Galvanism

Galvanism is defined as the contraction of the muscle resulting from the application of electrical currents to specific tissues of an organism. This effect was named after Luigi Galvani, an 18th century renowned Italian scientist. In Mary Shelley’s 1831 introduction text, Shelley states she overheard many discussions about the topic between her husband Percy Shelley and her friend Lord Byron. Since this was a newly discovered effect, she and many believed it to be possible to reanimate dead organisms through the use of electricity. She writes, “Perhaps a corpse would be reanimated; galvanism had given a token of such things; perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth”(Shelley’s 1831 Introduction).

Victor Frankenstein secludes himself from society, neglecting all of his friends and family, and dedicates all of his life to natural science. His studies and discoveries filled “the psychological role of giving one's life focus and definition and of proving one's worth in an impersonal way (Caneva 155)”.

Many were strictly opposed to this practice since they believed science was a type of witchcraft, especially animating dead organisms. Mary does not necessary condemn the advancements in the scientific field – she is rather ambivalent towards it. However, she does criticize the single-minded pursuit of knowledge and power. It was Victor’s single-mindedness that led him to social isolation, which eventually resulted in his creation. He crossed many boundaries without taking into consideration the consequences of nature and humankind his actions might bring. 

Illustration of Italian physician Luigi Galvani; from his book De Viribus Electricitatis in Motu Musculari (1792). Galvanism Political Cartoon, 1836.
Galvanism