Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, and Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Oxford English dictionary defines ‘monster’ as ‘legendary’. Words, such as ‘demon’, ‘colossus’, ‘gruesome ‘and ‘dreadfully repulsive’ refers to the physiognomy of this ‘other being’. In two Gothic novels, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, and Dracula by Bram Stoker, the monster is a crucial element. The Gothic genre was popular in the Nineteenth Century, and the monster is a key theme, as in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Shelley’s passion and desire to “curdle the blood and quicken the beatings of the heart” (Shelley, 1818) comes through vividly in Frankenstein.
Frankenstein’s creature has the appearance of a monster and is also cruel; however, in contrast to Dracula, who is wholly evil, and who wants to corrupt society, the creature was born good and is corrupted by society. As Botting argues, “Monster was a standard, almost technical term of criticism in the eighteenth century and one applied to Frankenstein itself: one reviewer called it a monstrous literary abortion” (Botting, 1995, p5). The theme of physiognomy is key to both Frankenstein and Dracula.
The word physiognomy, from the Greek word meaning “physis” meaning “nature” is the assessment of a person’s temperament and character from outward appearance which was popular in the nineteenth century. Shelley uses a gothic setting for the birth of the creature. Brought to life on a “dreary night in November” the reader is introduced to the sense of foreboding through Shelley’s use of pathetic fallacy. The creature’s ‘dull yellow eye’ opened. The colour yellow connotes dirtiness and decay, emphasised by the use of the word ‘dull’. ‘It breathed hard and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs’.
The word “convulsive” outlines the element of fear connoting the word agitated and is cacophonic which connotes violence suggesting a painful, metaphorical birth. The word ‘convulses’ also suggests electricity, interestingly this suggests Shelly may have been influenced by scientific advantages like Galvanism. The colour ‘black’ emphasises the gothic lexis and links to death and evil. This entrance to the world is presented as unnatural as Victor hubristically usurps the role of God with his desire for knowledge fired by his image of a “new species”.
Throughout the text Shelley does not focus on what Victor does but what he fails to do nurture his creation “one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed down stairs“. The word “escaped” suggests to break loose from confinement and to get free suggesting Victor is frightened, this is emphasised by the word “rushed” which suggests moving in haste emphasising Victor’s fear of the monster. Here Shelley dehumanises the monster to emphasise Victor’s viewpoint of his own creation in order for the reader to agree with Victor’s assessment that the creature is evil.
His wealth and his image make him accepted into society. Dracula, like the creature, arguably represents a “shadow self” (Shaw, 2010), which can be seen as a dark, unfamiliar other within our psyches which exists but we refuse to acknowledge. The creature’s physiognomy is in contrast to Dracula’s. Unlike Shelley, Stoker combines the “self and the “other” (Davison, 1997) into one frightening apparition, as the monster resembles a nobleman. His face was a strong, a very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead’.
He is represented as a nobleman- there is an element of him being viewed as ‘other’ with ‘peculiarity’ (this suggests he is from the mysterious east), but he is not physically monstrous, unlike Shelley’s creature. Therefore Victor’s creature is rejected as a monster because of his physiognomy, while Dracula is initially accepted as a gentleman by Harker. Due to the Chinese box narrative we get the creature’s voice, this is important because Shelley challenges our attitudes to physiognomy by showing he was born good.
William Godwin, Aristotle and John Locke wrote about the concept of Tabula Rasa which translates as blank slate. They believe that children are born innocent and that experiences shape us and make us who we are. This is a wide concept that Shelley presents to us as her presentation of the creature: “my chief delights were the sight of the flowers, the birds, and all the gay apparel of summer”. Shelley links the creature with nature, and “mother nature” is more of a parent than Victor. Here he is presented as innocent and child-like.
The use of personification of nature as “gay” shows he is in tune with nature. This particular point in the novel Shelley develops her presentation of him as a child e. g. pain invading him – the reader feels sympathy for him; the moon guides him; the bird ‘salute’ him. The effect of this emphasises his closeness to nature, nature mothers him and accepts him unlike society. It is evident from the language used by the monster that the reader is faced with an almost civilised human being, who now makes its first steps towards maturity as a child would.
