Galvanism, a Macabre Medical Practice for Checking if a Person was Alive in the 1700s , Inspired "Frankenstein"

Yana Bostongirl

Back in the day, doctors lacked the resources of modern day medicine to make certain a deceased person was actually dead. They relied mainly on touch and smell to determine whether someone was dead and sometimes it led to people being buried alive.

This fear of being buried alive or “taphophobia” resulted in several new inventions ranging from the macabre to others which leave people scratching their heads in bafflement.

One macabre medical practice of checking for signs of life was galvanism or the method of applying electricity to the dead body in the hopes that it will awaken in the event that the person was not truly dead. It is said that this served as inspiration for Mary Shelley's 1818 novel "Frankenstein."

Here is an excerpt from that talks about how galvanism inspired a hugely popular Gothic novel:" The inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is said to have originated from the cutting-edge science of its day: galvanism, named after scientist Luigi Galvani who declared electricity to be the force that brought life to all. As an anatomy professor, Galvani was performing his own Frankenstein experiments on frogs. He discovered that applying electricity to the frog’s body caused its muscles to twitch."

The article goes on to describe how in 1805, Christian August Struwe suggested attaching electrical wires to the lips and eyelids of a deceased person in order to see if the body twitched upon application of electricity which would mean the person was still alive. However, these tests did not gain traction because the machines required for them were very expensive and people were not keen on the burning flesh that resulted from the application of electricity.

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