Dracula and Frankenstein: A Tale of Two Monsters

[This article is a slightly revised chapter from Reflections on Dracula, published by Transylvania Press in 1997. Sections of the chapter were previously published by Greenwood Press in Visions of the Fantastic (1996).]

“I considered the being whom I had cast among mankind, and endowed with the will and power to effect purposes of horror - my own vampire.” (Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 73)

ALTHOUGH THE MODERN pairing of Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster is primarily a function of their partnership on the silver screen, our favourite monsters have enjoyed a long and fascinating relationship. Their origins can be traced to the famous literary gathering on the shores of Lake Geneva. The story is well known. In the summer of 1816, Lord Byron and his doctor, John Polidori, were residing at the Villa Diodati where they were visited by Percy Shelley, Mary Godwin (who would soon become Mary Shelley) and Claire Claremont. One evening, after a collective reading of ghost stories, Byron suggested that each member of the party write a story of their own. Two tales that changed the face of Gothic fiction were inspired by this challenge. Mary Shelley began Frankenstein, while Byron wrote a fragment about a nobleman named Augustus Darvell who contrives to return from the dead. Later that year, Polidori used his employer’s unfinished work as the basis of a novella: Lord Ruthven -- who bears an intentional resemblance to the notorious Lord Byron -- is a jaded, charismatic nobleman who must feed upon the blood of the living in order to continue his unnatural existence. Polidori’s creation became the prototype for most subsequent literary vampires, ranging from Count Dracula to Lestat.

Both Frankenstein and “The Vampyre” were initially ascribed to different authors. The fact that the first edition of Frankenstein was published anonymously led many readers to assume that it had been written by Percy Shelley. The story of the debut of “The Vampyre” is more dramatic. When it appeared in The New Monthly Magazine on 1 April 1819, it carried the by-line “A Tale by Lord Byron.” Polidori was outraged and Byron tried, unsuccessfully, to disassociate himself from it. “The Vampyre” was an immediate and phenomenal success. Five more editions were published in London, and it was translated into French and Italian. There is little doubt that the success of Polidori’s story was due to the fact that most people believed it had been written by his employer; even Goethe considered it Byron’s best work.

The first adaptation of “The Vampyre” appeared in 1820 with Cyprien Bérard’s novel, Lord Ruthwen ou les Vampires. This novel was rumoured to have been written by Charles Nodier, who eventually wrote his own version, the influential drama Le Vampire, a play that initiated the first “vampire craze.” By June of 1820, three vampire plays were running simultaneously in Paris theatres. In the same year, James Robinson Planché’s The Vampire; or, The Bride of the Isles, an adaptation of Nodier’s play with a Scottish setting, appeared on the London stage. Other versions of Polidori’s story were popular for years to come.

The first adaptation of Frankenstein was a three-act opera by R. B. Peake titled Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein (1823). It featured an inarticulate monster and an assistant named Fritz, and included the line “It lives! It lives.” In The Frankenstein Legend, Donald F. Glut suggests that no attempt had been made to adapt the novel before this because “Percy Shelley was too controversial to have a novel even suspected of being of his authorship presented on the stage” (28). But by 1823, Percy had died and Mary had been acknowledged as the author. She eventually attended a performance of the play, and commented that she was “much amused and it appeared to excite a breathless eagerness in the audience” (quoted in Glut, Legend, 32). A second adaptation opened the same year, as did a trio of comedic versions. In 1826, new versions were staged in London and Paris.

Another link between “The Vampyre” and Frankenstein is that Peter Thomas Cooke, who played the title role in The Vampyre at the Theatre Royale in 1820, was also the first actor to play the Frankenstein Monster in the London staging of Presumption. In fact, in 1826 a theatre-goer in London could take in a double bill and be treated to both monsters. It was only a matter of time before both fiends appeared in the same production. The Devil Among the Players (1826), which was based on the story of Frankenstein, included a vampire. By the time the monsters co-starred in Frankenstein; or The Vampire’s Victim in 1849, the link between them had been inexorably forged.

