Galvanism | Strange Things People Do with Corpses


In an effort to create life, Victor Frankenstein, the main character in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, bombards his creation with electricity and thus infuses the monster with life. Just before the novel was written, Italian physician Luigi Galvani accidentally discovered that the muscles of dead frogs legs twitched when struck by a spark of electricity. After Galvani’s death, his nephew, Giovanni Aldini, carried on his uncle’s research with electricity and corpses but added a bit of showbiz flare. Aldini traveled all over Europe publicly electrifying human and animal bodies. In 1802 Giovanni Aldini went to London with a spectacular demonstration, where he would shock the corpses of humans (and ox heads), producing repeated, spasmodic movements of facial muscles, arms, and legs. His most famous public experiment was performed on George Forster, a hanged man. Before a large audience, he took a pair of conducting rods hooked to a powerful battery, and touched the rods to various parts of the body. The results were dramatic. When the rods were applied to Forster’s mouth and ear, “the jaw began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and the left eye actually opened.” When next he put the rod to the dead man’s rectum, the whole body convulsed: the movements were “so much increased as almost to give an appearance of re-animation”. The expression “to galvanize (someone) into action” derives from Galvini and his discovery, while Aldini’s travelling electric death show inspired Shelley’s Frankenstein.

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