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, Polidori wrote The Vampyre while 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.
Provides examples of:
- 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).
- 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.
- Karma Houdini: Ruthven escapes with no comeuppance at all.
- 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).
- Take That!: In an attempt to correct the misattribution of authorship to him, Byron wrote about The Vampyre, "I desire the responsibility of nobodys dullness but my own."
- Ruthven also serves as one to Byron, who had spent the trip flirting with every vaguely attractive human they encountered and generally playing the Upper-Class Twit.
- Vampires Are Sex Gods: Mild and implied. Lord Ruthven is "seductive" and women are easily infatuated by his charms. Its also notable that Aubrey's sister dies on her honeymoon with Lord Ruthven.