Today, my guest is another author participating in the Christmas at Castle Keyvnor anthologies. Please welcome Christy Carlyle!
Frog Legs, Frankenstein, and Galvanism by Christy Carlyle
As an author, I usually set my stories in the Victorian era, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching the ways electricity was used during Queen Victoria’s reign. For A Love for Lady Winter, my novella in the upcoming Enchanted at Christmas multi-story set, I went back a bit further. Specifically, I drew inspiration from one of my favorite novels published during the Regency period, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
I should probably say at the outset that my novella is more of a ghost story than a monster tale. My heroine, Lady Winifred Gissing, sees apparitions, and my hero, Septimus, Earl of Carwarren, is a strictly rational gentleman who believes in nothing he cannot prove through scientific experimentation. But Septimus is every bit as fascinated with galvanism as Mary Shelley’s protagonist, Victor Frankenstein. Septimus might actually put readers in mind of Benjamin Franklin. He’s interested in studying and harnessing the power of electricity produced by lightning strikes.
In preparing to write my novella, I wanted to know what ladies and gentlemen of the Regency era know about electricity. And why was Victor Frankenstein so interested in galvanism? I studied two 18th century physicists to learn more and discovered that electricity was as fascinating to people in the early 19th century as it would be by the end of Victoria’s reign, when it was beginning to power lights in homes and on city streets.
Believe it or not, Frankenstein might never have been written—or at least not in the way it was—if not for a battle of ideas between two Italian scientists of the 18th century.
Luigi Galvani graduated from the University of Bologna in 1759 with degrees in medicine and philosophy. He eventually served as an anatomist at the university and later became intrigued with studying “medical electricity.” In other words, the effects of electricity on the human body. While preparing to conduct a static electricity experiment, his assistant touched the exposed nerve of a dead frog, causing the creature’s leg to jump as if it had been reanimated. Galvani came to believe that the impetus behind muscle movement was an electrical charge carried by a fluid inside the body.
A contemporary of Galvani’s, Alessandro Volta, served as a professor of physics at the Royal School in Como, Italy beginning in 1774. He was aware of Galvani’s findings, but he disagreed. Volta believed that the frog’s leg had simply served as a conductor of electricity, rather than being its source. He sought to prove his theory and ended up creating an early form of electric battery. His “voltaic pile” consisted of stacked metal disks of copper and zinc interspersed with brine-soaked cloth or cardboard. The combination produced a steady electric current. No frog legs needed.
During my research, I also discovered that beyond Italian scientists debating the sources of electricity, British ladies and gents thought getting a shock of static electricity was an enjoyable parlor game. A young Regency era woman named Diana Sperling produced a series of delightful watercolors from her family’s life, and they’ve been collected into a book called Mrs. Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823. One of the book’s most intriguing watercolors depicts Diana and others receiving electric shocks from her cousin Henry’s hand-cranked static-producing machine. I couldn’t resist letting that research tidbit go to waste, and in A Love for Lady Winter, my characters gather around to be “electrified” by just such a machine.
Throughout history, men and woman have sought to study and understand the natural universe. Electricity fascinated people for centuries before Galvani, Volta, and even Ben Franklin contributed to our understanding of its power. No one “discovered” electricity, of course. It’s an energy that occurs in nature, but figuring out where it originates, how to produce it, and the best ways to harness it were preoccupations of 18th and 19th century scientists. Its mysteries and potential fascinated Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein just as they intrigue my hero, Lord Carwarren.
Fueled by Pacific Northwest coffee and inspired by multiple viewings of every British costume drama she can get her hands on, USA Today bestselling author Christy Carlyle writes sensual historical romance set in the Victorian era. She loves heroes who struggle against all odds and heroines who are ahead of their time. A former teacher with a degree in history, she finds there’s nothing better than being able to combine her love of the past with a die-hard belief in happy endings.
Visit Christy’s website, like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.
Enchanted at Christmas includes
Christy Carlyle’s A Love for Lady Winter
Lady Winifred Gissing has a secret: she sees ghosts. With this strange skill, and her odd, ethereal appearance, she knows she’ll never find acceptance among society, let alone love. But when she travels to Castle Keyvnor, she meets her aunt’s godson, Septimus Locke, the Earl of Carwarren. Scientific, rational Septimus stirs an unexpected passion in her, and she finds his experiments in galvanism fascinating. Romance sparks between them, but will his past and her unusual ability destroy their chance at happiness
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