About this Edition

About this Hypertext

The text

This hypertext edition of Mary Shelley's 1826 novel, The Last Man, is encoded in HTML, with some extensions for HTML 2.0, including a limited use of tables and frames. It will work best with Netscape 2.0 or later; earlier browsers may not display everything properly. An ASCII text of the novel is available for downloading (as three large files--each containing one volume of the novel), and an SGML version of the text used in the present hypermedia edition is available at the University of Virginia's Electronic Text Center.

The text of the novel was produced from microfilm of a copy of the 1826 first edition now in the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University. A Paris edition was published later in 1826 (in March by Galignani), and a two-volume American edition appeared in Philadelphia in 1833, but the first edition (London: Colburn, 23 January 1826) is both more authoritative and more significant, in terms of reception history, than either of these.

The electronic text, therefore, is essentially a "diplomatic" facsimile of that first edition of the novel--as it first appeared in the world, warts and all (it would appear that the novel was somewhat rushed into print by the publisher). The only emendations I have made are to correct obvious typesetting errors (dropped letters, for example). These changes are duly noted, in hyperlinked notes (files titled "textnote": see an example here) showing first the e-text reading, then, in parentheses and labeled "1826," the first edition word(s) or punctuation. Original spellings, including any inconsistencies, are usually retained.


Mary Shelley's own footnotes are keyed to asterisks, as in the first edition, but are found in hyperlinked files, rather than printed at the foot of each "page." Such notes are identified as hers with the abbreviation "MWSN," followed by the volume and chapter number (see an example here). [Comments in square brackets within any of Shelley's notes are my own.]

Shelley's novel is (to say the least) a highly intertextual work, a story woven into a complex fabric of citations, allusions, contexts, and echoes. My choice of hyperlinks, however, is deliberately selective, somewhat idiosyncratic, and is meant to be suggestive rather than exhaustive. Besides textual emendations, occasional expository notes offer context on topics from balloon flight to individual works of art. Hyperlinks will continue to accrete over time. But the goal is always to provide an array of possible connections, a sense of history, rather than an answer to every possible question. Besides the critical essays linked into this hypertext, you are referred in the bibliography to several excellent print editions of the novel, all of which contain helpful annotations. I especially recommend these print sources to those of you reading this online.

Occasional "external links" (so labeled) are provided to materials on the Web--such as Shakespeare's plays--though the user is reminded that such materials are not under my editorial control and may change unexpectedly, etc. In many cases, the texts of the works pointed to in external links should be compared to more reliable scholarly editions in print. Such is the Web.

Navigating this hypertext

The electronic text of the novel is fully searchable, and in a form which returns results that preserve hyperlinks. Use the search button at the head of the table of contents.

Within the hypertext, you may follow hyperlinks from the text of the novel to many other texts, in whole or in part, and other kinds of files, including images and one audio file. You may click on a word in the novel and find yourself reading a completely different text--a short story by Mary Shelley, a parody published three years later, or the translation of a sonnet by Petrarch. You may "land" in the middle of this new text, so you should be prepared to use the scroll-bar button to view the top of the file, to read the title and find out exactly where you are.

Also, because you may enter and exit these files along multiple paths, and because readers may enter the novel at any point, some links--to recurring place names, for example--are highly redundant. So you may encounter "Windsor Castle" in many different chapters, or even several times in one chapter. If you are reading a larger portion of the novel, you can ignore the links you've already visited.

Remember that when following links you may have to use the back-arrow button on your browser to return to the novel (or any other file you've been viewing). This is especially true for shorter notes: in most cases, you can only return to the text of the novel from these notes by using the browser's back-arrow button (at the top left of your screen in Netscape).

Many files, however, contain a navigation anchor--"Contents"--which takes you back to the overall table of contents for the entire hypertext. In that way, you can always go home again. In addition, every chapter of the novel itself contains a navigation bar at its foot with three choices: 1. Contents; 2. the beginning of whatever chapter you are reading; and 3. the next chapter.

To the user

Onscreen reading, given present technology, is rarely easy. And reading a triple-decker novel onscreen is not something I expect many users to do, for now. Of course the HTML and ASCII texts may be printed out, and front-end configurations for both texts will vary widely. I expect this hypertext to be most useful, however, as a kind of supplement to reading the novel in print form.

Someone reading the novel in a literature class, for example, could access in this e-text a cluster of three or four chapters they're concentrating on for a paper or the day's reading assignment. Then they could follow the links, read contextual and intertextual materials, run extensive searches, print out the ASCII chapters for further reading, and so on. In other words, they might want to treat this hypertext as a study guide and research tool, among other texts and tools, rather than as a self-contained "edition" in the traditional sense.

In conclusion, this hypertext is offered not as "definitive edition" in any sense, but as an open-ended experiment, to test some of the possibilities of this form in the "live" and relatively interactive laboratory of the Web. Please send your comments or suggestions to the editor.