The Bicentennial of a Great Year for Literature

We’re living in the bicentennial anniversary of 1818 — a very consequential 12 months in the early days of the modern novel.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein came out that year. One of the most important novels ever written when you think of its impact on science fiction, the horror genre, movies, women writing fiction, and more. Published when Shelley was barely in her 20s, it’s a philosophical, page-turning, poignant work about hubris, human cruelty, the meaning of life, and other weighty issues.

Shelley followed Frankenstein with such books as The Last Man (1826), published when the 1797-born author was in her late 20s. That apocalyptic, set-in-the-future novel was also a pioneering tale — as well as a time capsule thanks to the three main characters being based on Mary, her famous poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their famous poet friend Lord Byron.

Getting back to 1818, that was also when Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were released posthumously.

Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel and stars my favorite Austen heroine (Anne Elliot). It has a lot less cachet than Pride and Prejudice, and somewhat less cachet than Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Mansfield Park, but I think the lean Persuasion is the brightest gem in Austen’s six-novel canon.

Northanger Abbey is my least favorite Austen work, though that love story and satire of Gothic fiction is still an absorbing read.

Austen, of course, is as popular as ever 200 years after 1818. Actually, much more popular given that she had only modest celebrity and sales success before her 1817 death at age 41.

And 1818 saw the publication of The Heart of Midlothian — Sir Walter Scott’s first novel to star a woman, and the first of his to star a protagonist from the “lower classes.” It compellingly chronicles the Jeanie Deans character’s long trek on foot from Scotland to London to try to clear her sister’s name.

The Heart of Midlothian is my favorite Scott novel, though he also authored a number of other excellent ones — including Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, Old Mortality, and Quentin Durward, to name just four. All were written after the 1771-born Scott turned 40; the first part of his writing career was spent as a very widely read poet. (“Oh what a tangled web we weave/when first we practise to deceive.”)

I’ll end this post by also mentioning two great 1918 novels: Willa Cather’s My Antonia and Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons.

Any thoughts on the work of Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, and/or Sir Walter Scott?

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for The latest weekly piece — about topics such as school tours and March 14’s national student walkout for better gun control — is here.

84 thoughts on “The Bicentennial of a Great Year for Literature

  1. I had no idea that was such a vintage year. All great authors and books. Shelley, of course, has her connections to my home city, Dundee.. She always said it was here that her imagination took flight. (Not sure what that ses about here mind you!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Shehanne!

      Nice mention of the Dundee connection you have with Mary Shelley! Her imagination taking flight there is a major thing, because it was quite an imagination!

      I like it when I learn that an author, or a work of fiction, has a connection with where I live (Montclair, New Jersey, USA). For instance, I was thrilled that Edith Wharton set one of her ghost stories in my town. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, it is good isn’t it? Shelley arrived in Dundee peagreen and without a penny to her name, apparently having been robbed on the Osnaburgh. She came to stay with one of the textile dynasties lesser lights in that family. The house is long gone but a cinema did stand roughly on the site, probably showed Frankenstein. The reckoning is she certainly got the bits at the start of the book where Dr Frankenstein travels north from exploring the area but also the Arctic whaling boats here. Ian Fleming’s grandfather also had a connection here and Robert Browning’s mother. Always interesting to know if your town has literary connections.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Very interesting information about Mary Shelley! She certainly did not have an easy life — including the deaths of her famous poet husband and three of their four children. 😦 And great to have at least two other literary connections to your city!

          Liked by 1 person

          • I have the biography and I don’;t know if you have ever read the Jude Morgan book Passion. It is all about the famous ones of that time. I also did an article on her for a history journal and you are absolutely right. It was almost like when she wrote Frankenstein that was the high point. I think even her an Shelly were on the slide when he died. It is interesting to have these connections. Of course Dundee, being Dundee, you have to rake for them. There’s beat up old plaques where Browning’s mother was born, Shelley lived, and at the small Fleming Gardens housing estate that RObert Fleming gifted the city. But that is it.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I haven’t read “Passion.” Yes, Mary Shelley’s life peaked at a very young age, though she of course still did plenty of writing the rest of her life.

