The following is an essay I wrote for a graduate-level course on the summer of 1816, or “the year without a summer,” during which time many famous Gothic novels (including Frankenstein) were written. I chose to do a study of Polidori’s short story “The Vampyre.”
November 29, 2016
The Immortality of “The Vampyre”
The enduring legend of the vampire has existed since before the dawn of history. This dauntless undead has taken many different forms, ranging from a hideous creature associated with rats and disease to an aristocratic Transylvanian count, and further yet to a sexualized teenager who sparkles in the sun. In ancient and medieval times, the vampire’s forms varied just as wildly – perhaps even more so, as some vampires were not even corporeal – but almost never were they considered truly seductive. During the 1800s, conceptions of the vampire began to change. While there are many influences on this transition from myth and superstition into popular culture, arguably the story most integral to modern vampire fiction is “The Vampyre” by John Polidori: a short story that even influenced Bram Stoker’s timeless novel Dracula. John Polidori’s “The Vampyre” displays an interesting combination of acknowledgment and ignorance of old vampire folklore, while it also modifies the mythic vampire into the handsome, seductive, aristocratic figure often portrayed today.
In many ways, Polidori’s vampire, Lord Ruthven, resembles the vampire of legend. The protagonist of “The Vampyre,” Aubrey, first learns of vampire legends while visiting Greece. Indeed, before reaching Greece, Aubrey only has suspicions regarding Lord Ruthven, such as when he realizes that all the people who cross the nobleman’s path fall into misfortune: “all those upon whom it [Ruthven’s charity] was bestowed, inevitably found that there was a curse upon it, for they were all either led to the scaffold, or sunk to the lowest and the most abject misery” (Polidori 4). Aubrey notes many other elements of Ruthven’s character, including his propensity to gamble and to partake in “all fashionable vice” (4), and although Aubrey “often wished to represent this to his friend, and beg him to resign that charity and pleasure which proved the ruin of all” (5), he refrains and allows Ruthven to continue his destructive acts.
In Rome, Aubrey receives his first indication of Ruthven’s truly evil nature, although not in a supernatural sense. It is in Rome that Aubrey’s “guardians insisted upon his immediately leaving his friend [Ruthven]” (Polidori 5), warning him of Ruthven’s vampiric aspects, but without attributing them to a supernatural cause. The lack of supernatural explanation for Ruthven’s behavior and actions could be attributed to a relative lack of vampire legends in Rome, as stated in The Vampire in Lore and Legend by Montague Summers, an English author, clergyman, teacher, and highly acclaimed researcher of the occult: “[T]he superstition of the vampire was not fully developed in ancient Rome, yet [some] anecdotes … display something more than the germ of the Slav traditions” (Summers 88). While Polidori may not have intended such a specific detail of vampire history to be included in his short story, his possible inference that the Romans, even though from a modern time period, did not attribute Ruthven’s actions to the supernatural reflects how vampire legends did not have deep roots there. Only upon reaching Greece does Aubrey hear the “supernatural tales” that tell him of “the living vampyre” (Polidori 7).
While Eastern European nations, which are full of their own rich folklore with many stories of the undead, are today more commonly associated with vampires, Greece certainly has its fair share of vampires as well, even if the creatures of ancient legends there were referred to by names often unrecognized in popular culture today. Ianthe, a native Greek girl described by Aubrey as “uneducated” (Polidori 8) is the one to inform Aubrey of the vampire legend – a legend in which she clearly believes. According to consultant archaeologist Matthew Beresford in his book From Demons to Dracula: The Creation of the Modern Vampire Myth, “Vampire hunting was once so important a career in Greece that professional hunters were on par with healers or scribes” (Beresford 25). Similarly, Montague Summers explains that, “In no country has the Vampire tradition more strongly prevailed and more persistently maintained its hold upon the people than in modern Greece” (Summers, Vampire in Lore 217). He draws specific attention to the fact that this superstition still exists today – or, at least, existed to some degree during the early 1900s, during which Summers wrote and published his studies. Summers goes on to say that, “To-day the Vampire still ravages the villages, and the tale of his exploits may often be heard from the peasants” (221). Ianthe and her family display this knowledge well in “The Vampyre,” particularly given the gravity with which they explain the nature of the creature to Aubrey. To further solidify how strongly the Greeks believe in ideas of vampirism, Summers says that “when I [Summers] visited it [Greece, specifically the island of Santorini] in 1906-1907 I heard many a gruesome legend of vampire events which were said to have taken place there quite recently” (222), lending more credence to the idea that Aubrey could have heard the legend of the vampire from native Greeks, who “pale with horror at the very name [vampyre]” (Polidori 8).
