“The Spark of Life”


“What separates the living from the dead? What is the “spark of life” that animates the living?” This was a concept that many scientists were aiming to uncover during the composition  era of Frankenstein. Galvanism, named after scientist Luigi Galvani, was a widely-used tool in the quest for the “spark of life.” With Galvanism, electrical impulses would be sent through the tissues of recently deceased animals and humans, producing unpredicted effects such as tongue movement and muscle contraction. When these demonstrations were performed in front of crowds in the early 1800’s, audiences were shocked. I can only imagine the thoughts that were provoked in Mary Shelley’s mind when she attended these Galvanism demonstrations.


There are powerful allusions to Galvanism and the power of electricity in Frankenstein. As for the greatest allusion to Galvanism, the reader is led to believe that Victor’s inanimate monster is brought to life by the harnessing of an electrical impulse. We learn of Victor’s fascination with electricity on page 70 of Frankenstein when he explains his first enlightening encounter with lightning: “As I stood at the door, on a sudden I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak…the catastrophe of this tree excited my extreme astonishment.” As the reader can deduce, Mary Shelley was strongly influenced by the possibilities of Galvanism. Shelley’s influence ultimately helped shape the everlasting story of Frankenstein.


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