Melancholy Madness Monday

October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween! In honor of my favorite holiday, today’s post is about the “real” Dr. Frankenstein, courtesy of the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast. Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” (the full original title was “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus”) was published in 1818, and while certainly a work of fiction, it was surely inspired by advances in science taking place at the time (kind of like Michael Crichton did).

The scientist most likely to be the inspiration was Giovanni Aldini, a professor at the university of Bologna who specialized in galvanism, which is the contraction of muscle that is stimulated by electricity. Aldini held very public demonstrations of this effect, first on animals such as dogs and later on the bodies of just executed criminals (not uncommon in those days). These “shows” were gruesome by our standards but were almost certainly spectacular. Watching a convicted murderer open an eye as other facial muscles contorted and arms and legs flailed must have been shocking to watch, even in 1802.

Aldini also pioneered electro-shock therapy, treating a man who suffered from “melancholy madness” (clinical depression) and supposedly curing him within weeks.

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One Response to “Melancholy Madness Monday”

  1. Kim Lanowy said

    shouldn’t that last sentence be “supposedly cured…”
    Halloween is your FAVORITE holiday? How did that not make the 20q game?

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