Polidori reveals little in regard as to how the lore of vampirism works in his story, but he imparts a few details regarding the vampire’s need for human blood. Specifically, Polidori describes a vampire as spending “years amidst his friends, and dearest ties, forced every year, by feeding upon the life of a lovely female to prolong his existence for the ensuing months” (Polidori 7). Polidori draws attention to the detail that the vampire requires a female, and specifically a lovely one, as opposed to any other human being as acceptable for prolonging the undead’s existence. In many legends, vampires are associated with women – they often are women, as well – but evidence also exists that many vampire legends attribute vampires with the desire “to drink the blood of young children or devour them” because “their blood is still strong and pure” (Beresford 20). The types of vampires in lore that subsisted solely off the blood or flesh of children include the “ovayifo in Ghana, the labartu in Babalyonia, the aswang in the Phillippines and the lamia, striges, and mormos in Rome” (20), although other sources indicate the latter three vampire types Beresford mentioned are more Greek or Romanian in nature than Roman. However, it is also mentioned briefly in “The Vampyre” that some Greek old men known by Ianthe had found “several of their near relatives and children” (Polidori 8) killed by a vampire, which contradicts her earlier description of vampires feeding primarily on lovely women.
In either case, Polidori chooses to direct the vampire’s attention solely toward beautiful women. This choice enhances the aspects of sexuality, seductiveness, and drama when the vampire first chooses Aubrey’s romantic interest and then his sister as the main victims in the story. Noteably, it can be asserted that beautiful women – particularly virgins, as so often referenced in folklore – share a similar purity of blood to children, though this may be giving Polidori more credit than is his due regarding how he chose the vampire’s victims in his tale. Regardless, the fact that the vampire of Polidori’s story chooses only lovely women as his sustenance highlights an element that has been readily carried over into the vampires of today’s popular culture: modern victims are more often beautiful than not, even if the victim today is not always a woman.
Just as the vampire’s victims are beautiful, “The Vampyre” makes another important transition: the vampire itself is beautiful as well. As previously mentioned, few vampires in legend are what an audience today would imagine as seductive, and many of them are referred to as looking more like corpses or monsters, unlike Lord Ruthven, whose “face … form and outline were beautiful” (Polidori 1), though with a “deadly hue” (1). In tales, vampires are often described as having skin of “a deathly shade of purplish white” (Beresford 29), much like the pale skin of famous vampire figures such as Dracula. However, many vampires found in legend are quite hideous and inhuman, such as the strigoi in Romanian folklore, a term which could refer to a witch or a type of revenant. According to Claude Lecouteux in The Secret History of Vampires: Their Multiple Forms and Hidden Purposes, the strigoi have “the same appearance they held in life, though they were sometimes bigger in size, had red eyes, fingernails like sickles, a hairy tail, and a large mouth. Their face was ruddy … their legs and hands were thin and dry like spindles, or they had the feet of horses or geese” (Lecouteux 82). Emily Gerard mentions in her article “Transylvanian Superstitions” that strigoi are “not malicious, but their appearance bodes no good, and may be regarded as omens of sickness and misfortune” (Gerard 29). Some female vampires are described strangely, such as one having eyes “like onions, her mouth a plate, her head looked like a bucket, her ears like sponges, and her teeth like a wool carder” (84). Indeed, vampires come in such enormous – and, frankly, utterly ridiculous – variety and descriptions, ranging from bloated corpses to chaotic mishmashes of objects and animals, that one can hardly be surprised when Polidori’s description of a handsome, suave seducer becomes a more enticing appearance for such a terrifying monster.
