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Frankenstein Moon: Scientists Use Moonlight To Trace Date Mary Shelley Came Up With Monster Storyline

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Bodleian curator Stephen Hebron holds the original manuscript of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, as he prepares for Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford latest literary exhibition on Nov. 29, 2010 in Oxford, England. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images) | Getty

It wasn't a dark and stormy night when author Mary Shelley actually came up with the idea for "Frankenstein." In fact, the moon was shining through her shutters on the eve she created her monster storyline, just as she wrote, and now scientists can prove it.

Shelley's claim that her idea for Victor Frankenstein and his creation was born during a "waking dream" between the hours of 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. as moonlight peered through her window has long been disputed.

However, researchers at Texas State University pored through weather records from 1816 and say they can prove the moon would have shined into her window just before 2 a.m. on June 16, according to a press release from Science Daily.

The dispute stemmed from Shelley's written account of the timeline of events that led to the birth of Frankenstein in the preface of its 1831 edition, Reuters explains. Critics thought the account was a romanticized story to up book sales.

Shelley, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and John Polidori were staying in a villa in June 1816, when Byron challenged each person to come up with a ghost story. Shelley wrote she couldn't come up with an idea until that sleepless night when she was inspired, as "moonlight struggl[ed] to get through" a window, the Sydney Morning Herald points out. She wrote:

"I saw with shut eyes, but acute mental vision ... I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life ..."

Written documents placed Byron and Polidori at the villa on June 10, Science Daily reports, "narrowing the possible dates for the evening of Byron's ghost story proposition to a June 10-16 window."

The findings will be published in the November 2011 issue of Sky and Telescope.

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