The most famous vampire novel of the mid-nineteenth century, Varney the Vampyre, was originally serialized as a “penny-dreadful” and was reprinted as a novel in 1847 (the year of Bram Stoker’s birth). Although this pot-boiler is indebted to Polidori (there is even a minor character named “Count Pollidori”), it also contains echoes of Frankenstein. Sir Francis Varney’s revival by moonlight reflects Mary Shelley’s hints of galvanism, while the scene in which a disillusioned Varney leaps into Mount Vesuvius is a melodramatic echo of Frankenstein. The Model Man, a stage play in which the Frankenstein monster and a vampire are tracked to the Arctic, appeared in 1887, just three years before Bram Stoker started working on Dracula.

Although Count Dracula has replaced both Lord Ruthven and Sir Francis Varney as the vampire of choice, the vampire’s association with Frankenstein has continued. In the early days of motion pictures, both novels were adapted as films: Edison produced Frankenstein in 1910 and Murnau’s Nosferatu was released in 1922. Hamilton Deane, who appeared as the Monster in Peggy Webling's adaptation of Frankenstein, wrote the definitive theatrical adaptation of Dracula in 1924. Over the next few years, both monsters became permanent parts of his travelling repertoire. This was the beginning of a formula that would continue to capture the public imagination for the rest of the twentieth century. John Balderston, who rewrote Deane’s play for the Broadway production of 1927 (and whose text formed the basis of Universal’s Dracula) also adapted Webling’s Frankenstein for Universal’s production of 1931. When these movies were re-released as a double bill in 1938, they broke all box office records.

During the 1940s, Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster began to appear together in movies such as House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945), and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). This trend continued for decades. Both of them ventured into the Wild West in the 1960s with Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter and Billy the Kid vs Dracula. The inevitable confrontation between them occurred in 1970 with Dracula vs Frankenstein. Sequels and spin-offs continued with an endless parade of sons, daughters, ghosts, resurrections and revenges. We were bombarded by Blacula and Blackenstein, as well as Spermula and Frankenhooker (the latter being billed as “A terrifying tale of sluts and bolts”). The trend continued into the 1990s, when Mel Brooks followed his classic parody, Young Frankenstein (1979) with Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1996), and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) was followed by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994). In some cases, the boundaries between the novels have been blurred: Young Frankenstein is set in Transylvania; the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show features Frank N. Furter from “transsexual Transylvania”; and in Transylvania 6-5000, the Frankenstein Monster is tracked down in Dracula’s homeland.

Not surprisingly, the same actors have often appeared as both the monster and the vampire. Bela Lugosi was asked to play the Frankenstein monster but, according to David Skal in Hollywood Gothic, he turned down the offer: “He objected to the makeup, and to dialogue which consisted of nothing but grunts” (184). (However, he did later appear as Igor in Son of Frankenstein.) One year after playing the Frankenstein Monster in The Curse of Frankenstein, Christopher Lee accepted his most famous role -- that of the Count in Horror of Dracula. Dwight Frye was cast as both Renfield and Fritz, while Peter Cushing played both the monster’s creator and the vampire’s nemesis. Other actors who have appeared in both types of movies include Lionel Atwill, Evelyn Aikens, John Carradine, Lon Chaney, Jr., Valerie Gaunt, Donald Pleasance and Edward Van Sloan.

The pairing of Frankenstein and Dracula is not confined to the movies. It occurs everywhere, from novels to comic books and T-shirts. Both monsters shared the spotlight in Forrest Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland which debuted in 1958, and were popular items in Aurora’s Model Series. Both were spoofed in The Munsters. Both had breakfast cereals named after them: “Count Chocula” and “Frankenberry.” They even appeared together in children’s books, such as Dracula’s Cat and Frankenstein’s Dog by Jan Wahl (1990). The two novels have been adapted as comic books, and both Frankenstein and Dracula have enjoyed their own comic-book series. Marvel Comics’ The Frankenstein Monster (1973-4) includes a battle scene in which the Monster is clearly the favourite. In the finale, he uses a crucifix and a wooden stake (and a little help from the sun) to destroy the Count. In contrast, Topps three-part series, The Frankenstein/Dracula War (1995) sees them battle to a draw.

