This is my very favorite type of story: the type of story that lets me pretend, for the 20 minutes or so it takes to read it and write about it, that we do in fact live in a scientific utopia in which all major practical problems have been solved to the satisfaction and benefit of all humanity, and billions of happy and healthy philosopher-scientists spread over the safe green lands of this Earth and the cold scientific outposts established on its nearest neighbors can settle down in well-funded laboratories to explore the most pressing questions left to them by responsible and forward-thinking previous generations.
Questions like, “Based on Mary Shelley’s account of the moonlight over a period of time, can we use astronomical data to confirm or deny the chronology she provides for the process of writing Frankenstein?”
I mean, think about it. It is kind of stellar that someone thought to ask that question. That multiple people have thought to ask that question is nothing short of a statistical miracle. Don’t get me wrong; I am definitely a fan of Frankenstein. And I love literary criticism, when it is well thought-out. And I love data. And I love the Moon. But all of them together? That’s just perfect.
According to the article, while Mary Shelley was attempting to come up with her ghost story,
“she experienced a terrifying waking dream in which a man attempted to bring life to a cadaverous figure via the engines of science. Shelley awoke from the horrific vision to find moonlight streaming in through her window, and by the next day was hard at work on her story.”
I really like the phrase “the engines of science.” It makes me think of a steampunk MRI scanner.
Furthermore, provided that this is not a case of the author being a Serious Writerly Type (a transgression I can sympathize with, but my sympathy makes me suspect it all the more), that sounds a bit like sleep paralysis. Considering the company she kept, sleep paralysis on Mary Shelley’s part would have been just about the last of anyone’s worries.
The article goes on to explain that the researchers have found evidence that supports Shelley’s account of her writing:
“The research team made extensive topographic measurements of the terrain and Villa Diodati, then combed through weather records from June of 1816. The Texas State researchers then calculated that a bright, gibbous moon would have cleared the hillside to shine into Shelley’s bedroom window just before 2 a.m. on June 16. This calculated time is in agreement with Shelley’s witching hour reference.”
In conclusion: Science is awesome.