In folklore, vampires are often compared to, or even equated with, demons: a similarity also shared in Polidori’s short story. In “The Vampyre,” Lord Ruthven is sometimes described as a “fiend,” such as when the vampire’s bite is called “the stamp of the fiend’s appetite” (Polidori 8), and when Aubrey became “[s]truck with the idea that he left by his absence the whole of his friends, with a fiend amongst them, of whose presence they were unconscious” (17). While the name “fiend” may be used in this context simply as a term of fear and derision, vampires are also closely associated with demons, and in many legends, vampires themselves are demons, rather than any form of undead. According to Beresford, “Whether the vampire is seen as a manifestation of the Devil or merely a creature in league with him is often unclear, and this could well be due to the vampire’s pagan origins as considered from a Christian perspective” (Beresford 41). Such an assertion seems to be a biased one, however, given that vampires prior to Christianity were associated with demons as well, as Beresford himself later states, “There are suggestions that the vampire was born out of sorcery in Ancient Egypt, a demon summoned into this world from some other” (42). In her article “The Vampire in Roumania,” Agnes Murgoci mentions that “[t]he vampire (a reanimated corpse) and the devil (a spirit) ought not, strictly speaking, to be alike, but that a peasant, finding it difficult to imagine a spirit without a body, thinks of the devil in the form of a crow or a cat, or even in a quasi-human form” (Murgoci 48). Similarly, according to Montague Summers, “A demon has no body … So the vampire is not strictly a demon, although his foul lust and horrid propensities be truly demoniacal and of hell” (Summers, Vampires and Vampirism 2). Whatever the case may be for the scholarly – and, particularly in the past, theological – debate as to whether vampires are demons or demonically created undead, a connection has always existed between the imagery of devils and vampire revenants.
Furthermore, in vampire scholarship and folklore, there exists a striking difference between a living and a dead vampire. Emily Gerard mentions this difference, saying, “There are two sorts of vampires—living and dead” (Gerard 29). While Gerard claims that the difference between these vampire types is that living vampires are “in general the illegitimate offspring of two illegitimate persons, but … [also] every person killed by a nosferatu becomes likewise a vampire after death” (29), other scholars also claim other differences. Agnes Murgoci says, “The most typical vampire is therefore the reanimated corpse. We may call this the dead-vampire type” (Murgoci 46), ascribing the live vampire type to “People destined to become vampires after death … [who] send out their souls, and even their bodies, to wander at crossroads with reanimated corpses” (46). Murgoci is one of many scholars to assert these definitions.
While Aubrey only hears tales of “the living vampire” (Polidori 7) from Ianthe and thus suspects Ruthven of being one, Ruthven shares more in common with the dead vampire type. The dead vampire is defined as “the reanimated corpse” (Beresford 57), which more closely describes Ruthven, since he returns to life in the course of the story. Such rigid definitions are hard to assign to a story as simplistic as Polidori’s, however, since Ruthven’s death could be taken as either an oversight of the “living vampire” definition, or else Polidori could be indicating that Ruthven knew he was a live vampire and would become a dead vampire following his death. Although, according to Beresford, “the majority of vampires are predetermined, in that it is usually the case that a person’s actions in life cause them to become a vampire in death” (65), Ruthven was clearly a vampire before he died, given his reliance upon blood for sustenance, and the reader also cannot be sure if this is Ruthven’s first death. In either case, Polidori using the phrase “living vampire” indicates he had some rudimentary knowledge of vampire scholarship, or at least of a few local legends, whether he remained true to the definitions or not.