              It would be nice if Dundee made those plaques better known and spruced them up a bit! 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

              • Totally agree. Alas Dundee seldom troubles itself with such things, despite the fact we now have the V & A. I mind years back this American woman bringing some play here about the writer, abolitionist, feminist, Fanny Wright cos she was born here and she was fair hopping that despite the fact there was an old plaque to her too, no-one had heard of her. The late Dundee songwriter Michael Marra said, ‘Dundee people are not easily impressed,’ and it’s true.

                Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Dave! This is my first time at your blog. As far as Austen goes, Northanger Abbey is interesting to me only in how it mocks the gothic genre. I did think it was clever how she’d let her imagination run away with her only to trick us as well. Several times I had to go back and make sure that I’d read correctly – which I hadn’t, ha! The characters themselves are definitely less dynamic and less complex than her other works.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Quest Quilts, for your first-time comment here! 🙂

      You offered an excellent sum-up of “Northanger Abbey”! The satire of gothic fiction is indeed that book’s best element. I did think the love story was at least serviceable, though weaker than the romances in Austen’s other five famous novels.


  3. Rabindranath Tagore was born in 1861, awarded Nobel Prize in literature in 1913
    Tagore modernized Bengali art by spurning rigid classical forms and resisting linguistic strictures. His novels, stories, songs, dance-dramas, and essays spoke to topics political and personal. Gitanjali (Song Offerings), Gora (Fair-Faced) and Ghare-Baire (The Home and the World) are his best-known works, and his verse, short stories, and novels were acclaimed—or panned—for their lyricism, colloquialism, naturalism, and unnatural contemplation.
    His compositions were chosen by two nations as national anthems: India’s Jana Gana Mana and Bangladesh’s Amar Shonar Bangla. The Sri Lankan national anthem was inspired by his work.
    Hos novels, Poems , essays were translated in many languages and was studied in all over the world. China, japan, Russia, middle East, Europe but less in America.
    Still his Birthday is celebrated all over the world. His statues are in various countries.

    Japanese tourist and bust of Rabindranath Tagore, garden of Shakespeares birthplace, Stratford upon Avon

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dave now I am reading Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff, it is rather enjoyable and is a page filler. I was behind 800 requesting the book at the library. Seems to me Wolff is laughing his way to the bank, still best seller in NYT`s 10 weeks 🙂


    • Thank you, bebe, for all that great information on the great Tagore! Given how productive he was, I figured he must have written a lot in 1918 — among many other years. I just looked at his bibliography, and he did indeed have a lot published exactly a century ago. 🙂

      Terrific photo, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “In the year of nineteen and eighteen/
    God sent a mighty disease”– Blind Willie Johnson

    1918 was the year of the deadliest influenza outbreak to date, the so-called Spanish Flu, from which more died than died in all the battles of WWI, overwhelming heath services throughout the world, and spread rapidly by soldiers returning home from the war.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, jhNY and Dave, I bought a book about the great pandemic of 1918 and have not read it yet, but it is worrisome in this day and age, in which people don’t feel compelled to get a yearly flu shot. Even in a year where the flu vaccine isn’t totally protective about this year’s flu, it is still necessary to be somewhat careful about the flu virus that is out there now. In my 20’s I suffered from two different flu strains and they were both awful. I can’t even remember how many days of work I lost, and the times I had to go lie down in our president’s office that had a sofa, sometimes needing a ride home because it was too difficult to do so on my own. It’s not a nice thing to go through — fortunately at that time I was still relatively healthy, but if it happened today, I don’t know what I’d do.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. 1818, I found, as I looked around the interwebs, was the birth year of three folks who would seem to have little in common otherwise, though of course the last two were each in the novel business: Karl Marx, Ivan Turgenev and Emily Bronte.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I learn so much from these posts, Dave. I had no idea “Frankenstein” was written that long ago. I also ended up googling The Year Without a Summer, thanks to J.J.’s intriguing response.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Pat! Nice of you to say that! And I learn a LOT from the comments. 🙂

