De Viribus Electtricitatis in Motu Musculari:

Chelsea Bellmund, Staci Faye, Samantha Stern

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

  • Shelley used the book De Viribus Electricitatis in Motu Musculari to bring monster to life.
  • Used Galvani's research to help write Frankenstein.
  • "Galvanism"-During the 1790s, Italian physician Luigi Galvani demonstrated what we now understand to be the electrical basis of nerve impulses when he made frog muscles twitch by jolting them with a spark from an electrostatic machine.
  • The release, through electricity, of mysterious "life forces"- groundwork for "God-Complex implications.

Galvani's Experiments
Galvani's Experiments

Luigi Galvani:

Luigi Galvani, born in Bologna, Italy, was eager to follow his father’s footsteps as a medical doctor. While pursuing his dreams of becoming a doctor, Galvani came upon a discovery while dissecting a frog with his assistant in 1783. Him and his assistant had been dissecting the frog on a table, which had previously been used for experimenting with static electricity. Galvani’s assistant’s scalpel had been exposed to the electricity, so when the two began dissecting the frog, the scalpel touched a nerve causing the frog legs to kick and twich. The marvel became known as “galvanism”. The energy itself became coined "Galvanic electricity".

Galvani assumed that all life was electrical, and that all living organisms contained electrical cells. He believed that the cells possessed a potential flow of current found between the electrochemical cells within the organism. This theory lead to Galvani's conclusion concerning the relationship between muscles and cells which can function outside their biotic environments. This entire theory evolved out of his frog leg experiment. Although his point, to him, seemed validly proven, by the 1800s, he was disproven by a man names Allesandro Volta. Volta proved that the soirce of electricity that Galvani claimed jump started the muscles, was just a reaction cause by the frogs body fluid being touched by two different types of muscles. The animals responce had nothing to do with electricity found in cells.

The scientists, Galvani and Volta, agreed to dissagree about Galvani's "animal electric fluid" and Volta happily originated the term "galvanism" to the current of electricity produced by chemical action. To continue the disproval, Volta constructed the battery in order to specifically connect his own theory.
luigi-galvani-2-sized.jpg GALVANI images-1.jpg adda801714c74aea090692c3b9cf2c4emoz-screenshot-2.jpg
images.jpg VOLTA voltpile.gif images-2.jpg

Work cited

"Super Scientists." energyquest. 28 Nov 2007 <>.
Luigi Galvani." wikipedia. 28 Nov 2007 <>.
Bellis, Mary. "Luigi Galvani 1737-1798." about. 28 Nov 2007 <>.

