The Vampyre by John Polidori is one of the first renditions of the vampire myth in English literature, and this being the Twilight Saga: New Moon weekend it seemed a good moment to review this vampire-first.
In 1816 at the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva the famous ghost story writing party took place. Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont and John Polidori wrote a variety of fragments based on supernatural themes. What Shelley and Claire wrote has not survived. Mary Shelley wrote the basis of Frankenstein. Byron wrote the start of a work of fiction based on the folk tales of vampires that they had picked up when travelling in Greece. Polidori worked on something that was not successful. What happened next with Frankenstein is a neat, clear part of literary history. What happened with the idea of the vampires was shrouded in mystery for some time to come.
It is now believed that, inspired by Byron's attempt at vampire fiction, Polidori wrote The Vampyre, the short story we now have. He did not take physical charge of the manuscript but rather left it in the hands of the Countess of Breuss. in April 1819 The Vampyre was published in the New Monthly Magazine. This was a double surprise to Polidori as firstly he had forgotten about the story and secondly the author credited in the publication was Lord Byron.
Byron, to his credit, did not want to claim the story as his own. He wrote:
If the book is clever, it would be base to deprive the real writer, whoever he may be, of his honors; and if stupid, I desire the responsibility of nobody's dullness but my own.
Meanwhile Polidori was desperately trying to reassert his rights as author but throughout his short life the tale continued to appear with Byron's name on it. What is clear however is that Polidori's tale had started an obsession with vampire fiction which gained ground throughout the nineteenth century. There was much in the way of risable hack work, but there was also Carmilla by Sheridan le Fanu and the poem 'The Vampire' by Charles Baudelaire in The Flowers of Evil, before Dracula by Bram Stoker at the very end of the century. Both Carmilla and the poems of The Flowers of Evil are lesbian romances. It is Polidori's vampire that is is the antecedent of the aristocratic, male vampire seen in both Count Dracula and to some extent in the wealthy, academically successful Edward Cullen in Twilight.
Polidori's tale is short and has a plot so slimline that any introduction would be a spoiler, but it is easy and enjoyable as a read and fascinating for its part in literary history both with its origins in that weekend on Lake Geneva that produced that other horror staple Frankenstein, and with its place as the first in the long line of English language vampire fiction.
The edition shown in the picture is from my own stock and is a limited edition published by The Gubblecoat Press with an introductory note about the tale and its author by Russell Ash together with background history on which the superstition is based.