      The content of “Frankenstein” does seem more modern than 200 years old. (Even as Mary Shelley’s wonderful but at-times-dense prose is definitely early 19th century.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • “Frankenstein” was begun in the company of Shelley, Byron and Dr, John Polidori, and came out of a dark and stormy night during which the group first amused itself with reading aloud from “Phantasmagorania” a collection of German Gothic stories, before attempting to write something in a similar vein. It would appear that Shelley himself wrote nothing; Byron began a vampire tale, which he left unfinished. Polidori was inspired by Byron’s start of a tale, and developed it into a story, titled “The Vampyre,” whose chief character was a vampiric womanizer who he modeled on Byron. Polidori’s story was published in 1821. An account of the night, the Byron fragment, and the Polidori story appear in Michael Sim’s excellent collection of Victorian vampire stories, “Dracula’s Guest”, published in 2010.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thank you for all that great information, jhNY!

          While Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron didn’t produce much related to that “dark and stormy night,” they certainly wrote a lot of other stuff (as you know). 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • There’s been a lot of comments here about “Frankenstein,” which I did read many years ago, but since then I’ve seen “Young Frankenstein” (by Mel Brooks) on Broadway, which was extremely funny and stands out to me more than the book, even though I saw it almost 10 years ago.

            Liked by 2 people

  7. I know it’s not quite what you’re talking about this week, but I greatly enjoyed John Jakes’ “Kent Family Chronicles”. It was published in the mid 1970s to commemorate the bicentenary of America’s independence from Great Britain. The series follows the story of Philip Kent who emigrates from France after some family dramas. He starts a new business and a new family in America, and the rest of the novels follow the future generations of Kents. It’s been a long time since I’ve read the whole series, but I think the last book takes place in the 1980s, pretty much following the history of America at the time. I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed by this, but I think most of my knowledge of American history comes from these historical fiction books. Hopefully I was clever enough to know the difference between the history and the fiction!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sue! The bicentennial nature of the “Kent Family Chronicles” works for me in terms of being relevant to this week’s topic. 🙂

      Yes, one does wonder how much of historical fiction is history and how much is fiction. Then again, nonfiction history books often guess at certain things.

      I might add that most of what I know about pre-1800s Scottish history comes from Sir Walter Scott’s novels. 🙂


  8. Frankenstein was one of the first “grown-up” novels I read as a kid! My parents got me a picture version of it and I must have read that thing a hundred times. Such an incredible novel on so many levels, and I always was thrilled that it was written by a woman 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Howdy, Dave!

    — Any thoughts on the work of Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, and/or Sir Walter Scott? —

    Mary Shelley: I had at times wondered during the past half a century or so whether the writing of the chilly opening and closing scenes of her “Frankenstein” was influenced by The Year Without a Summer, whose own bicentennial was observed a couple of years ago. And, in researching this very Comment, I found that this was indeed the case, at least according to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (, which should have a pretty good handle on the variegated effects of the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. (Along the same line, I have from time to time wondered over the past decade or so whether Anne Rice’s writing of the frigid New York scenes of her “The Vampire Armand” was influenced by the Blizzard of ’96. However, I have not come across any UCAR analysis of this connection. Yet.)

    Jane Austen: I have read all six of her novels, but — in stark contrast to Kat Lib — only once in each case. It has been about 40 years or so, but I recall enjoying them a great deal, and I remember laughing the most while reading “Northanger Abbey”: It’s a hoot!

    Walter Scott: I would like to say I have read his “Ivanhoe,” “Rob Roy” and “The Lady of the Lake,” but, in fact, I have read only the Classics Illustrated versions of his “Ivanhoe,” “Rob Roy” and “The Lady of the Lake,” which isn’t quite the same thing. They were good, though!