The two fiends often accompany each other on bookshelves. Donald Glut’s Frankenstein Meets Dracula (1977) is intended as a sequel to both novels. As befits their portrayals in the original works, the Frankenstein Monster is a more sympathetic character than the diabolical Count. Brian Aldiss followed Frankenstein Unbound (1973) in which the Monster, his creator and the author interact, with Dracula Unbound (1991) featuring the Count and Bram Stoker. Novels such as Stephen King’s Salem's Lot (1975) contain numerous allusions to both monsters, while The Ultimate Frankenstein and The Ultimate Dracula (1991) are collections of stories which focus on the respective characters. A similar pairing has occurred in scholarly publications: Florescu and McNally’s In Search of Dracula (1972) was followed by Florescu's study of the Frankenstein legend; Glut’s non-fictional works include The Frankenstein Legend and The Dracula Book; and Leonard Wolf has prepared annotated editions of both texts.

Both Count Dracula and Victor Frankenstein may owe their names to historical figures. Though the theory that Dracula is based on Vlad the Impaler is shaky at best, we do know that the historical figure was the source of the name. Radu Florescu, one of the co-authors of In Search of Dracula, has also suggested a historical precedent for Victor Frankenstein. In Search of Frankenstein (1975) begins with the revelation that there was a Frankenstein family. Florescu believes that Shelley may have visited Castle Frankenstein during her trip down the Rhine in the summer of 1814. If so, she probably heard local stories about the eighteenth-century alchemist Konrad Dippel who lived at Castle Frankenstein and was rumoured to have carried out experiments with human body parts.

Frankenstein and Dracula both deal with the issues of death and resurrection, creation and transgression, and the blurring of the boundaries between life and death. This raises the question of whether any links be found between the two texts. There is little doubt that Stoker had read Frankenstein by the time he wrote Dracula. After his death in 1912 his library, which was auctioned at Sotheby’s, included a copy of Mary Shelley’s novel. Indeed, in a letter to her son soon after the publication of his masterpiece, his mother said, “No book since Mrs. Shelley’s Frankenstein ... has come near yours in originality, or terror.” But was Dracula influenced by Frankenstein in any way? While there is no evidence to suggest a deliberate, conscious influence, it can be argued that Stoker’s novel contains numerous resonances of Frankenstein, for they both draw upon a common stock of narrative and thematic conventions. Scholars point to a “family resemblance” which includes a concern with transcending the limits of what is scientifically possible (the boundaries between life and death), a portrayal of the monsters as both dignified and pitiable, a suspenseful final chase, and the structure of multiple narrations. Like dark twins, they embody “the war between science and superstition -- Apollo and Dionysus at the Saturday matinee” ( David Skal, The Monster Show, 351).

On the surface, both works are horror novels which revolve around the necessity of destroying a monster. A closer examination shows that many of the qualities which define the monsters are a consequence of the way in which their stories have been passed on to us. Both authors filter their antagonist’s stories through the narratives of characters whose biases are readily apparent.