It is confusion, rather than monstrosity, which is expressed by the creature in this early stage. This surprises the reader, as a false impression was gained from Victor’s description (bookrags. com, 2006). The creature has human characteristics. The monster calls itself a ‘poor, miserable wretch’ (Shelley, 1818, p98) and recognises its hideousness. The fact that it ‘sat down and wept’ (p. 98) indicates its humanity as it feels emotion as any human would therefore we can determine that the real monster is determined by suffering and oppression.
It’s ‘overcome with delight at the warmth I experienced from a nearby fire” (p. 99/100) and cries with ‘pain’ as ‘I thrust its hands into the live embers’ (p. 100). It appreciates beauty in nature and tries to mimic sounds of ‘the pleasant songs of the birds’ (p. 99). Here Shelley conveys the creature’s innocence more as it is in the process of learning and maturing however, the ‘inarticulate sounds which broke from me frightened me into silence again’ (p. 99). The creature’s innocence is emphasised by other smaller factors such as its relationship towards nature.
Nature almost mothers the monster and is represented as a symbol of hope and change. The most powerful expression which Shelley uses of innocence in these chapters would be the creature’s first meeting with the DeLacey family. As O Rourke argues, ‘the monster first shows his capacity for compassion when he refuses to take food from the DeLacey’s supplies once he realised in doing so it caused them hardship’. The creature is also vegetarian, eating only the ‘berries, nuts and fruits’ showing he is less of a monster.
In contrast, Dracula is in every way evil. Harker describes Dracula: “His eyes were positively blazing. The red light in them was lurid, as if the flames of hellfire blazed behind them” the effect of this simile creates a sense of horror suggesting Dracula is pure evil. The use of the colour ‘red’ emphasises this as it connotes ‘pain, blood and anger all of which would be felt by the victims of Dracula’s corruption. This creates a linkage between the count drinking blood, a complete contrast to the vegetarian creature, suggesting he is more of a monster.
The count’s actions are also undeniably evil; immediately following his description of the count, Harker tells of how the count feeds a live human baby to three vampire women. Further, in desiring Mina “Mina, to walk with me you must die to your breathing life and be reborn to mine”. Rosenberg argues “Dracula is doubly evil: he attempts to defile the designated mother of the novel, the one who must guide with her moral hand”. A key difference in the texts is that the creature is corrupted by society while Dracula wants to corrupt society.
Victor’s rejection of the creature is a complete contrast to how Shelley presents Victor’s own childhood. In the metaphor “guided by a silken cord” the “cord” connotes an umbilical cord and guidance. ”Silken” represents wealth and luxury and “tender caresses” suggests his parents were gentle, reinforced by sibilance. The overall picture is an idealised one which is juxtaposed with how Victor treats his own child, the creature. Shelley makes clear Victor is in part to blame for the creature becoming a monster.
This is shown when the creature draws on Milton’s Paradise Lost: “I remembered Adam’s supplication to his Creator. But where was mine? He had abandoned me, and in the bitterness of my heart I cursed him. ” The question emphasises the creature’s confused state of mind of being abandoned. As Youngquist argues “If it is ugliness which fuels the monsters social exclusion, it is beauty that drives his revenge: he destroys what he cannot possess” and this is shown when he says “I am malicious because I am miserable”, the link made clear by the alliteration. The creature acts out of fear and neglect.
However, Dracula penetrates society. In addition to attacking the women, there is also an undercurrent of fear that Dracula may penetrate the men as well “this man belongs to me! ” The term “monster” is not recognised and defined by its physiognomy but by its true self. Evident from Stokers Dracula, Dracula is monstrous for his normality which is why he is a frightening, true monster. Dracula is a wholly evil, Stoker characterises him as this whereas Shelley characterises the creature as “other” but there is a lot of thought behind this other being whereas Dracula is a standard Gothic monster.
The creature in Frankenstein expresses numerous signs by acting upon society however arguably the creature’s humane characteristics outnumber its acts. Society seems to be the key monster in the novel as it corrupts the creature. As he tells Victor “I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom drivest from joy for no misdeed”. He echoes Satan linking again to Paradise Lost. In contrast, Dracula tries to corrupt society. However even though the creature was born good, he does become a monster and, as with Dracula, ultimately the monster has to be excluded, often through death.