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The Vampyre by John William Polidori
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The Vampyre (1819)

by John William Polidori

Other authors: George Gordon Byron (Author)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2471146,499 (3.14)28
  1. 20
    Carmilla: a Vampyre Tale by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (Michael.Rimmer)
  2. 20
    Dracula by Bram Stoker (deathbykleenex)
    deathbykleenex: Polidori's The Vampyre is one of, if not the, oldest vampire novel. His ‘gentleman vampire,’ diverging from the more zombie-like vampire of folklore, influenced the entire genre – including the famous vampire Dracula.
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English (10)  Italian (1)  All languages (11)
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
The Vampyre (1819) by John Polidori is a short, tightly-written short story about Lord Ruthven, a charming vampyre, and the wealthy but young and inexperienced aristocrat Aubrey. Aubrey meets Ruthven in England and is struck by the older man's unusual style and magnetism. Aubrey resolves to travel the continent of Europe with Lord Ruthven, aware of neither the dark powers nor darker intentions of his companion.

"The Vampyre" reminded me of Frankenstein, in that both stories feature a villain whose greatest capability is not supernatural strength, magic, or the like, but the ability to cause psychological distress and the determination to ruin the lives of others. Lord Ruthven doesn't have the same depth of character as Frankenstein's monster, but he does have a certain diabolical charm that comes through, despite the sparse dialogue. Polidori's plot is predictable but sufficiently engaging nonetheless. I wonder if Polidori's story might be the first literary example of the handsome, charming, seductive vampire that has been popularized in recent works like "Twilight." At least, it surely is an early example.

I think Polidori's story would be improved by a little more length and specific detail about the means and methods used by Lord Ruthven. The reader is made aware of the vampyre's apparent objectives and the ultimate results of his handiwork, but (apart from one confused and interrupted scene), we never see him take action. While it's easy to imagine that Ruthven might bite and drink the blood of some victims, it's unclear how he manages to effect some of his other atrocities, such as bringing families to financial ruin.

The version of the story I read (an eBook from Project Gutenberg) included substantial material before and after the story describing the author's (real or fictional) travel in Europe, seeking out the former abodes and artifacts owned by famous writers and poets, especially Lord Byron. This detracted from the work, so if these sections are included in your copy, I'd suggest skipping them and spending your time on the actual story, "The Vampyre." ( )
  jrissman | Apr 29, 2014 |
That infamous night, sometime in 1816 at Byron's Villa Diodati, when the assembled guests were challenged to tell a ghost story resulted in Mary Shelley's [Frankenstein] It also led to the publication of The Vampyre , the first vampire tale to feature an aristocrat as a blood sucking fiend. The story's inception and it later publication history is probably more intriguing than the short story itself. John Polidori was a working guest at the villa; apparently Byron's physician and it is probably Byron's story that ended up being published by Polidori although it did originally appear under Byron's name. Byron later claimed not to have written it. A clever deception then by Polidori is enhanced by an extract from a so-called anonymous letter, that appears before the introduction to the book. The letter tells a little about that night at the villa Diodati and then intriguingly paints a portrait of Lord Byron himself:

I have gathered from
their accounts some excellent traits of his lordship's character,
which I will relate to you at some future opportunity. I must,
however, free him from one imputation attached to him--of having in
his house two sisters as the partakers of his revels. This is, like
many other charges which have been brought against his lordship,
entirely destitute of truth. His only companion was the physician I
have already mentioned...... I found a servant there who had lived with him;
she, however, gave me but little information. She pointed out his
bed-chamber upon the same level as the saloon and dining-room, and
informed me that he retired to rest at three, got up at two, and
employed himself a long time over his toilette; that he never went to
sleep without a pair of pistols and a dagger by his side, and that he
never eat animal food.


The above makes Byron sound like a candidate for being a vampire and Polidori followed this up with a quote from Byron's poem [Giaour]:

But first on earth, as Vampyre sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent;
Then ghastly haunt the 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 corse,
Thy victims, ere they yet expire,
Shall know the demon for their sire;............


The anonymous letter is steeped in irony and adds greatly to the mystery of the tale. If Polidori thought he could shift copies of his little book by continual references to Byron then he was not wrong. The Vampyre sold well and the central character Lord Ruthven was a dead ringer for Lord Byron. An aristocrat who feeds off the charms of young virginal women and who succeeds in tormenting the young Aubrey into despair and madness; when he kills Aubrey's innocent Greek girlfriend and then schemes to marry his innocent sister. The story has some of the elements that you would expect in a vampire tale and it is well told, it is mysterious and dark and inexorably moves to its conclusion. It is worth reading and I would rate it at 3.5 stars mainly because of the mystery in which it is surrounded. ( )
1 vote baswood | Jan 17, 2014 |
Lawful Stupid protagonist (let's keep a 'deathbed promise' to a fiend even when he turns out not to have died at all) and later plot shaping up to "woman at risk of becoming damaged goods (nevermind dying, that's apparently not so important even to her purported loved ones)" that had me hit the delete button in a convulsive twitch. ( )
  Jarandel | Jan 2, 2014 |
Dark, creepy, over the top and a rather fun read. I wasn't really expecting this to be any good, but it turned out be very enjoyable. Even if the last paragraph was so hilariously over the top that it made the tension that came before deflate like a badly made flan :D ( )
  h_d | Mar 31, 2013 |
The original vampire story from 1819. It didn't really hit quite the right note for me for a horror story, though it did contain some of the late 18th/early 19th century Gothic air of Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho. As a vampire short story, I don't think it matches LeFanu's Carmilla, usually considered the forerunner of Dracula. This Kindle edition contained a few other bits and bobs, including a description of Byron's anonymous presence on a Greek island and also - unfortunately - rather a lot of typos. 3/5 ( )
  john257hopper | Jun 30, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (38 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Polidori, John Williamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Byron, George GordonAuthorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lanzoni, AlessandraEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A young Englishman traveling on the Continent with the mysterious Lord Rutven comes to realize that his companion is an evil and murderous vampire.

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