The Vampyre by John Polidori (1819)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror June 24, 2014
If you are a True Blood fan, and haven’t read the first vampire short story in this genre, here it is. No horror blog would be worthy without including this tale. In terms of historical literature, LeFanu’s Carmilla was the second vampire story in 1847 and then Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897. Some people think Vlad the Impaler was the first vampire story but Vlad was actually a blood-thirsty Romanian (1400s) who actually impaled his enemies and was known as Dracula of Wallachia. Vlad was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s masterpiece. If we want the absolutely first work of vampire literature we have to recognize the German poem in 1748, The Vampire, by Heinrich August Ossenfelder and of course Goethe’s The Bride of Corinth in 1797.
Our author Dr. John Polidori was a friend of poets Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and author Mary Shelley. It’s commonly known that they all decided, one stormy evening at Lake Geneva (1816), to challenge each other by writing a horror story. The most famous result of that challenge was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Polidori’s The Vampyre was inspired by Byron’s story The Burial: A Fragment. There is a popular quote by Polidori explaining this inspiration: “The fact is that though the groundwork is certainly Lord Byron’s, its development is mine.” Polidori wrote The Vampyre in a matter of days and it was his only work of fiction. He died at age 25, just two years after its publication.
In The Vampyre, Lord Ruthven is a mysterious, British nobleman with a dead grey eye, who had a mesmerizing effect on young society woman. Aubrey is a young and wealthy man and becomes a friend to his Lordship Ruthven and his traveling companion. Aubrey falls in love with the lovely and innocent Ianthe in Greece, and I don’t have to tell you what happens to the charming Ianthe—who by the way, knows and understands these nocturnal fiends.
Dark romance, blood, supernatural, and madness is a winning combination today and was in 1819. This story was wickedly popular, translated into French, German, Spanish and Swedish, and adapted into a stage play all within a two-year period.
Polidori writes with an addictive prose and has created characters that are still alive and thriving in this nearly 200-year old fiction. Do you have a favorite vampire story? What do you think of Polidori’s?
Read The Vampyre at East of the Web
Listen to the audio at Librivox
And here is Lord Byron’s poem that he wrote in 1813, The Giaour, about vampires. I couldn’t resist!
- But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corpse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
- There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corpse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.
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