Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has been reimagined onscreen hundreds of times and is a staple of pop culture. The prevailing takeaway is one of science gone wrong and the dangers of pursuing the unnatural. But contemporary readers were surrounded by Enlightenment-era scientific breakthroughs that were beginning to shift the definition of death. To them, Frankenstein would have read as frighteningly plausible.
Electricity was being used in a scientific practice called “galvanism,” which seemed to show some promise in reanimating body parts of recently dead animals and humans. Shelley even references galvanism in the 1831 edition of the book, citing it as an example of how the Frankenstein experiment could be possible.
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