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Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature

Body Parts

'Five headed, seven armed monster with hooved feet, De Monstro Nato Lutetiae Anno Domini' by Jean Riolan, Paris, 1605. NLM Unique ID: 2404029R. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine Collection.
De Monstro Nato Lutetiae Anno Domini
Jean Riolan, Paris, 1605.
Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine Collection.

To make his creature, Victor Frankenstein "dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave" and frequented dissecting rooms and slaughterhouses. In Mary Shelley's day, as in our own, the healthy human form delighted and intrigued artists, physicians, and anatomists. But corpses, decaying tissue, and body parts stirred almost universal disgust. Alive or dead, whole or in pieces, human bodies arouse strong emotion — and account for part of Frankenstein's enduring hold on us.

As this early book illustration suggests, nature's own "monsters" — sharp deviations from normal human development — fascinated anatomists of Mary Shelley's day and before.