As in many vampire myths, Lord Ruthven is controlled by odd superstitions. For instance, Ruthven’s existence hinges upon the strange oath Aubrey must swear: “‘[C]onceal all you know of me, my honour were free from stain in the world’s mouth—and if my death were unknown for some time in England … swear that for a year and a day you will not impart your knowledge of my crimes or death to any living being’” (Polidori 13). Vampires in legend share a superstitious nature both in their actions and how they are to be killed, including the idea that, over seven years, a vampire “will first kill its relations, then the other residents and animals of its village, then those of every village in its country, after which it will pass into another country where a different language is spoken. There it will become a man again” (Beresford 65). Although Ruthven’s behavior is not so superstitiously predictable, the oath Aubrey takes is reminiscent of certain actions that must occur to finally slay a vampire, such as the account where a vampire’s “heart and liver were removed and burned, then the ashes were mixed with water and given to the sick to drink” (Lecouteux 111). Interestingly, in “The Vampyre,” we receive no information about how to actually slay Ruthven, except that it is implied that Ruthven could not have returned if Aubrey either not sworn to his oath or if he had broken it.
Another element of Ruthven that has parallels in folklore is the specific detail of moonlight involved in Ruthven’s resurrection. Aubrey is told by the robbers who took Ruthven’s body that they carried Ruthven “upon his retiring, to the pinnacle of a neighbouring mount, according to a promise they had given his Lordship, that it [Ruthven’s body] should be exposed to the first cold ray of the moon that rose after his death” (Polidori 14). Much like other horror creatures, including werewolves and other supernatural monsters, vampires throughout history have many connections to the moon and its light. However, more often than not, vampires have stranger connections to the moon than do many werewolves and witches: for instance, even inanimate objects can become vampires “if left outside on the eve of a full moon” (Beresford 9), much as Ruthven used the moonlight to bring himself back to life. Moonlight having supernatural power is certainly found in legend, though it is not always so specifically related to vampires and their powers of immortality.
Perhaps one of the most important distinctions between Lord Ruthven and his folkloric counterparts is simply that Ruthven is noble-born, as indicated in the very beginning of the story: “[T]here appeared at the various parties of the leaders of the ton a nobleman, more remarkable for his singularities, than his rank” (Polidori 1). The idea of a noble-born vampire was later continued in Dracula, in which Bram Stoker famously attributed vampirism to a count: “When I asked him if he knew Count Dracula, and could tell me anything of his castle, both he and his wife crossed themselves, and, saying that they knew nothing at all, simply refused to speak further” (Stoker 3). As mentioned by Beresford, a “common factor to all … folklore and superstitions from across Europe is that they are almost uniquely of a peasant origin” (Beresford 49) and involve the lives of peasants. Beresford quotes Giuseppe Davanzati, an archbishop during the 1700s, as saying, “Why is this demon [the vampire] so partial to base-born plebians? Why is it always peasants, carters, shoemakers, and innkeepers? Why has the demon never been known to assume the form of a man of quality, a scholar, a philosopher, a theologian, a landowner or a bishop?” (16). Lord Ruthven represents perhaps the very first aristocratic vampire, in fiction or otherwise: a tradition often maintained today, thanks to the solidification of this depiction in popular culture by the infamous Count Dracula.
Of the many aspects now associated with vampires in modern fiction, however, the vampire’s fangs, which are perhaps the most important hallmark of the vampire, did not originate in Polidori’s story. Polidori mentions that the vampire in his tale uses his teeth to tear open the throats of the assorted damsels, but he does not specify fangs, saying only, “upon her neck and breast was blood, and upon her throat were the marks of teeth having opened the vein:—to this the men pointed, crying, simultaneously struck with horror, ‘a Vampyre, a Vampyre!’” (Polidori 10). Even in Dracula, Count Dracula himself is described as having “peculiarly sharp white teeth” (Stoker 15). Although Dracula took elements from “The Vampyre,” the fangs may have originated in a different story entirely: Varney the Vampire by James Malcolm Rymer, published in 1847. Unlike “The Vampyre,” which only hinted at the sexual connections behind the vampire and his victims, Varney “reflects a sexual tension that builds into a climax when the vampire bites the girl in an episode that is suggestive of rape” (Beresford 122). In the story, unlike Ruthven, Varney is described as having “fang-like teeth” (122).
