The real experiments that inspired Frankenstein

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Published on 10 May 2019, 12:00
When Mary Shelley published her iconic novel in 1818, raising the dead seemed to be the near-future.

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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has been reimagined onscreen hundreds of times and is a staple of pop culture. The prevailing takeaway is science-gone-wrong and the dangers of pursuing the unnatural. But contemporary readers, surrounded by Enlightenment-era scientific breakthroughs that were beginning to shift the definition of death, would have read the story as frighteningly plausible.

Electricity was being used in a scientific practice called “galvanism,” which seemed to show some promise in reanimating body parts of recently dead animals and humans. Shelley even references galvanism in the 1831 edition of the book, citing it as an example of how this experiment could be a possibility.

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Sharon Ruston’s “The Science of Life and Death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein:”

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