Image of the Month: Theodore von Holst, ‘Frankenstein’ (1831)

By dustinfrazierwood

In November 1831, a new edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was published by Richard Bentley and Henry Colburn in their recently launched ‘Standard Novels’ series. The publishers were responding to a major shift in the fiction market as expensive three-decker fiction gave way to cheaper, octavo-sized single-volume novels which could be purchased rather than borrowed.[i] Significantly, this new format included illustrations as a ‘standard’ of quality and value for money. Following on from Robert Cadell’s successful, illustrated reprinting of the Waverley novels in 1829, Bentley and Colburn provided the reading (and viewing) public with two images per volume: a vignette on the title page and a frontispiece. For Frankenstein, they hired a young protégé of Henry Fuseli named Theodor Von Holst (1810-1844). The son of émigré Russian parents who fled Napoleonic conflict, Holst’s talent for drawing was spotted by both Fuseli and Sir Thomas Lawrence, and he entered the Royal Academy in 1824. Holst’s renown as a master of Fuselian themes and forms made him an obvious choice for being the first illustrator of Shelley’s novel, though his famous image outlived his own reputation, and it was not until the 1990s that he merited a major retrospective.<a target="_blank" …read more