However, the lack of fangs in Polidori’s vampire actually remains closer to folklore than the later tales of Varney and Dracula. In legend, vampires do not have sharp teeth, despite that they still suck blood. Beresford says that “the idea of the vampire’s huge teeth is also a fallacy” (Beresford 103). In fact, “in Russian folklore the vampire had a sharp, pointed tongue which lacerated the victim in order to obtain blood” (104). Perhaps the idea of vampires having fangs originated from the vampire bat after the New World was discovered, and the idea was incorporated into vampire fiction, if not just for the simple reason that vampires had no logical mechanism of easily extracting the blood of their victims.
Among all of Lord Ruthven’s folkloric vampire traits, however, a prominent aspect is missing: a connection to animals. In contrast, Bram Stoker includes the vampire’s legendary association with certain animals in Dracula and adds an iconic animal idea of his own in the form of a bat. However, Dracula is also capable of transforming into a wolf: “he could go either as man, or wolf, or bat, or in some other way” (Stoker 302). Vampires are occasionally associated with wolves, though they are most directly connected to them through Serbian folklore associating them with werewolves, in which “it was thought that a person who was a werewolf in life would become a vampire in death” (Beresford 25).
Ruthven’s lack of animal associations further disconnects him from both certain vampire myths and Dracula in that Ruthven bears no associations with the werewolf, another creature often considered part of the vampire legend. Stoker may have drawn Dracula’s connections with wolves from the varcolac or vrykolaka, “the general name for a vampire in Macedonia and Greece” (Murgoci 66). However, this term is “only exceptionally used to mean a vampire in Roumania, and usually means an animal which eats the moon. Varcolac means ‘werewolf’” (66), further blurring the lines between werewolves and vampires in certain regions of the world. Indeed, Dracula’s appearance reflects a few of the more unusual features occasionally associated with werewolves, but not vampires, as Dracula is described as having “very massive [eyebrows], almost meeting over the nose … [and] his hands … were rather coarse – broad, with squat fingers. Strange to say, there were hairs in the centre of the palm” (Stoker 15). According to Summers, “often in modern accounts and Slav superstition it is very difficult to distinguish the werewolf from the vampire” (Summers, The Vampire in Lore 19-20). Stoker kept the connection between werewolves and vampires vague, as opposed to Polidori, who – whether he was aware of the connection or not – chose to ignore it entirely.
Furthermore, legends of vampires turning into other animals also exist. As Lecouteux stated, “The most common animal forms were the dog, the goat, the crow, and the horse, and other forms could be a ball of fire or even a burning bush” (Lecouteux 76). Vampires could also become other creatures as well, such as cats. Beresford cites at least one instance of a vampire becoming a cat, saying that in one tale, upon almost being seen by trespassers, “the vampire instantly becomes a cat” (Beresford 64). Although one cannot be sure if Polidori simply did not imagine his vampire character as one associated with a particular animal or various animals, or if he was unaware of this legendary connection, Ruthven is markedly lacking in any animal imagery or transformations.
There are, of course, far too many modern vampire stories to name and examine individually for potential influences – whether apparent or obscured – from “The Vampyre.” Indeed, even stories as radically different as the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer seem to have taken elements from “The Vampyre,” particularly given that the vampire Edward chooses his victim to be a young woman. However, the similarities between the Twilight Saga and the more traditional vampire stories such as “The Vampyre” and Dracula essentially include the vampires being called “vampires,” being handsome, and drinking blood, as Meyer takes numerous extreme liberties with her concepts of vampirism. Perhaps more importantly, as previously mentioned, the most significant effect of “The Vampyre” is its influence upon Dracula, rather than any direct inspiration for the vampire fiction of today. Through Dracula, “The Vampyre” has silently endured the test of time – even if, arguably, Polidori’s story itself poses little fascination for readers today.
