I'd like to know your opinion about the difference of two versions.
January 12, 2018 7:12 AM   Subscribe

My question is from Frankenstein. When I read these sentences of chapter three, I felt something was wrong. Especially with two words," favourite " and "imprudence".

This is from the text of 1831. [Elizabeth had caught the scarlet fever; her illness was severe, and she was in the greatest danger. During her illness, many arguments had been urged to persuade my mother to refrain from attending upon her. She had,at first,yielded to our intreaties, but when she heard that the life of her favourite was menaced,she could no longer control her anxiety. She attended her sickbed;-her watchful attentions triumphed over the malignity of the distemper-Elizabeth was saved, but the consequences of this imprudence were fatal to her preserver. ]

But, when I read the first edition of 1818, I thought they were comprehensible. [Elizabeth caught the scarlet fever; but her illness was not severe,and she quickly recovered. During her confinement, many arguments had been urged to persuade my mother to refrain from attending upon her. She had, at first, yielded to our entreaties; but when she heard that her favourite was recovering, she could no longer debar herself from her society, and entered her chamber long before the danger of infection was past. The consequences of this imprudence were fatal. ]

My question is,... could you get my feeling that something was wrong with two words when I read the second edition although I can't explain it? Or are they only my imaging things as I'm not a native speaker of English? If not, do you think that Mary did such kind of insensitive way of rewriting stories? Could you tell me your opinion about it? Thank you.
posted by mizukko to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
they seem ok to me. she loved Elizabeth so much (her favorite child) that she went into her room even though she risked getting sick herself (unwise = imprudent). the rewrite doesn't really affect how either word acts...
posted by acm at 7:30 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]

If anything, I think the rewrite gives the mother a more understandable motivation - a desperate fight to save her favourite (child) rather than flighty ignorance of the infectious period. Imprudence in this context means an action that is not prudent, that is not according to reason. Reason would dictate to preserve herself - she had Victor and the other boys to take care of. The original version had her catch scarlet fever out of sheer impatience, while the revision has her fighting and winning for Elizabeth's life, making it closer to tragedy than black humour. I think it fits the novel better, setting up Victor's own fight against death.

I sympathise with the challenge of reading older literature in a non native language. Written English in particular lost so much of its formality over the last century that it's practically a different dialect. Took me a long while as well...
posted by I claim sanctuary at 7:30 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]

Thank you for this question. I had only read the 1818 version, and found the difference intriguing when I read these passages side-by-side here. I didn't find anything wrong per se with the 1831 version, in that it made sense to me, but agree the 1818 version is more straightforward in style. With that said, with such a dramatic difference between the two passages, I had a look to see if I could learn more, and found this explanation, which makes a lot of sense. After experiencing so much loss in her own life, Mary found her original version lacking in empathy for a protective mother.
posted by pammeke at 7:32 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]

Both usages of both words look fine. Both are being used as nouns in both cases. The word choices are a touch archaic - when was the last time you heard someone use "distemper" or "entreaties"? - but the grammar scans.

I wonder what's making it feel wrong to you. I'm curious: Does the second edition feel better to you if you replace "favourite" with "daughter"?
posted by clawsoon at 7:42 AM on January 12

Both are understandable to me as a native English speaker. I agree with I claim sanctuary that the 1831 version sets up a more tragic and sympathetic view of the mother. It also, perhaps, provides a little of additional clarity that the mother, and not Elizabeth, is the one who experienced the fatal consequences. (I think that's clear either way, but someone reading quickly could perhaps misunderstand the 1818 version and think that Elizabeth had somehow died from her mother's intruding on her sickbed too early. It's a bit harder to misread in the later version.)
posted by Stacey at 8:03 AM on January 12

Native English speaker. Those words don't jump out at me, but they are both used as nouns where current usage would likely be as an adjective (favorite [child] and imprudence rather than imprudent decision). That's not uncommon in texts of that era, but maybe that's what's throwing you off?
posted by basalganglia at 8:23 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]

For me the two passages differ in terms of voice; they sound like they were spoken by two different characters. The first passage has sentences that are more formal and complex. The second has a simpler more active construction. I wonder if that is why the second one seems more understandable to you.
posted by SyraCarol at 8:34 AM on January 12

The 1831 edition significantly changes the meaning of this scene. In the 1831 version Elizabeth is dying. Her mother--at great risk--nurses her back to health and her mother dies. In the 1818 version Elizabeth is recovering. Hearing that, her mother insists on visiting, taking a foolish risk just to enjoy Elizabeth's"society" (companionship), and dies. In the 1818 version, the mother's act is indeed a clear example of "imprudence." But in the 1831 version the mother shows courage, not imprudence.

So, yes, "imprudence" is technically not the right word. But in a larger sense it is the perfect word. The mother well knew the risk she was taking. She was "imprudent" only from the conventional viewpoint of society. "Imprudence" here helps to increase our admiration for the mother's sacrifice. It also makes us ashamed of ourselves.

As for "favorite," the nuance is also different. Not from the word itself but from the meaning poured into the word by the mother's actions. In the 1818 version, "favorite" simply means the mother likes Elizabeth more than her other children, really enjoys being with her. In the 1831 version, "favorite" is imbued with deep love. The 1818 mother likes to chat with her favorite. The 1831 mother is willing to die for hers. So, yes, the 1831 use of "favorite" is a bit odd. You might have a favorite chocolate, but you don't die for it. You might have a favorite daughter. But you die for her because you love her. Not because she is your favorite.

So....your intuition is right!! Or at least half-right. "Imprudence" is a good word. "Favorite" is not.
posted by mono blanco at 10:16 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]

I read them as equivalent to this:

She heard that the life of her daughter was menaced.

She heard that her daughter was recovering.

...and both of those are fine.
posted by clawsoon at 12:40 PM on January 12

Echoing both are fine!
posted by thereader at 11:43 AM on January 14

mono blanco: So, yes, the 1831 use of "favorite" is a bit odd. You might have a favorite chocolate, but you don't die for it. You might have a favorite daughter. But you die for her because you love her. Not because she is your favorite.

In further conversation with mizukko, we were led back to an even older usage of "favourite": The person to whom you might write things like "I desire only to live in the world for your sake."

"Favourite" has lost some of its punch since then.
posted by clawsoon at 9:13 AM on April 4

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