John Polidori (1795-1821) wrote one of the first modern vampire stories The Vampire, a tale of the bloodthirsty Lord Ruthven. It was first published in 1819, just three years before Polidori’s own death. This story is far from its current day contemporaries – the Vampire Diaries and Twilight exist in a whole different paranormal universe. Despite that or maybe because of it, the novel is an interesting introduction to the dawn of the genre. It is also incredibly fast reading – with its 83 pages in size A6 it is a veritable nibble.
Author: John Polidori
Publisher: Faros-Kustannus Oy, 2005
Category: paranormal fantasy
Original language: English (Read in Finnish translation, based on The Vampire and Other Tales of the Macabre by Oxford Universtiy Press 1997)
HelMet Reading Challenge 2017: number 42. A Debut book
At the time of Polidori, vampires were still considered mainly horrifying monsters and his tale is firmly grounded in this concept. Polidori doesn’t bring much light onto the nature of vampires or their customs neither the logic of their existence. The story revolves around an innocent bystander, young gentleman called Aubrey, who finds himself bound by a promise of secrecy that will gradually drive him into madness and even cause the death of his sister.
Polidori was the first author to create an aristocrat vampire, who prefers innocent virgins as his meals. However, the author doesn’t really describe much the vampire’s actions. Lord Ruthven is presented to the reader as a withdrawn character, who’d prefer solitude to the society. The seductive processes, which evidently take place are left to be played in the imagination of the reader.The short story that Polidori claimed to have written during “two or three lazy mornings” is more a tale of a one man’s reaction to a vampire than of that vampire.
Vampire is also an introduction to fictional style of the early 19th century – e.g. there is no dialogue at all in this story. Polidori was one of the first in a new trend of vampire stories that were consequently published in the 1800s, culminating in the major work of the genre; Dracula by Bram Stoker in 1897.
John Polidori is an interesting person in the history of horror fantasy. He was born into an Italian family very interested in literature – his father Gaetano Polidori translated the horror fiction novel The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole into Italian. John Polidori graduated as a medical doctor from the University of Edinburgh at the age of 19. He was hired by George Byron as his personal MD for his trip to Europe in 1816. The travel company included Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Godwin Wollstonecraft (better known as Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus). When they settled in a house by the lake Geneva, the famous writing contest of horror stories took place. One of the contestants was Polidori’s the Vampire.