Do women write better horror stories than men? Any conclusion based on a sample of two is hardly scientific, but a comparison of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with Bram Stoker’s Dracula is very revealing.
I never intended to read Dracula. Then we spent a weekend in a holiday cottage near Whitby, and I happened to find a copy on the bookshelf. The first few chapters were gripping and atmospheric, describing the terrifying few weeks spent by the young solicitor, Jonathan Harker, as a prisoner in the Count’s Transylvanian stronghold. Particularly unexpected and intriguing was the blatant eroticism of the scene where he is approached by three female vampires, having disregarded Dracula’s instruction not to go wandering about (The Doctor would have understood the Count’s frustration very well).
Then the action moves to contemporary England. The word “contemporary” is not used lightly, because if ever a novel abounded in descriptions of the wonders of technology, it is this one. Characters constantly record their journals on phonographs, send telegrams and discuss the latest developments in science and technology. Yet Stoker seems curiously ambivalent, or perhaps just inconsistent, in his views. His famous Dutch vampire hunter, Van Helsing, constantly asserts the importance of maintaining a belief in the apparently irrational, whether it be the existence of vampires or the efficacy of Christian symbolism. The text articulates a deep anxiety that the speed of scientific progress will lead to a pervasive rationalism that will leave us vulnerable against the things that go bump in the night.
Anxiety is the defining feature of Stoker’s narrative. That’s not unreasonable in a book that is, after all, intended to scare us stiff. But the particular anxieties implied in Stoker’s account are clustered around the vexed question of gender politics and sexuality. His world-view is a patriarchal as the Book of Genesis. Women have only one acceptable aspiration – to exist as icons of purity. The world is repeated constantly. They are vessels to be filled or emptied by others – quite literally in the case of the passive Lucy Westera, whose very name embodies Stoker’s racial prejudice. In a frantic and ultimately futile attempt to save her life, she undergoes no fewer than four blood transfusions (all from different men!) in four consecutive days, all without her awareness or consent, and done in the name of their devotion to her. It is significant that, while the blood-letting of a vampire is the underlying cause of Lucy’s malaise, we are told that such a creature can only enter a house by the victim’s invitation. Inviting the vampire into her bedroom is Lucy’s only really autonomous action in the whole narrative, and all her sufferings flow from it.
Female independence was a cause of considerable anxiety in the late 19th century, with its defining feature of the rise of the “New Woman” demanding access to university education and suffrage. Closely linked to this concern was a reductive and conventional understanding of masculinity. In Julian Barnes’ novel, Arthur and George, set in the Edwardian era, an innocent Indian man is suspected of murder, partly because he hasn’t learned to play “our great manly games.” It is possibly coincidental that Dracula, with his nocturnal habits, his shameful addiction, sunken eyes and feminine features, superficially resembles Oscar Wilde, but some commentators think otherwise. The vampire can only be defeated by a united fraternity of men, whose virility is frequently and glowingly praised. They lock themselves away in smoke-filled rooms, excluding the clearly intelligent and capable Mina on the grounds that the fairer sex could not bear the horrors that they are discussing.
Blind faith has its dark side – irrational prejudice. Dracula abounds in what we would now call “Isms” – sexism, racism, even class-ism. Stoker’s attempt to produce Cockney or Yorkshire dialect, combined with frequent veiled demands for beer money, make it clear that in his universe the lower classes exist primarily to be patronised by their betters and provide comic relief.
Does Dracula still have the power to terrify? In a well-directed movie, perhaps, but the original is by turns infuriating and hilarious. It says far more about the sexual anxieties of late Victorian males than the habits of the undead. There is no attempt to explain, empathise with or pity the Count. And in this respect, particularly, it differs markedly from Shelly’s Frankenstein, which in my view has lost none of its haunting power.
Shelley, too, had concerns about the growing power of technology. Frankenstein is rooted in the Romantic sensibility, and its reaction to the prospect that mankind might be on the brink of using electricity to reanimate the dead, and create new life. Should humanity have such a power? How could male vanity – such a feature of Stoker’s narrative – be limited by ethics and responsibility?
These issues have, if anything, become more significant rather than less. That is partly why Frankenstein has retained its appeal. But Mary Shelley was also a parent, one who had stoically dragged a growing brood of toddlers around Europe in thrall to her husband’s grand ideas (only one of their five children survived the experience). Frankenstein is filled with this sensibility, with her conviction that humanity owes a debt of moral responsibility to any sentient being it has created. Her Creature does not fit easily into the good/evil binary. He is the innocent victim of his creator’s revulsion and neglect; it is this that looses horror upon the world, and leads to the death of everyone that Frankenstein holds dear.
