Frankenstein: Galvanism (oalandry and tylynn9)

Farrar, W. V. “Andrew Ure, F.R.S., and the Philosophy of Manufactures.” Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 27.2 (1973): 299-324.

Farrar conveys a very detailed biography of Andrew Ure and emphasizes his many influential contributions to the scientific community. However, for the purposes of a presentation on the theory of galvanism and its connection to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the paragraph that discusses Ure’s experiment in 1818 regarding the application of an electrical current to the cadaver of a recently executed criminal, Clydesdale, proves most pertinent. After connecting a “270-plate voltaic battery” to the exposed nerves of a dissected Clydesdale, Ure observed how the muscles in the cadaver’s face contorted into what appeared to be gruesome expressions, including smiles (307). Farrar also reveals that this public demonstration left many individuals terrified. Analogous to Agatha’s reaction after encountering Victor’s hideous creation in Shelley’s novel, Farrar discloses that a spectator fainted out of fear.

“Galvani, Luigi.” Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Vol. 5. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2008. 267-69. Gale Virtual Reference Library [Gale].

This excerpt from the Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography begins with Galvani’s educational background. Studying medicine at the University of Bologna, Galvani became a skillful surgeon and anatomist. Shortly after turning his attention towards “more strictly physiological studies” and focusing his research towards the connections of an organism’s nerves and muscles, he made an unexpected discovery. During one of Galvani’s many frog dissections, a spark of static electricity caused a frog’s leg to convulse, leading him to believe that electricity played an influential role within an organism’s tissues. This source reveals the procedures by which Galvani conducted his experiments through the utilization of electric machines such as the Leyden jar, an electrostatic charged atmosphere, and different types of metals, conductors, and nonconductors. As a result, Galvani formulated his theory of animal electricity and became the pioneer of the concept of galvanism. Galvani believed that the frog’s internal tissues, nerves, and muscles produced electricity, emphasizing an animal’s internal possession of an “electric fluid.” However, this source also discusses Alessandro Volta’s opposition to Galvani’s proposition. Volta proposed that the electricity was created externally through contact of the leg with conducting metals. This idea led Volta to eventually development the first wet-cell battery.

Green, Thomas. “On Death From Chloroform: Its Prevention By Galvanism.” The British Medical Journal 1.595 (1872): 551-53.

Green’s descriptions of several medical cases involving the often fatal effects of early anesthetics, namely chloroform, conveys how developments in the theory of galvanism have greatly impacted and contributed to medical knowledge, technologies, and successes. A close examination of case outcomes involving both deaths and revivals reveals that galvanism has proven to be more effective than artificial respiration for its ability to restore animation, or movement, to a paralyzed and un-beating heart. Green also notes that patient outcomes are influenced by other elements, such as time. Although the application of a galvanic apparatus represents the most promising procedure, a patient’s revival depends on how fast the galvanic apparatus is administered after death.

Kemp, Martin. “Shelley’s Shocks.” Nature 394.6693 (1998): 529.

Kemp reveals that during the 18th century, scientific interests, research, and experiments were centered on the phenomenon of both electricity and the nature of life. As a result, Kemp discloses that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published in 1818, symbolizes a direct product of these scientific theories and discoveries as disclosed through her allusion to galvanism and concept of reanimation. This article explains how the story of Frankenstein manifested itself to Shelley in a dream after a long discussion of several “philosophical doctrines,” including galvanism, with Lord Byron and Percy Shelley. Furthermore, this article provides a brief history regarding the discovery of galvanism by Luigi Galvani as well as describes its development over the years through experiments by Karl August Weinhold, Giovanni Aldini, and Andrew Ure.

Parent, André. “Giovanni Aldini (1762-1834).” Journal of Neurology 251.5 (2004): 637-38.

Parent discloses that Giovanni Aldini, Luigi Galvani’s nephew, followed in his uncle’s footsteps through an academic path devoted to science as well as an interest in the relationship between electricity and muscular movement. Aldini’s desire to further advance, support, and defend Galvani’s proposition of “animal electricity,” or galvanism, lead to the development of several new theories and experiments. Together, both Galvani and Aldini proposed that the brain, when stimulated, precipitates an electric current that causes a reactive response in the muscles throughout the entire body. Parent reveals that Aldini continued to conduct experiments after Galvani’s death. Aldini discovered that the activation of targeted areas of the brain cause specific muscles to contract while others remain at rest. Furthermore, Aldini expanded the subjects of his experiments to include mammals as well as frogs. Parent describes Aldini’s experiment on the human cadaver of a criminal in 1803 to be his “most famous demonstration.” Parent’s incorporation of the description of the cadaver’s vigorous convulsions as well as the opening of an eye reveals a potential influence on Mary Shelley’s inspiration for the pivotal creation scene in her novel, Frankenstein (1818).

