Most people are very much acquainted with Bram Stoker’s Dracula but are unaware of other important literary vampires that preceded him. These literary vampires include Lord Ruthven, Varney, and Carmilla. In this series, these vampires and their respective authors will be introduced and show how these lesser known characters greatly impacted both Bram Stoker and other authors such as Anne Rice.
Dr. John Polidori was originally hired as a medical advisor to the infamous Lord Byron. Polidori was to be his travelling companion as well. However, his greater mission was to chronicle Byron’s journeys because he was commissioned to do so from Byron’s publisher. One would figure such an arrangement would be perfect, but the two quarreled from the very beginning (Masters 199). It was during one of these argumentative travels that Polidori gathered inspiration for his upcoming work. Byron and Polidori happened to be in the company of Claire Clairmont, Mary Godwin, and Percy Shelley, and they all decided to fabricate ghost stories one evening. Polidori’s attempt failed of course, while Mary Godwin achieved success with her story becoming the legendary Frankenstein. During this story-telling session, Polidori managed to take notes as instructed by Byron’s publisher (Melton 480). It was from these notes that the first vampire story came to be published in English (Guiley 229).
Polidori examined his notes from the evening of storytelling and using pieces from the story that Lord Byron told about a Greek and his travelling companion, created ”The Vampyre”. In addition to using Byron’s initial ideas, Polidori decide to mock him as well with his choice of name for the main character. The vampire’s name was Lord Ruthven which was the name chosen by Byron’s former lover to ridicule Byron in a novel titled, Glenarvon. The character himself could be described as cold and aristocratic individual whose deadly hue attracted the ladies much like Lord Byron (Gregory 26). The story remained unpublished for quite some time until 1819 when Polidori sold it, and it appeared in the New Monthly Magazine. Unfortunately, Polidori initially did not receive credit for the work. The magazine implied that Byron was the author, and it was due to this mistake that the novella achieved instant success. Although Polidori eventually laid claim to the work, the recognition did not do him much good. His troubled life and gambling losses caused him to commit suicide in 1821 (Guiley 230). He would never realize how much of an impact his work would be to the aristocratic and sexy vampire cult that continued throughout the rest of the nineteenth century and beyond (Mascetti 189).
To better grasp how “The Vampyre” impacted future vampiric writings and how it mirrored the relationship between Polidori and Byron, one must better understand the character Lord Ruthven. Lord Ruthven is an English vampire living in London. He frequents the many various parties held by the upper crust of society. He spends his summers in Greece so he may be alone. In regards to his personality, he is cool by nature (Mascetti 154). He is charismatic but can be sadistic when it comes to not caring about the misfortunes of others. He is a gambler and a seducer of women. He is a master manipulator in how he uses his money to taint those who simply want assistance. One could reasonably argue that Lord Ruthven is the epitome of a psychic vampire by the way he causes others to lose their vitality, health, and most importantly, their respectability (Guiley 185). In the story, all of these traits are displayed in how he treats his traveling companion, Aubrey. Throughout the tale, Lord Ruthven constantly destroys Aubrey’s life by killing his loved ones, which include a lady friend and his sister. He manipulates Aubrey into taking an oath for a year and a day. The oath does not allow Aubrey to discuss the matter of the Lord’s death after the pair was attacked by bandits. When the Lord reappears and seeks Aubrey’s sister’s hand in marriage, Aubrey can do nothing to stop it or his sister’s death that quickly follows. In the end, Aubrey suffers a nervous breakdown while Lord Ruthven continues his life of leisure and deceit (Melton 528).
Next month…meet Varney
***To those in the vampire community: I am looking for individuals who are interested in a case study/survey to be conducted by yours truly. If you are interested in participating in this activity, please email me at [email protected] The results will be published as an article in Paganpages!***
Gregory, Constantine. The Vampire Watcher’s Handbook: A Guide For Slayers. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters. New York: Checkmark Books, 2005.
Mascetti, Manuela. Vampire: The Complete Guide to the World of the Undead. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.
Masters, Anthony. The Natural History of the Vampire. London: Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd, 1972.
Melton, J. Gordon. The Vampire Book. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1994.