Quotes pertaining to the science Luigi Galvani's experiment

  • "I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs" (55, Shelley).- (Staci's book).
-The above quote depicts the convulsion through which life is acknowledged in the novel. It may be paralleled to the twitching of the frog's limbs as seen in Galvani's experiment which was thought to have been a sign of life. Shelley used an array of sources to develop the story of Frankenstein such as the sciences of the time specifically, the experimentation of Luigi Galvani. However, Shelley's initial inspiration for Frankenstein was a nightmare which she transformed into a horror story for friends. The frightening and even disturbing images of dull yellow eyes opening, heavy breathing, and convulsive motions aid the horror aspect that Shelley incorporated into the novel. Shelley was significantly influenced by the experiments of Galvani after having read his De Viribus Electricitatis in Motu Musculari.
An additional source of influence was the death of Shelley’s mother. The pain she endured is clearly evident within the novel as the characterizations of the death of Victor’s mother portrayed genuine emotion. The loss of her mother may have been a force behind Frankenstein’s curiosity concerning the work of Luigi Galvani. Despite the instability of science at the time, information was widely available no matter the integrity of the “discoveries.” For example, Luigi’s theory of life through electric shock was disproved by the experiments of a later scientist, Alessandro Volta. The falsehood of Galvani’s experiments did not however, lessen the impact or sublime disposition of Shelley’s Frankenstein; no matter whether she was conscious or not of its fiction.
The dull yellow color is indicative of death which is a consistent focus of imagery throughout the novel. It is ironic that frogs, which Galvani used in his experiements, often have yellow eyes. The descriptive language used to illustrate the awakening or "birth" of the creature employs diction that directly connects to the experiments of Galvani. The "convulsive motion [that] agitated its limbs" refers to the convulsion of the frog leg when in contact with electricity.
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The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
  • ”But I am a blasted tree; the bolt has entered my soul; and I felt that I should survive to exhibit, what I shall soon cease to be-a miserable spectacle of wrecked humanity, pitiable to others, and abhorrent to myself” (196, Shelley) (Chelsea’s book).
- The above quote depicts influence from Galvani’s De Viriubus Electricitatis in Motu Musculari in that it refers to a “bolt” that has entered his soul. The “bolt” portrays imagery of lightening and electricity which can be connected to Galvani’s use of electricity to create life. The use of the word “soul” is interesting in that it is usually related to a form of God or higher being that has the power to give life. Shelley develops the idea of a God complex through which the character Victor rises and falls. At the beginning of Frankenstein, Shelley displays Victor as a brilliant man destined for greatness because of his intellectual drive and desire to succeed in sciences. His initial motivation may be portrayed by the quote "In other studies you go as far as others have gone before you, and there is nothing more to know; but in a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder" (47, Shelley) (Chelsea’s book). This quote not only confirms the passion Shelley instilled in Victor towards the sciences but it introduces the question of how much power a scientist may possess. Victor, as a scientist was entirely consumed by his passion to create life and advance in science that he was blinded, failing to think of the repercussions of his actions. He did not thoroughly think of the care and effort it would take to control a being of his own and introduce it into society. The effort and care needed to sustain life go beyond the creation. Just as the act of procreation is attached to extreme responsibility and effort to raise and care for a child. Victor failed to recognize the necessity of “raising” of his creature which ultimately lead to his family, friends and his own demise. Not only does this imply that humans are far too mortal to fulfill the role of a God but it addresses the fear for the future acts of scientists. Today, new advances are being made concerning the usage of stem cells. Such advances in science were subjected to the ridicule of society and received extreme criticism in return. Stem cells potentially may be used to clone life, thus allowing for transplant organs, possible cancer cures and more. Such advances would cause unthinkable changes in the world of medicine and health care. Yet, many oppose the work with stem cells because humanity fears the unknown, and rightfully as seen within Shelley’s Frankenstein. One argument against stem cell research concerns the lack of morality in “playing God.” Stem cells would unlock a myriad of mysteries about life, such mysteries are often the foundation of religion which would result in an uproar amongst the church and government. Today, in the United States severe laws restrict the usage of stem cells because of the opposition towards it which is driven by fear. It is ironic that Shelley’s nightmare which was the inspiration for the story was caused by fear when today, such scientific accomplishments are prohibited by fear.
  • “Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source, many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me” (51, Shelley).
    The God complex is further exacerbated by the above quote as Shelley directly exemplifies the power embodied by a creator through his emotions. This may lead one to further question the power that a scientist may possess through discovery. The experimentation, discovery or creation of something completely devoid of earthly essence could lead to unimaginable negative consequences, just like that of Victor's creature.
  • "I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the liefless thing that lay at my feet" (55, Shelley).
- The instruments "of life" that Victor used were tools of metal similar to those used in Galvani's experiment, particularly the metal scalpel. The "spark" referred to in the above quote depicts imagery associated with electricity which confirms the influence of Galvani's experiments as his experiment brought "life" to the legs of a frog through a spark of electricity which flowed through a metal scalpel.
Some additional quotes which depict the recurring emphasis on science and the question of its morality are:

-“They penetrate into the recesses of nature and shew how she works in her hiding places. They ascend into the heavens; they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows" (44).
-"I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit" (53).
-"Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil, as I dabbled among the unhallowed dams of the grave, or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay" (52).
-"When I found so astonishing a power placed within my hands, I hesitated a long time concerning the manner in which I should employ it" (50).