“The Vampyre” may also have inspired elements of a 1960s television soap opera called Dark Shadows, which, like “The Vampyre” itself, has quietly exerted its influence over numerous works of fiction. In fact, Dark Shadows was one of the first works to combine vampires and werewolves in the same setting and put an emphasis on their relationships: an idea later repeated by many other novel series and films, such as the aforementioned Twilight Saga and the film series Underworld. In particular, the vampire character of Barnabas Collins bears many similarities to Lord Ruthven, including his appearance and noble bearing. Barnabas is even obsessed with a beautiful woman, although for different reasons than is Lord Ruthven. Barnabas also wields the supernatural strength that Ruthven displays in “The Vampyre,” although he also – of course – has fangs and bat-related powers, as popularized by Dracula.
Another famous example of vampire fiction that seems to take cues from “The Vampyre” is Anne Rice’s series of novels, The Vampire Chronicles, and the assorted films based on them, such as Interview with the Vampire (1994). In particular, the infamous vampire character Lestat de Lioncourt bears several similarities to Lord Ruthven, especially his aristocratic bloodline. Unlike Ruthven, however, Lestat later becomes a kind of anti-hero, meant to be relatable and likable. In the film Interview with the Vampire, however, Lestat appears more in line with the evil vampire tradition brought about by Lord Ruthven: he is devastatingly handsome, able to seduce both men and women, which he enjoys doing, and he seems to revel in killing others. The final scene in the film serves to highlight these characteristics, as Lestat at last returns to his vampire self after drinking the blood of the man who initiated the film’s frame story. Unlike Count Dracula, Lestat bears a particular similarity to Lord Ruthven in that he has no particular animal-related powers. Although many vampires today embrace that element, as popularized by Dracula, Lestat more closely resembles Lord Ruthven in terms of his human and handsome appearance, lack of transformations, and tendency to seduce his victims before drinking their blood.
As mentioned in relation to Dark Shadows, the film series Underworld reflects influences from “The Vampyre” as well, although adapted to a modern-day setting for all but one of the series’s installments. Beginning in 2003, the Underworld series of films depicts a world in which vampires and “lycans” (their etymologically lacking mutilation of “lycanthrope,” another term for a werewolf) have warred for hundreds of years. Vampires in general are portrayed as aristocratic or at least upper-class, in keeping with Lord Ruthven’s noble birth, and one of the primary vampires in the films is an aristocrat from the Middle Ages. Although the Underworld movies themselves hold essentially no respect for the ancient legends and are arguably based upon even less research and scholarly knowledge than is “The Vampyre,” Polidori’s influences seem clear. However, these influences are certainly indirect, and the resemblance between “The Vampyre” and the Underworld film franchise is undoubtedly based on the writers of the film absorbing general vampire culture via osmosis, instead of researching it first-hand. Of course, this sort of influence only further solidifies that “The Vampyre” has, as a story, become ingrained in popular culture so deeply that many people do not realize the power it holds over their conceptions of vampirism.
