Frankenstein has been both well received and disregarded since its anonymous publication in 1818. Critical reviews of that time demonstrate these two views, along with confused speculation as to the identity of the author. The Belle Assemblée described the novel as "very bold fiction" (139). The Quarterly Review stated that "the author has the power of both conception and language" (185). Sir Walter Scott, writing in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, congratulated "the author's original genius and happy power of expression" (620), although he is less convinced about the way in which the monster gains knowledge about the world and language. The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany hoped to see "more productions from this author" (253). On the other hand, the Quarterly Review described it "a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity".
In two other reviews where the author is known as the daughter of William Godwin, the criticism of the novel makes reference to the feminine nature of Mary Shelley. The British Critic attacks the novel's flaws as the fault of the author: "The writer of it is, we understand, a female; this is an aggravation of that which is the prevailing fault of the novel; but if our authoress can forget the gentleness of her sex, it is no reason why we should; and we shall therefore dismiss the novel without further comment" (438). The Literary Panorama and National Register attacks the novel as a "feeble imitation of Mr. Godwin's novels" produced by the "daughter of a celebrated living novelist" (414). Despite the reviews, Frankenstein achieved an almost immediate popular success. It became widely known especially through melodramatic theatrical adaptations—Mary Shelley saw a production of Presumption; or The Fate of Frankenstein, a play by Richard Brinsley Peake, in 1823. A French translation appeared as early as 1821 (Frankenstein: ou le Prométhée Moderne, translated by Jules Saladin).
Critical reception of Frankenstein has been largely positive since the mid-20th century. Major critics such as M. A. Goldberg and Harold Bloom have praised the "aesthetic and moral" relevance of the novel, although there are also critics such as Germaine Greer, who criticized the novel as terrible due to technical and narrative defects (such as it featuring three narrators that speak in the same way). In more recent years the novel has become a popular subject for psychoanalytic and feminist criticism: Lawrence Lipking states: "[E]ven the Lacanian subgroup of psychoanalytic criticism, for instance, has produced at least half a dozen discrete readings of the novel". The novel today is generally considered to be a landmark work of romantic and gothic literature, as well as science fiction.
Film director Guillermo del Toro describes Frankenstein as "the quintessential teenage book", adding "You don't belong. You were brought to this world by people that don't care for you and you are thrown into a world of pain and suffering, and tears and hunger. It's an amazing book written by a teenage girl. It's mind-blowing." Professor of philosophy Patricia MacCormack says the creature, brought to life by Victor Frankenstein, addresses the most fundamental human questions: "It's the idea of asking your maker what your purpose is. Why are we here, what can we do?"