Like many other readers, I decided to read the short story due to its historical significance. The tale was born on that famous stormy night when Lord Byron challenged his guests to create a ghost story. As a result the world got to know the masterpiece of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, as well as its lesser known competitor – The Vampyre by John William Polidori. The fact that vampire fiction was non-existent as a genre before our mutual friend decided to play Byron’s whimsical game makes The Vampyre an exceptional gem. Before its publications the blood-sucking monsters were just part of superstitious lore passed around among the less educated. But after the manuscript had seen the light, suddenly the undead shed their less than appealing image and took a form of an attractive and dangerous nobleman, who wields the power of sexuality and possesses enough charisma to manipulate others. Isn’t it exactly how vampires have been portrayed ever since? Fascinating stuff.
The story itself is not that ground-breaking. A young man named Aubrey befriends a mysterious Lord Ruthven who seems to be very popular among the ladies in the society. While initially fascinated by the man, Aubrey comes to notice his sinister side when everyone in Lord Ruthven’s circle eventually turns to corruption and self-ruin. After the two have an argument over Lord’s immoral behaviour, they part ways and Aubrey leaves for Greece to continue his studies. Soon he falls in love with an ethereal Ianthe – the daughter of a local innkeeper. The girl tells him about vampires and warns him to stay away from the deep woods after dark. But you know what happens next, right? Ruthven reappears, Aubrey ignores the warnings, and Ianthe is murdered by a vampire. Oblivious to the facts right in front of him, Audrey rejoins the Lord on his travels, but the two are soon attacked by the bandits and Ruthven gets mortally wounded. This is where things get really hard for Aubrey to comprehend, as upon his return to England he discovers his supposedly dead friend alive and well. Suddenly Aubrey’s beloved sister announces her impending wedding to a man calling himself the Earl of Marsden.
While the plot might be a bit predictable and redundant, it wasn’t that way when it was first published. I had to remind that to myself after every page, because thinking Polidori unoriginal just isn’t fair to the author. He is pretty much the definition of originality. What really bugs me about Aubrey, is his stubbornness about his own understanding of honour. Granted, he promised Ruthven to keep the events of their travels secret, but by doing so he practically dooms his only sister. Way to put bros before you know who… Should have just told on Ruthven and saved himself some heartache.