The novel Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus (1818) with its story of the daring scientist Dr. Victor Frankenstein and the monster made of human parts that he brought to life is one of the most famous works of fiction. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (1797–1851) was 16 when she met the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822). Mary ran off to Europe with Shelley in 1816, and they spent the summer with Lord George Gordon Byron (1788–1824) and his friend and personal physician Dr. John Polidori (1795–1821) in Geneva. To pass the time during a dreary summer, Lord Byron suggested that each of them should write a ghost story. Eighteen-year-old Mary was the only one of the four who actually fulfilled the assignment, publishing her novel two years after she married Shelley in December 1816.
While the novel has been hailed as a masterpiece and a work of genius, scholars have long debated the source of Mary Shelley's inspiration. What—or who—suggested the character of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, who became the prototype of the mad or obsessed scientist?
In 2002, while researching the influence of science upon the poetry of Percy Shelley, Chris Goulding, a Ph.D. student at Newcastle University, found historical documents that indicated that the model for Victor Frankenstein was Dr. James Lind (1736–1812), Shelley's scientific mentor at Eton in 1809–10. Lind had become fascinated with the ability of electrical impulses to provoke muscle movement in the legs of dead frogs, and he was quite likely the first scientist in England to conduct experiments similar to those that enabled Dr. Frankenstein to focus electricity from lightning and bring his monster to life. Percy Shelley was interested in science, and Goulding points out passages in Mary Shelley's unfinished biography of her husband wherein she commented that Percy often spoke of the great intellectual debt that he owed to Dr. Lind.
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