Dracula and Frankenstein: a Comparison of Two Novels

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Although Dracula and Frankenstein were written at opposing ends of the 19th century, they both threaten the stability of societal norms and the modern world by subconsciously projecting the repressed anxieties of political cultures onto the readers. The monstrosity of the novels can often be mistaken for the actions of the “monsters”, however, what could be deemed the most egregious aspect of the novels is the author’s capability to inhabit cultural anxieties and indirectly encode them into the psyches of their characters.

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The 19th century was vastly dominated by the Industrial Revolutions. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was composed towards the closure of the first, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula penned at the birth of the second revolution. Due to this, each novel features the theme of technology heavily, but rather than celebrating the advancements made, the authors have disregarded the amelioration of technology in the context of their novels and instead created worlds in which their characters are unacquainted with the process of growth that commenced during this time. As Warren Montag examines in his The “Workshop of Filthy Creation”: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein, Shelley produces a monster that ‘is a product rather than a creation’, and that ‘Technology and science, so central to the novel, are present only in their effects’. Shelley’s narrative is void of the ‘process of production effectively presenting us a world of effects without causes’ as she does not describe the process by which Frankenstein can create his monster. Instead, Shelley created a God complex for Frankenstein, he a spark of being into the lifeless thing’, completely disregarding any mention of the technological process. By doing this, Shelley has allowed us to become aware of the ambiguity of Frankenstein’s monster – is the monster a representation of the Victorian bourgeoisie’s disregard of the working class, or a failed attempt of the Enlightenment movement. Montag explains that the ‘new technologies’ introduced in the early 19th century had ‘disturbing… effects on the lives of the labouring population’ and that they became ‘bent on resisting the introduction of new technologies. Shelley mirrors this anxiety of the working class onto her monster, by allowing her monster to remain a nameless outsider. The monster was brought into this world isolated without any ‘being resembling. What was?’, he had no help to understand his identity. Just as the monster spends his life an outsider, Stoker creates a world in which Dracula is apart from technology and the advancements of the modern world, and as Harker explains in Chapter Three ‘the old centuries had, and have, powers of their own which mere “modernity” cannot kill’. This was the first sense of how modern technological advancements were pitiful against the unknown. As Jennifer Wicke summarises in her Vampiric Typewriting: Dracula and Its Media, there is a ‘collision of ancient mythologies with contemporary modes of production’. Dracula lives in a pre-technological world, unaware of the advancements made during the revolutions – the vampirism of the novel compensates for the need for modern improvement. Stoker introduces Dracula to the ‘uncanny procedures of modern life’ through ‘the mediation of the photographic image’ with Jonathan Harker, and as Wicke explains the ‘scary absence from the sphere of the photographable shunts the anxiety back onto vampirism itself’. The world Stoker had created within Dracula holds vampirism in place of technology – it can adapt with ‘the same horrific propensity that also defines Dracula’s anarchic power’. Stoker dramatises the Victorian anxiety of a return to the primitive through mirroring technological advancements in the vampiric abilities described through the novel.

Similar to the anxiety surrounding technological advancements during the 19th century Dracula dramatises the political anxiety of reverse colonisation surrounding the close of the 19th century, and the apprehension surrounding Imperialism. Stephen D. Arata interprets that the narrative of Dracula embodies the fear ‘that what has been represented as the “civilised” world is on the point of being colonised by “primitive” forces’ – these ‘“primitive” forces’ being that of Dracula and his band of the undead. The figure of Stoker’s Dracula seems to encode the British ‘geopolitical fears’ that surrounded the foreign or Eastern “other”, by engulfing and consuming its power. Metaphorically speaking, the cultural anxiety of the foreign “other” is in itself a colonising vampire consuming the power of the Empire from within. As Arata examines, ‘The Count endangers Britain’s integrity as a nation at the same time that he imperils the personal integrity of individual citizens’. Stoker can dramatize how Dracula compromises the ‘integrity’ of Britain through the vampirization of Lucy and Mina. Although these characters originally were very different women, with Mina portraying a more exemplar “Woman” for the Victorian era, the vampirization of both characters inverts the women’s natural, societal femininity. In chapter 16, Dr Seward describes Lucy after her transformation, with ‘eyes unclean and full of hell-fire, instead of the pure, gentle orbs knew’, her purity was an important characteristic for a Victorian woman, and the men around her become repulsed by the sexualised vampire she becomes. Dracula’s ‘colonisation of women’ mirrors the foreigner’s “colonisation” of Britain, where women ‘become the vehicles of racial propagation’, by vampirising the women Dracula creates a world where any children born would be of Vampire blood. They become ‘blood of blood’, epitomising the anxiety of reverse colonisation. Whereas Stoker encodes the anxiety of reverse colonisation within the characters and narrative, Shelley undoubtedly presents the fear of a new race coming to race and threatening the stability of the modern world through the idea of the female monster. Again, the author uses the “woman” to express that by ridding a race of their means to reproduce, it would cease to exist. Unlike Dracula, Frankenstein provides the protagonist with salvation by destroying the female monster – in Dracula, the new race of vampires in Britain stemmed from a “blood lust”. By exploring the female role in male-dominated societies, both authors were able to demonstrate that at the birth of a new race, women are essential but expendable. Frankenstein knew that by creating a female monster, he would not be able to control the spread of the race, and thus decided to essentially “murder” her before he had finished this creation, afraid of a ‘race of devils who would upon the earth’. Anne K. Mellor explains in Frankenstein, Gender and Mother Nature Frankenstein fears ‘her capacity to generate an entire race of similar creatures’. Similar to Dracula, Frankenstein wished for his new creation to be controllable by the male, to be with a compact made before her creation’, to stunt the anxiety of the possibility of a new race. However, the fear that inhabits him is that ‘the female will have desires and opinions that cannot be controlled by his male creature’. In both novels, the female becomes expendable, and the ‘efforts to control and even to eliminate female sexuality altogether is portrayed not only as horrifying and finally unattainable but also as self-destructive’. The anxiety of a new race is proved to be prevalent in both novels – the relationship between the protagonist and the feminine monster being a true dramatisation of the fears of the Victorian era.

Frankenstein and Dracula provide several illustrations into the way social and political anxieties prevalent in the Victorian era can be dramatized in novels. The relationships between the characters, in both novels, provides an insight into the way the authors have explored the cultural fears that surrounded Technology, colonisation and a new race. For example, the relationships between the protagonists and the female monster become a microcosm for the British anxiety of reverse colonisation and the disruption of social order by a new race. And the worlds the authors have created for their characters, that are apart from all technological advancements of the Industrial Revolutions, allow for the monstrosity of the novels to compensate for the need for modern improvement. The working class’s anxieties surrounding the possibility of technology replacing the workers is mirrored through the way monstrosity has replaced technology.  

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