Van Helsing vs. Victor Frankenstein: Character Traits & Differences

Instructor: Terri Beth Miller

Terri Beth has taught college writing and literature courses since 2005 and has a PhD in literature.

Both Mary Shelley's 1818 novel, 'Frankenstein,' and Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, 'Dracula', present two of the most iconic horror stories of all time. This lesson compares the novel's iconic monster hunters, Victor Frankenstein and Abraham van Helsing.

Monsters and the Men Who Chase Them

What lengths would you go to to protect your family? How much would you sacrifice to safeguard humanity from a danger it doesn't even know about?

These are the questions that two of literature's most iconic monster hunters, Mary Shelley's Victor Frankenstein and Bram Stoker's Abraham van Helsing must face. United in their efforts to destroy the indestructible, to confront the unimaginable, there are nevertheless some important differences between these unforgettable characters. So how do they compare, exactly?

Bram Stoker
Stoker

Their Relationship to the Monster

Perhaps the most important difference between Frankenstein and van Helsing is in each man's relationship to the monster he chases.

Victor Frankenstein is, frankly, the author of his own nightmare. The monster he battles is the one he created himself, one he recklessly unleashed upon the world. Because of this, Victor's terror and rage are mingled with guilt and shame. No matter what the monster does, no matter the havoc he wreaks, Victor, ultimately, has only himself to blame.

Mary Shelley
Shelley

This is not the case with Professor van Helsing. Dracula, the monster van Helsing pursues, was already an ancient, centuries-old menace when van Helsing was still in his cradle. Dracula is not of van Helsing's own making and van Helsing's pursuit is not one of a guilty conscience or responsibility. He is co-opted into this hunt because his loyalty to his friend and former student, Dr. Jack Seward, and because of his desire, as a doctor, to 'cure' the women afflicted by the vampire's curse, Lucy and Mina.

The monster awakens in Frankenstein
Frankensteni

The Terror of Tomorrow

Victor and van Helsing both bear the burden of humanity's future on their shoulders.

This fear is what compels Victor to refuse the monster's demand for a companion, even though the monster vows terrible revenge against Victor--and, above all, against Victor's family--if he refuses. Victor envisions an entire race of monsters springing from his creature and the companion. Victor can't be a part of that.

For van Helsing, the terror of tomorrow is equally great, if not greater, because Dracula already has his companions. He has a bevy of brides who are already menacing the Transylvanian countryside. feeding on children, turning men into sex slaves and all-you-can-eat buffets.

Dracula also represents a xenophobic fear, or fear of a racial or ethnic 'other', common in Western Europe in the late 1800s known as the Eastern Threat. Conflicts in Eastern Europe, especially with the Ottoman Empire, drove tensions between the 'Christian west' and 'Muslim east.' This led to paranoia that the Ottomans would take over the western world, if not through military force then through more subtle means, infiltrating religion, culture, and even the western European family.

Image from 1931 film adaptation of Dracula
Dracula

The Nature of the Men Themselves

Career

Victor and van Helsing are both breathtakingly brilliant. Both are leaders in their fields. Both have the power to change the world. And both are drawn to the darker and more dubious elements of their field.

Victor's first love as a scientist was for the ancient Greek metaphysicians (sort of a cross between a scientist and a mystic) and alchemists, those who wanted to learn to turn base metals into gold. Likewise, van Helsing, is also drawn to the occult, everything from astral projection (the idea that the soul can travel outside of the body) to mesmerism and hypnotism (the control of the mind by another person or force).

  • However, Victor is a young man just starting out in his career. He is young and impetuous and, though he quickly rises to the top of his field, he doesn't have a decades-long reputation for excellence to speak for him. He's a brilliant upstart with something to prove.

Vlad the Impaler, said to be the real life inspiration for Count Dracula
Vlad

  • Van Helsing's brilliance has been long-established. He is an elder statesman in his field, and even if some of his interests raise the eyebrows of his more traditional (stodgier) colleagues, he has more than earned his name and their respect.

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