Galvanism Aids Horror Factor

Though Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, is regarded as a horror novel, it no longer carries the same scare factor due to contemporary horror film. Regardless her novel was considered to be downright terrifying during the time period of Frankenstein’s publication. Shelley spawned the idea for Frankenstein through a nightmare of hers, which closely resembled Frankenstein’s creation. At the time of Frankenstein’s publication galvanism was considered a new science, and to most people of society a horrifying and blasphemous idea. Mary Shelley aids the frightening idea of the book through her elusive and vague use of galvanism. Shelley never fully states in Frankenstein, the creature was brought to life through the uses of galvanism, but leaves many subtle hints throughout the book. This allows readers to assume galvanism was the reason behind the creatures newly given life.  Shelley leaves this key piece of information out of the book, because the idea of galvanism was only about thirty years old at the time of Frankenstein’s publication, and many people of that time period were not informed on the specifics of galvanism. The idea of using electricity to reanimate parts of a dead human body, instilled blood curdling fear and disgust among the public, which Shelley capitalizes on in her book. During the creature’s reanimation scene in the novel, Frankenstein states that he will, “infuses a spark of being into the lifeless thing” (Shelley 58). Shelley does not forwardly tell the reader the creature is being brought to life through the use of galvanism, because most of the public during the early nineteenth century are unaware of galvanism, which gives the scene a distinctive mysterious effect. The mysterious effect allowed readers of that time period to think of the most horrifying way to spark a being alive. Although the current generation is accustom to the idea of the spark being a bolt of lightning, as it is depicted in many Hollywood versions of Frankenstein, the public during the time of the publication did not have major motion pictures to persuade their imagination into thinking of a lightning bolt. To nudge the readers in the right direction Shelley leaves hint at the beginning of Frankenstein’s travels, when he encounters “a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak” (42). After the stream of fire leaves the tree, Frankenstein is baffled when he sees a stump in place of the tree. After inquiring about electricity laws, his acquaintance “formed on the subject of electricity and galvanism, which were new and astonishing to [him]” (43). This allows the reader to make the direct connection that the spark associated to the creatures new life is a by-produce of the new science, galvanism, which intrigued Frankenstein. Mary Shelley does not go into detail on the subject of galvanism in the beginning to the book, this leaves galvanism open to the readers interpretation. When she does this, the idea of galvanism can go from small electrical impulses to trigger key muscle reactions, to the more imaginative idea that the lightning bolt can cause a hideous very much dead jigsaw-puzzled like creature can be brought to life. The open ended idea of galvanism can elevate the fear factor for readers depending on their imagination level, since Mary Shelley left no defined ideas. For example Mary Shelley’s nightmare, which envisioned Frankenstein’s experiment, was quite imaginative for her time period and even for those scientist who experimented on galvanism. Before the publication of Frankenstein, only small experiments on galvanism had been done to excite muscles, no one though it could be used to reanimate a deceased human. It was not until the year of Frankenstein’s publication, a full body was experimented on. Even then the scientist, Andrew Ure, still did not reanimate the body, although he was hopeful at the end of the experiment that reanimation could happen. The experiments were said to be so frightening to the public that many who were present during the public experiments had to leave the ghastly sight. With such strong reactions to simple muscle stimulation, one can only imagine how frightening the idea bring someone back to life would be. Nevertheless, the fact that Shelley left the idea of galvanism as an instrument of life open to interpretation, would be an effective way for her to instill terror into her readers. Since the public reacted so harshly towards the experiments, the scientist were considered to be deranged in the head. Mary Shelley also uses how the public reacted to the experiments, in a similar way throughout the book. Frankenstein states constantly in the book, that if he would come clean about his creation, his testimony “would have been considered the ravings of a madman” (82). This allows the author to one up the fear factor of the novel, by persuading the readers to consider Frankenstein as a madman. Though Mary Shelley’s vague and elusive idea of galvanism, the reader is allowed to overly imagine an already frightening topic of the time period. Thus causing Frankenstein to be a truly terrifying novel of that time period.

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