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    P.S.: Thanks to your recommendation, Shelley’s “The Last Man” continues to hold a prominent place on my To-Read List, just after “The Last Magpie: Heckle or Jeckle?” and just before “The Last Manga: When Naruto Met Sakura”!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, J.J., for your great comment mixing seriousness and hilarity! 🙂

      I guess many novels are influenced directly or indirectly by works that have been done before (and events that have gone before). Few things are truly original, though there’s of course a huge difference between being influenced and copying.

      I’ve only read Jane Austen’s novels once apiece, too! And I agree that parts of “Northanger Abbey” are very funny.

      As a kid, I also read my share of Classics Illustrated books. 🙂

      “The Last Man” is a memorable novel…


      • Well, J.J. and Dave, I just want to say that “Northanger Abbey” was a bit of a hoot, and I think it was meant to be so. I don’t know if you’ve seen the first movie made out of this novel, but it was rather creepy to say the least — very different from her other novels!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy, Kat Lib!

          — I just want to say that “Northanger Abbey” was a bit of a hoot, and I think it was meant to be so. —

          I agree: It was deftly done! Because I read it after the other five books, I was really surprised by it.

          — I don’t know if you’ve seen the first movie made out of this novel, but it was rather creepy to say the least —

          I did not see Giles Foster’s “Northanger Abbey” (1987) at all, but I did see part of Jon Jones’ “Northanger Abbey” (2007) last year. Apparently, PBS may rerun the latter this month (, so I might have another shot at staying awake long enough to see the whole thing this time around.

          — very different from her other novels! —

          You can say that again!


          Liked by 1 person

    • In a reply above, I referred to “Dracula’s Guest”
      , a vampire story collection edited by Michael Sims. In it, he also mentions the Year Without A Summer by way of setting the scene for the creation of Byron’s vampire tale fragment and Mary Shelley’s novel.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy, jhNY!

        — In a reply above, I referred to “Dracula’s Guest”, a vampire story collection edited by Michael Sims. —

        I had known George Gordon Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley were around when Mary Shelley gave birth to “Frankenstein,” but the presence of John Polidori was news to me. Pretty crowded delivery room!


        Liked by 1 person

  10. Dave, thanks for mentioning my favorite author, Jane Austen. I think I’ve said before that I’ve read all of her novels many, many times and have watched all or most of her televised and films of all of her books several times. As you alluded to, the year that “Persuasion” (my favorite Austen novel, as is yours) was published the same year as “Northanger Abbey” (my least favorite novel, but still quite good!). I know that if I only had one book to take to a deserted island, it would be my leather-bound book containing all six of her novels — is that somehow cheating? 🙂 I’ve got three different published versions of P&P, and two of all the other five (not counting the paperback novels that I lost during the flood of 1984/1985). I was out shopping at B&N once and was getting ready to buy another film of one of her books, which I don’t remember now, but Bill said that I already had enough copies of those, to which I replied that one could never have enough of Austen’s films or televised series. Although some are better than the others. I think my favorite movie of one of her books (discounting the BBC or A&E series which could capture most of the books due to their length) is “Persuasion” starring Amanda Root and Ciarin Hinds. It was perfectly done and I loved every minute of it. So, sorry, Dave, I’m sure I’ve said many of these comments in prior columns of yours, but I can’t help my love for Austen and her books!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kat Lib, for the great comment! If some of it was said before, the same can be said for parts of my 1818-themed post of this week. 🙂

      We definitely agree on our favorite and least favorite (but still good) Jane Austen novels. I think we did this once before, but how would you list the others in order? For me, my Austen rankings would be:

      1. Persuasion
      2. Pride and Prejudice
      3. Sense and Sensibility
      4. Mansfield Park
      5. Emma
      6. Northanger Abbey

      And, yes, a one-book volume of the above six would be allowed on a desert island. 🙂

      I’m very impressed with your collection of Austen novels and screen adaptations!


