The Skull Beneath The Skin: Culture & Immortality

In the early modern age, scientists began to equate electricity with life-force leading to the branch of pseudoscience known as Vitalism. By accident, Luigi Galvani discovered that running an electrical current through the nerves and muscles of a dead frog you could make the corpse animate in the form of spasms or twitches. This led to various harebrained schemes, parlour tricks and scientific dead-ends (including hooking hanged criminals up to batteries for public amusement) but also to creation of one of the great literary archetypes; Frankenstein’s Monster. It was written when the Shelleys (the novelist Mary and her husband the poet Percy) were staying with the poet, cad and cocksman Lord Byron then exiled on the banks of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Due to a major Indonesian volcanic eruption (Lake Tampora – the largest eruption in recorded history), it was the ‘Year Without a Summer’, also referred to as ‘Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death.’ Trapped indoors, the party (including their doctor John Polidori) turned to the telling of supernatural fireside recitals and a challenge was laid down as to whether any of them could come up with an original ghost story. Inspired by a nightmare she’d had, Mary Shelley created Frankenstein, Polidori The Vampyre. Thus two of the most abiding monstrous icons came out of essentially the same drink-fuelled wager…

(full article can be read on 3:AM Magazine)

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