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Literature / The Vampyre

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The Vampyre by John William Polidori, published in April 1819, was the first English prose vampire story and set off a craze of vampire fiction. It began as a fragment of a novel by Lord Byron and was adapted into a short story by Polidori, who had been Byron's personal physician. It was published by The New Monthly Magazine with an attribution to Lord Byron — probably on purpose for the sake of selling more copies, as the misattribution stuck long after both Polidori and Byron corrected it, much to the two's despair.

The plot concerns Lord Ruthven,note  a nobleman, and Aubrey, his traveling companion. In Greece, Aubrey learns about vampires from a girl he falls in love with, who is later killed by one. Ruthven dies, and makes Aubrey swear not to tell anyone about his death for A Year and a Day. When Aubrey returns to England, however, he finds Ruthven alive and well, and courting his sister. Aubrey falls ill under the stress of keeping his oath. He dies shortly after revealing that Ruthven is a vampire, too late to save his sister.

As a matter of historical interest, Lord Byron wrote the fragment that Polidori would turn into The Vampyre while they were holed up in a villa on the shores of Lake Geneva whiling away the extremely unpleasant summer of 1816 with two of Lord Byron's other friends: Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. The latter produced Frankenstein on the same trip.

Has been adapted numerous times into plays, operas, and even a TV miniseries.

Provides examples of:

  • All for Nothing: Aubrey dies without saving anyone, least of all his sister.
  • Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: Lord Ruthven invokes this trope to ensure his corpse will be exposed to moonlight, which he knows will revive him in undeath.
  • Continuation: Had an unauthorized French sequel, Lord Ruthwen ou les Vampires (1820). In an amusing case of imitating the original story, the novel was attributed to the French playwright Charles Nodier, who had adapted "The Vampyre" for the stage, instead of its actual author, Cyprien Bérard.
  • Daywalking Vampire: Sunlight had no negative impact on Lord Ruthven (although moonlight healed him, making him arguably stronger during the night).
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Aubrey warned a young woman's mother that Lord Ruthven had unwholesome intentions (which he believes to be sex not murder) toward her daughter. Lord Ruthven still ends up killing her and then systematically destroys Aubrey's life over the course of a year.
  • Downer Ending: Ruthven keeps Aubrey enslaved by his oath until the poor man has a breakdown and sickens fatally. Despite trying to warn his sister about Ruthven's true nature, Ruthven murders her on their wedding night and escapes with no consequences.
  • Driven to Madness: Aubrey has a nervous breakdown due to his experiences with Lord Ruthven and his inability to tell anyone that he's a vampire.
  • Evil is Petty: It seems Ruthven went out of his way to destroy Aubrey's life for the fact he mildly inconvenienced him during the hunting of his prey once. It didn't even save the girl's life.
  • Failure Hero: Aubrey fails to save the young Italian girl and his own sister.
  • Honor Before Reason: "Remember your oath." Ruthven is able to keep Aubrey from taking action that would be necessary to save several lives, including his sister's, by honor alone.
  • Horrible Honeymoon: At the conclusion of the story, the honeymoon of Aubrey's sister ends horrifically as her new husband murders her on their wedding night and flees, with Aubrey's letter warning her of Ruthven's true nature failing to reach her in time.
  • Jerkass: Ruthven goes out of his way to ruin the reputations of good women, begger needy fathers, and to screw with Aubrey just because he enjoys it.
  • Idle Rich: Aubrey is rich enough to go on a pan-European tour of brothels and gambling just to help him lose his innocence. This apparently lasts several months with no sign of money being an issue.
  • Karma Houdini: Ruthven escapes with no comeuppance at all.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Ruthven goes out of his way to destroy the lives of everyone he encounters by giving heartily to people who are feeding their vices while destroying gamblers who desperately need the money for their families.
    • Ruthven clearly targeted Ianthe and Aubrey's sister solely to torture him.
  • Lost Lenore: Ianthe the young Greek Girl is killed by Ruthven midway through the story.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Lord Ruthven is widely considered to be based on Lord Byron.
  • Our Vampires Are Different:
    • First, they are different from the traditional, more zombie-like vampires of Eastern European tradition. Polidori basically invented the seductive aristocratic vampire.
    • Second, they are different from the modern conception of fictional vampires. In particular, the idea of vampires being healed by moonlight rarely shows up in fiction (although it is present in early vampire works, particularly adaptations of "The Vampyre" and Varney the Vampire).
  • Serial Killer: Ruthven functions as this as a vampire. He doesn't need to feed every night but must kill three women every year in order to sustain his immortality.
  • Take That!:
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Played distressing straight with Ianthe who is shown to be primarily good by her naivite and ignorance. She's also murdered by Lord Ruthven.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Lord Ruthven for the modern depiction of vampires as being classy, sexy, polite, tortured, and more human than monster. While he is classy, sexy, and polite, Ruthven is not tortured, showing no moral qualms about having to kill to survive, and while he appears human and can keep human company, he's still ultimately a monster, killing countless innocents without blinking, manipulating the hero, and trotting off without punishment at the end. And yet, we owe the existence of our modern, sympathetic Byronic Hero vampires to him!
  • Upper-Class Twit: Aubrey is blind to the fact Ruthven is a vampire Serial Killer until it's almost smacking him in the face. At one point, he goes into a haunted forest against warnings just because he was told not to.
  • Vampires Are Rich: Lord Ruthven is a suave and wealthy aristocrat whose money and social standing help him hide the fact that he is also a vampire who preys on young women. Trope Maker.
  • Vampires Are Sex Gods: Mild and implied. Lord Ruthven is "seductive" and women are easily infatuated by his charms. It's also notable that Aubrey's sister dies on her honeymoon with Lord Ruthven.