Electric Light and Frankenstein

This timeline includes meteorological events, scientific discoveries, and details specific to Mary Shelley's life and the writing of the novel "Frankenstein."

1745-01-01 13:21:57

A Syllabus of a Course of Lectures on Chemistry, delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain

Sir Humphry Davy delivers lectures on chemistry, electricity, and light, which Mary Shelley's husband studied, her father attended, and the transcripts of which she read prior to writing Frankenstein. According to Susan J. Wolfson, we can see striking similarities between Davy's lecture and the lecture Victor Frankenstein attends (the one that inspires his newfound life's work). Source: Wolfson, Susan J. "'The is my Lightning' or; Sparks in the Air." SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, vol. 55, no. 4, pp. 751-786.

1745-01-01 13:21:57

Benjamin Franklin captures lightning in Leyden jar

In a 1752 letter, Benjamin Franklin reports that, working alongside his son, he successfully captured lightning in a Leyden jar.

1745-01-01 13:21:57

Leyden Jar Experiments

In 1744, Ewald Georg von Kleist created the first Leyden Jar, in which he captured an electrical charge in the bottle. Pieter van Musschenbroek copied this experiment and is often considered the man behind the discovery.

1759-12-01 16:18:44

John Wesley publishes "The Desideratum, or Electricity Made Plain and Useful"

This 72-page book (the entire ebook of which can be accessed on Google Books for free) features Wesley's observations about electricity. More specifically, Wesley hoped to employ electricity for an early form of electroshock therapy.

1784-12-22 17:21:28

Benjamin Franklin's "Meteorological Imaginations and Conjectures" read at the Philosophical Society of Manchester

Franklin wrote observations about May 1784 weather patterns and "found time to reflect on the altered climate of 1783-84 that had played such a complicating role in recent events," namely the delay in ratifying the peace accord to end "The War of Independence between Britain and America" (1). Source: D'arcy Wood, Gillen. Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World. Princeton University Press, 2012.

1791-01-01 00:00:00

Erasmus Darwin publishes "The Botanic Garden"

This two-part poem, which Victor Frankenstein indirectly references at various points throughout the novel, includes "The Economy of Vegetation," which celebrates Benjamin Franklin as a hero and highlights Enlightenment progress through scientific innovation.

1797-08-30 00:00:00

Birth of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Mary Shelley)

1802-01-01 06:35:07

Sir Humphry Davy delivers "A Discourse introductory to a Course of Lectures on Chemistry"

This lecture provided information about chemical philosophy and was likely a lecture with which Mary Shelley was familiar.

1804-01-01 03:57:27

Luke Howard publishes "Essay on the Modifications of Clouds"

Luke Howard publishes an essay establishing classifications for clouds: cirrus, cumulus, stratus and nimbus. This essay was first published as part of the Philosophical Magazine in 1803, and it was the first to suggest that cloud formations were standardized and able to be classified. (Link is to digital format of third edition, published in 1865)

1810-01-01 00:00:00

The start of the coldest decade in the historical record

1810-1819. Multiple papers concluded that this was most likely the coldest decade in at least five centuries (39). Source: Wood, Gillen D'arcy. Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World. Princeton University Press, 2014.

1812-01-01 18:42:11

Sir Humphry Davy publishes "Elements of Chemical Philosophy"

Davy's book, which Shelley included in her 1816 reading list, evaluated natural chemical changes in various substances and included information about electricity and magnetism, lightning, and other scientific ideas that may have inspired Shelley's novel.

1815-04-01 06:39:44

Mount Tambora Erupts

In "Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World," Gillen D'Arcy Wood argues that this event set off a series of catastrophic weather events spanning the globe (including the bizarre 1816 weather Mary Shelley witnessed in Geneva, when she dreamed up and wrote her famous novel "Frankenstein").

1816-01-01 20:10:14

The year without a summer

This year featured "the coldest, wettest Geneva summer since records began in 1753" (46). Source: Wood, Gillen D'arcy. Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World. Princeton University Press, 2014.