Frankenstein is constructed from three different narrations. Victor’s story includes the Monster’s narrative, while both of these viewpoints are enclosed in Walton’s letters to Margaret. The most important consequence of this textual appropriation is that, with the exception of the closing remarks over Victor’s corpse, the Monster’s story is embedded in Victor’s text. Thus, Victor asserts his authority over the Monster’s side of the story. While Victor’s text comes to us through Walton, there are crucial differences in how their stories are filtered. Victor has editorial authority over Walton’s notes. At one point, he “asked to see them, and then himself corrected and augmented them in many places” (175). A second major difference is that Victor is speaking to a kindred spirit who has embraced him as friend and who shares a similar Promethean ambition. In contrast, Victor is a reluctant listener to the Monster’s tale, and has formed various conclusions about the speaker before hearing his story. Victor also attempts to control Walton’s response to the Monster’s text, for he clearly wants Walton (and ultimately, us) to repudiate the Monster. Walton’s momentary sympathy for the creature is overshadowed by Victor’s warnings about its powers of eloquence and persuasion. The deck is stacked. In spite of his professions of remorse, Victor never abandons his conviction that he has acted nobly. He continues to justify his right, not only to create but to destroy what he has created. In addition, his refusal to share the secret of his creation is a major cause of the catastrophes that befall his loved ones.

Textual appropriation is an even more significant factor in the design of Dracula. As in Frankenstein, there is no omniscient narrator to verify the authenticity of the presentations. The documents which comprise the novel both validate the reliability of the narrators and cast doubt on them. The text emphatically denies a narrative voice to the Count. Except for his “Welcome to the Carpathians” letter to Harker, which can be assumed to exist independently of Harker’s journal, we only hear him through the mediated narratives of other characters. The reader has to be even more cautious here than in Frankenstein where the Monster is given a voice, albeit one that is embedded in others’ texts. The text in Dracula valorizes the “Us” (the first person narrators and, if we are not careful, the reader) over the marginalized “Other.” (The fact that Dracula is the most fascinating character in the novel, even though he has been denied his own voice, is a credit to the power of the text.) This anomaly has been used resourcefully by various authors. The best-known example is Fred Saberhagen’s novel The Dracula Tape, a clever retelling of Stoker’s story from the vampire’s point of view.

In both Frankenstein and Dracula, textual appropriation is the narrative equivalent of a central thematic premise: the necessity to destroy the monster. The most common interpretation of Frankenstein is evident in how the word has come to be used as a metaphor for any creation that slips from its creator’s control and threatens to destroy him. According to this reading, Victor Frankenstein’s defiance of the laws of the nature creates a monster. Like Prometheus of Aeschylan drama, he suffers because of his presumption, slowly losing all of his loved ones. This interpretation, which implies anxieties about advances in science and technology, appeals to those readers in the twentieth-century who are concerned about unbridled research in nuclear weapons and genetic engineering, and the destruction of the Monster becomes a metaphor for saving the world from scientific advances that do not take ethical questions into account.

Scholars of Frankenstein often point out that such an interpretation is over-simplistic, for it fails to take into account the ambivalence that Shelley has built into her novel. As all readers of Frankenstein know, the Monster of the text bears little resemblance to the monster of the movies. He is responsive to the beauties of nature, articulate, and better read than most college students (his reading list includes Goethe, Plutarch and Milton). His acts of violence are the consequence of his rejection by his creator and other people. Victor’s refusal to accept responsibility for his creation, coupled with society’s inability to deal with it, trigger the calamities that follow.

Why, then, must the Monster be destroyed? One answer is that the creature is a manifestation of the monstrosity that lurks within Victor. In his study Creature and Creator: Mythmaking and English Romanticism Paul Cantor claims that Frankenstein and the monster capture “the complex duality of the Romantic soul, the dark as well as the bright side, the violent as well as the benevolent impulses, the destructive as well as the creative urges” (108). Frankenstein is not only a Romantic myth; it is a “myth about Romanticism” which dramatizes the dangers of excessive idealism. Justifying his efforts to create life in his laboratory, Victor Frankenstein states, “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs” (55). Frankenstein’s project can be seen as the ultimate test of the Romantic’s denial of the limits on human creative power.

