodati, Byron's home in exile in 1816 on the shores of Lake Geneva.
Map of unusual cold temperatures in Europe during the summer of 1816. Credit: Creative Commons, authored by Giorgiogp2


Mary Shelley's nightmare, as recounted in 1831

‘Night waned upon this talk, and even the witching hour had gone by before we retired to rest. When I placed my head on my pillow I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie.  I saw – with shut eyes, but acute mental vision – I saw the pale student of the unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion …’ 

Sharing the dream?

Composition process, intervention, collaboration

  • Launched in 2011. Will eventually contain all known manuscripts of Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.
  • involves Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) and the Bodleian, British, Huntington, Houghton, and New York Public Libraries
  • diplomatic editions of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein ms notebooks + Percy Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, and a number of shorter works.
  • coming! PBS's Triumph of Life and Godwin’s manuscript for Political Justice scheduled for publication in the next few months.


Our Project's Genesis and Goal

  • integrate existing editions of Frankenstein
    • connect Shelley-Godwin Notebooks to the printed editions of Frankenstein, and later ms alterations

Textual History (editions authorized by MWS):

  • 1818 Edition (3 volumes)

    • "Thomas copy" (hand-written revisions by MWS in a copy of 1818)

  • 1823 Edition (2 volumes)

  • 1831 Edition (1/2 of a volume)

    • bound with Friedrich von Schiller's The Ghost Seer in Bentley's Standard Series of novels)

Building a Digital Variorum

Our Team

  • Elisa Beshero-Bondar, Director, Center for the Digital Text, University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg

  • Jon Klancher, English Department, Carnegie Mellon University

  • Matt Lavin, Director, Digital Media Lab, University of Pittsburgh

  • Rikk Mulligan, University Libraries, Carnegie Mellon University

  • Raff Viglianti, Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), University of Maryland
  • Scott Weingart, Program Director of Digital Humanities, University Libraries, Carnegie Mellon University


  • Can we make an edition that conveniently compares the manuscripts to the print publications?

  • Can we make a comprehensive collation to show changes to the novel over time, from 1816 to 1831?

    • How many versions? (5 and a bit?)

    • Which editorial interventions persist from 1816 to 1831?

      • MWS in the "Thomas" copy: how much of this persists into 1831?

      • PBS's additions: which/how many of these persist to 1831?

      • What parts of the novel were most mutable?  


Motivating Questions

  Rieger: inline collation of "Thomas" w/ 1818,
1831 variants in endnotes


Curran and Lynch: PA Electronic Edition ( PAEE) , collation of 1818 and 1831: HTML

Crook crit. ed of 1818,  variants of "Thomas",   1823, and 1831 in endnotes (P&C MWS collected works)

Romantic Circles TEI conversion of PAEE ; separates the texts of 1818 and 1831; collation via Juxta




C. Robinson, The Frankenstein Notebooks (Garland): print facsimile of 1816 ms drafts


Shelley-Godwin Archive publishes diplomatic edition of 1816 ms drafts

print edition

digital edition




Our Project Genealogy:

Critical and Diplomatic Editions Leading to the Pgh Frankenstein Project

Pittsburgh Bicentennial Frankenstein Project begins:

assembly/proof-correcting of PAEE files; OCR/proof-correcting 1823; "bridge" TEI edition of S-GA notebook files; automated collation; incorporating "Thomas" copy text

The dream of the 90s. . .

Hypertext / Hypercard books and the PAEE

  • Accessing (reading, writing, editing)  texts in nonlinear ways

  • Multiplying and individualizing  points of access

  • Roughly contemporary with the PAEE + mid '90s scholarly edition efforts
  • What if the female creature survived and had a chance to create her own story with lots of options?
  • Experimental nonlinear navigation...hundreds of hypercards...plot your own course


The dream of the '90s:

Frankenstein's inspiration for hypertext experiment

PAEE: Hypertext Collation Experiment

hundreds of small html files, juxtaposed in frames

The dream of the '90s is alive...

(in Pittsburgh)

Digital Collation for a "Variorum" interface

  • select a text from what version the reader chooses:
    • 1816 MS | 1818 | "Thomas" | 1823 | 1831
  • compare that text to what version the reader chooses
  • view the "molten" portions of the novel in context with the stable portions
  • navigate multiple texts in context with one another
  • make the critical apparatus a vantage point:
    see how the novel changed over time without having to find the fine-print endnotes

The Creature of Collation?

 We make newly formed text "bodies"  from disparately formed source materials.

source: I programmer  article on "Frankenstein" malware

  • a community-maintained standard
  • 1987 @ Vassar: draft of Poughkeepsie Principles

    provide a standard format for data interchange in humanities research.

    • Guidelines for the Encoding and Interchange of Machine Readable Texts: first drafted 1990; published on the web by 1999 (P3)
    •  Standards for encoding texts co-evolve with standards for developing human and machine-readable markup languages
      • HTML (w3c)  ||  (early) SGML and XML
  • TEI XML tree structure:
    • meant to store a stable format not subject to  commercial processing requirements
  • possible to publish TEI directly or convert to HTML; PDF; TEX; other document formats. 
  1. Small pieces are optimal for collation.

  2. There is no single "complete" edition.

  3. Each output (plain text, XML, TEI collation) = viable edition on its own.

  4. Interface invites the user to play: put the pieces together.

From PAEE to Pgh Variorum...

values in common

image source: a friend's Lego set

  • Reconcile multiple kinds of text encoding:

    • old '90s HTML   (1818, 1831)  

    • not-so-plain OCR-generated text (1823)

    • TEI XML for manuscripts: (S-GA diplomatic edition)

Pittsburgh's bridges (1963) 


A Bridge-Building Challenge

  • Construct "Bridge" XML for collation
    • Markup-assisted machine collation (collateX):
    • "flattened" XML hierarchies for even collation units
    • ms metadata markup (e.g. "hands") to ignore in collation, but preserve in the output
    • pointers outward to manuscript editions (S-GA, Morgan Library)

Collation "stitchery"

  • Can be done by hand in TEI
  • Automated: via CollateX

    • Algorithms for locating union and  "delta" points in "streams" of text

    • Inputs in a variety of formats (XML/TEI, plain text, JSON)

  • Output / Visualization options:

    • Text table (above); SVG flow chart; XML

    • JuxtaCommons on the web

    • Develop a custom web interface (via XML output)

image source: S-GA

A running text stream...?

Or an architecture of bridges?

(collateX SVG output)

XML collation:  flagging variants and Percy's hand

Annotations in the Variorum Interface

Annotations that Tunnel through the Texts

(not only pointing outside)

domestic affection
(Walton - Margaret Seville)

domestic affection
(DeLaceys and Safie)

domestic affection
(Frankenstein family)

travel/expedition: Walton

travel/expedition: Victor

travel/expedition: Clerva l

travel/expedition: Creature

law / judicial system


law / judicial system

Felix DeLacey

law / judicial system


Stitching the Seams of Textual Bodies

By Elisa Beshero-Bondar

Stitching the Seams of Textual Bodies

presentation on the Pittsburgh-MITH Digital Frankenstein Project for Frankenstein Week at Missouri Southern State University, 5 March 2018

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