John Polidori (1795 – 1821) is best remembered as Lord Byron’s travelling companion and personal physician but his short story, The Vampyre (1819) is the first significant vampire tale in English Literature, following on from Lady Caroline Lamb’s less revered Gothic Novel, Glenarvon (1816).
The Vampyre is rather prosaic and melodramatic for modern tastes yet its brevity and vital role in vampire mythology make it an essential read. The Vampyre himself, Lord Ruthven, is the original frilly-cuffed brooding immortal; a character endowed with the dangerous dilettantism associated with the Romantic writers and artists who, for many, have come to define the tastes, fashions and attitudes of the Georgian era. Ruthven’s style of vampirism bridges the gap between the demons and monsters of folklore and the modern vampire anti-hero with his magnetic charisma and troubled conscience. This new archetype was later perfected and explored by Anne Rice throughout The Vampire Chronicles then de-fanged and romanticised for a younger audience in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga.
Some critics suspect that Byron himself penned The Vampyre following that same stormy night of drug-fuelled storytelling which gave the world another great genre icon, Frankenstein’s Monster. The tale’s pedestrian prose suggests otherwise but the mystery of its authorship has allowed this slight story to claim a significant place in Gothic Literature’s evolution.