In the great city of Bologna, hidden away in a tiny piazza behind the church of San Petronio, is a statue of Galvani, an 18th century physicist. What, you might wonder, has this scientist got to do with Gothic horror stories?

Look closely at the statue and you will observe that he is holding a tray onto which is pinned a dead frog. Galvani had discovered in his researches that a spark of electricity attached to the muscle of a dead frog made it jerk back to life. In doing so he introduced a new verb to the English language; to galvanise, to spring into action.

Galvani San PetronioCuriously, Mary Shelley took his scientific treatise explaining about twitching frogs’ legs as holiday reading when she travelled through Italy and Switzerland with Percy Bysshe and John Keats. I have no idea whether they collected any frogs for experimentation on their stay in the Euganean Hills, although frogs and toads are there in abundance. In fact, on a couple of roads there are warning signs to drive carefully during the breeding season for fear of squashing them, and there are also two local frog festivals each year in the hills, where frog risotto followed by deep fried frogs’ legs with polenta are on the menu for the communal feast.

What we can readily surmise, however, is that this idea of reawakening from the dead insinuated itself deep into her unconscious thoughts, and Mary Shelley eventually came to write Frankenstein, one of the most famous Gothic novels ever written. I like to think that only now are the Euganean Hills being given due credit for this masterpiece of horror. Then again, perhaps the hills had nothing to do with it.

Frankenstein Junior