Karl August Weinhold and his medical science at the time of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Stanley Finger <sfinger@artsci.wustl.edu> and Mark B. Law
Washington University, St. Louis, MO, USA

Following the publication of Galvani's Commentary in 1791, many scientists began to conduct experiments with electricity, believing it to be the mysterious force behind animal life. One such person was Karl August Weinhold, a German physician and scientist. In 1817, a year before the first edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein appeared, Weinhold published a book of experiments in which he described how an amalgam of metals (bimetallic electricity) could restore movement, sensation, and cardiac functions to cats with masses of spinal cord and even brain ablated. Whether Mary Shelley knew what Weinhold had written in 1817, or in 1831, when she revised Frankenstein and added more on electricity, is not known. It is clear, however, that she was intrigued by the powers of galvanism, a subject of more than passing interest to Percy Byshee Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori, who travelled with Byron as his personal physician. In this presentation, the sources of Mary Shelley's science will be examined, and the scientific Zeitgeist created by physicians like Weinhold will be described.


Session II
Friday, 20 June 1997, 11.30 - 11.50

Second Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN) and 6th Meeting of the European Club on the History of Neurology (ECHN)

Leiden, The Netherlands