It is only one step further to see that Mary Shelley had a particular Romantic in mind -- Percy Shelley. Anne Mellor addresses this possibility in Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters:

[Mary Shelley] perceived in Percy an intellectual hubris or belief in the supreme importance of mental abstractions that led him to be insensitive to the feelings of those who did not share his ideas and enthusiasms. The Percy Shelley that Mary knew and loved lived in a world of abstract ideas; his actions were primarily motivated by theoretical principles, the quest for perfect beauty, love, freedom, goodness. While Mary endorsed and shared these goals, she had come to suspect that in Percy's case they sometimes masked an emotional narcissism, an unwillingness to confront the origins of his own desires or the impact of his demands on those most dependent upon him. (73)

A few examples will suffice. Following his elopement with Mary in 1814, Percy Shelley, who was an advocate of free love, invited his wife Harriet to join his new household “as a sister.” (Mary's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, once made a similar “menage a trois” proposal to the wife of Henry Fuseli, whose painting “The Nightmare” may have influenced the scene in which Elizabeth dies in her bridal bed.) Percy also urged Mary to share her sexual favours with his best friend Thomas Hogg, although she felt no physical attraction for him. Percy may also have had an affair with Mary’s stepsister while Mary was confined by pregnancy. Mary and Percy were living together “out of wedlock” when she began the novel, and it is possible that she created the story to protest the dangers inherent in commitment to abstract causes at the risk of emotional detachment from real relationships.

Given the fact that the novel was written by a woman (and by one whose mother was a leading advocate of women’s rights), it is not surprising that it has yielded a number of feminist readings. One interpretation is that the monstrosity of the novel is related to the issue of female sexuality and procreative power. The novel can be read as an attack on a patriarchal gender construct that disempowers females. At first sight, Frankenstein seems to avoid feminine issues. There is a conspicuous absence of (or elimination of) mother figures and potential mother figures. But a closer examination shows that Victor’s act of creation can be seen as a travesty against woman's biological prerogative; that the disastrous consequences are “what happens when a man tries to have a baby without a woman” (Mellor, 40). Victor’s Promethean quest takes him away from his loved ones. When he departs for Ingolstadt, he leaves behind Elizabeth and the warmth of his family. He subsequently ignores their entreaties to “write often” as he becomes obsessed with his quest to create life. His act of turning away from the Monster in disgust is foreshadowed by the fact that he has already abandoned those qualities that would have enabled him to bond with his new-born child. His rejection of the “Monster” may be the ultimate monstrosity.

Victor compounds his sins by refusing to give his creature a mate. His reasons for destroying the half-completed female monster include the fear of procreation: “one of the first results of those sympathies for which the daemon thirsted would be children, and a race of devils would be propagated upon the earth” (140). In a powerful condemnation of Victor’s decision, Mellor states, “Horrified by this image of uninhibited female sexuality, Victor Frankenstein violently reasserts a male control over the female body, penetrating and mutilating the female creature ... in an image that suggests a violent rape” (224). After usurping the female capacity for procreation, Victor is denied the capacity for procreation when his bride is murdered on their wedding night.

The fear of female sexuality is even more explicit in Dracula. Most readers of Stoker’s novel are struck by the latent sexuality encoded in the text. As in many Victorian novels, its pure women are pursued and seduced by a sexually aggressive men. But it goes beyond this, in that the threat of Dracula can also be read as the releasing of aggressive female sexuality.

Professor Van Helsing’s appropriation of Lucy’s and Mina’s texts symbolizes his success in asserting the conventional Victorian views about acceptable female sexual behaviour. Having read Harker’s description of the three female vampires at Dracula’s castle, Van Helsing recognizes the symptoms in Lucy, Dracula’s first victim in England. For example, he hears her appeal for a kiss from her future husband as the siren song of the sexually aggressive female, and saves Arthur from her deadly embrace. Once she is declared dead, he gathers every piece of her personal correspondence. Then, having read much of it, he asks Lucy’s fiance for permission to read the rest. The full weight of Dracula’s influence is not felt until after Lucy’s return from the dead as the “bloofer lady” when we are presented with the horror of unbridled female sexuality and the attendant perversion of motherhood. Lucy’s former sweetness and purity are replaced by “heartless cruelty ... and voluptuous wantonness.” When she attempts to seduce Arthur, Van Helsing’s intervention, this time with crucifix in hand, saves him from this sexual monstrosity.

Some feminist readings see Van Helsing’s appropriation of Lucy’s letters and diaries as his effort to counteract the influence of Dracula in her life. Earlier he had used blood transfusions in an effort to restore her to that feminine purity which the vampire’s nocturnal visits had threatened. Lucy was given the blood of “brave men” which, according to Van Helsing, is “the best thing on this earth when a woman is in trouble” (152). These transfusions encode a reassertion of the masculine prerogative of penetration: “You are a man and it is a man we want” (123), the professor says to Arthur as he rolls up his sleeve. The addition of good male blood will presumably help the angel within Lucy defeat the whore. The horror of Dracula to Van Helsing and his band is that he can transform their women into sexually ravenous beasts. Judith Weissman notes in her article “Women and Vampires: Dracula as a Victorian Novel” that “[Dracula] is the man whom all other men fear, the man who can, without any loss of freedom or power himself, seduce other men’s women and make them sexually insatiable with a performance that the others cannot match” (76). Thus he must be destroyed.

Four men are present at Lucy’s staking: her former suitors, her fiancé and Van Helsing. Significantly, the driving of the “mercy-bearing stake” is performed by Arthur, the cuckolded husband-to-be, who is supported by all of the brave men who had unsuccessfully infused the living Lucy with their blood. In order to correct her dangerous wanderings and her disregard for sexual constraint, Lucy’s body is violently penetrated by a mighty phallus, driven into her heart. From their point of view, this quartet of chivalric knights who have pledged themselves to an ideal of perfect womanhood are restoring Lucy to her former state of purity. The description of Lucy after Arthur has hammered home the stake bears this out: “There, in the coffin lay no longer the foul Thing that we had so dreaded and grown to hate ... but Lucy as we had seen her in her life, with her face of unequalled sweetness and purity” (221).

Dracula’s second victim, Mina, survives because she dedicates her talents to the male social agenda epitomized in the person of Van Helsing. Her secretarial skills include all of the necessary paper work (collecting, collating, and arranging the data in chronological order), but Van Helsing excludes her from the real task, the pursuit of Dracula. This decision, to which Mina acquiesces, has ironic and potentially tragic consequences; for while the vampire hunters are off hunting Dracula, the Count gains access to Mina’s bedroom.

Even though Mina has been one of the most important narrators up to this point, we are not given this experience directly from her point of view. Rather, her account is embedded in the narrative of Dr. Seward. It is as if, having shared Dracula’s blood, Mina must also share his textual exclusion. Her comment “I was bewildered, and, strangely enough, I did not want to hinder him” (295) could suggest at least a momentary wavering in her devotion to the anti-Dracula cause. However, she quickly regains her composure and declares herself "Unclean.” Unlike Lucy who was never concerned about her fallen state, Mina, who is “one of God’s women” may be "saved.” Her actions following her “baptism of blood” testify to her desire to regain her proper place in the patriarchal order of things. It is true the men eventually decide to share some confidences with Mina, leading some to suggest that any misogyny in the text is offset by Mina’s role as an important agent in the crusade against Dracula. Yet this is a consequence of Van Helsing’s plan to take advantage of her subconscious desire for Dracula. Mina has the same ambivalent response to Dracula that Lucy had -- a combination of repulsion and fascination -- but she also sympathizes with the vampire. She pleads with the others on Dracula’s behalf (233 and 317) but her comments are curtly dismissed by the men. In fact, Van Helsing is quick to remind her of her fallen state. Recognizing the hold that Dracula has over Mina, the professor excludes her out of fear that she will unwittingly inform Dracula about the vampire hunters’ plans.