The Creature is a complex character – we are privy to his aspirations, his anguish and his growing desperation. Much of the story is told from his viewpoint. Through his account of his social isolation, he comes to represent the social and political prejudices that divide us, and that the Shelley’s would have clearly witnessed in their travel around a war-scarred Europe. We can’t condone his behaviour, but we understand why he feels he has no alternative. He is human, and seeks only the connection and acceptance that all human beings are entitled to. Ultimately, we pity him, probably more than we pity his hubristic creator, who spills so much ink bemoaning his own fate and so little on that of his creation.
In Shelley’s moral universe, the monsters are more than simple projections of society’s repressed anxieties. They are like us; in a sense, they are us. They exist on the fringes of society, feared, shunned but ultimately no more evil than those who brought them into being. We make our own monsters, and the way forward is not to band together in vigilante groups intent on their destruction, but by extending a hand of mercy and acknowledgement to the apparently hideous and unknown.
Dracula is a melodrama. Frankenstein, though every bit as much of its time as Stoker’s classic, remains contemporary, haunting and disturbing. It terrifies because we know, in our hearts, that we are capable of creating our own monsters, and sealing our fate as well as theirs by our reluctance to acknowledge the monstrous in ourselves.
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?“‘Frankenstein’ is primarily a novel about the supernatural” Explore this idea in Shelley’s novel and consider how Dracula illuminates your understanding of the core text. The idea of the supernatural is an idea that has been around for centuries and is an idea that both Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker choose when they wrote their novels ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Dracula’. The idea of the supernatural in its literal meaning is the opposite of anything natural; it is the existence beyond the visible and observable universe especially when referring to Gods, Spirits, Devils or Demons.
Shelley captures the supernatural in Frankenstein in her presentation of nature and for the creation and the life of Frankenstein’s monster. Stoker has also used the supernatural theme to capture the nature and weather in Dracula as well as presenting the theme in his creature Dracula who essentially is a monster. Through the creation of both of Frankenstein’s creatures Mary Shelley makes several references to the supernatural and that the creatures are supernatural’s due to their creation.
Shelley first begins to explore the supernatural in the creation of Frankenstein’s monster as Victor Frankenstein is ‘infusing life into an inanimate body’. Frankenstein’s creature becomes not the working of nature or science but rather the product of the supernatural. By creating the monster from a number of different people’s body parts the monster becomes a supernatural creature and is the opposite of the normal human.
Victor Frankenstein ‘had selected his features’ so this wasn’t just a dead body that was being infused with life, this was a creation of a number of different bodies sewn together for the specific purpose of creating a beautiful life. However this wasn’t a beautiful life and Victor Frankenstein soon realises that this wasn’t a human he had created but a ‘being’. During the creation of the second creature Shelley refers to the creature as a ‘devil’ and that if the two creatures instead of living together isolated decided to have children then they would create ‘a race of devils . . on the earth. ’ Shelley also created a direct reference to the supernaturals by referring to the creature as a devil which is known to be supernatural. Being supernatural can often refer to having powers that seen to violate or go beyond natural forces or being god-like. Throughout Frankenstein Shelley creates the idea that Victor Frankenstein believes himself to be god like since he believes he can create his own people. In Genesis God creates a man and a woman and Shelley has ecreated this in Frankenstein as Victor Creates both a male and female creation although the female creation never becomes alive due to victors realisation he is not God and cannot control his creatures and does not want them creating a ‘race of devils’ that ultimately he would be the creator of. The appearance of the supernaturals becomes a prominent theme throughout both Dracula and Frankenstein. Throughout Frankenstein Shelley calls the monster by a number of different names including ‘creature’, ‘fiend’, ‘spectre’, ‘the demon’, ‘wretch’, ‘devil’, ‘thing’, ‘being’ and ‘ogre’.
