The Modern Monster’s of British Literature
“Cue the creepy music, the church organ included, and the dark gothic castle, add some cobwebs, low lights, make everything look centuries old, and have some bats fly around in a frantic state. Such a distinct horror setting for a more even distinct vampiric character that we know and love. Cue the lightning, add a laboratory setting with all kinds of specimens packed into tight fit icky jars, place machinery that usually looks too rusty to work but manages quite well on it’s own, and add a table right smack dab in the middle of it all, also don’t forget your metal spire that harnesses your electricity from the lightning. All keys set pieces that bring to mind one horrendous unloved creation that has so successfully captured the hearts of millions. Cue the full bright moon, have it span through the trees casting a silverish glow on the dark forest, cue the pitchforks and torches of villagers readying to protect from the howling coming from the dark woods.
Creating this scene helps us remember the “creature of the night” that we have come to fear and love so much. All these ingredients of setting, scenery, props, and more helped to paint a picture of the commodities we usually associate with Dracula, Frankenstein and the Werewolf. So why is it that just listing off some setting and scenery narrow it down to that one monster? Because they are cultural icons and because of the numbers and numbers of adaptations, spinoffs, and so forth, we have been exposed to the never ending world of these beloved character. But I say beloved because even though we are exposed to so many versions and variations of these characters, we still find ourselves drawn to the initial aspect of the original character. They are horrifying and thrilling, containing such interesting stories that we can’t help but take to them. They enthralled many hearts and caused many screams. But most importantly they enthralled people who decided to write more to enthrall others.
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Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Werewolf are the most common and most popular monsters. When asking multiple people on what monsters come to mind, those three key characters all scored the highest. But when looking at these characters it is well known fact that they are all monsters of British Literature. Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, and George W. Reynolds all pioneered the idea of horror when they created these three monsters. Focusing on flaws and traits of humans and asking what it means to be human, they toiled away to hammer down on their “perfect” monster. When their books were realized to the public some were an immediate hit and some were only successful after the death of an author. But they all, over time, became known to us as the horror classics. The monsters of British literature are staples of the modern day horror genre because of their connection with humans, regard for morals, and raw potential for more character exploration.
In this introduction, the three main monsters will be introduced and I will provide some background on how they have shaped the modern day genre of horror. The famous character of Dracula was introduced in England and was coined by Bram Stoker, who didn’t invent the vampire but defined the modern form of what a vampire is. David J. Skal brings lights to the strange inner workings of the writer who gave birth to the undying cultural icon, displaying an amazing image of the age in which Stoker was born- a time when death wasn’t a metaphor but a constant danger easily imagined as a character existing in flesh and blood. (David J. Skal, 2019, WWNorton.com) Bram Stoker had quite an imaginative mind and would use most of his surroundings to influence what was written. Stoker was paralyzed as a young child and his early years centered around Victorian diseases and medical mysteries: cholera, typhus, bloodletting, and the gnawing obsession with “Bad blood” that colors Dracula. (David J. Skal, 2019, WWNorton.com) Though Stoker was familiar with the vampire imagery from his Irish childhood, scholars believe that Stoker was inspired by Henry Irving, an actor and dear friend to Stoker, resulting in the character of a megalomaniac Count Dracula.
Bram Stoker took years to pen his story but was mostly inspired when he took a vacation to Whitley in England. He was inspired by the location and landscape, even though the setting of the book is in Transylvania. (Ann Mah, 2016, New York Times) While on vacation, he often sat under a tree overlooking his lodgings and spent a lot of time exploring. Bram Stoker discovered the name Dracula, which means “devil” in the Wallachian dialect, in a book “An account of the Principles of Wallachia and Moldavia’ found in the Whitby Library. (Ann Mah, 2016, New York Times) He was immediately drawn in by this and continued to pen his ideas into his journal. But Bram Stoker did not think this book to be much and it was more of a fun project. After finally realising a copy of Dracula and publishing it, he didn’t expect it to be very popular but after his death in 1912, the book, like many other things, took off and was recognized by many as the book that kept them up at night.
