"The Vampyre" is a short work of prose fiction written in 1819 by John William Polidori as part of a contest among Polidori, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and Percy Shelley. The same contest produced the novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. The Vampyre is often viewed as the progenitor of the romantic vampire genre of fantasy fiction. The work is described by Christopher Frayling as "the first story successfully to fuse the disparate elements of vampirism into a coherent literary genre."
1819 title page, Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, London.
|Author||John William Polidori|
|Genre(s)||Horror short story|
|Publisher||The New Monthly Magazine and Universal Register; London: H. Colburn, 1814–1820. Vol. 1, No. 63.|
|Media type||Print (Periodical and Paperback)|
|Publication date||1 April 1819|
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 are 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.
"The Vampyre" was first published on 1 April 1819 by Henry Colburn in the New Monthly Magazine with the false attribution "A Tale by Lord Byron". The name of the work's protagonist, "Lord Ruthven", added to this assumption, for that name was originally used in Lady Caroline Lamb's novel Glenarvon (from the same publisher), in which a thinly-disguised Byron figure was named Clarence de Ruthven, Earl of Glenarvon. Despite repeated denials by Byron and Polidori, the authorship often went unclarified.
The tale was first published in book form by Sherwood, Neely, and Jones in London, Paternoster-Row, in 1819 in octavo as The Vampyre; A Tale in 84 pages. The notation on the cover noted that it was: "Entered at Stationers' Hall, March 27, 1819". Initially, the author was given as Lord Byron. Later printings removed Byron's name and added Polidori's name to the title page.
The story was an immediate popular success, partly because of the Byron attribution and partly because it exploited the gothic horror predilections of the public. Polidori transformed the vampire from a character in folklore into the form that is recognized today—an aristocratic fiend who preys among high society.
The story has its genesis in the summer of 1816, the Year Without a Summer, when Europe and parts of North America underwent a severe climate abnormality. Lord Byron and his young physician John Polidori were staying at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva and were visited by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley and Claire Clairmont. Kept indoors by the "incessant rain" of that "wet, ungenial summer", over three days in June the five turned to telling fantastical tales, and then writing their own. Fueled by ghost stories such as the Fantasmagoriana, William Beckford's Vathek, and quantities of laudanum, Mary Shelley produced what would become Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Polidori was inspired by a fragmentary story of Byron's, "Fragment of a Novel" (1816), also known as "A Fragment" and "The Burial: A Fragment", and in "two or three idle mornings" produced "The Vampyre".
Polidori's work had an immense impact on contemporary sensibilities and ran through numerous editions and translations. That influence has extended into the current era as the text is seen as "canonical" and – together with Bram Stoker's Dracula and others – is "often even cited as almost folkloric sources on vampirism". An adaptation appeared in 1820 with Cyprien Bérard's novel Lord Ruthwen ou les Vampires, falsely attributed to Charles Nodier, who himself then wrote his own dramatic version, Le Vampire, a play which had enormous success and sparked a "vampire craze" across Europe. This includes operatic adaptations by Heinrich Marschner (see Der Vampyr) and Peter Josef von Lindpaintner (see Der Vampyr), both published in the same year. Nikolai Gogol, Alexandre Dumas and Aleksey Tolstoy all produced vampire tales, and themes in Polidori's tale would continue to influence Bram Stoker's Dracula and eventually the whole vampire genre. 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.
In Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series, the character of Lord Ruthven is a prominent character. In the Anno Dracula universe he becomes a prominent figure in British politics following the ascent of Dracula to power. He is a Conservative Prime Minister in the period of the first novel and continues to hold power throughout the 19th century. Described as the "Great Political Survivor", as of 1991 he succeeds Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister (opposed to John Major).
In 2016 it was announced that the studio Britannia Pictures would be releasing a feature-length adaptation of The Vampyre. Production for the film was slated to begin in late 2018, with filming taking place in the UK, Italy and Greece. The film would be directed by Rowan M. Ashe and was scheduled for release in October 2019.
Earlier adaptations of Polidori's story include the 1945 film The Vampire's Ghost starring John Abbott as the Lord Ruthven character "Webb Fallon", with the setting changed from England and Greece to Africa. Also, The Vampyr: A Soap Opera, based on the opera Der Vampyr by Heinrich Marschner and the Polidori story, was filmed and broadcast on BBC 2 on December 2, 1992, with the Lord Ruthven character's name changed to "Ripley", who is frozen in the late eighteenth century but revives in modern times and becomes a successful businessman.
In England, James Planché's play The Vampire, or The Bride of the Isles was first performed in London in 1820 at the Lyceum Theatre based on Charles Nodier's Le Vampire, which in turn was based on Polidori. Such melodramas were satirised in Ruddigore, by Gilbert and Sullivan (1887), a character called Sir Ruthven must abduct a maiden, or he will die.
In 1988, American playwright Tim Kelly created a drawing room adaptation of The Vampyre for the stage, popular among community theaters and high school drama clubs.
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Charles E. Robinson: "These italics used for Percy Shelley's words make even more visible the half-dozen or so places where, in his own voice, he made substantial additions to the 'draft' of Frankenstein."
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Charles E. Robinson: "He made very significant changes in words, themes and style. The book should now be credited as 'by Mary Shelley with Percy Shelley'.
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Random House recently published a new edition of the novel Frankenstein with a surprising change: Mary Shelley is no longer identified as the novel's sole author. Instead, the cover reads 'Mary Shelley (with Percy Shelley).'
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- Marschner, H.A. "Der Vampyr: Romantic opera in two acts (1828), based on'The Vampyre' by John Polidori (1819), revised by Hans Pfitzner." MRF Records, 1971.
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- Polidori, John. The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre. Ed. Robert Morrison and Chris Baldick. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997.
- Polidori, John William. The Vampyre; And, Ernestus Berchtold, Or, The Modern Oedipus: Collected Fiction of John William Polidori. University of Toronto Press, 1994.
- Rieger, James. “Dr. Polidori and the Genesis of Frankenstein.” Studies in English Literature, 3 (1963): 461-472. The origin of Frankenstein was in a conversation between John William Polidori and Percy Bysshe Shelley on June 15, 1816.
- Rigby, Mair. “Prey to some cureless disquiet”: Polidori’s Queer Vampyre at the Margins of Romanticism." Romanticism on the Net, 36-37, November 2004, February 2005.
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- Stiles, A., and S. Finger. "Somnambulism and Trance States in the Works of John William Polidori, Author of The Vampyre." European Romantic Review, 2010.
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- Switzer, R. "Lord Ruthwen and the Vampires." The French Review, 1955.
- The Vampyre - John Polidori, illustrated by Kat Jennings, Black Letter Press, 2020
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Vampyre (Polidori).|
- The Vampyre at Project Gutenberg
- The Vampyre public domain audiobook at LibriVox
- Open Library. The Vampyre (1819).
- e-Book text of Byron's fragmentary story, "Fragment of a Novel" (1816) and Polidori's The Vampyre
- Goreau, Angeline. "Physician, Behave Thyself" The New York Times, September 3, 1989. A review of the novel Lord Byron's Doctor by Paul West, which describes the famed night.
- Baldini, Cajsa C. (Ed.). "The Vampyre 1816 Multimedia Project" Arizona State University, Spring 2010.