Scientist: Sky confirms "shining moon" behind Frankenstein

Mon Sep 26, 2011 6:41pm EDT
 
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By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - A Texas astronomer has used science to confirm one of the most famous tales in western literature, the "bright and shining moon" over Lake Geneva that inspired an 18-year-old Mary Shelley to write "Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus."

Shelley has long been doubted for her version of events that led to the writing of one of the most beloved Gothic tales in the English language: That she wrote it on a challenge one night in June 1816 during a "waking dream" as the moon shone through her window.

But Donald Olson, an astronomy professor at Texas State University in San Marcos, told Reuters on Monday that the night sky would argue that she was telling the truth.

"Some scholars are very skeptical, they even call her a liar," Olson said. "But we see no reason, either in the science or in the primary sources, to doubt Mary Shelley's account."

Olson has made a hobby out of using the sky to solve the mysteries of many of the world's most famous works of art and historical accounts.

His study of tides in the English Channel forced historians to change the accepted date of Julius Caesar's invasion of Britain in 55 BC, and he used astronomical tables to pinpoint where and when Vincent Van Gogh painted the famous painting alternately known as "Moonrise" and "Sunrise over Saint-Remy."

Shelley first wrote of how she came to write Frankenstein in the preface of the book's 1831 edition, and critics immediately began questioning her story as simply a ruse to sell more books.

The story goes like this: Shelley was staying with her future husband, Percy Shelley, at the Villa Diodati in Switzerland in June of 1816. Also present were Lord Byron and friends Claire Clairmont and John Polidori. Byron challenged all of them to try their hand at writing a ghost story.   Continued...