Mary Shelley’s monster became so well known for being a mysterious and fearful mirror of our human nature. Mary Shelley was very young at the time of her creation of Frankenstein. But none the less, her mournful background and childhood experience led to many great creations. The story of Frankenstein was actually created when she and her husband, Percy Shelley, were guests at a lakeside villa in Switzerland with their friend Lord Byran and others. To keep their boredom at bay they came up with a competitive game to think of ghost stories and share them, this sparked Shelley’s creation. (Jennifer Schuessler, 2018, New York Times) The idea of the monster came to her in a nightmare one night. She described it as seeing a student on his knees trying to put together a horrendous creation. She called the book “hideous progeny” and described it’s intentions as: “to speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror.” One of the rare stories to pass from literature to common myth. (Jennifer Schuessler, 2018, New York Times) But even after having great success at the villa, Mary Shelley published the story and had even more success all over England.Over the years, the story of Frankenstein has been taken and creatively adapted and modified. The monster of Mary Shelley’s beloved story was tokens into many works. “While Frankenstein may have thwarted his creature’s desire to procreate, Shelley’s novel has birthed a seemingly endless stream of adaptations and riffs, including at least 170 screen homages, from the sublime to the ridiculous and beyond.” (Jennifer Schuessler, 2018, New York Times) Frankenstein’s monster may have not received a lot of love in his original story but he managed to capture the heart of millions and more.
George W. M. Reynolds wrote one of the first known werewolf stories of British Literature and his resilience helped spark the ongoing quest for the perfect werewolf story. Serialized in 1846-1847, Wagner the Werewolf represents one of the earliest English-language werewolf stories in literature. (E.F. Bleiler, 1975, pg. 3) George W. M. Reynolds was a very popular author during the 1800s. He was notable for many works across London but none as frightening as his werewolf story. Penned by George W. Reynolds, he was a contemporary to Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackery who was, at the time, more widely read than either of them. (E.F. Bleiler, 1975, pg. 3) His book was extremely popular and flew off the shelves, however, because of the many influenced authors and werewolf stories to follow, we don’t really credit George W. M. Reynolds with really coining in the centralized idea of the werewolf.
When looking at Bram Stoker’s Dracula we have to analyze Count Dracula’s connection to humans and how he was transformed from man to devil but has to live off the blood of humans to survive. The book is extremely unique in that it has every chapter actually entered as a diary entry and instead of having a main character, it focuses on the individual viewpoints of many characters to better paint the extensive story. The story opens up with Jonathan Harker, a young realtor, who is coming to Transylvania to speak with Count Dracula to go over a transaction. Upon arrival it is clearly hinted to the audience from the beginning that the count is definitely not human. But because of dramatic irony, Jonathan is unable to genuinely tell, that is until he starts to pick up on the hints. “But my very feelings changed to repulsion and terror when I saw the whole man slowly emerge from the window and begin to crawl down the castle wall over that dreadful abyss, face down, with his cloak spreading out around him like great wings.” (Bram Stoker, 1897, pg. 45) It is in this scene that Jonathan truly grasps the horrid nature of his host. He is left awestruck and stunned.
“What manner of man is this, or what manner of creature is it in the semblance of a man?” (Bram Stoker, 1897, pg. 46) It is during this scene that Jonathan tries to escape but he is trapped and left to the mercy of the Count. Later in the book, the next diary entries are from his fiancé, Mina Harker, who is worries for her fiancé. However, when Count Dracula starts to make an attack to London and attack Mina’s friend, Lucy, the list of main characters increase from Lucy’s suitors to Doctor Van Hellsing, all who start to gear up and plan against this fiend invading their territory. This is explained in Van Hellsing’s diary entry saying, “The vampire lives on and cannot die by the passing of the time; he can flourish when that he can fatten on the blood of the living. Even more, we have seen amongst us that he can grow younger; that his vital facilities grow strenuous, and seem as though they refresh themselves when his special pabulum is plenty. But he cannot flourish without his diet, he eats not as others.” (Bram Stoker, 1897, pg. 150) Dracula is a predator but in order to be such a thing, there has to be prey. So the count has to rely on the overbreathing human in order to survive and is connecting by a relationship of predator and prey.
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein the monster was made to be the perfect human as well but was “imperfect” as well as his ever going battle between master and creation. Victor Frankenstein, is a scientist and philosopher who decides to start new life. He wished to play God, and create a perfect human. He creates the monster but when the monster awakens, Victor is horrified and abandons his monster leaving a bridge that is shattered between creation and creator. The person responsible for the monster’s downfall is Victor Frankenstein when he ran from his duty of educating the monster at first sight. Victor failed when he followed a predisposition of human nature – disgust to the monster and did not take the duty of any creator or parent; to teach and care for their creation. (Stephen J. Gould, 1994) The creation is left to wonder on his own, alone, afraid, and confused, trying to find someone or something to help him survive. Upon encountering a blind man, the monster feels accepted but is soon chased out by the blind man’s son. This leads to the monster acknowledging his inability to overcome visceral fear of his ugliness; this leads to his despair and loneliness, spreading to revenge. (Stephen J. Gould, 1994) Both Frankenstein and the monster go head to head in a battle of revenge. Creating a power struggle between creation and creator but one can’t live without the other and when Frankenstein dies so does the Monster.
