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the strangest tale that ever imagination formed

There may be an element of self-puffery by Mary Shelley in this statement, yet it is surprisingly prescient in its sense of the cultural impact her novel was to have. Moreover, it is entirely consistent with the way both she and her husband represented the work to its public. Percy Bysshe Shelley, writing the Preface to the original edition of Frankenstein, distanced this novel from any attempt at "merely weaving a series of supernatural terrors," insisting on its adherence to the higher aims of the "imagination." Similarly, Mary Shelley, in writing the Introduction to the third edition, stresses how in its initial conception her "imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided" her. That all these statements are congruent with one another and with an exalted notion of the Romantic imagination, however, cannot alter the ironic context in which this particular phrase is uttered. In the previous paragraph we have been observing Victor Frankenstein, who was once swept along by his imagination to create a deformed and alienated being, revising with soberly rational care his account of that act and its consequences. The actual context for this phrase in the novel would thus appear to offset its perhaps expected paean to the imagination.