You probably recall seeing me in this same space in previous years reviewing The Annotated Pride and Prejudice and The Annotated Persuasion. This year brings a new addition to the Jane Austen Annotated Library, Emma: An Annotated Edition (Harvard Univ., $35). As with the previous editions, this book is a must-have for Jane Austen fans or even for fans of beautiful books. The Annotated Emma, like her sisters from past years, is chock full of illustrations and photographs and copious notes on Jane Austen, the person, and the author. Harvard is always careful about including the notes and illustrations in a way that makes it easy for you to incorporate them into your reading of the story. This book begs for a careful review of a familiar text, bringing new insight and new life into a beloved classic.
The joys of an annotated classic are many and take many forms, from quotations to maps to manuscript facsimiles to paintings, all on a roomy, over-size page. Harvard University Press’s new edition of Frankenstein ($29.95), deftly and often wittily edited by scholars Susan J. Wolfson and Ronald Devao, presents Mary Shelley’s original 1818 text, along with Percy Shelley’s suggestions, and comparative excerpts from the author’s later editions. The commentary covers details of Mary Shelley’s reading, biography, and the social codes of various everyday objects of her era—many relevant to the novel in unexpected ways. Other critical strands trace culture and ideas from the ancients to 19th-century literature and politics, or look at Frankenstein’s many stage and screen adaptations—it was a natural for dramatization from the first, though many of the book’s subtler themes—loneliness, parental responsibility, limits—get lost in the larger spectacles. Then there’s the science. Our own age of bio-engineering puts the tragedy of Frankenstein’s lightning-bolted creature into fresh perspective.