A copy of Frankenstein that belonged to Lord Bryon and features an inscription by Mary Shelley has been discovered in a family library - and is expected to sell for £400,000 at auction.
The copy of the best known fiction of the Romantic era had lain untouched for more than 50 years in the library of Lord Jay, the economist and Labour politician. His grandson Sammy, was sorting through his political papers for the archives of the Bodleian Library in Oxford, when he made the discovery.
"I saw the book lying at an angle in the corner of the top shelf. On opening it, I saw the title page, recognised what it was at once and leafed hungrily through the text - it was only when I flicked idly back to the first blank that I saw the inscription in cursive black ink, "To Lord Byron, from the author"," explained the 23-year-old.
The next day Richard Ovenden, deputy librarian at the Bodleian, came to the house and verified the inscription as being in Mary Shelley's hand.
The book will be available to view by the public from 26 September 2012 for one week at Peter Harrington's premises at 100 Fulham Road, Chelsea. A range of literary artefacts to illustrate the contemporary context of the volume will also be on display.
The story of the genesis of Frankenstein is well known to literary scholars. On a stormy night in June 1816 at the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva, a ghost-story writing contest between Byron, the Shelleys, and Byron's physician Polidori led to the composition of Mary Shelley's novel
Not only was the contest itself Byron's own idea (as Mary recollects in the preface to the third edition), but more generally Byron's influence as a thinker, a poet and a man played an incalculable role in shaping this most significant work of Romantic fiction.
Written on Mary Shelley's return to England, the book was published in a small edition of only 500 copies, the publisher giving six copies for her personal use to Mary.
Her husband Percy Shelley sent a copy to Byron by post and wrote on her behalf: "I am commissioned by an old friend of yours to convey 'Frankenstein' to you...It has met with considerable success in England; but she bids me say, 'That she would regard your approbation as a more flattering testimony of its merit.'"
Byron later recommended it to John Murray: "methinks it is a wonderful work for a girl of nineteen".
Ah yes, the work of a creative toddler. Brightly coloured, often involving small toys, selling for $30,000... Oh, wait, maybe not that part. By age 4, Australian wunderkind Aelita Andre had made more money than most UK twenty-somethings, and had been dubbed the "Next Jackson Pollock" by the New York Times art critic. All before she's technically large enough to dominate her own press shots. PHOTO: Courtesy of Aelita Andre
We all know Pope was a bit of a hero in later life - writing Rape of the Lock, sending up The Man, hanging out with a load of cool 18th century satirists (who wouldn't want to be Jonathan Swift's friend?). But what makes him even more sickeningly ace is that he was this good when he was a child writing poetry. Which means he got a total head start on being the third most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, and should give the rest of us a chance. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons
Teenagers writing poetry isn't that much of a rarity. Teenagers being dubbed "an infant Shakespeare" by French Literary legend Victor Hugo is quite another. Arthur Rimbaud's teenager poetic prowess was such that he gave it all up before reaching his third decade, chosing instead to grow his hair long, drink heavily, and travel before dying at just 37.
While other eight-year-olds messed around in rural idylls, Kieron Williamson was painting them. And exhibiting his paintings. And selling out his exhibitions in 14 minutes. The prodigy from Holt, Norfolk, paints his local surroundings and has helped his parents to buy a house with his profits - which reach into the hundreds of thousands. PHOTO: Kieron Williamson 2010
Oh, lovely Keats, forever remembered being fresh-faced and youthful, because he died at 23 - a fact Romantic poet fans have forever mourned. Orphaned at 14, Keats wasn't truly appreciated in his own time, instead being taken under a few influential literary wings. Now, of course, we appreciate his brilliance - with only a mildly bitter taste that we will never be as good. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons
This image, unsurprisingly, is not of painterly protege Millais, but something he created when he was 16. Indeed, quite the winning piece of GCSE coursework - had Millias not been accepted into the Royal Academy Schools at age 11. Naturally, he improved upon this early work, and went on to produce the stunning Ophelia, which now hangs in London's National Gallery, at the ripe old age of 22. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons
Albrecht Dürer was one of between 14 and 18 children in his family, so perhaps that's why he felt the need to shine. You know, by creating this incredibly detailed and tactile self-portrait at age 13. No sign of burgeoning teenage angst there. Dürer went on to become one of the Renaissance's finest painters. What did they say about sibling rivalry, again? PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons
Lovecraft could be seen as proof of what happens if your mum's your only friend during childhood. Meaning, churning out impressive poetry from the age of six - after learning to read at two. While Lovecraft went on to become one of the most influential Sci-Fi and horror writers of the 20th century (although unappreciated in his time), his unusual youth almost definitely had some impact on his talent. The son of two mentally ill parents, Lovecraft spent his sickly childhood under the care of his grandfather, who enjoyed telling him horror stories. The moral here? Well, probably not to nurture a vulnerable child's imagination in such terrifying ways... IMAGE: PA
Frankenstein's authorship may have been the subject of rife academic debate for decades, but for those who accept that Mary - rather than her husband Percy Shelley wrote it - we can be mildly peeved that she was annoyingly young. Shelley started work on the earliest example of science fiction at just 18, and by 21 had finished her gothic masterpiece. Whether or not she realised people would still be entranced by it 200 years later is another issue. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons