Monday, November 22, 2010

A Real-Life Frankenstein Tale

In 1803 a scientist named Aldini and his team pulled the corpse of a convicted killer fresh from the gallows, brought him to a packed hall at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, and hooked him up to a very large electrical battery. That's when the fun began:

When Aldini applied conducting rods, connected to a large battery, to Forster's face, "the jaw began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and the left eye actually opened". The climax of the performance came as Aldini probed Forster's rectum, causing his clenched fist to punch the air, as if in fury, his legs to kick and his back to arch violently.

The effect was called "galvanism," and an 1836 illustration of it is above. Read the rest of the gory details in this fascinating article in the Guardian here.

Mary Shelley would later describe how experiments like this excited her and made her think: "Perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued [sic] with vital warmth." I found the quote in the excellent Frankenstein: A Cultural History by a friend of mine named Susan Tyler Hitchcock.

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