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  • A Vampyre Tale

    by Anthony Parente

    There was no colour upon her cheek, not even upon her lip; yet there was a stillness about her face that seemed almost as attaching as the life that once dwelt there: – 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!" –– Excerpt from page 48 of "The Vampyre" by John Polidori.

    The time was 1816, but it was more commonly referred to as the "Year Without a Summer" when Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who later married Percy and is more popularly known as Mary Shelley, and Claire Claremont, travelled to Villa Diodati in Lake Geneva to visit Lord Byron. It was a miserable summer filled with abnormal cold weather and long periods of rain. During their stay they were joined by John Polidori, who was Lord Byron's personal physician. While indoors sheltered from the elements they would read stories from Tales of the Dead. Lord Byron suggested they have a little competition to see who could write the best horror story. For Lord Byron it was truly only meant to be a competition between himself and Percy. Little would Lord Byron know is that this little game created two of the greatest legendary horror figures the world would ever know and neither were the product of Lord Byron or Percy Bysshe Shelley.

    Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin's tale was one of a mad scientist named Victor Frankenstein who pieced together a monster that would frighten humanity and seek revenge on his creator. Her horror tale was published and is considered by many as the first science fiction story published. Not to be out done John Polidori's tale introduced us to a creature who was handsome, aristocratic and persuasive but had an uncontrollable need for blood and thus the Vampire legend was born.

    For centuries tales have been passed down from generation to generation of a creature that drains the blood of its victims, but Polidori gave life to this creature and portrayed him as a person who could very well be a friend, an acquaintance or even a member of the family. Polidori's tale appeared In the April 1819 issue of New Monthly Magazine without permission and many attributed it as a new work from Lord Byron. Lord Byron refuted these claims and credited Polidori as the author. This became the first vampire story published in English.

    Polidori introduces us to Lord Ruthven, a suave British nobleman of mysterious origins, whom invites Aubrey, a young Englishman, to join him on his travels to Rome. While in Rome Lord Ruthven seduces the daughter of a mutual acquaintance causing Aubrey to part ways with Ruthven and travel to Greece. In Greece Aubrey meets Ianthe a beautiful women who tells him about vampires. Sure enough Lord Ruthven comes to Greece and finds Aubrey. Shortly after Ianthe is murdered by a vampire. Aubrey doesn't connect the death to Ruthven. He rejoins Ruthven in his travels where they are attacked by bandits and Ruthven is mortally wounded. Before he dies he makes Aubrey promise not to mention his death for 1 year and 1 day. Aubrey agrees and returns to London. Aubrey can't believe his eyes when he sees Lord Ruthven alive and well in London. Ruthven reminds Aubrey of the oath he took. Soon Ruthven seduces Aubrey's sister and they get engaged. Helpless to stop it Aubrey suffers a mental breakdown. The marriage is set to occur on the day the oath is to end. Just before Aubrey dies he writes his sister a letter warning her of Ruthven, but it arrives too late. On their wedding night Ruthven drains Aubrey's sister of her blood and vanishes.

    Polidori was the progenitor of the vampire genre and his literary genius spurred a phenomenon that has taken flight and over the centuries has compelled many a people into watching, reading and believing in its existence. Polidori was able to transform a figure that was considered ugly, dumb and from a lower class to a sophisticated, mysterious figure that resided in the upper class of society. The next time you sit down to watch your favorite vampire show just remember that you have Polidori to thank for bringing the vampire to life.

    The Vampyre; A Tale
    By John William Polidori


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