By choosing to call the monster these names the monster is given a horrid appearance and the reader gets the impression that the creature is abnormal and also that the monster is not human nor is it a thing of nature so therefore it must be part of the supernatural. More specifically by referring to the monster ‘the demon’ and a ‘devil’ Shelley has made direct links to the way the monster is supernatural. Shelley later builds on these ideas as the monster describes himself as ‘not even the same nature as man. The monster was more than man he ‘was more agile’ and could ‘bore the extremes of heat and cold with less injury’ Shelley had given Frankenstein’s monster the superhuman gifts of strength and a body more able than man showing that he was of the supernatural and had powers greater than man. Frankenstein’s monster isn’t the only person to have a supernatural appearance, since creating a monstrosity Victor appears to only be able to see himself in the monster but can only see himself in the supernatural demonic way, ‘in the light of my own vampire, my spirit let loose from the grave’.
There are similarities between both the supernatural creatures as not only is Frankenstein’s monster a devil but Dracula is also referred to as a ‘devil’ due to his powers to communicate with the dead. However there is evidence that not only was the monster a supernatural creature but Shelley meant for the monster to be the perfect human if you could ignore his appearance then the creature was the perfect human, with caring qualities and strength beyond any others but he was corrupted by society.
Frankenstein’s monster is a perfect example of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s idea of the ‘noble savage’. The ‘noble savage’ is a literary character that is an idealised outsider who has not been corrupted by civilization and symbolizes humanities goodness. Frankenstein’s monster is peaceful at first with no reason to cause hatred he just wants love but his ugliness causes hatred and enrages him. He learns through eavesdropping on conversations and through the reactions of those around him to him especially Victor as he is the creator yet cannot stand to look at his creation.
The monster realizes his ugliness when he looks at his reflection in the water. Once the creature has been corrupted he is no longer a noble savage as he has lost the pure goodness he has when he was first created. Dracula was also known to be a supernatural creature as he was vampire, but he was also known to have supernatural powers although his were more obvious than Frankenstein’s monster that had his strength.
Dracula not only was as ‘strong in person as twenty men’ but could ‘transform himself to wolf’, he had the ability to ‘direct the elements’ as well as commanding ‘the meaner things’ and ‘at times vanish and come unknown’. The Dracula character could defy all of nature by controlling the weather and animals and his abilities to transform and vanish make him an obvious supernatural, compared to Frankenstein’s monster who became supernatural because he was created and has incredible strength yet he does not possess any specific supernatural abilities like Dracula.
The Dracula novel is primarily about Dracula and his abilities and the way he causes trouble with those abilities, and it makes Shelley’s novel seem to present less supernatural or at least shows that her supernatural influence is more hidden than what Stoker did in Dracula by making the supernatural occurrences so easy to see and understand in Dracula. A typical theme of Gothic literature is to use the weather and in both Dracula and Frankenstein the weather plays an important part in symbolizing the obscure supernatural events.
The way in which Dracula can manipulate the weather in particular ‘the storm, the fog, the thunder’ helps to illuminate the supernatural occurrences of the weather in Frankenstein. The three critical thunderstorms in Frankenstein all relate to a significant occurrence that is about to happen. They coincide with the appearance of the monster; this could mean that the storms are not of natural occurrence but of Victor going insane. Shelley uses the storms to build the tension and show that an event is about to happen.
The first storm brings the creation of Victors dream to create something of splendid beauty; the second storm brings the creation of the monster; and the third storm brings the appearance of the monster on the hills after the death of William. Victor blames the monster for the murder of his brother. Shelley refers to the destruction of the lake into ‘vast sheets of fire’ like the lake is the pits of hell now on fire this could be due to the appearance of the supernatural creature or due to the lake being a hell, and being its own supernatural creation.
There is another reference to ‘heaven’, which is another supernatural creation as the storm appears in ‘parts of the heavens’, an explanation of this is that God is sending the storm to punish Victor for making his ‘devil’ which is now killing and becoming more destructive and more of a monster, since Victor believes the monster killed William. In conclusion Frankenstein is primarily a novel about the supernatural and it does appear a main theme running throughout due to the creation of Frankenstein’s monster and the way in which the monster’s appearance and abilities appear to be supernatural.
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Dracula helped me to illuminate my knowledge on the supernatural’s and the way that that the supernatural theme was used in Frankenstein because it gives a different perspective on supernatural abilities and the way that they can be presented. However Frankenstein doesn’t appear to have as much of a supernatural basis as Dracula as Dracula explores the supernatural in a more literal way compared to the hidden and less direct supernatural theme in Frankenstein. WORD COUNT: 1497
Author: Brandon Johnson
Frankenstein and Dracula comparison
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