      • Dave, I think I’d agree with your rankings. There are things with some of her novels that I’ve a hard time accepting over some of her others:
        1) Persuasion – perfection
        2) P&P is perfect in so many ways that I can’t even come up with anything to say negatively about it.
        3) S&S – I was somewhat annoyed by the romance between Marianne and Willoughby and I know there are those who think her marriage to Colonel Brandon wasn’t quite right, but I loved their very slow romance after he bought her a pianoforte and read to her after her illness.
        4) Mansfield Park – I think we talked about this last week, in which we were both slightly concerned about Fanny marrying her first cousin. I for one would have much preferred to see her married to Henry Crawford, and how that might have happened if Fanny had any sense. Then Edmund could have married Mary Crawford. These would have been much more prudent than what actually happened, in my humble opinion.
        5) Emma – While I’m happy that Emma and Mr. Knightley finally got together, it still bothers me that Emma was such a snob and created such problems for herself, Harriet Smith, Jane Fairfax and others that she knows. As Jane Austen predicted, a somewhat unlikeable heroine. Even at the end of the novel, Emma hadn’t given up her ways and still thought Harriet wasn’t the best companion since she didn’t know who her father was.
        6) Northanger Abbey – this novel was mildly amusing as poor Catherine Morland has no idea of what she’s getting into by going to the Abbey. She’s not that smart, so she doesn’t realize exactly what she’s living in and how she’s being played by both the Thorpes and the Tilneys.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Loved your expert thoughts on each of the six novels, Kat Lib! For example, your reconfiguration of the “Mansfield Park” romances make total sense, and the snobbiness of Emma (even though she improves somewhat by the end of that book) is very off-putting. Of course, unlikable protagonists CAN be interesting…


  11. Didn’t take my first comment again, so here it is:

    This is synchronistic, in that ‘Frankenstein’ is the Community Read for my library (Huntsville-Madison County Public Library), which is celebrating its own bicentennial. Yes, this library was founded even before Alabama became a state in the union. So there are several events planned this month that are Frankenstein-related. I read a great dual biography of Mary and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, ‘Romantic Outlaws’ by Charlotte Gordon and I also re-read ‘Frankenstein’. In fact, right now I’m watching a DVD of Kenneth Brannagh’s 1994 film adaptation, ‘Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’ with Brannagh as Victor Frankenstein and Robert De Niro as the Creature. Although it’s overdone, it seems to at least attempt to be faithful to the novel, to the extent of using the bookend of the North Pole expedition being stuck in the ice and encountering both Frankenstein and his creature. It’s overdone melodrama but, to be fair, so is the novel. That’s the genre in which it was written although it’s pioneering in that it influenced so much that came after it and it explores one of the great themes of literature and life. What does the creator/parent owe to his child, regardless of how deformed or misshapen it is. So much for creating Man in his own image. Victor is indeed pretty inept at God-playing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad this comment of yours took, bobess48. Sorry about the posting problem before that. When I was replying to lsgaitan23 below, my comment didn’t take after four tries! Then I restarted my laptop and four duplicate comments appeared — after which I of course deleted three of them. Weird.

      I’m extremely impressed that your library is 200 years old, and it’s definitely a coincidence about “Frankenstein” being the community read!

      You’re currently VERY steeped in all things Mary Shelley, “Frankenstein,” a movie adaptation, etc. — and great analysis toward the end of your comment! Yes, “Frankenstein” is a melodrama, among many other things.


  12. I really like Persuasion, too, Dave. (And I even like Northanger Abbey!) Jumping ahead 100 years, I have to go with My Antonia. When I taught high school lit for a few years, I always told the kids they were going to get “Cather-terized” when we got to her. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Lee! Glad you like “Persuasion”! And “Northanger Abbey” is indeed a very good novel. If many other authors had written it, it might have been their best work. 🙂

      “Cather-terized” — LOL! Great word! I think “My Antonia” is Willa Cather’s best novel, though the shorter “Death Comes for the Archbishop” might be more perfectly written. And wonderful that you taught literature for several years!


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