Naturally, other scholars have commented on Polidori’s work, both in terms of its influences and its origins. In his article “Lord Ruthwen and the Vampires,” published in The French Review in 1955, Richard Switzer explores the importance of the figure Lord Ruthven, beginning his article by stating, “The name of Lord Ruthwen has come to represent in French and English literature of the early nineteenth century the arch villain, the proto-type of the mysterious and sinister vampire” (Switzer 107). However, Switzer asserts that “we must not be too hasty in naming Polidori as the father of the vampire novel. … For the source of the published tale we may profitably turn to Byron. The poet’s contribution to the series of ghost stories was published as a fragment … [and] The fragment is not dissimilar to the Polidori tale” (109). There is indeed some controversy around the publication of “The Vampyre,” as it was originally attributed to Byron, which angered Polidori. However, Switzer discusses the similarities and wonders just how much credit Polidori deserves in bringing vampire fiction to the fore. Regardless of who deserves the credit, Switzer cuts into “The Vampyre” and the assorted stories it spawned, saying, “Lord Ruthwen can be viewed only as a harmful influence. Whether this one vampire continues as the central figure, the resultant works are uniformly mediocre. … Lord Ruthwen is then a supreme example of lack of discriminatory taste on the part both of public and of authors” (112). Even as arguably harsh a critic as Switzer cannot deny the influence of Lord Ruthven and his counterparts, however: “The figure of Lord Ruthwen remains, nevertheless, dominant as the vampire par excellence. In spite of the mediocrity of the works in which he was presented, he stands out as one of the most popular characters ever to appear in literature” (112).
The scholars Patricia L. Skarda and Montague Summers share similar comments regarding the attribution of the story to Polidori and the quality of the tale itself. In “Vampirism and Plagiarism: Byron’s Influence and Polidori’s Practice,” as published in Studies in Romanticism in 1989, Patricia L. Skarda echoes many of Switzer’s sentiments, opening her article with the words, “The first vampire story in English fiction told less about ghoulish rituals of blood-sucking and heart-staking than about the failure to actualize one man’s dreams for literary fame” (Skarda 249). Also much like Switzer, Skarda states that “[b]oth the fiction itself [“The Vampyre”] and the facts surrounding its invention, re-creation, and publication demonstrate the essential vampirism inherent in the powerful influence of a strong talent on a weak one” (249-250). Upon examining Skarda’s article as a whole, it quickly becomes apparent to any reader that Skarda wishes to attribute any likable component of “The Vampyre” to Polidori attempting – and failing – to recreate Byron’s style and themes in his prose. Likewise, in Montague Summers’s book Vampires and Vampirism, in which he provides an extensive examination of vampires throughout history, he refers to Polidori’s “The Vampyre” as having “extraordinary influence … since it introduced a tradition which had been long forgotten and which promised infinite possibilities in the way of that sensation and melodramatic calentures which the period craved” (Summers, Vampires and Vampirism 289). Whatever the case of Polidori’s writing quality or heavy inspiration – or possible borderline plagiarism, depending upon whom you ask – from Byron’s work, the influence of “The Vampyre” cannot be denied.
Ultimately, John Polidori’s tale “The Vampyre” represents an important milestone in the history of the immortal vampire legend: in 1819, vampires evolved from often grotesque, base monsters to suave, noble-born undead. While stories such as Varney the Vampire and Dracula further expand elements of vampire fiction, such as the addition of the now iconic vampire fangs, and Dracula goes farther back to vampiric roots by including the association of vampires with animals, “The Vampyre” paved the way for the modern conception of vampires with the seductive Lord Ruthven. One cannot be sure if Polidori truly knew the rich history of the legendary creature he used in his short tale of horror, but there are at least a few indicators that imply he knew a few of the terms and tales. Whatever the case, he created in his arguably simplistic fiction an archetype that has stood the test of time. Even if many vampires today have become beings seemingly set far apart from the enigmatic Lord Ruthven, the influences are nonetheless apparent, and one can see the shadow of Ruthven in the timeless figure of Dracula. The image of the handsome, noble-born vampire in his great cape, sucking the blood of his prey, arises frequently in popular culture. No matter how deluded or changed the influence of the aristocratic vampire may appear in assorted newer novels, films, and television, Polidori’s breed of timeless, Ruthven-like vampires at least arises every Halloween to haunt humanity once more, even if, in many cases, “[t]he fear created by the vampire has dissipated, and the vampire himself has become a parody of what he once was” (Beresford 140).
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