Image:A Galvanised Corpse.jpg
Image:A Galvanised Corpse.jpg

-Science questions religion (creator, life, reality, health, rebirth)

-Imagery, connotation, scientific support
The electrochemical behavior of two dissimilar metals [(zinc (Z) and copper (C)] in a bimetallic arch, in contact with the electrolytes of tissue, produces an electric stimulating current that elicits muscular contraction.
The electrochemical behavior of two dissimilar metals [(zinc (Z) and copper (C)] in a bimetallic arch, in contact with the electrolytes of tissue, produces an electric stimulating current that elicits muscular contraction.

"De Viribus Electricitatis in Motu Musculari" in Frankenstein

Mary Shelley used this idea of "galvanism" to incorporate the recent science discoveries into her work. Galvani's book is not an allusion but an influence to the novel. Shelley knew Galvani's experiments well enough to recapture them on the pages of Frankenstein. She uses Galvani's work directly when Victor sparks electric impulses to bring the creature to life. However, Shelley also incorporates Galvani's work more indirectly in order to reflect on scientists, specifically Galvani, and their responsibilities to society. Written in 1818, De Viribus Electricitatis in Motu Musculari expressed a hypothesis that could of had unimaginable results and consequences. In a quote by Shelley,
"Perhaps a corpse would be reanimated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth"
she points out the possibilities of Galvani's experiments, specifically their astounding possibility of bringing something dead back to life (22, Minick's book). "Galvanism" was great enough to fascinate and excite the people who were made aware of Galvani's so-called discovery. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley reflects on the process of reanimating a creature, the possible results, and the duty of scientists.
In the beginning of the novel, Victor is overcome with passion as he puts aside his life and his family to make the creature. He blindly follows his ambitions, failing to recount anything but the positive results of such a discovery. According to Mary Shelley, Victor's motivation for creating the creature plays with this idea of a "God complex." On page 55, Victor quotes, "A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me." Victor pursues this creature in hopes of being a God-like figure to a whole different breed of species. Mary Shelley positions Victor, the scientist, into the almighty position of creator. At this point, Mary Shelley is really connecting scientists, specifically Galvani because she is referring to his experiment, to the makers of not only their experiments, but of their experiments results. Victor, as a creator, would be responsible for the results of his experiment, a new species. However, Victor fails to take responsibility for his creature after his passion deteriorates at the sight of the ugly being he has created. He, as a creator, abandons the creature who is forced to learn everything, including vengeance, on his own.
Once again, Mary Shelley incorporates this theme of the "god complex" into Frankenstein as the creature knows not of the whereabouts of Victor, his creator. Shelley makes an allusion to the bible in the quote, "It moved every feeling of wonder and awe, that the picture of an omnipotent God warring with his creatures was capable of exciting. I often referred the several situations, as their similarity struck me, to my own. Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence; but his state was far different from mine in every other respect" (153, Shelley). Instead of being the omnipotent God, the creator of Adam, who guides mankind, Victor decides to neglect his positions, failing to think of the consequences the creature may have on society. By making a parallel between Victor, the God of the creature, and the God of Adam, Mary Shelley is providing an ideal to the responsibilities of a creator. Like of the God of Adam, Victor is supposed to protect and provide for the creature. Victor failed to realize the consequences of his actions, so that when the worst ensued, he felt he could do nothing but hide and run from the embarrassment of making such a despicable creature. He also continues to ignore the fact that this creature could be harmful to society.
In connection with the scientists of Mary Shelley's time, Shelley is basically saying that scientists, like Victor, might not always stand by their experiments if something unintended happens. In the case of Luigi Galvani, people were completely caught up in the idea of reanimation that they failed to think of the rejuvenation of life as something that could have negative consequences. Scientists have a responsibility to society to make sure that their creations don't turn out to be harmful. When Victor realizes the monster he has created, he thinks back to mankind and how he, the creator of such a species could be responsible for the destruction of mankind. Victor decides to forfeit his life and his family in hopes of benefiting man kind. According to Mary Shelley, scientists have the responsibility to do anything in their power, even if it means giving up their own life, to make sure society it not hurt by what has been created. Foregoing one's responsibilities, as Victor did in the beginning of the book by not fulfilling his creator duties, may lead to very harmful consequences, including the creature's vicious intentions and actions.