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Who Was Dr. Frankenstein?

Was there a real Dr. Frankenstein? Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus is considered by many to be the first science fiction novel. It was written in 1816-1817, during a time when bringing the dead back to life was a serious endeavor in scientific circles. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (later Shelley) wrote the book as an exploration of the ethics of such experimentation and brought the question to a wider audience. The model for the character of Dr. Frankenstein could have been any, or several, of a number of actual people.
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Mary Shelley was a highly yet unconventionally educated teenager in the summer of 1816. She and her future husband Percy Shelley were staying with Lord Byron at his home on Lake Geneva when the idea of the novel came to her. She was undoubtedly influenced by intellectual discussions with Shelley, Byron, and a host of their friends. A look back at the time reveals how the novel reflected real events Mary Shelley knew about and incorporated into the story.

Erasmus Darwin

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Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles Darwin) was a friend of Mary Shelley's father, William Godwin. Shelley mentioned Dr. Darwin in the preface to her novel. Darwin studied galvanism, the contraction of muscles when stimulated with electricity. Shelley refers to Darwin ". . . who preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case, till by some extraordinary means, it began to move with voluntary motion." It really wasn't the pasta, it was vorticelli, a tiny animal.

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The term galvanism came from the work Luigi Galvani, who discovered the phenomenon he called animal electricity. The term was coined by his contemporary Alessandro Volta, who invented the battery.

Giovanni Aldini

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Giovanni Aldini was a nephew of Luigi Galvani. In 1803, he staged a public demonstration of galvanism at the Royal College of Surgeons in London using the body of murderer George Forster shortly after he was executed. He was able to make the corpse's face grimace and the arms and legs to flex violently by applying electrodes connected to a battery.

Henry Cline

Henry Cline had been Mary Shelley's doctor at one time. Cline made the newspapers in 1814 by reviving a sailor who had been in a coma for months. This may well have impressed the young Mary Godwin.

Also cited is an entry in Mary's journal for 19 March 1815, shortly after the death of her first baby: "˜Dream that my little baby came to life again—that it had only been cold & that we rubbed it by the fire & it lived'.

James Lind

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Dr. James Lind was a friend to and influence on Percy Shelley. Although Lind is best known for discovering the cure for scurvy, he also experimented with animal electricity, in which he animated dead frogs by applying electrical currents to the muscles. He also kept a laboratory full of "mad scientist" equipment. Percy Shelley also collected such equipment.

Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein

Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein could have possibly been the inspiration for the name of Dr. Frankenstein. Kratzenstein began experimenting on the effects of electricity on the human body in 1744, too early to have had any contact with Mary Shelley, but she may have been familiar with his work through the other doctors listed here.

Johann Conrad Dippel

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Another possible influence on Shelley may have been Johann Conrad Dippel. Dippel was born at Castle Frankenstein in Germany in 1673, and made an effort to buy the castle later in life. Dippel was a theologian who became an alchemist and then a medical doctor. He produced a cure-all called Dippel's Animal Oil. There was talk that he robbed graves for experiments in creating artificial life, but there is no concrete evidence of this.

Paracelsus

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The character Victor Frankenstein in the novel mentions that he studied the works of Paracelsus. Paracelsus was born Phillip von Hohenheim in 1493. He was a prodigy, entering college at age 16 already equipped with knowledge of alchemy. He claimed to have developed a homunculus, or little man, from semen alone.

"Let the semen of a man putrefy by itself in a sealed cucurbite with the highest putrefaction of venter equinus for forty days, or until it begins at last to live, move, and be agitated, which can easily be seen. At this time it will be in some degree like a human being, but, nevertheless, transparent and without a body. If now, after this, it be every day nourished and fed cautiously with the arcanum of human blood, and kept for forty weeks in the perpetual and equal heat of venter equinus, it becomes thencefold a true living infant, having all the members of a child that is born from a woman, but much smaller. This we call a homunculus; and it should be afterwards educated with the greatest care and zeal, until it grows up and starts to display intelligence".

Mary Shelley probably drew on her knowledge of all of these doctors to create the character of Victor Frankenstein. While they explored the question of how to create artificial life, she asked whether we should.

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15 Powerful Quotes From Margaret Atwood
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MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images

It turns out the woman behind such eerily prescient novels as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake is just as wise as her tales are haunting. Here are 15 of the most profound quips from author, activist, and Twitter enthusiast Margaret Atwood, who was born on this day in 1939.

1. On her personal philosophy

 “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

2. On the reality of being female

“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

3. On limiting how her politics influence her characters

“You know the myth: Everybody had to fit into Procrustes’ bed and if they didn’t, he either stretched them or cut off their feet. I’m not interested in cutting the feet off my characters or stretching them to make them fit my certain point of view.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

4. On so-called “pretty” works of literature

“I don’t know whether there are any really pretty novels … All of the motives a human being may have, which are mixed, that’s the novelists’ material. … We like to think of ourselves as really, really good people. But look in the mirror. Really look. Look at your own mixed motives. And then multiply that.”

— From a 2010 interview with The Progressive

5. On the artist’s relationship with her fans

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

6. On the challenges of writing non-fiction

“When I was young I believed that ‘nonfiction’ meant ‘true.’ But you read a history written in, say, 1920 and a history of the same events written in 1995 and they’re very different. There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

7. On poetry

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

8. On being labeled an icon

“All these things set a standard of behavior that you don’t necessarily wish to live up to. If you’re put on a pedestal you’re supposed to behave like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

9. On how we’re all born writers

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

10. On the oppression at the center of The Handmaid's Tale

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here. Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” 

— From a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets

11. On the discord between men and women

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. … ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

— From Atwood’s Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982

12. On the challenges of expressing oneself

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

13. On selfies

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

14. On the value of popular kids' series (à la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson)

"It put a lot of kids onto reading; it made reading cool. I’m sure a lot of later adult book clubs came out of that experience. Let people begin where they are rather than pretending that they’re something else, or feeling that they should be something else."

— From a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post

15. On why even the bleakest post-apocalyptic novels are, deep down, full of hope

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

— From a 2011 interview with The Atlantic 

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China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library
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People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
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A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

[h/t Newsweek]

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