The fear of bourgeois civilization is summed up in two names: Frankenstein and Dracula.footnote＊ The monster and the vampire are born together one night in 1816 in the drawing room of the Villa Chapuis near Geneva, out of a society game among friends to while away a rainy summer. Born in the full spate of the industrial revolution, they rise again together in the critical years at the end of the nineteenth century under the names of Hyde and Dracula. In the twentieth century they conquer the cinema: after the First World War, in German Expressionism; after the 1929 crisis, with the big rko productions in America; then in 1956–57, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, directed by Terence Fisher, again, triumphantly, incarnate this twin-faced nightmare. Frankenstein and Dracula lead parallel lives. They are indivisible, because complementary, figures; the two horrible faces of a single society, its extremes: the disfigured wretch and the ruthless proprietor. The worker and capital: ‘the whole of society must split into the two classes of property owners and propertyless workers.’ That ‘must’, which for Marx is a scientific prediction of the future (and
The literature of terror is born precisely out of the terror of a split society and out of the desire to heal it. It is for just this reason that Dracula and Frankenstein, with rare exceptions, do not appear together. The threat would be too great, and this literature, having produced terror, must also erase it and restore peace. It must restore the broken equilibrium—giving the illusion of being able to stop history—because the monster expresses the anxiety that the future will be monstrous. His antagonist—the enemy of the monster—will always be, by contrast, a representative of the present, a distillation of complacent nineteenth-century mediocrity: nationalistic, stupid, superstitious, philistine, impotent, self-satisfied. But this does not show through. Fascinated by the horror of the monster, the public accepts the vices of its destroyer without a murmur, just as it accepts his literary depiction, the jaded and repetitive typology which regains its strength and its virginity on contact with the unknown. The monster, then, serves to displace the antagonisms and horrors evidenced within society to outside society itself. In Frankenstein the struggle will be between a ‘race of devils’ and the ‘species of man’. Whoever dares to fight the monster automatically becomes the representative of the species, of the whole of society. The monster, the utterly unknown, serves to reconstruct a universality, a social cohesion which in itself would no longer carry conviction.
Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula the vampire are, unlike previous monsters, dynamic, totalizing monsters. This is what makes them frightening. Before, things were different. Sade’s malefactors agree to operate on the margins of society, hidden away in their towers. Justine is their victim because she rejects the modern world, the world of the city, of exchange, of her reduction to a commodity. She thus gives herself over to the old horror of the feudal world, the will of the individual master. Moreover, in Sade the evil has a ‘natural’ limit which cannot be overstepped: the gratification of the master’s desire. Once he is satiated, the torture ceases too. Dracula, on the other hand, is an ascetic of terror: in him is celebrated the victory ‘of the desire for possession over that of enjoyment’, and possession as such, indifferent to consumption, is by its very nature insatiable and unlimited. Polidori’s vampire is still a petty feudal lord forced to travel round Europe strangling young ladies for the miserable purpose of surviving. Time is against him, against his conservative desires. Stoker’s Dracula, by contrast, is a rational entrepreneur who invests his gold to expand his dominion: to conquer the City of London. And already Frankenstein’s monster sows devastation over the whole world, from the Alps to Scotland, from Eastern Europe to the Pole. By comparison, the gigantic ghost of The Castle of Otranto looks like a dwarf. He is confined to a single place; he can appear once only; he is merely a relic of the past. Once order is reestablished he is silent for ever. The modern monsters, however, threaten to live for ever and to conquer the world. For this reason they must be killed.
Like the proletariat, the monster is denied a name and an individuality. He is the Frankenstein monster; he belongs wholly to his creator (just as one can speak of ‘a Ford worker’). Like the proletariat, he is a collective and artifical creature. He is not found in nature, but built. Frankenstein is a productive inventor-scientist, in open conflict with Walton, the contemplative discoverer-scientist (the pattern is repeated with Jekyll and Lanyon). Reunited and brought back to life in the monster are the limbs of those—the ‘poor’—whom the breakdown of feudal relations has forced into brigandage, poverty and death. Only modern science—this metaphor for the ‘dark satanic mills’—can offer them a future. It sews them together again, moulds them according to its will and finally gives them life. But at the moment the monster opens its eyes, its creator draws back in horror: ‘by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; . . . How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe . . .?’
Between Frankenstein and the monster there is an ambivalent, dialectical relationship, the same as that which, according to Marx, connects capital with wage-labour. On the one hand, the scientist cannot but create the monster: ‘often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation, whilst, still urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased, I brought my work near to a conclusion.’ On the other hand, he is immediately afraid of it and wants to kill it, because he realizes he has given life to a creature stronger than himself and of which he cannot henceforth be free. It is the same curse that afflicts Jekyll: ‘to put your good heart at rest, I will tell you one thing: the moment I choose, I can be rid of Mr Hyde.’ And yet it is Hyde who will become master of his master’s life. The fear aroused by the monster, in other words, is the fear of one who is afraid of having ‘produced his own gravediggers’.
The monster’s explicit ‘demands’ cannot in fact produce fear. They are not a gesture of challenge; they are ‘reformist’ demands. The monster wishes only to have rights of citizenship among men: ‘I will not be tempted to set myself in opposition to thee. I am thy creature, and I will be ever mild and docile to my natural lord and king, . . . I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.’ Furthermore, when all kindly relations with humans have failed, the monster humbly accepts his marginalization, begging only to have another creature who is ‘as deformed and horrible as myself’. But even this is denied him. The monster’s sheer existence is frightening enough for Frankenstein, let alone the prospect of his producing children and multiplying. Frankenstein—who never manages to consummate his marriage—is the victim of the same impotence that Benjamin describes: ‘Social reasons for impotence: the imagination of the bourgeois class stopped caring about the future of the productive forces it had unleashed . . . Male impotence—key figure of solitude, in it the arrest of the productive forces is effected’. The possibility of the monster having descendants presents itself to the scientist as a real nightmare: ‘a race of
‘Race of devils’: this image of the proletariat encapsulates one of the most reactionary elements in Mary Shelley’s ideology. The monster is a historical product, an artificial being: but once transformed into a ‘race’ he re-enters the immutable realm of Nature. He can become the object of an instinctive, elemental hatred; and ‘men’ need this hatred to counterbalance the force unleashed by the monster. So true is this that racial discrimination is not superimposed on the development of the narrative but springs directly from it: it is not only Mary Shelley who wants to make the monster a creature of another race, but Frankenstein himself. Frankenstein does not in fact want to create a man (as he claims) but a monster, a race. He narrates at length the ‘infinite pains and care’ with which he had endeavoured to form the creature; he tells us that ‘his limbs were in proportion’ and that he had ‘selected his features as beautiful.’ So many lies—in the same paragraph, three words later, we read: ‘His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, . . . his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.’ Even before he begins to live, this new being is already monstrous, already a race apart. He must be so, he is made to be so—he is created but on these conditions. There is here a clear lament for the feudal sumptuary laws which, by imposing a particular style of dress on each social rank, allowed it to be recognized at a distance and nailed it physically to its social role. Now that clothes have become commodities that anyone can buy, this is no longer possible. Difference in rank must now be inscribed more deeply: in one’s skin, one’s eyes, one’s build. The monster makes us realize how hard it was for the dominant classes to resign themselves to the idea that all human beings are—or ought to be—equal.