George W. M. Reynolds Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf explains how his character transforms from man to beast and the thin line between human and monster. Lycanthropy- the ability to transform from human to wolf. (W.D. Gagliana, 2011) It was a popular myth starting during the era of the Greeks and has been seen many times, in many different forms, in different cultures. It was believed that anyone who showed signs of being a witch had the possibility of being a werewolf also. Many people were executed and wouldkilled for things such as mental illness and disease. In George W. M. Reynolds story, Wagner is an older man hoping to reconnect with his granddaughter, he ends up making a pact with a wizard to transform into a beast for 24 hours each month and travel with him for a year. Wishing for immortality Wagner agrees and is transformed into the wolf like beast. “Suddenly a piercing chill darted through his frame, and he fell in strong convulsions upon the ground, in the midst of the same wood where his transformation had taken place on the preceding night.” (George W. M. Reynolds, Chapter 12) In chapter 12, Wagner is transformed and has to live out a life of duality and danger to simply satisfy his need to live longer.
In Bram Stoker’s Dracula the count struggles between the vampires way of life and the human way of life. A struggle between corrupt nature and human nature except that corrupt nature takes over completely. He is a symbol of evil and is the opposite of our heroes in every way. He is displayed as a furious evil, wanting to take over London for his evil exploits. Instead of Dracula being a character of many contradictions, who might become a tragic figure, the Count symbolized unadulterated evil, he is a hunter, or he is target of the heroes. But alas, he and his very appearance cause terror. (EditorEric.com, 2017) Count Dracula manifests in horrific forms, such as bat, dog, older man, and billionaire fiend. His nature is to kill and he won’t stop for anyone or anything.
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the monster tries to be a good and a well educated human being but struggles between choosing to do good or choosing to take revenge. Because of the monster being rejected by master, people, and everyone, the monster is left with resentment and cannot bear being the only one alone. The monster turns to evil, against an inclination to goodness, because humans ostracise him and can’t bear the loneliness of being rejected. (Stephen J. Gould, 1994) In the book he tells us that he was born looking for love but found nothing but scorn. “My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy; and when wrenched by misery to vice and hatred, it did not endure the violence of the change without torture, such as you cannot imagine.” (Mary Shelley, 1818, pg. 165) Upon this note, he explains also how he was left for no other option but to take revenge on this who left him to rot. He wouldn’t have known evil if “good” hadn’t neglected him to the mercy of ever torturous life. “Once my fancy was soothed with dreams of virtue, fame, and of enjoyment. Once I falsely hoped to meet with beings who pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of unfolding.” (Mary Shelley, 1818, pg. 166) He only wished for someone to share his talents and help him to nurture his gift of intelligence. He wished to share intelligence and get love and support. But when none was given he was forced out to nothing but revenge. Victor Frankenstein is the source of the monster’s anger so he only kills the people in Victor’s life and will bring Victor the most grief to his friends, family, and lovers. Even when the monster is killed people he still remains particular and purposeful with his intent. (Stephen J. Gould, 1994) The monster tries to hunt down Frankenstein’s weaknesses to harness that power and break it. But it is because of Frankenstein that that the monster ends up killing family, friend, and lover. “Shelley’s monster is not evil by inherent condition. He is born unformed – carrying the predispositions of human nature, but without the specific manifestations that can only be set by upbringing and education.”(Stephen J. Gould, 1994) It is because of improper nurturement and because of his being raised by nature that the monster is led to a pitfall.
George W. M. Reynolds Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf is the struggle of whether to keep your human ideals or whether to give in to your beastly cravings. Wagner has to struggle between giving into sin or staying true to his un-beastly self. In the novel, Wagner is tempted by the devil to do his bidding so that he could live in peace. The devil tempting him could be a less symbolic way of saying that Wagner is being tempted to kill. Falling into the beast like nature of the creature Wagner is constantly trying to keep others safe from himself. At one point in the novel, Wagner goes to an island to keep a fat distance for those he loves but suffers in everlasting torment. But he is told to seek out and old man who is said to have magical abilities. This could be symbolic of a sinner trying to find his way to Christ. He is also tempted by Nisida, a women who killed his granddaughter thinking that he was trying to seduce Wagner. Nisida is a villainous female and is constantly trying to get Wagner to do what she wants. This could also be symbolic of Adam being tempted by Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. But all throughout the novel Wagner is being tested by himself, the beastly nature of his creature, and others to see if he is worthy of eternal life.
