I’m in the middle of a deliciously macabre book, The Lady and Her Monsters by Roseanne Montillo. It’s all true stories of real 18th century mad scientists electrifying corpses, and how they were connected to Mary Shelley. It’s full of other wonderful tidbits as well.
I did a bit of scholarship on the Romantics at large and Frankenstein in particular during my ill-spent youth. I might have kept at it for hilarity’s sake if I’d known that Samuel Taylor Coleridge and other poets were thoroughly abusing their friendship with scientist Sir Humphrey Davy (future president of the Royal Society) to get high on nitrous oxide. All the time.
I want to go back through Coleridge’s work and try to guess which were written on cocaine, and which could be blamed on whippets.
There’s an entire chapter dedicated to the city of Bologna, Italy, and the Teatro Animatomica. Apparently, during the 18th century the entire city was really, really into cutting up corpses for “science.” Criminals were executed at a disturbing rate to give the anatomists material for their shows at these theaters built specifically to let everyone watch university professors and their assistants dissect corpses. It was a major source of entertainment for aristocracy and peasants alike, and was even unofficially part of Carnivale.
Many of those old theaters still exist, and I want to see them. I may be advocating for a trip to Bologna next year.
In addition to being fascinating, The Lady and Her Monsters has breathed new life into a side project I’ve been picking at all year. There are not enough stories about lady mad scientists out there, and I’d like to do something about it. I have a goal to have something ready for public consumption by Christmas.