Mina succeeds in expunging Dracula and his threat to the Victorian male. In retrospect, it is significant that Van Helsing’s major polemic about vampires -- the nature of their existence, their powers and limitations, and how they can be destroyed -- is embedded in her text. The implication is that the threat of vampirism is embedded in the body of the female, and that this threat that can be overcome only if the sinful female expels the legacy of Eve from her nature. After Mina does so, the text rewards her with the ultimate blessings of the Victorian woman: a loving husband and a child. Gender order is restored at the end with the image of Mina and her child whose “bundle of names links all our little band of men together” (389). Van Helsing has won, and the monster has been destroyed. In Dracula, the necessity of ridding the world of the monster is even greater than in Frankenstein, and dominates more of the textual space. By the end of both novels, the threats that the monsters pose have been overcome. But they live on in myth and in metaphor because the issues of so-called monstrosity that they address are still relevant as the twentieth century draws to a close.

Both Frankenstein and Dracula contain references to Coleridge’s famous Gothic poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” It is not surprising to find allusions to the poem in Frankenstein, for Mary Shelley heard Coleridge read it when she was a child. However, there are numerous parallels: layers of narrative, compulsive telling of tales, Promethean journeys, images of ice and snow, the torture of isolation and the question of guilt. Direct allusions include a stanza from the poem (58). As he runs away from the Monster he has created, Victor Frankenstein recalls:

My heart palpitated in the sickness of fear; and I hurried on with irregular steps, not daring to look about me:-

Like one who, on a lonely road,
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And, having once turned round, walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread. (59)

The “frightful fiend” is not the Monster, whom we have just seen with its hands outstretched to its creator, but Victor himself and his realization of the failure of his Promethean dream. Victor tells Walton that immediately after his completion and rejection of the Monster, as he walked “to ease the load that weighed” upon his mind, he was in dread of the “frightful fiend” treading close behind him. One can argue here that Victor has killed his albatross twice: not only in his act of creation, but in his act of rejection. Like Coleridge’s Mariner, he must suffer the consequences of isolation and guilt.

Two more references to the albatross occur in Shelley’s text. The first is this comment by Walton to his sister:

I am going to unexplored regions, to “the land of mist and snow,” but I shall kill no albatross, therefore do not be alarmed for my safety, or if I should come back to you as worn and woeful as the “Ancient Mariner?” (30)

Ironically, Walton does not realize that he resembles the Mariner: his persistence in continuing his journey threatens his ship and alienates him from the crew; the albatross around his neck is his self-absorption and solipsism, qualities that foreshadow Victor’s story; and his encounter with Victor and his horrific tale will be his “Nightmare, Life-in-Death.” The other allusion occurs in Victor’s narrative when he expresses his concern about marrying Elizabeth “with this deadly weight yet hanging round my neck and bowing me to the ground” (130). This weight is the result of his refusal to reveal to others what he has done. He promises Elizabeth that he will share his secret with her the day after they are married. However, she does not live to hear it. Unlike Coleridge’s Mariner, Victor Frankenstein never rids himself of his albatross; he travels towards (rather than away from) the land of ice and snow, and dies amidst a landscape of failure and sterility.

Although the text of Dracula reverberates with resonances of Coleridge’s poem, the only direct allusion appears in the newspaper account of the calm before the storm that drove the Demeter (carrying Dracula) into Whitby: “As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean” (78). Dracula’s means of entering England is presented at several removes. While Frankenstein’s echoes are often seen as reinforcement of the text’s indictment of androcentric Romanticism, in Dracula the motifs of journey and Promethean quest are part of the exclusion of the vampire as Other. In addition to posing a sexual threat, Dracula is also the supernatural Other, the undesirable challenge to educated, rational Englishmen who privilege science over medieval, pre-Enlightenment irrationality. Dracula is a destroyer rather than a preserver of text; unlike Shelley’s Monster who keeps Victor’s notebook, Dracula destroys any records he finds. This reinforces his image as the antithesis of civilized Western European culture -- the cultural, social, racial, and biological Other.

