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[Watershed Online: Literature]

[Dracula and Frankenstein: A Tale of Two Monsters]

by Elizabeth Miller

[1931 Frankenstein poster][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.

[1931 Dracula poster]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.

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