In Bram Stoker’s Dracula The Count is depicted as being a viable sign of evil and satan. He also immortal and with this it allows for more spins to the story. Because of the novel not explaining how Dracula came to be, and just putting him as a evil character who simply resides in Transylvania, this gives other authors creative liberty to experiment and try out news ways to explain his past and possibilities for his future.
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein the monster has feelings and intelligence but is also made from scratch and undead parts giving a sort of dual of outside and inner prospects. The concept of a creator and creation relationship also allows for more story continuation. “The cruel yet understandable consequences of difference, driven to the monster’s extremes, are too dreadful to contemplate.” (Mary Sebag-Montefiore, 2019) We as humans understand the feeling of being rejected or different. The monster feels rejected by society and has tried to make friends but is cast out. Rage and despair overtake his moral judgment. “”You made me,”” says the monster. “”All I ever wanted was your love. Or at least acceptance. But I am so ugly that everyone flees in disgust. I’m lonely, an outcast, hated. So I take my revenge. I destroy. I have learnt, in the absence of love, how to hate.”” (Mary Sebag-Montefiore, 2019) Because of the relatable feeling of being similar and lonely allows for more audiences being captured by the story. This is why other authors and creators want to replicate that feeling and continue the legacy of such a great story.
In George W. M. Reynolds Wagner, the Wehr-Wolf his character struggle with duality and living a double life. Living a human life by day and a beast like life by night allows for variations and spin-offs. “The beast inside” is used to explain how everyday people are capable of evil that defies explanation by rational means. (W.D. Gagliana, 2011) Provides a look into a hidden “dark side”. It provides for numerous metaphors that are associated with werewolves. A popular metaphor to use a person’s loss of control, symbolizing mental illness or puberty. (W.D. Gagliana, 2011) In George W. M. Reynold’s story, a lot of the story is symbolic of a sinner finding his way to God, and trying to find salvation, he is also tempted but he is looking for everlasting life.
So to conclude, the monster’s of British Literature are staples of the modern horror genre because of their memorable stories and their scary and frightful concepts that play with the human mind. “Their creatures have become cultural icons because they represent extreme possibilities in our natures as much as do any of the strangest creations of Shakespeare, Stephen King, ancient mythologizers and the Biblical writers.” (EditorEric.com, 2017) “What does it mean to be human?” A question that all great literature asks over and over again. Neither Frankenstein and Dracula are great literature in the sense of the word, but they are definitely popular literature that puts the question more nakedly. (EditorEric.com, 2017) Unlike Frankenstein, where we fear about our humanity and what is lost with human progress, Dracula pokes at our fear of what we are and what is buried inside of us (EditorEric.com, 2017) While with Wagner the Werewolf, it brings to light the duality of life. Dracula hounds on our fear of what is inside and when it is ready to erupt when the veneer of lightened civilization is gone. If transformed your evil and this is a value judgment by those in the novel who are good.
Transformation is passed on through blood, this symbolized a process of deep within, within the life force that is passed on. (EditorEric.com, 2017) like with Wagner the Werewolf, transformation is passed on through magic. The threat of everlasting life does not come from the progress of the hands of hands but of something primitive and mysterious, something intrigues the hearts. (EditorEric.com, 2017) Mary Shelley’s exploration of fear may be the fear of science and technology going faster than our ability to control. Frankenstein is about a monster and his creator’s pride who hopes to usurp the powers of God, he plays maker with moral strength or wisdom. (EditorEric.com, 2017) Mary Shelley focuses on the arrogant human creator as well as the creation who is cast out and without the ability to connect with the rest of the world’s inhabitants. (EditorEric.com, 2017) In George W. M. Reynold’s story, he focuses on Wagner and how he earns for eternal life but has to face being true to himself or giving in to his beast like nature.
These characters have impacted the horror genre for years to come and will continue to influence and inspire the minds of many. The original feat we had for these monster will not die done and continue in the minds and works of others, keeping close to the personal feelings felt when seeing and feeling the original that haunts us to this very day. The thrill of these monsters will live on in our culture and ways because they are a part of us now, answering what it means to be human.”