Several other resonances can be noted. Both monsters attempt to invade the intellectual space of the “civilized” world. The Monster in Frankenstein reads Western literary texts (Plutarch, Goethe and Milton) in order to gain acceptance, while Count Dracula studies English magazines to assist in the process of assimilation. Both texts use geographically identifiable landscapes for symbolic purposes. Shelley’s land of ice and snow is a counterpart to the iciness of abandonment and rejection; Stoker’s Transylvania represents a threat to everything that is English. Other parallels come to mind. Pointing to the act of writing as a crucial element in Dracula, Jim Collins notes that “the writings themselves do not acquire any force until they are collated” and read (88); it is in the reading of texts that understanding emerges. While this is obviously true of Dracula, it can also be applied to Frankenstein. The Monster’s discovery of Victor's notes about his creation leads him on the road to self-discovery and self- destruction. Whereas Count Dracula destroys all of the papers that he reads, the Monster in Shelley’s novel is destroyed by what he reads, and sets his course for revenge. Secondly, the stock Gothic motif of the death of a bride on her wedding night can be found in both texts. In Stoker, Lucy’s final destruction (on the day after her intended wedding night) is an echo of two scenes from Frankenstein: Victor’s violation of the partially completed mate for his Monster, and the murder of Elizabeth in her nuptual bed.

Science plays a significant role in each novel. In Frankenstein it creates a monster; in Dracula it helps to defeat one. Furthermore, as a scientist, Seward is reminiscent of that archetypal would-be scientist, Victor Frankenstein, whose ambition had disastrous consequences. When reflecting on the fascination that Renfield's case has for him, he remarks, “It would almost be worth while to complete the experiment. It might be done if there were only a sufficient cause ... I must not think too much of this, or I may be tempted” (73). In contrast, Victor yields to temptation, and his realization of what he had done leads him to make this reference to vampires:

I considered the being whom I had cast among mankind, and endowed with the will and power to effect purposes of horror, such as the deed which he had now done, nearly in the light of my own vampire, my own spirit let loose from the grave, and forced to destroy all that was dear to me (73).

Radu Florescu draws attention to a fortuitous historical “connection” between Frankenstein and Dracula. The burial ground of the Evangelical Church in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu contains a number of ancient crypts, including that of Vlad Tepes’son Mihnea, who was assassinated in 1510. Not too far away, he states, lies the crypt of a Saxon nobleman whose name was “Baron Frank von Frankenstein” (In Search of Frankenstein, 16). This leads Florescu to raise an intriguing possibility. Given the political and economic conflict that existed between Wallachians and Saxons over trading privileges in Transylvania, is it possible that, in some minor skirmish almost five hundred years ago, long before Frankenstein and Dracula were created, a Frankenstein actually fought a Dracula?


Cantor, Paul. Creature and Creator: Mythmaking and English Romanticism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984.
Collins, Jim. Uncommon Cultures: Popular Culture and Post-Modernism. New York: Routledge, 1989.
Florescu, Radu. In Search of Frankenstein. Boston: NY Graphic Society, 1975.
Glut, Donald. The Frankenstein Legend. Metuchen NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1973.
Mellor, Anne. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. New York: Routledge, 1989.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 1818. Ed Johanna Smith. Boston: Bedford Books, 1992.
Skal, David J. Hollywood Gothic. New York: Norton, 1990.
Skal, David J. The Monster Show. New York: Norton, 1993.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New Westminster: Constable, 1897.
Weissman, Judith. “Women and Vampires: Dracula as a Victorian Novel.” In Margaret L. Carter, ed. Dracula: The Vampire and the Critics. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1988.

Author: Elizabeth Miller
Source: Watershed Online


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