The story of Frankenstein has a gruesome backstory you won’t believe.
We all know the famous novel Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley in 1818. But, far from knowing the multiple stories and films that this tale inspired, do you know where it came from? As surprising as it may sound, Shelley wrote this because, during her childhood, she actually experienced something close enough to the story we all know. During the first half of the eighteenth century, there was an Italian scientist who performed very gruesome and shocking experiments that were so controversial they eventually came to the youngster’s ears. He was Giovanni Aldini, and he was the man behind the character of Victor Frankenstein.
At a very young age, Aldini was introduced into the scientific world, thanks to his uncle Dr. Luigi Galvani, who was devoted to his studies on frogs, more especifically, dead frogs. He had studied the way that their legs were connected, and realized that they twitched when they were stimulated with an electrical current. Based on this, he believed that if he stimulated the fluid that connected the nerves to the entire body, he could reverse the effects of death.
Inspired by his uncle, he attended the University of Bologna, and here, much like his uncle, Aldini started experimenting with dead frogs in order to reanimate them. When Dr. Galvani passed away, his nephew began to think of ways to improve his experiments and try out something different and a little bit more complex. He began performing the same experiments he did before, but on larger animals, which entailed more sophisticated nervous systems. Soon, Aldini was in the spotlight as he attempted to reanimate sheep, pigs, and cows, among other animals.
Soon enough, Aldini grew bored of doing the same experiments; it was not enough for his scientific curiosity. He was aiming for something more ambitious, so he began to study corpses. To find subjects for his experiments, Aldini went to Piazza Maggiore, where criminals were beheaded. Just when the executioner was done with his last victim, Aldini took the corpse to his laboratory. But soon enough, he saw a problem he didn’t think of previously: the beheaded bodies were often drained, and without blood in the veins, so the electrical impulses had nothing to travel through. While in Italy criminals were executed by beheading, England still used the gallows. So, Aldini traveled to London, and ordered one freshly hanged scoundrel to be delivered to the Royal College of Surgeons.
The lifeless subject was George Foster, and as soon as he arrived to the Royal College, Aldini attached the probes to the body and powered up the battery. This is where the thing got interesting. Aldini left the probe connected for hours, and the crowd that had gathered watched completely astonished as Foster’s jaw quivered, his facial muscles contorted, and his left eye opened. At one point, the corpse even appeared to inhale. Eventually, Aldini’s battery died, and Foster along with it. Though Aldini considered his experiment a failure, the doctors who had witnessed it considered it a miracle.
News of Aldini's experiment quickly spread. People talked about how the corpse had opened an eye and maybe even breathed. However, with the passing of time, the tale became more and more exaggerated, so when it reached the ears of little Mary Shelley, daughter of Dr. Giovanni Aldini's friend, the story also included Foster raising his arms and his head spinning. That was the moment Frankenstein was born.
As a matter of fact, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, appears to be particularly similar to Giovanni Aldini in his mannerisms and his intentions. Fortunately the resemblance ends there. Can you image what could happen if Aldini’s battery had been successful on George Foster’s body?
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