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[Watershed Online: Literature]
[Frankenstein and Dracula - continued]

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.

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