Frankenstein: Film adaptions (mmwilliams1 and spencerj123)

Bordwell, David, and Kristin Thompson. Film Art: An Introduction. 10th ed. New York:   McGraw Hill, 2013.

This textbook includes an entire section of a chapter devoted to the history of the horror genre, giving special attention to both the early German Expressionist films of the silent era as well as the classic Universal monster films. This portion pays particular attention to form, specifically the stylistic and compositional characteristics of these sorts of films. A later section of the book is used to explain the rise of German Expressionism not in the context of its genre, but in the cultural and socioeconomic conditions of Germany post WW1.

Edwards, Kyle. “Morals, Markets, and ‘Horror Pictures’: The Rise of Universal Pictures and the Hollywood Production Code.” Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal 42.2 (2012): 23-37.

This article focuses on three of Universal’s first horror movies and their correspondence with the Studio Relations Committee as the studio strove to create compelling stories while staying within the confines of the Hollywood Production Code. Frankenstein is highlighted to have been one of the first films to have push-back from censors on account of its “gruesome” content and ability to “instill ‘horror’ into a prospective audience.”

Roberts, Russell. “Frankenstein Films.” The Thirties in America. Ed. Tandy Lewis Thomas. 3 vols. Salem Press, 2011.

This article gives concise summaries of both Frankenstein (1931) and its first sequel, Bride of Frankenstein (1935). It notes how the successful first film helped save Universal Pictures from financial trouble and made stars out of many of its cast members. Both films are also analyzed for their similarities and differences, and their own impacts on the horror film genre.

Sample Explanation Post: A Slip and a Fall Away

I’ve had this short little piece of fiction on my back burner for a while. At the time that I started it, I’d been going through a Kate Griffin phase. Her urban fantasy (e.g. Matthew Swift series, Magical Anonymous, etc.) engages with a unique perspective of the modern world – where magic and Other Things can be found not in nature, but in the metallic, electric world we now live in. How are perfectly ordinary objects and people sometimes made greater or strange by a shift in perspective? I was inspired by the ways in which she – and Stephen King to an extent – juxtaposes eerie atmospheres against wry narrative voices to create this novel effect. Griffin also plays on the “we” versus “I” division (as in, there is often very little separating the individual from the community) and I tried to capture that in my language.

Sample Fiction: A Slip and a Fall Away

It is 12:47am on a Wednesday – a day of no particular significance, sitting square in a month with no corporate holiday, filling in a colorless year that will soon be forgotten. The congested, screeching friction of hot metal and harried commuters has cleared to long stretches of silence. Lethargy broken only by the occasional passing rush of an errant driver, the flickering lights of a gas station, and the incessant chirps of scraping, membranous wings. It is in this perpetual cycle of day and night that human souls are crushed molded by unyielding, mundane, and entirely artificial forces – a brief respite available only in that sliver of time between sleeping and waking.

See: to your right – the gothic archways with their curves and crosses, framing stained glass that, in the light of day, paint inspiring tales of needless sacrifice and bloody hate and a rapturous End that will swallow the world. How powerless it looks now, though, with no Pied Piper on the stage singing innocent children and sinful rats alike to their burning, eternal salvation. What could this wondrous architecture of man be but the Vessel of divine love?

See: in front of you – the perfectly bland and symmetrical honeycombs of cubes and desks and halls that, under florescent lights, harness the plodding potential of the drone within the man. When the burning sun sets and the bulbs dim, the Hive disperses to find respective rest and sustenance, a temporary exodus before the inevitable return.

See: them accept the pause that they’re all given, gifted by the presence of a belabored Sandman (and a Tempur-Pedic mattress). These dreams that come and go will, in some near time, disappear into the seductive whispering maw of the permanent Black – but until then, drift easy, drift free for a finite moment.

Thus does the summation of human existence plod along, occasionally captured in the harsh glare of a Shell Service Station, shining alone on the corner of a deserted street at 12:47am on a nondescript Wednesday. It is a glorious, underwhelming moment of perfect, middling, banality.

Right here, at this intersection – nightly distributer of fuel for the modern rider and his iron steed, and Doritos bearing Savior of the drunken man – a bus sweeps through on the final leg of its journey to the garage. It is emptied but for an evidently well-loved copy of Playboy splayed next to a suspicious dark stain, and a single passenger. Snoring contentedly with his neck bent against his right shoulder (it will ache when he wakes), and the crown of his head resting against a smudged window, this modern-day Rip Van Winkle remains oblivious when the bus merrily roars through his stop without hesitation. There will be no off-brand Snickers and egg-salad sandwich for him tonight.

The driver is intently focused on the road ahead, as though by will alone he can suddenly reach the end of his route. And yet, the end comes and goes with not even a whimper. Bus “Not in Service” (and when did the LED sign lose its numbers and destination?) continues forward and leaves the grainy imprint of the garage behind in a burst of exhaust fumes.

