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Victor Frankenstein is the main character in Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. The English writer said she wrote the book after a nightmare at night. The distressing dream was likely triggered by her father’s accounts of Giovanni Aldini’s spectacular and gruesome experiments.
Giovanni Aldini was born in Bologna on the 10th of April of 1762 to Giuseppe Aldini and Caterina Galvani, sister of the famous physicist and physiologist Luigi Galvani. Fascinated by his uncle’s work, Giovanni decided to follow in his footsteps by conducting experiments on animal parts and corpses using electricity. Electrical impulses, transmitted to the corpses through electrodes, made the eyeballs twirl, the tongue move in the mouth and the heads shake.
In 1803 he decided to settle in London because England was the nearest country where the death penalty by hanging, not beheading, was in force. In the London prisons, John chose George Forster, accused of murdering his wife and daughter, as a guinea pig. He probably bribed the judges to have him hanged to obtain his body. The scientist performed a public experiment using a large battery and applying electrodes to George Forster’s body.
During the test, the once George Forster began to breathe again and his heart beat for a few moments. Some physiological functions were restored for a very short time, although his brain-dead state remained unchanged. The experiment was so shocking that it caused (indirectly) the death of Aldini’s assistant from a heart attack that same night.
Mary Shelley was still a child, but her father – William Godwin – could likely have been a friend or acquaintance of Giovanni Aldini. He probably told his daughter the macabre details of Aldini’s work. The dream of Mary Shelley was probably caused by the resurgence of memories of the strange Italian scientist’s experiments, which her father had described to her years before.