Meet the real Frankenstein: pioneering scientist who may have inspired Mary Shelley

Meet the real Frankenstein: pioneering scientist who may have inspired Mary Shelley

In the early years of the 19th century, strange stories began to be told about an isolated Somerset country house in the Quantock Hills. Its owner, Andrew Crosse, was known to locals as the “Wizard of the Quantocks”.

Crosse, also nicknamed “the thunder and lightning man” – and, more simply, “the electrician”, was born in 1784 and was an early pioneer in the study of electricity. He inherited Fyne Court in 1805 and transformed the house and wooded grounds into a laboratory for his experiments in investigating atmospheric electrical charges and the potential creative power of lightning strikes. Tim Mowl and I did some archaeological work in the grounds recently – and traces of the garden laboratory survive today.

Crosse’s revelations on the power of electricity challenged orthodox creation theories: here was a power that could be controlled, an alternative to divine power. Mary Shelley’s diaries reveal that in 1814 she and her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley attended a lecture that Crosse, “the thunder and lightning man”, delivered in London.

Mary published Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus in 1818, featuring a “Modern Prometheus” who defied the Gods by creating a monster reanimated by the power of electricity. Could Andrew Crosse have inspired the real Frankenstein?

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