Some time ago I wrote about Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. At the time I hadn’t actually read the book (tsk, tsk), but it was an interesting little exercise teasing out some of the linkages.
I am by no means a literary scholar, but when I came to read the book, I found it interesting to see these connections play out in the text. Some of it is clearly inspired by Mary’s life events, her time in Geneva, her journey down the Rhine with Shelley, and the connection with whaling which I guess was partly inspired by her time in Dundee, and some by hearing Coleridge recite the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
What I’d failed to appreciate was that at the time the novel was written – it was first published on New Year’s Day 1818 – arctic exploration was a hot topic and was covered extensively in the papers.
While Buchan’s Spitzbergen and Ross’s Greenland government sanctioned Royal Navy expeditions – where Ross first encountered the Inuit – did not take place until later in 1818, there had been several informal journeys of exploration by various whaling ships such as those by William Scoresby – who was later to play a life in the Brontë saga in his second career as the Vicar of Bradford – had already built up a body of knowledge about the Arctic.
I don’t know how much Mary Shelley knew of the preparations for these expeditions, but she would not only have heard stories about whaling and talk of the scientific discoveries in the Arctic.
The real surprise to me was the almost complete lack of references to galvanism – in fact her description of the assembly of the creature seems to owe more to early experiments in anatomy and physiology and the idea that life can be created, that and the reference to chemistry and ideas which may have come from hearing about Humphry Davy’s dream experiments …