Four real-life scientists contributed to Shelley’s inspiration. Italian physicist Luigi Galvini conducted experiments using electrical currents in dead frogs causing the frogs’ muscles to twitch post-mortem. Giovanni Aldini used the same process to reanimate the limbs of an executed criminal at the Royal College of Physicians in London. Scottish surgeon Andrew Ure followed suit, claiming an electrical current to the phrenic nerve could reanimate a corpse following death. Johann Konrad Dippel, an alchemist, experimented at Castle Frankenstein, stole bodies from the castle graveyard in attempt to bring them back to life.
Melville based his monster-piece novel on the famed Essex ship, which was attacked and sunk by a sperm whale in 1820. The news was New England lore that captured the imagination of young novelist Melville. Captain Ahab was fashioned after the Essex’s real-life Captain George Pollard, Jr.
Romeo and Juliet
In 1591 England, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton fell in love with a young woman named Elizabeth Vernon, one of Queen Elizabeth’s ladies in waiting. Henry was a courtier to the Queen. Ladies in waiting could not wed without the Queen’s blessing, but politics made it so that she would not allow the union. Henry and Elizabeth Vernon secretly married each other. When the Queen found out she had the lovers sent to Fleet Prison. No poison involved but tragic nevertheless. This was the royal court’s major gossip while Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, and Henry was his close friend.
Written by a man of the headline trade: Sinclair was a muckraker journalist. He spent seven weeks incognito in the meatpacking plants of Chicago stockyards gathering information for this book. His ‘fiction’ first appeared in the 1905 Socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason as a weekly series. It was published as a novel in 1906.
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Stowe was one of our country’s founding abolitionist. She published this novel in 1852 as a response to the major political news of 1850, the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act. The book was based on the yet-untold stories of America’s long-suffering slaves. It was the bestselling novel of the 19th century and attributed to laying the groundwork for the Civil War.
The Mapmaker's Children
The historical narrative of my recent release The Mapmaker’s Children begins with one of the most influential headlines of American history: “INSURRECTION AT HARPERS FERRY.” It was this October 1859 news of John Brown’s raid that many historians credit as the social spark of the Civil War. Real life is fraught with far more danger, mystery, acts of madness, and feats of bravery than anything we could dream up. As authors, we’re perpetually watching the world’s news (past and present), collecting experiences, and using those startling bits to shape our fiction collages. It’s the ancient practice of our writing craft. So it got me wondering what classic books were ripped from history’s headlines, too. What past authors gleaned inspiration from the news of their day and subsequently produced books that became part of our modern literary lore?
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