The Vampyre is a novella that inspired many a writer to tackle, reinvent, expand the genre of vampire literature. Without it there wouldn’t have been great literary masterpieces such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, just to mention the greatest example of this genre. So, on behalf of all vampire obsessed people, thank you 1816, the Year Without a Summer, because if it wasn’t for the “incessant rain” we wouldn’t have neither this kickstarter to a great piece of literature nor any of the subsequently inspired poems, short stories or novels. Not to mention Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein!
Here’s how Polidori described the evening of storytelling which led to the composition of some of English Literature’s greatest masterpieces:
June 18. Began my ghost story after tea. Twelve o’ clock, really began to talk ghostly. [Lord Byron] repeated some verses of Coleridge’s Christabel, of the witch’s breast; when silence ensued, and Shelley, suddenly shrieking and putting his hands to his head, ran out of the room with a candle.
(from the Diary of Dr John William Polidori, 1816)
So you see, there’s always something positive to be found in every situation, even in something as concerning as climate change…
Aubrey, a young Englishman, meets Lord Ruthven, a man of mysterious origins who has entered London society. Aubrey accompanies Ruthven to Rome, but leaves him after Ruthven seduces the daughter of a mutual acquaintance. Aubrey travels to Greece, where he becomes attracted to Ianthe, an innkeeper’s daughter. Ianthe tells Aubrey about the legends of the vampire. Ruthven arrives at the scene and shortly thereafter Ianthe is killed by a vampire. Aubrey does not connect Ruthven with the murder and rejoins him in his travels. The pair is attacked by bandits and Ruthven is mortally wounded. Before he dies, Ruthven makes Aubrey swear an oath that he will not mention his death or anything else he knows about Ruthven for a year and a day. Looking back, Aubrey realizes that everyone whom Ruthven met ended up suffering.
Aubrey returns to London and is amazed when Ruthven appears shortly thereafter, alive and well. Ruthven reminds Aubrey of his oath to keep his death a secret. Ruthven then begins to seduce Aubrey’s sister while Aubrey, helpless to protect his sister, has a nervous breakdown. Ruthven and Aubrey’s sister are engaged to marry on the day the oath ends. Just before he dies, Aubrey writes a letter to his sister revealing Ruthven’s history, but it does not arrive in time. Ruthven marries Aubrey’s sister. On the wedding night, she is discovered dead, drained of her blood — and Ruthven has vanished.
I spent a delightfully frighful and shuddering hour listening to John William Polidori’s The Vampyre on the LibriVox app (thumbs up, I highly recommend it), especially since I listened to the narration by Hokuspokus, in German. I love the sound of German! Who ever said that German is a rough and aggressive language is a fool who hasn’t ever listened to German people talk. The language is pure poetry and almost entirely made up on metaphores: I mean, point out another language that can express an entire concept in a single word!
Polidori begins his story with a (by me) much appreciated introductory chapter dedicated to giving a relatively detailed explanation on the background of vampirism – he was, after all, a man of studies and there’s rarely something as TMI when it comes to folklore and knowledge in general.
As I said, The Vampyre is a short story born in the spur of the moment and that’s the only fault I can find in it: it was too short and as such it can give the feeling of being rushed and not as insightful and full of depth as it could have been were it to be planned as a full-blown novel. But that’s always the case with short stories.
For some vampire fun and facts, check out this aptly named blog, Vampire Research Society.
DID YOU KNOW…
…there is a miniseries based on Heinrich Marschner‘s opera Der Vampyr: The Vampyr: A Soap Opera which first aired on December 2, 1992.
…Alexandre Dumas makes explicit reference to Lord Ruthven in The Count of Monte Cristo, going so far as to state that his character “The Comtesse G…” had been personally acquainted with Lord Ruthven;
…“The first story successfully to fuse the disparate elements of vampirism into a coherent literary genre” was originally erroneously attributed to Lord Byron, although both men went to great lengths to ensure Polidori received his due credit (read more about it here).