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Who Was Dr. Frankenstein?

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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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Kyle Ely
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Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
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Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.

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How the Rise of Paperback Books Turned To Kill a Mockingbird Into a Literary Classic
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Tim Boyle/Getty Images

If you went to middle or high school in the U.S. in the last few decades, chances are you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's now-classic novel (which was adapted into a now-classic film) about racial injustice in the South. Even if you grew up far-removed from Jim Crow laws, you probably still understand its significance; in 2006, British librarians voted it the one book every adult should read before they die. And yet the novel, while considered an instant success, wasn’t always destined for its immense fame, as we learned from the Vox video series Overrated. In fact, its status in the American literary canon has a lot to do with the format in which it was printed.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in paperback at a time when literary houses were just starting to invest in the format. After its publication in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was reviewed favorably in The New York Times, but it wasn’t the bestselling novel that year. It was the evolution of paperbacks that helped put it into more hands.

Prior to the 1960s, paperbacks were often kind of trashy, and when literary novels were published in the format, they still featured what Vox calls “sexy covers,” like a softcover edition of The Great Gatsby that featured a shirtless Jay Gatsby on the cover. According to a 1961 article in The New York Times, back in the 1950s, paperbacks were described as “a showcase for the ‘three S’s—sex, sadism, and the smoking gun.’” But then, paperbacks came to schools.

The mass-market paperback for To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1962. It was cheap, but had stellar credentials, which appealed to teachers. It was a popular, well-reviewed book that earned Lee the Pulitzer Prize. Suddenly, it was in virtually every school and, even half a century later, it still is.

Learn the whole story in the video below from Vox.

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