Frankenstein and the elements

Frontispiece to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein
Lake Geneva by Corinne Vionnet

waning gibbous moon (from moonmooring).
 A team of astronomers investigated the light and phase of the moon that best matched Mary Shelley's recollections
of her time at Villa Diodati and the creation of Frankenstein
Rhone Glacier by Johann Heinrich Wuest (1741-1821).The Shelley-Byron party made excursions into the Swiss Alps and wrote of feeling overwhelmed by the extremity of the natural setting: the peaks, waterfalls, avalanches, and the unearthly glaciers. One glacier, Byron wrote, was “like a frozen hurricane.” Mary Shelley drew on her impressions to depict the arctic scenes in Frankenstein.
storm over Lake Geneva by Verleihnix

Eruption of Mt Vesuvius by Joseph Wright of Derby (extreme detail)
Giovanni Aldini galvanizing the freshly executed body of a criminal, 1803

The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind the blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day…
Darkness, George Gordon, Lord Byron

You have exactly one more week only to visit with the Shelleys at the New York Public Library exhibit Shelley's Ghost. However, Percy, Mary and Frankenstein et al. have an afterlife in the new edition of Biblion, a website and free app by the NYPL. Biblion offers thematic features using “documents, images, films, audio, and essays” drawn from and about the Library's collections. The first Biblion was on the 1939 New York World's Fair; the Shelley and Frankenstein issue recently launched. One intriguing essay attempts to pinpoint a definitive date for Mary Shelley's creation of Frankenstein— by the phase of the moon.

A little background:
in 1815 Mount Tambora, a volcano in the Dutch East Indies, erupted spectacularly. It was one of the largest volcanic events ever recorded— roughly four times the power of the more familiar Krakatoa explosion. Ash, sulphur dioxide and dust were ejected into the atmosphere by “violent convulsions” which lasted for about three months. Strange weather, lengthy periods of darkness and record-cold temperatures swept across Europe and North America. An extraordinary “red and yellow” snow fell in Terramo, Italy on December 31st. A scientist there predicted that the sun would be extinguished on July 18, 1816.

In June of 1816
, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Mary's stepsister Claire, and Byron's physician, John Polidori,
on a sojourn in Geneva, Switzerland, were spending their days indoors at the Diodati Villa. They were taking shelter from the cold, hammering rain and mysterious fogs—held captive by weather seemingly inexplicable and apocalyptic. These “atmospheric anomalies” were later identified as having been triggered by the Tambora eruption.

"It proved a wet, ungenial summer", Mary Shelley remembered in the introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, "and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house.” Amusements included reading German ghost stories aloud and nightly conversations which touched upon, among other things, the experiments and theories of the 18th-century philosopher and poet Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles), to galvanism and the feasibility of returning a corpse or body parts to life.

Retiring one evening after midnight, Mary recalled dreaming of "the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out...[and] waking in terror to the very room, the dark parquet, the closed shutters, with the moonlight struggling through.” This was the moon a team of astronomers set out to identify. Read more about Frankenstein's Moon at Bibilion.

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