Frankenstein, Great Expectations, and Polygon


What’s the connection? Mary Shelley (born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin) wrote Frankenstein; or, The Modern Promethius when she was a teenager, in 1818. The original Dr. Frankenstein’s monster didn’t look like the guy to the left: in the 3rd edition of the book (published in 1831) he looked like this:

So what does this have to do with Polygon? Well, Mary Shelley was born in The Polygon! The Polygon was here:

Some sites indicated that The Polygon was the name of the actual house, but after surfing the net when I really should have been grading doing some research I’m pretty sure that The Polygon was that immediate neighborhood, not one single building.

For example, in a book (Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman) that her dad (William Godwin) wrote about her mom (Mary Wollstonecraft, who died 11 days after Mary was born), The Poygon is mentioned twice:

It is perhaps scarcely necessary to mention, that, influenced by the ideas I had long entertained upon the subject of cohabitation, I engaged an apartment, about twenty doors from our house in the Polygon, Somers Town, which I designed for the purpose of my study and literary occupations. Trifles however will be interesting to some readers, when they relate to the last period of the life of such a person as Mary. I will add therefore, that we were both of us of opinion, that it was possible for two persons to be too uniformly in each other’s society. Influenced by that opinion, it was my practice to repair to the apartment I have mentioned as soon as I rose, and frequently not to make my appearance in the Polygon, till the hour of dinner.

In digging around some more, I discovered someone else who lived in The Polygon: Charles Dickens! He wasn’t born there, but moved to 17 The Polygon, Somers Town in 1827 (more than a decade after Mary had left) at the tender age of seven when his family was evicted from their previous abode. [He only lived there about a year before moving.]

Finally, The Keeper of All that is Good and True says, “In 1784, the first housing was built at the “Polygon”, now the site of a council block of flats called “Oakshot Court”.” So I’m convinced that The Polygon is that neighborhood, maybe the plaza (which would likely be in the shape of a polygon). And the word Polygon is mathy, and Frankenstein is a pretty Halloweeny book, and Charles Dickens has some scary stuff it it (not monster-scary, but those debtors’ prisons don’t sound like much fun), so it all seems to fit the season.

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9 Responses to “Frankenstein, Great Expectations, and Polygon”

  1. TwoPi Says:

    This would appear to be the place, via google maps:

    I was musing on the vacuousity of calling a plaza “The Polygon” (aren’t they all?), when I saw the neighboring street was called “The Pavement”. Must be a theme….

  2. The Mystery of the Fibonacci Pumpkin « 360 Says:

    […] Fibonacci Pumpkin By Ξ We have a mystery on our hands.  Greater than the mystery of what Frankenstein has to do with polygons.  Greater even than the mystery of how to come up with a good Math Halloween Costume.    The […]

  3. Dan O'Hanlon Says:


    “Some sites indicated that The Polygon was the name of the actual house, but after surfing the net when I really should have been grading doing some research I’m pretty sure that The Polygon was that immediate neighborhood, not one single building.”

    Basically, “The Polygon” of Mary Shelley was two things together:

    1. It was a Square, in NW London, in the center of which was

    2. A block of eight houses—one of which was the Godwin household (Mary Shelley’s maiden name was Mary Godwin.)

    See it at:

    —where you will see it drawn as a circle—but it actually was an octogon.

    It was destroyed in the London Blitz.

    (Note: whilst there were many early re-printings of Frankenstein, there was no “third edition”; only the Second (1831).

  4. Ξ Says:

    Thanks Dan!

    Can I clarify — I was thinking that the original was published in 1818, and I saw reference to a “New Edition” in 1823 (see, for example, this article from The Times Online) with the 1831 being the third edition. But in looking more closely at that article, the “third” isn’t capitalized, so are you saying that the “New Edition” was a reprinting and the 1831 edition was officially only the second edition?

  5. Dan O'Hanlon Says:

    Re: the “new edition” (1823).

    As this merely consolidated into one volume what originally had been a story cheaply produced in three “Penny” volumes (and without any changes to the text) this was not a new edition, merely a reformatted reprint.

    Hope I’ve helped.


  6. Roberta Wedge Says:

    Dan, thanks for the link to the superb Greenwood map. It makes clear just how close the Polygon was to Old St Pancras Church, where Godwin & Wollstonecraft were married, where she was buried half a year later, and where their daughter planned her elopement with Shelley. One small point: the Polygon, which had marble mantlepieces at its construction,
    degenerated into a slum by the time the perpetually penniless Dickens family moved into lodgings there in 1827 (the reasons for the speed of its decline are not entirely clear); the Polygon was knocked down in the 1894 to make way for railway workers’ flats, according to Claire Tomalin, the biographer of Mary W. (Please tell me how to add links in the comment section!)

  7. Dan O'Hanlon Says:

    About the ultimate fate of the Polygon, I accept the correction. I suppose the operative fact is that it eventually disappeared. A pity.

    Another, possible (if inconsequential) error of mine, the Polygon may have been SIXTEEN houses. Thus, appearing more like a circle, that would explain its representation as such on Greenwood’s map. (For, if it was indeed an octagon, the fastidiousness of the mapmakers would have demanded that they draw it as such, as that was possible.) The proportions of the “circle” of houses adds to that possibility.

    (Sorry, but I don’t know, either, how to add links to a comment.)

    All the best to all,

  8. Ξ Says:

    [Just a note about adding links in comments: you can do it directly with html code:

    LESSTHANSIGNa href=””GREATERTHANSIGN Then the words that you want to appear. LESSTHANSIGN/aGREATERTHANSIGN

    Except that instead of LESSTHANSIGN and GREATERTHANSIGN you’d use the corresponding symbols (which I can’t seem to type here without having them appear as html code).

    In this case, the text “Then the words that you want to appear.” would show up in the comment, but they’d be a hyperlink to the address that you’d typed.

    [I think there’s a way to type html code so that it’s left as text and not interpreted as html code, but I’m not sure how to do that.]

  9. Joshua Says:

    You can also type < and > probably to get the signs to appear (that’s an ampersand &, followed by lt or gt, and then a semicolon ; at the end).

    Sadly there seems to be no preview feature here for me to check it out!

    But if I’m right then your explanation would look like

    <a href=””>Then the words you want to appear.</a>

    we’ll see if that works!

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