Luigi Galvani

Galvanised life

Luigi GalvaniLuigi Galvani (1737-1798) was an Italian physician, born in Bologna, where he studied at the city's ancient and famous university. Although he had originally planned to study theology and perhaps enter a monastery, he undertook the study of natural sciences and specialised in anatomy and physiology, becoming a lecturer at the University of Bologna at the early age of twenty-five:

  • he became interested in the way in which the muscles of dissected creatures – most famously a frog's hind legs – could be made to move if an electric current was passed through them
  • he believed that there existed a kind of nervous electrical fluid, which was conducted by the nerves from the brains to the muscles, enabling them to move

Although this theory has since been discredited, Galvani's work was accepted at the time and made him one of the best-known scientists in Europe. His name survives in the word ‘to galvanise', meaning to stimulate into life or action.

Use by Mary Shelley

Although Mary Shelley is vague about the means by which Victor Frankenstein brings the monster to life, it is clear from elsewhere in the text that he is familiar with Galvani's work and it is usually assumed that he employs some form of galvanic stimulation.

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