Sunday, March 02, 2008

Classic Literature: The Vampyre

The Vampyre was a story penned by John Polidori and first published in 1819. It tells the story of a young Englishman, Aubrey, who takes his tour with one Lord Ruthven. Whilst Ruthven seemed virtuous in England, once in Europe Aubrey begins to see the Lord's true colours. By the time they get to Rome, Aubrey is feeling the strain of the relationship and Ruthven’s seduction of the daughter of a mutual acquaintance, having also received word of the truth of Ruthven’s exploits in England, pushes them apart. However their paths are destined to cross again and Ruthven is, unbeknown to Aubrey, a vampyre.

The story was the first English language vampire story and was conceived by Polidori during the same party in 1816 when Mary Shelly conceived Frankenstein. Ruthven was the first nobleman vampyre and was a thinly veiled representation of Polidori's former employer, Lord Byron. At the time of publication the story was actually attributed to Byron and there was much confusion regarding the authorship, despite Byron and Polidori’s denials that Byron was the author.

The lore is very different to that later established by Stoker, though the influence that Polidori’s tale had on the entire genre is undeniable as it opened the door for a whole new Gothic order of vampire tales. One major trait was the ability to be regenerated by moonlight – something that would again be seen in the Penny Dreadful, Varney the Vampyre. Ruthven is a corrupter; he revels in the fall of the virtuous.

The base story has not been used that often in vampire movies, though the name Ruthven does crop up from time to time in both films and novels. The two most obvious examples are The Vampire’s Ghost, which is loosely based on the story, and the recently filmed short The Vampyre by John W Polidori.

The text can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg, here.


Derek said...

>> though the name Ruthven does crop up from time to time in both films and novels. <<

...and online "handles"/nicknames.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

absolutely, in the same way that the description of Ruthven's eye has become the name of a fine horror blog.

Derek said...

One that, lamentably, has not been updated. But hopefully will soon as I read more books.

David Lee said...

Manley Wade Wellman wrote a sequel of sorts - "The Black Drama". It can be found in the collection Fearful Rock and other Precarious Locales

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Many thanks David, I'll keep an eye out. Tom Holland also wrote a novel with a vampiric Byron called The vampyre