1816-06-13 06:40:53

The "mightiest of the storms" at Lake Geneva

On June 13, 1816, Lord Byron recorded witnessing "the mightiest of the storms," which inspired the following lines in "Child Harold's Pilgrimage": The sky is changed—and such a change! Oh night, And storm, and darkness, ye are wondrous strong..." (46). Source: Wood, Gillen D'arcy. Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World. Princeton University Press, 2014.

1816-06-16 00:00:00

Mary Shelley begins writing Frankenstein

On June 18, 1816, Mary and Percy Shelley, Claire Clairmont, Lord Byron, and John Polidori recited "gothic verse" to one another during a particularly violent thunderstorm, inspiring Mary Shelley to transform a nightmare into "a horror story of her own, about a doomed monster brought unwittingly to life during a storm" (52). Source: D'arcy Wood, Gillen. Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World. Princeton University Press, 2014.

1816-12-30 00:00:00

Marriage of Mary and Percy Shelley

Wedding occurs after Harriet Shelley's death (her body was discovered on December 10th)

1817-05-14 00:00:00

Mary Shelley finishes writing Frankenstein

1817-08-31 18:21:18

Galvani's " De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari commentarius" published

Luigi Galvani publishes report, written in Latin, about electricity and electrophysiology

1818-01-01 19:30:59

Luke Howard publishes "The Climate of London, Vol. I"

In 1818, Howard published the first of two volumes of "the first professional almanac of British weather conditions, complete with detailed statistical tables and prolific commentary" (55). This marks a shift in understanding meteorology as a "legitimate science" rather than guesswork and superstition and establishes the concept of "climate" as a region's weather over a period of time (55). It also demonstrates how Tambora's eruption impacted weather as far away as London. It also included weather patterns across continental Europe, suggesting that Howard was starting to view weather as "a cross-continental phenomenon and not simply the variation of local conditions" (59). Source: Wood, Gillen D'arcy. Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World. Princeton University Press, 2014.

1818-01-11 13:21:57

Frankenstein Published

Published anonymously

1818-05-17 16:28:02

Winter storm described in Plymouth, UK newspaper

"Included in the destruction was a famous tree in Plymouth, the newspaper account of which reads very much like the lightning strike passage in Frankenstein, first published the month of this memorable storm" (59). Source: Wood, Gillen D'arcy. Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World. Princeton University Press, 2014.

1820-01-01 19:30:59

Luke Howard publishes "The Climate of London, Vol. II"

In 1820, Howard published the second of two volumes of "the first professional almanac of British weather conditions, complete with detailed statistical tables and prolific commentary" (55). This marks a shift in understanding meteorology as a "legitimate science" rather than guesswork and superstition and establishes the concept of "climate" as a region's weather over a period of time (55). It also demonstrates how Tambora's eruption impacted weather as far away as London. It also included weather patterns across continental Europe, suggesting that Howard was starting to view weather as "a cross-continental phenomenon and not simply the variation of local conditions" (59). Source: Wood, Gillen D'arcy. Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World. Princeton University Press, 2014.

1820-05-12 06:45:40

Polar seas close after post-Tambora opening

"The polar seas had opened briefly in the Tambora period—just enough for [Captain William Edward] Parry's 1819 expedition to raise the nation's hopes for completion of the fabled northwest passage to the Pacific. But post-1819, with North Atlantic ocean circulation returned to normal, the polar ice abruptly closed once more, like a grave" (146). Source: Wood, Gillen D'arcy. Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World. Princeton University Press, 20

1823-08-11 13:21:57

Second edition of Frankenstein Published

Second edition published, giving credit to Mary Shelley. "The 1823 edition, prepared by Godwin without any participation from the author, has no textual authority" (43). Source: Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Broadview, 2012.

1831-11-01 13:21:57

Third Edition of Frankenstein Published

"And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words, which found no true echo in my heart." (351) Regarding updates and alterations to the third version: "They are principally those of style. I have changed no portion of the story, nor introduced any new ideas or circumstances." (351-2) The above quotes are pulled from the Introduction to Shelley's 1831 edition, found in Appendix I of Frankenstein Source: Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Broadview, 2012.

1851-02-01 22:03:26

Death of Mary Shelley

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Electric Light and Frankenstein

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