Winkle is bounced painfully against his once-pillow when the bus jolts from a badly paved dip. He looks out the window with a groggy, uncomprehending stare. Though those are certainly Austin trees – dried, stubborn tufts of green hiding unforgiving nests of bird shit – and these are certainly Austin roads, cracked, uneven messes that they are, there is only an echo of the familiar. This is no part of the route he has followed for the past three years, and no part of the city he has lived in for four. Winkle turns to the driver but pauses before the question even leaves his mouth.

This scruffed mountain man whom he has seen and greeted day in and day out, but whom he has never known (the same way that the dull-eyed grocery bagger can never be known, nor the IT representative who blends together with every other IT representative over the phone) is gone – and Winkle is left adrift. Though the driver’s shoulders are the same broad wall of sinew and flesh, and his hair the same wild mop of dirty blond – or maybe it is a light brown – and his face the same generic face of all driversandwaitersandcashiersandwalmartmanagers, Winkle cannot find comfort in this figureless figure because he is not the same.

Winkle squints in confusion as the tiniest bit of fear creeps into his asthmatic lungs. There is a flickering in the peripheral edges of his vision when he shifts his eyes away from the bus driver, but perhaps this merely heralds the onset of stressed exhaustion. Perhaps what he sees are oddly gruesome floaters in his eyeballs, and not the peeling, fluttering, transparent skin of the driver fading into cracks of nothing. Perhaps he is falling into the black grasp of a diabetic coma, and imagining the dark slivers that pulse around the driver and grow into consuming shadows.

The terribly ordinary commuter is struck with an overwhelming desire to run, to hide, to escape this thick, sludgy dread that chokes his wheezing throat and coats his chest like the slimy imprints left by warm, blood-soaked fingers. As Winkle falls on to the grimy floor, gagging, the Driver turns around with a smile pasted on his melting, wax face – a creature of dripping flesh and oil with bones of rust protruding from his hollow cheeks. A ring sounds in the distance, as “Stop Requested” flashes across the ceiling, and the world slips sideways and over. Outside the windows pass flashes of death and worse and vast deserts of burning darkness, until Winkle can see no more.

He cannot see (or hear or speak) because there is only enough blood to feel, red life trafficking in the tunnels beneath his skin as he is flayed, seared, stripped and torn from the inside out. Interminable moments of not-pain and not-death until he feels translucent – until he is nothing but a beating, oil-pumping chrome heart wrapped in skin…

At 6:42, the bus returns to its route. Women in suits and children with lunchboxes and men in shiny leather shoes alight and descend. Another Thursday, and another day closer to the weekend. They say “thank you” to the driver – sometimes not even this – with their ears plugged and eyes ahead. To them, the driver is as faceless and forgettable as the motionless, smiling commuter sitting in the very back, who smells vaguely of eggs and caramel.

Sample Analysis: Illness in Margot’s Room

Emily Carroll’s comic, Margot’s Room, can be read both on a literal level (a man transforming into a werebeast) and on the metaphorical (the onset of depression and domestic abuse following the death of a child). Patterns and clues tend to emphasize narrative ambiguity rather than clearing it up. One of the main sources of confusion for me is the role of sickness in character deaths and transformations.

When we are introduced to the narrator, she notes that “I was feeling sick” during her father’s funeral.CaptureFollowing on the heels of her understandable response to this dark situation, she implies to her future husband that she is not shocked by her father’s death because he’d been “sick for a long while” – and perhaps doesn’t even view it as “tragic.”

CaptureIllness, and in fact, that exact phrase “sick for a long while” heralds another dramatic turn in the plot when Margot, their daughter, dies off screen.


Up until this point, we see that sickness (particularly that of the “long while” variety) serves as a precursor to the rise and fall of relationships. The narrator’s relationship with her father appears to be stilted and perhaps estranged (in early panels, she mentions that the entire village shows up for the funeral, but no one approaches her or even attempts to find her). Her stoic reaction quickly transitions into bright scenes of her wedding (again, with no villagers in the background) with Gilles. The father’s illness, her own sickness are never mentioned again now that she has what she desires – attention, affection, and Gilles. Later, the narrator’s guilt that she is a failed and unsuitable mother is reflected in her statements that she “never thought” her daughter was like her (that in fact, Margot was so physically similar to her husband). This discomfort is linked to Margot’s “long” death, and the eventual destruction of the narrator’s marital peace. Finally, Gilles himself is described as changed and transformed, paralleling the deterioration of household peace.

Illness, if understood literally, almost functions as a curse following the narrator and tainting those in her life. If applied on a metaphorical level, we can see that illness describes the narrator’s isolation from the community, and seems to insert itself into relationships in which the narrator is overwhelmed by self-doubt and/or resentment. Rather than visually confronting these moments through memory, the narrator only shows us her rationalization, her repressed guilt (deserved or not) through tenuous repetitions of “sick a long while.”